Steve Mason is a unique talent. His career began in 1996 with ‘The Beta Band’, now immortalised by their sonorous hit ‘Dry the Rain’, an experimental group that effortlessly fused folk, electronica, looping motifs, and downtempo jamming in their sweeping collections such as The Three E.P.s. Next came the guise of ‘King Biscuit Time’ and then the co-piloted ‘Black Affair’. Finally, we arrive at his eponymous act, under which he has released albums like the acclaimed Meet the Humans (2016) and, most recently, About the Light (2019).
Norwich Arts Centre has changed. Over the summer, it has completed the first phase of its regeneration project, supported by Arts Council England, and looks great: a new pop-up bar/cloakroom exists in the foyer; a new colour scheme runs throughout; overall accessibility has been improved. It is still, even more so now, one of the best venues for live music in Norwich.
As the room slowly filled, the lights dimmed, and Mason’s band (including former ‘Beta Band’ member Steve Duffield) took their positions, the audience dropped their conversations and raised their heads. Dressed in a khaki boiler-suit and bucket hat, Mason came out to a staggering applause; each person, it seemed, was clapping for twelve others. The walls slapped with noise.
The night kicked off with a classic ‘Beta Band’ track, ‘Inner Meet Me’, a perfect introduction that encapsulates Mason’s cult folktronica group: atmospheric, filled with energetic acoustic guitar, rippling and darting sound effect, and, of course, bongos — an instrument Mason would enthusiastically return to throughout the set.
Mason followed up with the highlight track from 2016’s Meet the Humans, ‘Planet Sizes’. It’s upbeat, it’s catchy, but it’s also lyrically superb. Take, for instance: “I know my 6 times table / I learned where the planets lie / I know my planet sizes / the universe makes me cry”. The things we learnt in school are purely logistical, pragmatic — where/when/how do we learn about the universe through philosophy or emotion? We don’t; we cry; we write songs and listen to records.
Other notable tracks were ‘Rocket’, from his latest album, an ethereal love song that, surely, reached into each audience member’s past and pulled from it a string of emotion connected to their own certain someone; and ‘America Is Your Boyfriend’, a superb song written in reaction to the horror of Grenfell and its ignoble cause (“Feed your desire / There’s a tower on fire”).
The night — split between sublime music, hilarious anecdotes about crazed fans and former Beta Band members, and rapturous applause — ended with, of course, ‘Dry the Rain’ and Mason’s boppy new dance number, ‘Like A Ripple’.
There was a true sense of these three musicians on stage simply enjoying themselves — every single minute of it. And their passion, spearheaded by Mason, could not help but radiate outwards, in their music and presence, eliciting euphoria throughout the room.