R.I.P. RICHARD MASON
Writer, musician- 1960-2023
ANGUS STEVENSON (The Relationships, Razorcuts)
Richard Mason, who has died aged 63, was an elusive presence on the music scenes of Oxford and beyond and a prolific writer for Perfect Sound Forever, with a lifelong love of weird and underground music.
He took to gig-going early, and seeing the likes of Van Der Graaf Generator at the New Theatre in Oxford as a young teenager set him on his path. Richard was also influenced by the free gigs in the Acklam Hall under the Westway in London, where hippies such as Here and Now and Nik Turner's Inner City Unit played alongside punks like Alternative TV and mad home-made groups encouraged by Here and Now's drummer Kif Kif, later the leader of Richard's favourites the 012 and World Domination Enterprises.
He was in dozens of experimental collectives with names like Delia's Green Lampshade and Electrified Swimming Pool, but his first notable band was the grungy Shake Appeal with future Swervedriver Adam Franklin and his brother Graham. Richard made an unlikely rock god, but his truculent stare showed that he meant business. Adam recalls that 'he changed my life, basically' by introducing him to EVOL by Sonic Youth.
In 1987, Richard joined indie janglers Razorcuts, contributing backing vocals and guitar to their two albums on Creation. After their split, he continued playing with 'Cuts bassist Tim Vass in baroque psych outfit Red Chair Fadeaway, recording two albums and four singles that are now collector's items. Red Chair Fadeaway gave him free rein to dabble with 'all sorts of experimental tomfoolery,' play several instruments, and write, and was probably the group that best aligned with his tastes (see below for Tim's recollections of Richard).
Richard knew the members of 'tweedy psychedelia' merchants the Relationships (he'd been in the Oxford Improvisers Co-op with drummer Tim Turan), and in 1999 he joined the band on backing vocals and then bass, staying for about a year. He appeared with them at Truck festival and contributed a couple of songs that were recorded but not released, one spiky and the other a sweet setting of a poem by Tim's nine-year-old daughter Cyan. He also supported the band on one occasion with a confrontational solo set, terrifying the audience with a loud and intense version of "I'm Straight" by Jonathan Richman.
His writing for Perfect Sound Forever allowed him to mix his strong and idiosyncratic opinions (Mark E Smith was good because he preferred the Move to the Beatles or the Stones) with self-deprecating and very English humour (Monty Python and the old Down with Skool books). He eulogized Captain Beefheart, Neu!, the Slits, and the Buzzcocks, and perhaps unexpectedly slagged off Public Image Limited and Stereolab. Read together, his articles are well informed and analytical but are also very personal - he described music in terms of how it impinged upon him and his life. I particularly recommend a piece on the Desperate Bicycles and Scritti Politti, wherein he recounts the eternal challenge of braving the snooty indie record shop and manages to link Green Gartside with Martin Carthy.
Richard was an eccentric contrarian who could be unpredictable and difficult but who was kind, funny, warm, and full of stories, always ready with an anecdote about Dave Brock from Hawkwind or Lawrence from Felt. His absorption in alternative music was reflected in an international web of musical contacts, but during his time working at the Bodleian Library he was also a keen cricketer. In his later years, he suffered poor health and other adversity, and his final project, a group called The Same, remained unrealized.
Richard is survived by his daughter Alexis.
TIM VASS (Red Chair Fadeaway, Razorcuts):
I first met Richard at a party in Oxford, probably sometime in 1986 or early 1987. He was quite shy and fairly eccentric but we shared an interest in all sorts of well-known and obscure music and we always got along well.
Richard joined Razorcuts before the recording of our first LP for Creation Records, Storyteller (1988), and he made a big contribution to the album with his backing vocals and additional guitar parts. Richard's contributions were never predictable. He had a way of playing in the spaces between the other instruments that was full of surprises.
By the time we recorded the second Razorcuts album, The World Keeps Turning (1989), we had recruited Pete Momtchiloff on guitar, but Richard joined us in the studio, adding excellent backing vocals to many of the songs.
Richard was only a member of the Razorcuts live band for a fairly short time, but he did join us on one of our jaunts to Scotland. I remember on the long car journey, we amused ourselves by trying to spot ludicrous sign posts and place names, and Richard was especially excited after we crossed the border and passed a village that was simply called "Ae." We had fun deciding how this was likely to be pronounced by the locals.
Richard didn't always relish playing live at that time as he would get quite nervous. On one occasion, he stood out of sight at the side of the stage. This must have slightly baffled the audience who would have been able to clearly hear Richard's backing vocals and guitar.
In 1988, I formed a new band called Red Chair Fadeaway with Shirley Souter. For a while, RCF existed alongside Razorcuts and Richard, Pete, and Struan Robertson played in both bands, in the studio and on stage. Eventually, the lineup settled down to me, Shirley, and Richard, with Struan guesting on drums most of the time. Red Chair Fadeaway was an out-and-out psychedelic folk band although we also sometimes brought in influences from the artier side of glam. This gave us free rein to dabble with all sorts of musical instruments, studio effects and general experimental tomfoolery. Richard loved all of that and I can picture him in the studio, gleefully tearing up bits of paper or blowing bubbles into a kettle through a straw in order to create interesting sounds!
Red Chair Fadeaway played half a dozen gigs around 1989-91. I think Richard enjoyed those gigs - the somewhat eccentric nature of the performances suited his personality and musical tastes. At times, we had members of the band whacking Moroccan hand drums, playing guitar with a Chinese bow, and so on.
Richard appeared on all of the Red Chair Fadeaway releases - two albums, four singles and a few appearances on compilations. His playing throughout these records is, in my view, extraordinary. He always avoided the obvious, but everything he did was memorable. Richard contributed a total of nine songs of his own and these can be found scattered throughout our discography. His songwriting was influenced by many of his musical heroes, particularly Kevin Ayers and Syd Barrett, but it also had a charming, slightly skewed quality of its own. My favourite amongst his many wonderful songs is Never Remember. It can be seen as quite a fitting epitaph I think. It's here...
CHRIS SCOTT (Talulah Gosh, Saturn V)
I remember that Richard got back in touch after I posted some scans of The Boy's Book of Ill-treating Amplifiers online. In exchange for some copied cassettes he sent me the 012 LP (Let's Get Professional), and the Weird Noise EP, in a one-off hand drawn cover. It was a gift of such disproportionate generosity that I have never forgotten it, and in fact was thinking of it only recently when the LP's finally made their way back into the living room. But it did occur to me at the time that spare copies of incredibly obscure items were not something that a normal person would just have sitting about.
SEE ALL OF RICHARD MASON'S PSF ARTICLES:
- John's Children (October 1997)
- reivew of The Fall's Slates (May 1998)
- The Saints (July 1998)
- The Outsiders (September 1998)
- Buzzcocks (February 1999)
- review of Captain Beefheart's Lick My Decals Off, Baby (February 1999)
- review of Captain Beefheart's Clear Spot (February 1999)
- Swell Maps (July 1999)
- Scritti Politti/Desperate Bicycles (November 1999)
- Neu! (October 2000)
- Alternative TV (February 2001)
- Richard's supposed last PSF article (February 2001)
- The Slits (March 2005)
- Richard Mason's top 10 (November 2007)
- Anette Peacock (December 2008)
- Viv Albertine interview (The Slits) (March 2011)
- Annette Peacock I'm The One (June 2011)
- D!O!D!O!D! (October 2011)
- Mark E. Smith tribute (February 2018)
Also see Richard's wit, wisdom and obsessive music lists via 20+ years of emails
Special thanks to Angus for arranging the other entries and providing the photos
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