Wednesday, September 21, 2005

willy mason at the bedford

minifig and i went to see willy mason at the bedford arms tonight – an amazing, tardis-like pub in balham that should be renowned the entire world over! it was a truly magical gig experience to be cherished, and even though i really suffered for it the next day at work, was worth the 8 hours of misery on thursday.

the bedford looks rather unremarkable from the outside – a big, friendly gastro pub, but perhaps nothing special. however, tucked away, somewhere inside, are a series of amazing rooms where they stage awesome – and usually free – live music nights. the place is infact rather like narnia - i came out of the loo, turned the wrong way, and ended up in a saucy salsa class - so beware...

when you walk up to the globe – our room for the gig, i think, you stroll up a lengthy staircase which is lined with photos of some of britain’s top comedians – all of whom have played the modest bedford. there is a tasteful, elegant little bar with comfy leather chairs and soft lighting which acts as a kind of waiting lobby before they pull back the curtain to reveal the gig venue. a circular-ish room, quite mock-jacobean in feel, with steps leading down to the main gig area, the room has a few chairs and tables along the top of the outer ring, whilst in the pit there are a few small circular tables along the front of an ickle stage, and a few larger tables to seat ten or so people. there is a small bar at the back, which closes during sets. stick-in-the-mud-grandma me, i really appreciate that level of respect being given to performers at gigs – buy your drinks in advance, i say. plus, there are even little menus on the tables, and by collecting a spoon at the bar, you can get table service. minifig had chunky chips, which looked delicious, and i had a really evil chocolate torte thingy.

the room can’t hold more than a hundred people. the stage was set up with just one microphone and a couple of guitar stands. minifig and i sat at a small circular table, so close to the stage that minifig rested his impossibly large feet against an amp. minifig has really stupid feet.

the atmosphere was really calm and low-key: it was so civilised and intimate. before the show starts, an MC addresses the crowd and reminds people to turn off their mobile phones (yes! damn mobile phones – the scourge of the world), and asks people to move upstairs if they wish to talk during the set (again, yes! shut up). this meant that each singer necessarily held your complete attention, helped by the fact that the audience was so small. i was so grateful to find a gig-venue with a less manic, fashion-show atmosphere – it makes me happy just to know that the bedford arms exists.

the first act was a singer songwriter called lee broderick. his songs were intelligent, well-written, nothing especially innovative, but far far better than the current stream of singer songwriters, each one casually compared to Dylan (who can keep his capital 'D'), much to my untempered disgust. jack johnson, james blunt – you know who you are… although, damien rice - you're not that bad.

all this would be fair enough, if lee broderick wasn’t sixteen! sixteen i tell you! when i was sixteen i was mooning over richie edwards, screaming at everyone in my house and writing angst-written slogans in pencil all over my bedroom walls whilst pouring over rimbaud and not understanding a damn word of it. minifig and i were happily amazed and ashamed and told him so while i signed our tickets. we're such losers..

according to wikipedia, willy mason was born on 21st november 1984, which would make him 20. this is even more shameful. because if anyone deserves the Dylan comparisons, it is, without a doubt, willy mason. with a deep, growly, slightly raspy, sometimes sleepy slur, perpetual bed-hair and aching, bluesy music, watching willy mason perform to this blue-tinged, smoky room, literally inches from me, was an absolute dream. with witty little quips between sets, taking requests from audience members and goofing around, it felt a real privilege to be in that room, with those people, watching willy mason. i felt secure, full of cake, and, one of my favourite emotions, smug. total magic - and the bedford, wonderful place that it is, let the gig overrun by a good half hour. willy mason is a miniature genius and my night was complete when minifig and i caught him on the stairs and said a very heart-felt *thank you* - he looked a bit bemused, but then, he often appears to look that way.

there is something very special about those moments at gigs when you’re simply left with a bloke or a girl onstage with nothing but an instrument and a voice. a stripped down, no frills, purity that makes it an event. more and more groups have thankfully stopped shoe-gazing in front of their audiences and are actually bothering to make some kind of contact – the beastie boys, radiohead, green day – three bands i love dearly, and favourites because of their live performances. each one has a completely different style – showy, graceful and comic, respectively – but all big smackerfuls of entertainment.
but the fact that mix master mike is good whether behind three dudes in boiler suits or just murdering stuff on the decks, that johnny greenwood is capable of making outerspace zoo sounds with a couple of funny pedals, and that billy jo is sweet as pie with an acoustic across his lap (oh! to be that guitar!) makes them the real deal, in my, not very humble opinion.

the only thing missing from the gig was anna – with whom I saw willy mason the last time – a week before our first finals exam – a six hour shakespeare paper that turned out to be an unforgiving monster. she introduced me to the delights of willy mason, for which i am eternally grafeful - amongst many other reasons too. that evening in april goes down as a gig-classic because willy was supported by a crazy little man called kid carpet. making music by amplifying 1980’s kid’s toys, including miniature guitars and fisher price keyboards, he played a complete blinder of a set. whenever i feel a little low, kid carpet’s album, *ideas & oh dears* never ceases to make me smile. I LOVE HIM! bristol should be bloody proud.

And on that note, i think i’m going to go off and boogie to track 4 – it’s called *there’s a shoe* and makes perfect fodder for daft running-man-type moves. let’s groove, kids...


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