A night of (at times a bit frustrating) musical collaboration, American Willy Mason headlined this Sunday show at Mercury, featuring Frenchmen Yoann Minkoff and Kris Nolly, Brits Emily Capell and Matt Cowley and Capetonian Mark Fransman.
I always feel a little uncomfortable when Mercury bring out the picnic tables (and the oddly New York themed tablecloths)…still, Sunday night’s show was a chilled affair and the seating was definitely the right call. Beehived English singer-songwriter Emily Capell kicked things off with her great mix of humour and infectious songs. Simple melodies allowed her clever and amusing lyrics to steal the show, and with subject matter ranging from people who wear Joy Division T-shirts without knowing anything about the band to Kanye West, she thoroughly charmed the crowd and left everyone smiling. She was also responsible for the best running gag I’ve seen in a while: constantly introducing her percussionist, Matt Cowley, as a different celebrity (with ‘Kim Kardashian’ being a crowd favourite).
Up next was local songsmith Mark Fransman of Sonik Citizen. The only solo performer of the night he held his own, as well as the crowd’s attention with songs like his soulful ode to someone he once met, Toothless Joe, “a homeless man with an interesting world view”.
Singer-songwriter Yoann Minkoff and beatboxer Kris Nolly were up next with what I’d say is best described as some American-style blues and folk numbers. Their sound was a little hard to pin down, especially once the Frenchmen were later joined by two local performers (Sisanda Myataza and Teba Shumba) which twisted and turned their musical output everywhere from almost jazz to almost reggae.
More collaborations followed during headliner Willy Mason’s set. The soft-spoken American oozed calm, from his backward cap to his totally laid back demeanor and dry sense of humour. He started his set with a few solo tracks before being joined by Inge Beckmann for one song (which descended into giggles here and there) and then a local multi-instrumentalist for the rest of the set.
Collaboration was obviously a big part of the night and while I think it’s cool when international artists connect and work with local ones, I feel like the result in this case (for both Mason and Minkoff) was a bit more like a jam session than anything cohesive. I’m sure everyone didn’t have much time to practice together but it’s not really about that…it’s more about trying to cram in too many ideas and ultimately diluting all of them. It made it hard to connect emotionally when the mood felt uncertain of itself. For me personally anyway, I think one or two good collaborations would’ve been better and more meaningful, especially with such a personal and emotive genre as folk music. Sometimes less just is more.
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