The Mastersons, Tingewick Village Hall

Tingewick Village Hall was the unassuming venue for last night's gig from The Mastersons. In a hall filled almost to capacity Paul McClure started the show as the evening's opening act. Hailing from Rutland, England, the singer-songwriter travelled through many of his tracks and kept the audience entertained and happy throughout his almost hour long set.

I had not listened particularly closely to Paul's music in the past. I missed some of his set due to an interview with The Mastersons however I was pleasantly surprised with both his voice and musicianship (the only accompaniment for his set being him playing the guitar and occasionally harmonica). He played an eight song set, one of the stand out tracks being Everyday Is Mine To Spend, ending with him un-plugging his guitar from the app and walking through the audience towards the back of the hall (it was the last track in his set)

Shortly after Paul closed his set The Mastersons took the stage to strong applause. The duo - formed by Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore - kept the attention of the audience (a mix of people who had never seen them before and fans returning for another show) interested and appreciative of their harmonies, overall vocals and musical talent. Chris and Eleanor are very different characters, Eleanor being the more serious of the two however you could tell both were really drawn into their music and interacted with the audience and each other well.

Some of the highlights of The Masterson's set were their performances of Uniform, I Found You and Highway One. Uniform and I Found You can both be heard on the duo's newest album and Highway One is currently an unreleased track. It is also worth noting both Chris and Eleanor's confident a cappella vocals. This was highlighted at various points in the set, perhaps the strongest being the closing section to Time Is Tender. Asking the audience to sing along, they stripped the production back to just Eleanor and her guitar and then to just the collective voices - a really strong moment.

I was able to catch up with The Mastersons shortly before their performance....

