REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Steve Mason and Pictish Trail, The Crescent, York

Steve Mason performing at The Crescent as part of Independent Venue Week. All pictures: Paul Rhodes

Independent Venue Week presents Steve Mason and Pictish Trail, The Crescent, York, January 30 2024

A LIGHT end to the darkest month. Steve Mason is a colourful and welcome visitor to The Crescent, a venue that he seems very comfortable in.

Mason was performing with his band, Calie Hough on drums and his long-serving keyboard maestro, Darren Morris, channelling everything else. The trio clearly means business, and the set has been well road tested.

Compared with his recent York concerts (December 2022 at the same venue and a December 2021 solo set at Stockton on the Forest Village Hall), there were few slower, sadder songs, resulting in a more dynamic set that also included a wholesome number of Beta Band favourites from his earlier days.

Steve Mason: “Conga playing was a towel-wearing nod to his inventive use of percussion in his work

While young people will never study Mason’s words as English literature, he is a master at driving home a repeated message or a melody. No More being the most obvious, but Upon My Soul was an unexpected soaring highlight.

Throughout the 80-some minutes, Mason was in motion, all eyes fixed on him as he commanded the stage. His guitar playing reflected his energy, vigorous and strident, while his conga playing was a towel-wearing nod to his inventive use of percussion in his work. The trio more than did justice to the clever, adventurous settings from his Brothers And Sisters album, with seven numbers played.

Supporting Mason was his friend and fellow sonic adventurer, The Pictish Trail, the non de plume of Johnny Lynch. Hailing from the Scottish Isle of Eig, Lynch has a wonderful left-of-centre view of the world.

A natural performer, he was warm and funny between songs; even bringing some levity to the near-death car crash that inspired him to write In Heaven Tonight. Lynch’s set drew most from his most recent album, 2022’s Island Family, with the title track memorably conjuring a bonfire night on the island with the many dead souls also present.

Pictish Trail: “A wonderful left-of-centre view of the world”

His clever, animated use of beats and effects sometimes offset some pretty forgettable melodies. Lynch’s mistake-defying hand-eye coordination while wearing a large mask is an image few will forget, unlike the song he was performing.

Mason’s songs are all cut from a similar melodic cloth, but at his best, his tunes have stood the test of time. His feted work with The Beta Band was an early purple patch – tuneful but never towing any conventional line (Dry The Rain of course, mid-set this time, finding room for Squares, also excellent and the soulful Dog Got A Bone).

It was his wonderful King Biscuit Time song I Walk The Earth that brought the house down as the first encore; arguably his best tune to cap another fine Crescent night.

Review by Paul Rhodes 

Pictish Trail’s “mistake-defying hand-eye coordination while wearing a large mask is an image few will forget”