On an evening where the big news of the week was still a live talking point, there was precious little sympathy in a famed back room in Glasgow. “Did you hear what Frankie Boyle said about Thatcher?” asked Steve Mason, sometime Beta Band singer and now the proud-owner of an alias-spattered solo career which has recently taken a turn for the incisively political. It’s the old gag about spending the public money earmarked for the late former PM’s funeral on spades, then “everyone in Scotland can dig a hole and deliver her to Satan in person.”
It sounds brutal, but as a throwaway comment from a man brought up in the mining heartland of Fife and before a venue tightly-packed with middle-aged, working class men, it seemed inevitable. Both in his musical style and his frankness and lack of fear when it comes to espousing such political opinions, Mason’s a throwback to the days when crossover alternative musicians were permitted personalities and opinions.
The new album Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time is rich in both, although not all of the record is wrapped in polemic. Backed by a skilled four-piece band and switching between guitar and tambourine himself, Mason’s famously ghostly vocal tripped over the upbeat confessional “Oh My Lord” and early highlight “Lie Awake”, a story of his youthful social consciousness emerging, as told at almost trip-hop pace. Jolly new song “A Lot of Love” was described as ‘the next “single” - I don't know if that even exists any more, and if it does no c*** buys it.”
In a little over an hour, though, the salt and pepper-stubbled Mason’s style changed from endearing introspections to something far more cutting, by way of the synthesised funk of “Boys Outside” and the apparent “massive hit across the transsexual community” “Am I Just a Man?” “Never Be Alone” would come first, a bass-heavy, almost dub-styled hymn to the joys of good music in adversity, while the song which is threatening to become Mason’s signature track closed the main set in charged style.
‘Fight Them Back’s strident chorus offered unnamed (but we can guess) enemies “a fist, a boot and a baseball bat” for their troubles, as well as a det4ectable charge enter the air. It reminds of Ian Brown’s “FEAR”, and this is an artist of similar tastes and opinions to the Stone Roses singer, but in the furious drum flurry of “C I AM 15” and the beermat gospel of closer “Come to Me” there is wild, joyous individuality from one of British music’s most persuasive mavericks.