Another Mostly Autumn tour has come to an end. This time I managed to get to six dates, two of which I’ve previously reviewed in full on this blog.
The band had gone through a lot of personnel changes from last years spring tour – gone were Gavin Griffiths and Chris Johnson, busy touring with Fish, and Angie Gordon, taking an extended career break following the birth of her daughter at the end of last year. We saw the welcome return of Liam Davidson and Iain Jennings, Anne Marie Helder continuing in the role she took on from Angie at the end of last year, and welcomed the new drummer Henry Bourne. The new version of the band gelled pretty quickly. I really hadn’t realised how much I’d missed Iain’s keyboard playing until he was back; whether it was that Hammond solo on “Never the Rainbow”, or the delicate piano playing on a great many songs. Same with Liam; while having just the one guitar last year gave Bryan more space, having two guitars does make for a much bigger sound. Liam’s not really a rhythm guitarist as such, while he doesn’t play much in the way of solos, much of what he plays is lead runs, often doubling up with Bryan.
Anne-Marie Helder has really fitted in well; she’s a very different personality to Angie Gordon; one of the strongest images I have of this tour is Anne Marie really going for it on the tambourine during “Never the Rainbow”. The choice of songs meant she didn’t play as much flute as Angie did last year; but her contributions as a backing singer were very prominent.
Henry Bourne is a fantastic drummer. The two drummers last year, Gavin Griffiths and Andy Jennings, had different strengths; but Henry seems to combine the best of both; he’s powerful when the songs needs it; can do complex stuff when required, but never overdrums with over-ornate fills when it’s not appropriate. For this band and their music, he’s perhaps the best drummer I’ve seen with the band. And he’s a really nice guy as well.
And hats off to Heather Findlay, six months pregnant by the end of the tour. Playing a two hour show singing lead must be very hard work in her condition, but she sang flawlessly throughout the tour. And she still manages to look fantastic.
I wasn’t at the very first show, at Bilston, although I’ve heard it said that they were a bit rusty in the first half, and took a while to get going. I did get to the second, in Gloucester, and that one was an absolute blinder. Leicester was shortly after the sad death of Howard Sparnenn, and the band were rather subdued that night for obvious reasons. The next one in Crewe was the weakest of the tour, where poor sound and a lot of niggling technical problems took the edge off things. Eight days later in Bury the band were firing on all cylinders again. A couple of weeks later in Lincoln was the best one I saw on the tour; a superbly tight and emotionally intense performance helped by a crystal clear sound mix. The final date at the brand new venue in Stocksbridge just outside Sheffield was another good one, apart from a few niggling problems with the venue (and a bad case of gig talkers – who in their right mind pays 15 quid to see a band then loudly discusses the football with their mates?).
Apart from a couple of changes very early on, they stuck to the same setlist all tour, the only changes being in the running order, with the piano ballad “Above the Blue” alternating between the later part of the second set, and the first encore. While I’d love to have heard more songs from the new album “Glass Shadows”, I have to admit this was a very strong setlist indeed – it was lovely to hear “Simple Ways” and “Another Life” from the previously-neglected “Passengers” album. They’ve rested a few oldies, such as “The Dark Before the Dawn”, and only a couple of songs from “Heart Full of Sky” remain in the set.
It’s difficult to pick out highlights; that superb “Carpe Diem” at Bury, “Unoriginal Sin” which grew and grew in intensity as the tour went on; some real lump-in-the-throat versions of “Tearing at the Faerytale” and “Heroes Never Die”. Even oldies like “Nowhere to Hide” and “Spirit of Autumn Past” seem to have gained a lot of power on this tour, especially towards the end.
Those who wrote the band off because they didn’t like “Heart Full of Sky” don’t know what they’ve been missing.
It’s another five weeks until their appearance at the Cambridge Rock Festival, which will be their list appearance before Heather goes on maternity leave. I’m guessing there won’t be an extended spring tour next year other than the limited number of dates in February.
See you at Cambridge!