A surprisingly healthy crowd gathered at Lerwick’s Royal British Legion for a Monday night concert.
They were there to see one of the originators of the modern trend for “singer-songwriters” – American Willy Mason, not Willie Manson as you might think.
Helping him produce a laidback atmosphere as late evening sunshine peeped through the curtains were local hero Arthur Nicholson and Siobhan Wilson from Glasgow, who has previously been in Shetland with Adam Holmes, another favourite with local audiences.
First off to schmooze a relaxed audience, maybe slightly confused at being out at the very start of the week, was an unbilled Nicholson with his hits.
He explained to a quiet, chilling crowd that he didn’t mind the playing part of a gig – it was the time between songs he found the terrifying part.
We were treated to a new song Fruits of the Sea. “A rainbow in your ear as you head for the sea”, telling us to live out our lives as one big spree. This suggestion was not a difficult one to put to any Shetland audience.
Next up was Wilson, exuding niceness with a spoon of dizziness with her romantic songs and a voice as smooth as honey. Her petite stature made you think she might have even arrived in her cello case which stood at the side of the stage.
She was to use her mellow cello to great effect later when accompanying Mason. But for now she used a silver electric guitar for minimalist accompaniment to her rich vocals, unassumingly hiding behind her fringe at times.
She sang a touching version of the old pub standard I’ll Take you Home Again Kathleen and even shared a new song. “You’re stuck in the wake of a wave” was one of the lines.
After a smattering of the man himself, “Deano” Martin on the sound system, to continue the laconic mood it was time for the night’s headliner Mason.
Originally from an island on the eastern American seaboard he seemed at ease in the setting. He’s singing with a Bulgarian choir in the near future.
He told us at one stage on his home island a winter population of 14,000 swelled to 300,000 in the summer.
He opened with the classic Oh You Restless Fugitive. Many of Mason’s songs are on the dark side but with his beat up black semi-acoustic guitar complete with tremolo arm, and “beat pedal” for most of his accompaniment, his distinctive voice and delivery turn out to be very cathartic for any Monday blues.
It’s a vocal style that is gentle and powerful at the same time. He played an hour-long set which easily held the audience’s attention with songs visiting the frustrations of life and graciously gave three encores.
I first became aware of Mason’s sometimes haunting tones from a cassette inadvertently left behind by my brother after he had paid a visit home in 2003. He described Mason as “portraying a Woodie Guthrie hobo type image” and thought his performance pleasant and personable on this occasion.
Monday night is usually bingo night at the Legion. And with this event our luck was definitely in, with three consummate performers to kickstart the week.