Tonight’s audience at The Sugarmill arrived knowing the passionate affair that awaited them, with Willy Mason bringing his tour to Stoke-on-Trent. Supporting him on the tour is Nina Violet, a fellow American with a unique quality to her music, and supporting these two great artists is local folk singer Aaron Mobberley, who humbly takes to the stage to open the nights performances. After seeming slightly nervous to begin with, Aaron very quickly settles in with opening songs Unison Harmonies and Commitment. If it is Aaron is feeling a little nervous, that is no surprise after being given the honour of opening tonight’s set for the gifted Willy Mason. But Aaron does not disappoint, bringing along with him a finely tuned set, conjuring a soft, warm atmosphere at The Sugarmill, with the crowd standing quietly in humble appreciation of Aaron and his raw, yet angelic voice. Aaron is the kind of guy every girl wants to take home to meet their mum’s, it’s that simple. He talks to the crowd whilst tuning up his guitar, and even this interaction is done with a tender respectful disposition which is always the case with dear Aaron, and once tuned he entrances the crowd with new song Family Reunion, a song rich in emotion, with powerful heart hitting lyrics.
A touching sight is that of James Tildesley and Josh Morris- Aaron former band mates from the recently departed Clockwork Owls- stood at the front of the crowd in support of their good friend and his budding solo career. And budding is not a term used loosely. Aaron is one of the most naturally gifted artists in Stoke-on-Trent today, an artist who plays with his heart on his sleeve, and this is very evident in every song his offers to The Sugarmill tonight. Aaron is joined by a friend for his finale song, who takes up an acoustic bass guitar. Aaron jokes to the crowd that this song is one of the “Heaviest songs I’ve ever written”. The song he plays is in fact filled with beauty and a raw emotion which all of the crowd seemed to relate to. What Did You Do To My Heart is another saddening story which is portrayed by Aaron with loving, heartfelt lyrics strewn upon an intelligent melody, which is surrounded by a compelling a well structured arrangement. This song, as with all of Aaron’s material, is an audio droplet of emotion, echoed tonight into a room of people who couldn’t help but take in Aaron’s stories with pure appreciation and respect.
Aaron Mobberley more than did his hometown proud here after opening up the evening’s entertainment for Willy Mason, and after leaving the stage in his humble manner, Nina Violet soon took up her place no centre stage. Second and final support of the night, Nina brings with her to the stage her beautiful blend of raw, they soft ambient songs, mellowing out the crowd even more. Hailing from Massachusetts, the solo artist is joining good friend Willy Mason on tour, and with the soft melodies than Nina has gliding from her electric guitar, it’s not hard to see why Nina Violet was invited on the tour. The beauty and elegance of Nina and her music silences the crowd, and it seems Nina Violet will be leaving Stoke-on-Trent with a new fan base.
Her ease and naturalness on the stage shines through, even when at one point Nina dropped her plectrum during a song, to which her reaction was to tell the crowd to wait two secs as she collected it from the floor, all the while not losing the rhythm of the song at all. Such naturalness enables the lyrics of Nina Violet’s to take on an even more intimate feel. Think Laura Marling on an electric guitar, and you’re looking somewhere close to Nina Violet’s brilliance.
And then it was time for the man himself. Willy Mason strides to the stage modestly to the applause of the now full and buzzing crowd. The atmosphere had been building rapidly all evening and now it was beginning to peak. After gifting the appreciative crowd three songs from his debut album Where The Humans Eat, Willy realises he has left his set list in his other jacket, which brings a good laugh from the crowd. The song he then proceeds to play brings yet another comical reaction from the crowd as some feedback kicks in at the start and Willy comically sticks his finger in his ear and vows to start again. He then plays a beautiful song not haunted by feedback, and the songs beauty silences the crowd in awe until its end, where the respectful audience erupts in appreciative applause.
After already being requested by way of a shout out from someone in the crowd, Mason finally unleashes Oxygen unto the eager mass of fans. Carlsberg don’t do music, but if they did, it would be nowhere near as good as Oxygen, with its lyrics so beautifully written and passionately sung. Three quarters through his set, Willy has a chat to the crowd whilst patiently tuning up, and says how nice it is to be here, and give his thanks to the Sourmill. The Sourmill being a venue back in America, Willy hears the crowd giggle and turns around to find himself facing the massive Sugarmill banner, to which he jokes “Well, you can’t get them all right.” Willy has a laugh with the crowd and his natural ability on the stage has the audience in his hands during songs and laughing inbetween.
Nina Violet then joins Willy on the stage with a violin. Queue emotional music to a tear shedding standard. Whilst Nina is tuning up, Willy can’t help but continue his off the cuff banter with the crowd. As they play together, the feel almost of Johnny Cash and June Carter seems to take hold in the mind. I usually refrain from using first person narrative in gig reviews, but such was the intimacy of witnessing Willy and Nina play live together, anything other than writing in first person would take away completely the inspired performance I saw at The Sugarmill. With gigs such as these, there is no wonder why NME voted The Sugarmill Best Small Venue of the Midlands for a second year running.
As they roll into the final song of the night, Will Mason tells the crowd how he has enjoyed being in Stoke-on-Trent, unable to resist the joke of being “Stoked to be here.” Sneaking back on for an encore song, Willy makes yet another joke about the cheese spread and mayonnaise he has backstage (altering a few lyrics from his encore song to make it fit the joke, such is his wit and intelligence)
All in all, The Sugarmill tonight have put on a gig rammed with pure and raw musical talent, ranging right on our home turf in the form of outstanding folk artist Aaron Mobberley, right across the shores to America with the amazing Nina Violet and Willy Mason.