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Big Interview: Why former Beta Band star Steve Mason wants to return to Fife to raise his daughter

The former Beta Band frontman and co-founder tells us about growing up in St Andrews, buying records at Groucho's and explains why he believes something 'monumental' is required to shake-up politics

Steve Mason. Image: Tom Marshak
Steve Mason. Image: Tom Marshak

Steve Mason has lived in Brighton for the best part of a decade now, putting behind him his well-documented struggles with mental health and enjoying being dad to his “amazing” six-year-old girl.

The St Andrews-raised frontman and co-founder of cult 1990s psychedelic outfit The Beta Band packed up his life in Fife after coming off a solo tour around 2012/13.

He’s spoken before about how after a difficult period, his change in circumstance came about when he walked into his cottage where he lived alone and he thought to himself: “What the hell are you doing here? In a blink you are going to be 50 and you are going to be living in the woods on your own like a little weirdo!”

Steve Mason. Image: Tom Marshak

But as the now 52-year-old former Canongate Primary, Greyfriars Primary and Madras College pupil looks forward to playing Church in Dundee on December 9, could he be set for a permanent move back to Fife?

It’s certainly something he’s considering as The Courier catches up with him to talk about his latest UK tour, the release of his recent “uplifting” album Brothers & Sisters, and his memories of growing up in North East Fife.

He reveals he would love to move back to Scotland within the next five years.

And he’d especially like his daughter to grow up in Fife.

Steve Mason ‘heartbroken’ when his dad moved away from St Andrews

“I just really miss it,” reveals the Kirkcaldy-born musician, who moved to St Andrews when he was four.

“The thing is my mum and dad split up.

“My mum moved with my step dad down to the Lake District.

“My dad was still living in Scotland until seven or eight months ago.

Steve Mason. Image: Tom Marshak

“But now he’s moved back to where he’s from – Leeds.

“He’s getting on a bit, and my sister’s in Leeds.

“He wants to be a bit closer to his family. He was on his own. His wife had died.

“So when he moved out of St Andrews, it broke my heart.

“I’ve got no family in Scotland now at all.

“I’m still coming to terms with that to be honest!

“It used to be so easy to go back. We could just stay with him.

“He had a decent sized house, room for us to stay.

“We were in Scotland four times a year when he was living there.

“We’d visit Edinburgh which is such a great city. Glasgow is such a great city.

“We’ve spent a lot of time at the V&A in Dundee. That’s a great facility.

“I just miss it all to be honest with you.

“That’s why I’m really looking forward to playing in Dundee again.

“Any chance to get back up the road!”

How did St Andrews and Dundee influence Steve Mason during his teenage years?

Steve says it’s a shame Groucho’s record store closed in Dundee.

He’s planning to nip into Thirteen Records and Assai when he’s in town for his tour.

At the age of eight or nine, the first two records he bought were singles by Adam and the Ants and X-Ray Spex.

He became “totally obsessed” with music thereafter and has fond memories of the record sections in St Andrews’ Woolworths and John Menzies stores as a teenager in the mid-late 1980s.

But it’s his trips to Dundee on the ‘95’ ‘Leven bus’ to and from St Andrews that stick in his mind when he reflects on his teenage years.

Steve Mason. Image: Tom Marshak

“Back then in the ‘80s, St Andrews was still pretty cut off,” he recalls.

“Of course, there was no internet or anything back then.

“You only had your mates and the older kids to tell you what was really going on.

“So obviously going over to Dundee – a city – meant you were exposed to a lot more of what was going on than in St Andrews when it came to youth culture.

“Even back then there was a couple of record shops in St Andrews but nothing like Groucho’s.

“Groucho’s was heaven really.

“And you would see the punks in Dundee, you’d see the Mods, you’d see all the different groups.

Steve Mason was a great fan of Groucho’s and Groucho’s proprietor Alastair ‘Breeks’ Brodie. Image: DC Thomson

“It was important. It formed who you are and who you want to be and what you want to be, and what you don’t like and what you do like.

“And then when I got into the Scooter scene, I used to go over to ‘Harty’s’ in Dundee – Andrew Hart Scooter shop – and everyone used to hang out there on Saturday mornings.

“So yeah, I spent quite a bit of time in Dundee”.

What can Steve Mason fans expect when he plays Church in Dundee?