How where you first introduced to music?
Eleanor: We both come from musical families, my parents started me on the violin when I was four and a half. My mum's an opera singer and my dad's a folk singer so I didn't really have a choice!
Chris: They kind of placed instruments in her and her sister's hands, I think they wanted to have a band so they needed musicians! [laughs] 
Eleanor: And you started playing I guess when you were about eight.
Chris: Eight, I was eight when I could get my hands around a guitar neck and before then my dad used to just sit around and....he was a hobbyist but there were always guitars in the living room and he'd play George Jones and Merle Haggard songs. I would sit and act like I was playing along and then I was about eight years old when I could get my hand around a guitar neck and it's been downhill ever since [laughs] 
Who would you describe as your influences?
Chris: I think that's really tricky, especially in this kind of music. We just played on a record where a producer referred to it as a kaleidoscope and it really is. I grew up in Texas seeing guys like Albert Collins play every Christmas, some of the blues greats, Bobby Blue Bland, so there's that, the blues side of things and then my mum would take me to song writer gigs so the folk side of things and then you're in Texas so good country music was inescapable. But early on I listened to The Beatles and Dave Edmunds.
Eleanor: I have to say the same, I mean there's just a lot of different things that we listened to growing up and I guess as a band, The Mastersons, we've definitely taken not of various power pop acts, just for harmonies and stuff like that. Anything from Buddy and Julie to Miller to....I don't know....help me out here [laughs]
Chris: I don't know, there's something that happens growing up in Texas that's very special but I think we draw just as much from stuff on this side of the pond. Simply put it's like I love Ray Davies as much as I love Ray Price.
How did you two first meet?
Eleanor: We met at a music festival in Colorado, Chris was playing guitar with a guy named Jack Ingram and I was there with a woman named Susan Gibson and we met at a crazy after party at this festival and the rest is history.
Chris: Then downhill ever since! [laughs]
Can you remember the first record you ever bought?
Eleanor: My first piece of vinyl that I bought was a Beach Boys double album with all the hits on it and my first cassette tape was Michael Jackson "Thriller".
Chris: I think....my first piece of vinyl, I must have been four or something, was a Juice Newton record and it was the one that had her version of "Queen Of Hearts" on it and it had "Dream". They weren't her songs but those where the songs I really remember and it's funny now I still love those songs today as much as I did before! I don't know, I just went mad buying records ever since.
How would you describe your type of music?
Chris: You know I think that elevator pitch....it gets really difficult, when we sing here people will call it folk music, in Spain they'll call it power pop, when we go to Australia they call anything that falls under this umbrella country music. I think I would tell people folk rock, it's just easier.
Eleanor: We get compared to Fleetwood Mac and The Jayhawks....
What made you decide to form a music duo?
Chris: It may have been about 2009....we were already a couple and we were already playing on each other's records, I had produced a record for her, she was playing on my stuff and we each had probably enough tunes to record a record of our own and then the idea of self-releasing two records in one household seemed like a horrible idea. About the same time Steve Earle was talking to us about taking us on the road and....it wasn't an ultimatum but when it comes from Steve it's a pretty good directive....he was like 'I'm going to feature you guys on the show, you better have a record to sell'. [laughs]
Eleanor: So we made "Birds Fly South" ready for the tour when we started with him and it was ready by early 2011. It didn't come out until a year after.
Do you notice any difference between US and UK audiences?
Eleanor: Yes, there's definitely differences even in just different parts of the UK.
Chris: The same could be said of the US.
Eleanor: Yeah, I think it just depends on where you are, it feels that sometimes that people in the UK are more excited to experience new music and buy a new record and for some reason it seems a little harder to reach people in the States sometimes. I would say the audiences tend to be a little more reserved in the UK....
Chris: But they're listening closer maybe. I don't know, to me it's a night to night thing, you never know when you're going to have that sympatico thing with the crowd, you get on the stage and you just do the best you can wherever you are. Sometimes in the big cities you're met with people with their arms crossed or on their mobile phones and then you come to a small place and they're going nuts for it. I don't know, you just kind of never know. 
Do you change your set depending on where you are and who you're playing to?
Chris: Yeah, especially now coming in on the second record where we have a lot of music you kind of know if you're going to keep things up or if it's a rowdy crowd you might not pick the quietest stuff but then sometimes it's like well I'm the one with the microphone so maybe I'll play whatever I want.
You both co-wrote all of Good Luck Charm, was that a conscious decision?
Eleanor: I think....yeah....it was also just kind of an evolution. When we wrote the songs for the first record, for "Birds [Fly South]" we realised we had a collection of songs and they all kind of worked together. By the end of writing "Birds Fly South" we were starting to come to a sound, songs like "Crash Test" where we sing together throughout the sound, so I think that kind of hinted at where we where going and we kind of wanted to write more tunes that were sung as one voice, both our voices together.
Which artist would you like to collaborate with and why?
Chris: Humm that's a tricky one....
Eleanor: I would like to collaborate with Tom Waits. I like his writing and I would like to be a member of his band.
Chris: That's a good one....Jeff Lynne. [laughs]
Which song do you wish you had written and why?
Chris: Oh gosh....too broad questions! [laughs] I can think of a lot of them....I'm just going to say "Blackbird"
