Last December’s Mostly Autumn mini-convention in Leamington Spa was such a success that the band decided to do it again. Like last year the show was billed to feature some special one-off performances, and again included violinist Anna Phoebe both guesting with the band and playing a set of her own material. With doors at 3pm and a curfew at 10, it promised to be a long day with a lot of music.
Things started with what had been billed as a Mostly Autumn acoustic set, but with Bryan playing Stratocaster from the very beginning it was to be more semi- than completely unplugged, opening with a slowed-down piano-driven arrangement of “Never The Rainbow”. Much of the set was solo spots for individual band members, with no fewer than five of the band taking turns at singing lead; Alex Cromarty reprised his superhero song, Chris Johnson sang “Gaze”, and Angela Gordon sang both her own “Given Time” accompanied by Chris and Bryan, and her cover Christy’s Moore’s “Ride On” fronting the entire band. They ended with full electric versions of two standards that haven’t featured in this year’s touring setlist, “The Last Climb” and “Evergreen”.
Next up was Papillon, the duo of Anna Phoebe on violin and Nicholas Rizzi on acoustic guitar. Playing as a stripped back duo made for a different experience to Anna Phoebe’s full band, less rock and jazz, more classical with a hint of folk. As expected, Anna Phoebe’s sometimes fiery virtuosity was the focus with Nicholas Rizzi, himself an accomplished player acting as a foil. What was notable was the way something which was a long way from rock had a rock audience completely enthralled; you could have heard a pin drop during the set. This year there was time for a decent-length set, ending with a folk number that strongly recalled the early days of Mostly Autumn when Bob Faulds with with the band.
Last year Mostly Autumn played a set of Pink Floyd covers, which was a little controversial when announced, but silenced the doubters in the end. Rather than repeat the same thing a second time they decided to play a set of covers by different artists that had inspired the band. And what an eclectic set it turned out to be. They started out with the Floyd standard, “Us and Them” following with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” with Olivia singing lead, which some might remember from the Josh and Co gigs from many years ago. Then things took off in unexpected directions; Angela Gordon singing an emotive “Who Knows Where The Time Goes”, with Anna Phoebe on violin, Chris Johnson singing Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”, and Olivia singing Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”. Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” with Chris Backhouse guesting on sax was more predictable, and they ended as they began with a couple of obvious Floyd standards, “The Great Gig In The Sky” and “Comfortably Numb”.
After a short interval they were back with this year’s usual set opener, the folky instrumental “Out of the Inn”, then the Blackmore-like lead runs of “In for the Bite”. With the length of time they’d already been on stage we could have expected a shorter festival length set, but no, they proceeded to play the full two hours plus touring set from the early part of the year, played without a further break. Less frequently played classics like “Silver Glass”, “Wild Eyed Skies” and the epic “Mother Nature” sat alongside regular standards like “Spirit of Autumn Past”, “Passengers”, “Deep in Borrowdale” and “Questioning Eyes”. Even though it didn’t quite have the fire and intensity of the best headline shows earlier in the year, probably because of the sheer length of time they’d been on stage, it was still a hugely enjoyable set, and a reminder of just how good a songbook Mostly Autumn have built up over the years.
Anna Phoebe again joined the band for the first encore, the welcome if predictable “The Night Sky”, after which Bryan told us they’d run out of time and they could only do one more, which of course was “Heroes Never Die”. It was seven hours since the doors opened.
It all made for a great day, and like the Panic Room weekend earlier in the year was an event that amounted to far more than just another regular gig. The acoustic and covers sets were a reminder that there’s a lot of musical talent in the current incarnation on the band beyond the two front-people; in particular hearing Angela Gordon singing lead was a revelation. Let’s hope there’s another similar event in future years.