Until recently Willy Mason had been somewhat off the radar. So much so in fact, that even the mighty Lovell radio telescope that dwarfs the stage below would probably have had difficulty in detecting what he’d been up to for the last five years. We now know for some of that time he’s been working with Hot Chip producer Dan Carey on material for his third studio album which should make for some very interesting results. Today however, he takes to the stage solo, just one man and one guitar. A set-up that many feel best showcases Mason’s undoubted talent.
The new material sounds as accomplished as ever, with Mason’s voice wrapping the sound of plucked guitar in a warm distinctive glow. First taster from the forthcoming album “Restless Fugitive” sheds some light perhaps, on where the alternative country folk troubadour has been, as he sings “Tell us how they brought you down, and why’d you let them hang around? Tell us when you left the earth, and promise next time you’ll call first. Oh you restless fugitive”.
Older material such as ‘Oxygen’ still captivates of course, but there is also a sense that Mason may have matured in his absence. If I have one criticism today, it’s that the set lacked any real change in tempo. That said, it’s only a trifling gripe and I for one am more than happy to welcome him back into the fold. Time will tell if Mason’s wish to be cooler than TV will reap the dividends to which he aspires, but if he sticks around long enough surely a larger audience awaits. Contemporary Johnny Cash anyone?
All today’s support acts have been hand-picked by headliners Elbow, and next up is critically acclaimed songstress Lianne La Havas. Cut from similar cloth to Corinne Bailey Rae and Norah Jones, La Havas’ vocal is sultry (unlike the weather) and faultless in its delivery. Such is the ease with which each note is dispatched that it’s hard to imagine her ever breaking a sweat. Her ability to shift between soul, R ’n’ B and even jazz is evident and sure to stand her in good stead. So much so in fact, that it’s difficult not to see her stock rocketing soon. With a host of festival appearances this summer, and her debut album ‘Is Your Love Big Enough’ set to add to the momentum when released in July, odds are shortening on Lianne becoming a household name by Christmas.
Having been around for slightly longer you’d think that Cherry Ghost would feel at ease performing so close to home, but it seems not as he announces “This isn’t daunting at all” with no little irony. He needn’t have worried of course. Flanked by keyboards and electric guitar he performs stripped down versions from his back catalogue including ‘People Help the People’ and the brilliant ‘Mathematics’ that comfortably sees him through the occasion.
Last up before the main attraction are Sunderland’s Field Music. Despite being four albums into their career (not including various solo projects), I think it’s fair to say that the majority of the partisan Elbow crowd are still largely unaware of the Brewis brothers’ music, so what better time to introduce them. FM are not an easy band to review at the best of times but with a science arena just a stone’s throw away, today they almost make perfect sense. With arrangements that border on orchestral if not scientific in complexity, they still manage to make pop music with sharp edges and defined melody, think perhaps XTC to give you some kind of reference.
They may well be pop’s answer to Doctor Emmett Brown (Back to the Future) in a slightly eccentric inventor’s kind of way, and like the Doc they are strangely likeable. I have to confess I find the band most enjoyable when David Brewis is at the vocal helm, not that brother Peter can’t sing, far from it; it’s just a personal preference. Today, as they rattle through gems and oddities alike, many from their most recent offering ‘Plumb’, I’m certain I can feel Elbow’s masses warm to them. How many converts, it’s hard to say, but they certainly did themselves no harm at all.
All day long the assembled throng of Elbow devotees have much like the telescope been looking to the heavens, which for the most part have resembled a Dulux swatch sample for the colour grey. Ominously nature’s palette darkens a shade or two more before the unmistakeable tones of Mr Garvey boom from the PA; “Elbow to control room. Align the telescope”. As the 292 ft structure turns to face the audience, Elbow take to the stage.
Now it’s seriously hard to imagine a band more suited to a setting, or a setting more suited to a band. So it may just be the misty-eyed romantic in me, or the fact that to a man they looked as if all their Christmases had come at once, but Elbow are simply glorious tonight.
The rain that had threatened all day made its first real, and as it turns out lasting appearance as ‘Grounds for Divorce’ flexed its hook laden muscles and came close to blowing it back from whence it came. ‘Lippy Kids’ is utterly beguiling, whilst ‘Leaders of the Free World’, title track from the criminally under rated album shows exactly why it’s worth revisiting. By now the telescope had become an immense canvas on which to project stunning visuals and any worries about Manchester’s preferred weather conditions had long gone.
Elbow have at their fingertips a body of work that deserves a stage like Jodrell, but more than that, they have a front man in Garvey that can not only play the big stage but at times lend an intimacy to proceedings that is nothing short of enchanting. If anyone present was in any doubt then tonight’s rendition of ‘The Night Will Always Win’ is proof positive. The band even takes time to raise a glass and toast the arrival of Nancy Anne Potter; Craig and Mrs Potters’ latest addition to the family.
There are no prizes for guessing with which song they chose to bring events to a close, but if ever a lyric rang true ‘One day like this a year will do me right’ was surely the only way to end. If Elbow missed one trick tonight, it was not to project the sun on to the giant telescope, but then who knew it would rain, right?
So there you have it. If you’ve not been to a gig at Jodrell Bank then I heartily recommend you do so, though it’s hard to imagine you’ll witness a better one than this.
As an unwanted footnote to this review, we’re sad to say that persistent heavy rain set in overnight and put pay to Paul Weller’s show the following day, despite all the best efforts of everyone involved. We at Eartwister were gutted by the news as I’m sure were all ticket holders. Not only did it mean missing out on another great day of music, but being able to watch England crash out of the Euro’s with their 5th consecutive penalty shoot-out failure. BUGGER!