Review and photography by John Bentley

This is a gig I just had to see. Former Traffic-man and long-term US resident Dave Mason is touring Britain for the first time since the 1970s. In fact it’s his first ever UK solo tour.

Mason formed Traffic, along with multi-instrumentalist Steve Winwood, drummer Jim Capaldi and flute and sax player Chris Wood in Birmingham in 1967. They were a truly groundbreaking band, having chart success as well as being taken very seriously in the then emerging album market. Few bands could claim to incorporate as many musical genres as Traffic, for their style encompassed rock, psychedelia, jazz, folk, soul, African and eastern music. Mason’s notable writing credits with Traffic include the iconic piece of 1960s psychedelia that is ‘Hole in My Shoe’ (reaching No2 in the UK charts) and ‘Feelin’ Alright?’ (a song recorded by numerous other artists and a hit for Joe Cocker). Mason also has an enviable CV of collaborations. He was a friend of Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison, playing acoustic guitar on Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and playing guitar on Harrison’s debut solo album ‘All Things Must Pass’.

Dave Mason, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, 28-02-17

Mason’s two album tenure with Traffic ended in 1968, when he and the band split over ‘musical differences’, although he briefly returned for six Traffic tour dates in 1971, two of which were recorded for the live ‘Welcome to the Canteen’ album. I was lucky enough to see this incarnation of the band at the 1971 Glastonbury Festival, part of which can be seen on ‘Glastonbury Fayre’, the documentary film of that year’s festival. Mason went off to America and achieved success with a series of solo albums, notably his acclaimed 1970 debut ‘Alone Together’, from which he plays four songs tonight.

Mason has been touring in the USA for many years and has a well-seasoned band of three superb musicians, guitarist Johnne Sambataro, drummer Alvino Bennett and keyboard-player Tony Patler. The first part of the evening is made-up of Traffic songs. Curiously, most of the Traffic songs he performs were written by Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi, rather than his own compositions for the band. And even stranger, some of the songs, like ‘Rock and Roll Stew’ and ‘The Low Spark of High Healed Boys’, are from Traffic albums released after he left the band. Some of the Traffic material comes-off better than others, with ‘The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’ being a rather good and funky re-arrangement of the original song. To his credit Mason does not try to re-create the original versions, but seeks to re-interpret the material. On ‘Mr Fantasy’ Mason demonstrates just why he is regarded as a great guitar player. The band complete the Traffic-set, with Mason’s ‘Feelin’ Alright?’ Dave first gives us a bit of commentary on how his original aim had been to write a simple song with two-chords. He is clearly proud of his creation, which apparently helps keep his bank account in continual good balance. The band deliver a funked-up version of the song, which features a guest appearance by Manchester harmonica player Clive Mullor. Nobody takes up his invitation to dance, but you can feel feet tapping along.

Dave Mason, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, 28-02-17

After a short break, Part 2 is Dave solo songs and the band really gets to show its capabilities in this second half of the evening. The starter, ‘World in Changes’, features some great organ playing and powerful drumming. ‘Look at You Look at Me’ is another band showpiece, with an instrumental opening on rhythm guitar and organ, before Dave Mason comes in with some blistering solo guitar. He tells us how his boyhood dream was to get a red Strat and play like Hank Marvin. This leads us into the band’s version of The Shadows’ ‘Apache’, which is a beautiful re-creation of the original. The set finishes with another Mason-written success, ‘Only You Know and I Know’, which was a top 20 hit for Delaney and Bonnie. Mason reminisces that he was originally introduced to Delaney and Bonnie by Gram Parsons. He has certainly had some famous friends.

The second half of the gig seems to work better than the first, probably because Mason is playing mostly his own compositions, rather than covering Traffic songs which are familiar in the versions originally sung by the distinctive voice of Steve Winwood. And Mason has plenty of great songs of his own. Fortunately Dave’s singing voice is in great shape, despite reaching 70, and his guitar playing is absolutely top-notch. Having told us of his friendship with and admiration for Jimi Hendrix, Mason concludes with a cover of Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’, Hendrix’s electric re-interpretation of the song being now regarded as the definitive version. Again, Mason provides us with his own interpretation of the song. Hopefully Dave will enjoy the rest of his UK tour, as we the audience have, and will come back to play some more gigs in the near future.

Dave Mason, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, 28-02-17

Setlist: Part 1: 40,000 Headmen; Pearly Queen; Medicated Goo; Rock & Roll Stew; The Low Spark of High Healed Boys; Dear Mr Fantasy; Feelin’ Alright? Part 2: World in Changes; We Just Disagree; Look at You Look at Me; Apache; Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave; Only You Know and I Know. Encore: All Along the Watchtower

4 Responses to “Dave Mason @ Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, UK – 28th February 2017”

  1. Chris Says:

    I saw Dave on Monday and it was a delight to see him play live after all these years. Shame that the Stevenage date was postponed.

  2. Jim Forrester Says:

    Dave Mason and his band were in tremendous form at the Cardiff Gig St David’s Hall. It is a superb venue which did justice to The Legend Dave Mason in superb form

  3. pat Says:

    I saw him in Shrewsbury and he was fabulous. The audience was very small due to storm Doris in part but largely, because this concert was omitted from the tour schedule. The whole tour was poorly marketed, which is a great shame for fans.

  4. john bentley Says:

    The audience was small at the Liverpool gig I’ve reviewed above also. Yes, the tour could have been better marketed and, in some cases, more appropriate venues chosen. Manchester should have been on the list for a start. Also gigs at Shrewsbury and Bilston are relatively close together. I suspect the Robin2, Bilston, gig would have been a good one, as it’s an intimate little venue which is used to having vintage artists and Traffic were originally a Brum band. Hopefully Dave will come back for another tour in the near future.

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