Mostly Autumn came to Bilston Robin 2 on the Christmas leg on their tour.
The set opened with drummer Alex Cromarty alone on stage playing the drum pattern from “Winter Mountain”, then joined by Andy Smith on bass. The rest of the band came on stage one by one until Olivia Sparnenn made her dramatic entrance.
The setlist was much the same as they’ve been playing all year, with songs from the recent “Ghost Moon Orchestra” mixed with older material drawn heavily from the early albums. Olivia can take the older songs and make them hers, but several of her newer songs are now highlights of the set; big epics such as “Unquiet Tears” and “Questioning Eyes” and the delicate ballad “Rain Song”. Another high point was the sequence of rockers, including “Never the Rainbow” and “Deep in Borrowdale” building momentum towards the end of the set. With the absence of Anne-Marie Helder in the band there were occasional moments where the lack of the flute parts were obvious, but for this tour they’ve rested the songs that are heavily dependent on her flute lines. One final highlight had to be Olivia’s spellbinding version of the traditional carol “O Holy Night” during the encores.
The whole set had an energy and passion that hasn’t always been there this year, with everyone on top form for this show. It’s a reminder of just how good this band can be when they’re firing on all cylinders. Bryan soaring overdriven guitar and Iain Jennings’ walls of Hammond organ make a huge sound, and the good sound mix meant that you could hear all seven band members’ contributions clearly.
They ended as they began, with the band leaving one by one leaving just Olivia Sparnenn and backing vocalist Hannah Hird on stage singing the outtro of the final Christmas cover.
Backing singer Hannah Hird, who has been standing in for Anne-Marie Helder for most of 2013′s live dates, made a strong impression. She’s always had a great voice, but now she’s had time to grow into the role she’s got far more confidence and stage presence than earlier in the year. She now comes over as a part of the band rather than a hired hand, her harmony lines making a great foil for Olivia’s lead.
The only real criticism of this show is that one or two of the traditional Christmas covers at the end are starting to feel very tired. They’ve been a part of the Mostly Autumn Christmas shows for as long as I can remember, but perhaps they ought to cut them down to perhaps two rather than four, and not play the same ones year after year. They’ve wisely dropped Fairytale of New York this time around, but the Slade song is getting really old hat now. Time for a change?
2013 has been a bit of a year of ups and downs for Mostly Autumn. A constantly changing lineup has cost them a bit of momentum, and their gigs have been rather more hit and miss than on the last couple of years. But this show was without doubt one of the better ones, certainly far better than the disappointing show in York the night before. The band are playing their final dates of the year in The Netherlands this weekend before heading into the studio in the new year to begin work on a new album.