Eleanor: Really, I was going to say "I Will", I mean anything McCartney I don't know [laughs] 
Chris: You know it's funny, there was this televised benefit after Hurricane Sandy a couple of years ago and all these huge acts. including McCartney and his band, but the Foo Fighters were there, they re-united Nirvana....so all these things but he [McCartney] sang that with just his guitar and it was better than the cumulative effect of all those artists under one roof.
Eleanor: It was amazing just to see him, just even, as he's aged he's just as good as ever, he's just amazing.
Chris: [laughs] So I guess we're both deferring to Sir Paul! 
You've mentioned you're members of Steve Earle's band, how has it been working with him and how did that come about originally?
Chris: I met Steve in Australia, getting on thirteen years ago and he saw me play, I was a fan before I was a friend, he's been one of our biggest and most vocal performers, so it's obviously worked pretty well for us! [laughs] He's great, we just made a new record with him, you'll be hearing more about that soon, it's been really cool.
 Eleanor: He's been one of our biggest champions, it's been amazing.
Which track has been the hardest to write from either of your releases?
Eleanor: Probably "Cautionary Tale". It was one where the melody had been floating around before we made "Birds Fly South", we even had the title probably just as long and just couldn't quite figure out the angle of the lyrics and we just we were just hammering away at it, every couple of months we would get it out and work on it again and just really didn't make any headway on it until we were in Malmo, Sweden. We were just in a hotel room and we finally started talking about some different subjects just to get a different angle. Once we got the right angle it actually came out pretty quickly. That one took the longest to hatch.
How do you go about writing, do you start with lyrics or melody normally?
Eleanor: That depends, just whatever strikes you. Some come with the melody first.
Chris: I think you just chase it down however it comes. It could be a line like "Cautionary Tale" and you read well what's that? Or you have a melody. There's no one way to do it, you could ask ten different writers their method and you'd get ten different answers I'm sure.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Chris: You know, I can't think of one sentence that was given to me direct from another artist but what I think we, Eleanor and I, both have the luxury of is being side musicians. We get to play with other artists and you tend to learn something from everyone you work with, you spend so much time with. With Steve [Earle] you just watch his process and see how he goes through everything. The song comes first, the poetry comes first. The best businessman, have the best team behind you, do this or that, tweet pictures of your hamburger every night and try to market yourself but if you don't have a memorable chorus or if the songs don't stick you've got nothing. I think a lot of the people we've worked with have really long and well defined careers and when I say careers I think of record after record of great music and material that ages well. I feel like the bar has been set pretty high for us.
Eleanor: I think another thing I've learnt, just from performing with other artists is that it doesn't really matter so much if you play a song perfectly it's really how you connect with the audience. It might be the story that you tell in between. Sitting here and listening to the opening act as we do this interview I can tell he's doing a really good job connecting with the crowd, he's gotten them laughing several times. That's what makes people remember you, not that you perform perfectly.
Chris: I'm glad you brought that up, I think it took a while for that. For the first year or two the band would go out on stage and open for Steve or play a big show and you just try to play the songs as perfect as you can, it really doesn't matter. It's can you make the crowd laugh, can you make them cry and connect with them. Everyone in the room when you go to a show is just seeking some sort of connection, that could be a couple that's on a date at the gig, that could be the artist and an audience member, that could be two buddies having a beer, everyone just seeks some sort of connection. I think that's what everybody in the room at a gig is looking for when they go out otherwise we'd stay at home in front of the turntable right?
Do you feel working with other artists has helped your own performances as well?
Eleanor : Definitely 
Chris: Oh yeah, it's a real leg up to stand side stage and watch someone else, watch Steve handle an audience every night.
What's your favourite part about being musicians?
Chris: The couple of hours on stage every night. I always tell people that the music's free it's the other twenty-two hours of the day I charge for. 
What would you say your least favourite part is?
Eleanor: Just getting there, just the physical energy it takes getting to and from various
places, it can be taxing.
Chris: What was Bob Harris' analogy the other day? It's really interesting
Eleanor: He said it's like you're the swan, everybody sees the artist as the swan but there's really a lot more going on underneath the surface than just the swan and I don't know that the audience....and the audience shouldn't know.
Chris: We could be having a rubbish day for all you know, we're actually not I'm pretty excited, but the fact of the matter is we're lucky to have people to sing for, we're lucky that people want to chat with us before the gig and even if we were having a bad day or an argument or we were sick you still have to do this. So that's....as Bob so aptly put, the audience sees a swan....
Eleanor: There's a lot more that it takes to get to that point. 
The Mastersons are undoubtedly a very talented duo and gave a very strong performance last night. The duo have a few more dates in the UK and their confident and polished live performance last night makes me sure that they will continue to impress. As with Paul, I had not previously listened to much of their music however I found myself again pleasantly surprised and drawn in to the songs and I would say they are definitely worth listening to!

Credit to Malcolm Stone for the photos,

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