Since the demise of The Beta Band in the early 2000s, Steve has pursued a solo career, releasing albums under his own name.

His solo work often explores a variety of musical styles, including folk, electronic, and indie rock.

The Beta Band

When he plays Church, supported by his band, he’ll be playing some older material, as well as some of The Beta Band tracks because “ultimately it seems a bit childish not to”.

But the main focus of his set will see him “rattling through a lot of the new album”.

He describes Brothers & Sisters as a “really exciting record to play live – way more exciting than anything else I’ve ever done”.

While many musicians experienced an “existential crisis” during the Covid-19 lockdown through not being able to perform in front of live audiences, Steve laughs that he questions his existence “on a daily basis!”

Luckily, he says, he was smart enough to realise that the last thing people would want to listen to after two years of Covid-19 was a “Covid album” – so he tried to make it as “uplifting” as possible.

Looking for some kind of “spirituality without it being spoiled by an organised religion” – he ended up listening to a lot of Gospel music.

Artwork from Steve Mason’s Brothers & Sisters album cover. Image: Tom Marshak

The sentiment of those songs and the emotion behind them really helped inspire this record.

However, when he reflects on the Covid-19 period, not only did he manage to create the new album, he was grateful for family life.

“At that point my daughter was two-and-a half, going on three,” he says.

“So your main concern really is the kids.

“We were lucky she wasn’t really old enough to understand what was going on.

“But the good thing about that is it sort of distracted you a lot from your own thoughts about what was a concerning time.

“I felt we were pretty lucky really – but we knew people who really struggled.”

Steve Mason has strong views on politics and the ‘dark forces’ of society

Steve has always had a way with words when it comes to politics.

When he took to the Fat Sams stage during his last Dundee visit in November 2019, it was no surprise that between tracks, he did not hold back in putting the world to rights.

Disillusioned with mainstream party politics and angry at the workings of capitalism, it was Boris Johnson and the Tories who were firmly in Mason’s sights.

Cheered by many in the crowd when he warned that Boris was a “psychopath” who had been “put there by the establishment to do harm to you”, Steve also managed to pay tribute to his homeland with the occasional chant of “Fife for life”.

Four years on, it’s noted that Boris Johnson’s reputation has hardly improved!

But Steve is saddened that the “political stall” he set out on his 2013 album Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time has “come to pass really”.

“I think that the UK as a whole is in a very very dark place,” he says.

“It’s going to take something monumental to change it because at the moment…all you have is this succession of horrifically populist governments and prime ministers.

“I think when you enter a situation where you have leaders of political parties that nobody wants to vote for, that’s a really really dangerous situation because less and less people vote and when less and less people vote you end up with something like Brexit.

“Brexit happened because a lot of people didn’t vote because they trusted too much that the British people would not vote for something as ruinous as Brexit.

“But they under-estimated the stupidity and the level of indoctrination that was going on and the level of radicalisation that was going on.

Steve Mason. Image: Tom Marshak

“I think it’s very easy to end up in a very similar situation with General Elections.”

What are Steve Mason’s views on Scottish independence?

In the run up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Steve says him and his friends became “wrapped up in this idea that Scotland could become this left wing utopia”.

He concedes that “people always want different outcomes from these things, and it’s a complex situation”.

Having grown up in Scotland, however, and now from the perspective of living in Brighton – and wanting to move back – he says it “gets pretty tiring never getting the government that you vote for”.

What’s clear, he says, is that “Scotland has wildly different views from a lot of people down here”.

If another independence referendum does happen, he wants to see “people getting round the table in all the different corners of Scotland and hammering out their differences to make sure everyone knows what they are voting for and what an independent Scotland would actually look like”.

Steve Mason at the Outwith Festival in Dunfermline earlier this year. Image: Matt Robertson

He adds: “If we are ever fortunate to be in that situation again, I would say spend a year debating the thing before anything happens.

“Hammer it all out so everybody knows what they are voting for, everybody knows what they are getting – and have the confidence to do that.

“Scotland has a crisis of confidence about big things, and we need to get over that and take control for ourselves.”

Realising that he’s just talked about “taking control”, Steve laughs: “I’m starting to sound like f*cking Boris Johnson!”

Ticket details for Steve Mason’s gig in Church, Dundee, on December 9

Steve Mason, Church Dundee, Saturday December 9.