It doesn’t surprise me that Steve Mason forged a lasting connection with Joe Duddell at Festival No 6. Each year, a selected number of main-stage artists collaborate with Duddell and his ensemble, performing in the tiny Portmeirion Town Hall (queues for these are legendary, as only around 100 get access to the space). From what I’ve heard there isn’t much time for rehearsal, however Duddell has a fine sense for what can be achieved, working with subtlety and vision with the artists.
Alive! sees Mason at the Barbican hall for one night only, with his own band, plus the Joe Duddell ensemble, brass section, three female backing singers… this was certainly an ambitious project. If Mason was feeling a tad overawed he certainly hid it well, bounding on stage in relaxed fashion.
The evening was a retrospective, taking in earlier work with Beta Band to latest album Meet the Humans. This latest work was the focus of the first part of the show, with Mason’s band: Elliot King on guitar, bassist Steve Duffield, drummer Greg Nielson and Darren Morris on keyboards.
The opener was an extended version of It’s Not too Beautiful which, from where I was seated, sounded a tad unbalanced. After that, everything flowed together – Mason, the musicians and audience all floated along together on what felt like a unique journey. Alive sounded joyous and exhilarating – a message that Mason is now in a good place; Hardly go Through was elevated by the string section, bringing out the song’s warmth and emotion. Comfortable though the auditorium was, as the gig gathered momentum, some audience members looked as if they were ready to get up and dance; instead we all stayed politely in our seats, nodding along to the songs.
The second half of the evening opened with Mason and Joe Duddell’s ensemble performing material from Festival No 6. It was wonderful to hear the heart-wrenching Dr Baker, and the plaintive beauty of All Come Down sounded particularly effective with the harp accompaniment.
As the evening neared its conclusion, the opening notes of Dry the Rain reached our ears, and the audience rose to their feet as one, arms waving in the air. I Walk the Earth closed this fantastic, uplifting and unique evening.
Event: Steve Mason Alive! at the Barbican Hall
Date: January 27th, 2017