BU Rocks: Singing Where the Beatles Once Rocked
ENG’s Ruth “Ruby Bird” Mason played a legendary Liverpool club
BU and rock ‘n roll are in a long-term relationship — just ask the members of Aerosmith, who got their start playing parties in the dorms. Kenmore Square and the BU campus have changed since then, but the University’s musical tradition hasn’t gone away. This week, we highlight five BU bands to watch for.
ENG’s Ruth Mason, along with her husband, Bill Mason, has been performing since the 1980s. Click below to hear Bird Mancini play "Holly." Photo by Mr. Curt
Ruth Mason says that seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 changed her young life, setting her inexorably down a musical path. In late May, Mason belted out tunes at the same Liverpool club the Fab Four rocked as a house band more than four decades ago.
“The Beatles changed everything,” says Mason, director of the School of Engineering’s department of manufacturing engineering. “If you weren’t alive during the ’60s, you really have no clue. They started a whole new wave, a musical revolution.”
Mason, who sings and plays accordion and harmonica, is half of a popular local act known as Bird Mancini. Her husband, guitarist Bill Mason, is the other half. After playing International Pop Overthrow Festival gigs in Boston and New York last fall, Bird Mancini was invited to the Liverpool IPO Festival to play two shows on May 26 at the Cavern Club, where the Beatles launched their storied career.
“We’re crazy Beatleheads,” says Mason, who goes by the stage name of Ruby Bird. “My husband has amassed an unbelievable collection of Beatles music and paraphernalia that would make Beatles dealers envious.”
In 1961 and 1962, the Beatles played some 300 shows at the Cavern Club, where they met their future manager, Brian Epstein. Later, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Elton John, the Who, and John Lee Hooker shook its stage. The club was razed in 1973 and rebuilt in 1984 on much of the original site, with many of the same bricks. In 1999, Paul McCartney returned for a gig. While the Cavern Club has become a tourist draw, it still hosts live music, attracting in recent years bands like Oasis, Travis, and the Artic Monkeys.
The Masons have been performing for almost three decades, playing clubs and festivals large and small, from Arizona to New York City and opening for David Crosby and Gregg Allman, among others. In the 1980s, they toured extensively, but they later broke from the band they were playing in, opting to go in a different — and less lucrative — musical direction. That meant day jobs.
“BU was a perfect place for me to work because they offered a very good vacation package,” says Mason, who came to the University in 1986. “That gives me enough free time to do these special things. They’re pretty supportive of alternate lifestyles, alternate careers. There was no reason for me to leave. I love my job.”
Last year, Bird Mancini released its third CD, Funny Day. The Masons characterize themselves on MySpace as “stubbornly eclectic, influenced by everything good that we hear — real or imagined. From our many musician friends, to the Beatles, to XTC, dada, Django, Mahalia, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Count Basie, Hendrix, CSN&Y, and on and on … it all shows up in our music sooner or later.”
And according to the Boston Globe, “Any band that bills itself as a husband-wife/accordion-guitar rock duo is worth investigating. Bird Mancini mix up a cosmopolitan fusion of blues-tinged rock, Latin-flavored bossa nova, country-folk balladry, and woolly psychedelia. What it adds up to is pop music in the most adventurous, inclusive sense of the term.”
Bird Mancini performed May 16 at the Cantab Lounge, 738 Mass. Ave., in Cambridge’s Central Square, taking the stage with a rhythm section — John Bridge on bass and Larry Harvey on drums — who joined them at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. And to warm up her Beatles spirit, Ruth Mason sat in with the opening act for the Pete Best Band, led by the Beatles’ original drummer, on May 17, at the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, N.H.
Caleb Daniloff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally ran May 15, 2008.