After a warm-up gig up the road in Aberdeen, it was time for Top 20 selling artists Mason Hill to show their hometown crowd just how much they have grown as a band over the last few years. A feat made all the more noteworthy considering that 18 months or so of those last few years have been spent watching the Covid clock counting down to that moment when the five-piece could finally embark on their largest headlining tour to date: a tour that looks like being one of the hottest tickets since lockdown was lifted. With tour special guests, Hollowstar, as well as EMPYRE who join the tour on selected dates, there is a strong New Wave of Classic Rock presence here, and playing to packed houses will give these bands invaluable experience that should stand them in good stead further down the road.
Hollowstar recently celebrated the second anniversary of their eponymous debut album, unable to toast its first birthday last year, the likeable quartet have slowly but surely been able to mark the second anniversary by getting back out there on the road. A recent change in the personnel department (new guitarist Carl Ledger coming in for the departed Tom Collett) hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm or (for lack of a better word) the chops that Hollowstar have always packed into their live performances, and tonight they play with all the ferocity of four guys who have found a secret stash of original recipe Irn Bru and necked it all before the sugar-police breaks down the door. The band are so comfortable on stage that you wouldn’t have guessed that Hollowstar have only had a handful of gigs under their belts with Ledger onboard.
Album opener ‘Take It All’ kicks off a 45-minute set in fine style; frontman Joe Bonson is clearly having a ball being back onstage and alongside his thick, rumbling basslines, his vocals show no ill effects from being off the road for so long. Guitarists Ledger, and the human spinning top Phil Haines, are a blur as they make good use of the decent-sized stage, constantly swapping sides and engaging with the crowd at every opportunity. The guy at the back though, Jack Bonson, he’s the one drawing all the attention. A very eyecatching drummer, Jack is making up for lost time and taking out all the pent-up frustrations from the last few years out on his kit; especially on the powerful and hard-hitting ‘Let You Down’. His brother Joe is as affable as ever and works the crowd like a pro: gags about how it was just as well he never listened to the UK government and retrained go down well, especially when he jokes that if chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak ever saw him working then he would tell him just to stay unemployed. Joe also takes time to thank everyone involved with the tour and all the venue staff for helping to make sure that the gig happened, there’s a nice touch when he thanks his parents for helping downstairs on the merch desk, as well as heartfelt thanks and congratulations to Mason Hill on being a Top 20 artist, and how much work has gone into that feat. ‘Overrated’ is introduced with the words; “Here’s a song about us…”, and the emotional tour-de-force that is ‘Good Man Gone’ is dedicated to everyone who lost their lives due to Covid as well as those no longer with us. The back story to the song is deeply personal to Joe and it’s obvious that performing it live with such gusto is proving to be a cathartic experience. Throw in a full-throated verse of The Proclaimers ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) that segues seamlessly into Free’s ‘Wishing Well’, and the allotted 45 minutes fly past in a blink of the eye. Hard to find fault in this performance, and even the hardest-nosed cynic out there should have been smiling like a loon by the time ‘All I Gotta Say’ brought this set to a rollicking close.
Resisting the temptation to end the tour in Glasgow, and have 20+ headlining shows under their belts by then, Mason Hill opted to start the tour up north and work their way down south and over the sea to Ireland, ending the September leg of the tour at KK’s in Wolverhampton. But tonight was the big one. Tonight was all about family, be it blood relatives, or those who have been with the band since day one. And, if there were any nerves or signs of any pressure that playing in front of a hometown full house brings, then the band showed no sign of either.
Once the intro of ‘Reborn’ fades out, the lights lift, and five of the happiest musicians playing on a stage anywhere in the world that night are front and centre soaking up the rapturous welcome that is normally reserved for homecoming champions. And in a sense, that is what Mason Hill are. Everyone knows the behind-the-scenes heartache that put the brakes on their recording career for so long (hard to believe that the self-titled EP was released back in 2015, but it was), and many other bands might have given up and thrown the towel in, but not these guys. You only need to look at the promo pictures of the band covering their mouths in defiance; as if to say “we won’t be silenced”, then there is the album title – and if any band was ever “against the wall” then it was Mason Hill. But tonight is all about looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past. A night for celebrating, and boy, this was some celebration.
Having the crowd on their side was always going to help, but that only works if the material, and playing, on offer, are worthy of the audience’s praise. Thankfully tonight both are. The growth amongst the band is there for all to see; the quality of the songwriting has ramped up considerably, and the material is on a different level – great songs come from overcoming adversity it would seem – set-opener ‘No Regret’ is a great example of this. A slow-burning track that gradually builds through vocalist Scott Taylor’s impassioned cautionary tale…“This life has taken its toll…” followed by “Time to sign your life away, no regret for yesterday…”, make no mistake, these young guys were down for the count, but in true Chumbawumba style got straight back up again. Another attribute gained during the last few years seems to be restraint, and when the guitar solo from the excellent James Bird arrives on ‘No Regret’ it is a wonderful example of keeping it simple and never flash, no fireworks or overplaying here, just a simple, tasteful guitar solo that works well within the grungey song.
It takes confidence to slip a song like ‘DNA’ into the set so early on, but it shows the high standard of the other material on the long-awaited debut album ‘Against The Wall’, a quality so high that the band can afford to drop one of the bangers on the album second-song in. The enthusiasm from the band is infectious and both the band and the crowd are feeding off each other to make this a rather special evening (one that is being filmed for a future release), and Scott Taylor is not letting any second of the night pass him by without a smile on his face; the fact that the band finally have a tour long enough to warrant a tour shirt gives him the outlook of the first person in line for a PS5 – giddy as hell. The other band members (Marc Montgomery alongside James Bird on guitar, Matthew Ward on bass, and Craig McFetridge on drums) are also taking time to soak all this up. If you could power a city with smiles alone, then there was enough on display tonight to power Glasgow for a month at least. Special mention does have to go to “the machine behind the machine” Craig McFetridge, one of the best young drummers around today, and at times it’s hard to take your eyes from him as he sits high-up behind his kit, making sure that everyone could see him as well as hear him.
Highlights of the evening are numerous: ‘DNA’ with its heavy drum sound really sticks out, as does the crushing title track which is way heavier in the live setting than it is on the album, then there is the bounce-ability factor of ‘We Pray’, the ballad ‘Who We Are’ which is getting aired live for only the third time, ‘Broken Son’ which has Taylor enthusing… ” We played these songs before anyone knew the words, now you know all the words!”, a killer version of Foo Fighters’ ‘Best Of You’ that was born in lockdown, and what else but ‘Where I Belong’ to close the set.
Mason Hill have used the last few years wisely, they’ve quietly gone about improving every aspect of their songcraft and playing, and the proof is right there for all to see. All that is needed now is some luck and some momentum.
Catch Mason Hill on tour throughout September and October, tour poster, above.
Review – Dave
All live images – Rob Wilkins at Nozfest