For their final live appearance of 2015, Mostly Autumn came to The Assembly in Leamington Spa, scene of that emotional farewell to Heather Findlay five and a half years ago. With a four o’clock start they promised a very long evening for what was to be their only Christmas show of the year.
Things began with an extremely varied acoustic set. It started out conventionally enough with unplugged versions of regular live standards “Nowhere to Hide” and “Never the Rainbow”. We had a couple of Olivia Sparnenn vocal showcases in the shape of “Rain Song” and a spine-tingling “Silhouette of Stolen Ghosts”. Far more unexpected was Angela Gordon stepping up to the microphone to sing lead on a spellbinding cover of Christy’s Moore’s “Ride On” which showed a new side of her as a performer. There were also solo performances from Alex Cromarty with a song about superheroes, a piano number by Hannah Hird, and Chris Johnson singing “Gaze”, a song he’s often performed solo but did appear on the bonus disk of “Heart Full of Sky”. To end things off the band regrouped with a very rarely-performed song, “Through the Window”.
Next was an all-too brief set from violinist Anna Phoebe. Seeing her accompanied by a classical pianist rather than an electric rock band it was a quite different experience compared to her festival appearances earlier in the year. As anyone who has seen her will know, her playing was both fiery and lyrical, the piano accompaniment giving it more of a classical feel than the folk and rock flavour of her full band. The only thing wrong was that her set was over far too soon.
The main event of course was Mostly Autumn’s two electric sets, Dressed in Voices and Mostly Floyd. The songs were the same as at the Grand Opera House a few weeks earlier, although this was an even more powerful and intense performance of both. One thing which did become clear was that Mostly Autumn have a better rhythm section than Pink Floyd did and that makes them a rock’n'roll band in a way Pink Floyd never really were. The original version of “Sheep” never grooved quite like their version. And Bryan Josh was very clearly enjoying himself during that Comfortably Numb solo.
The first encore of “The Gap is too Wide” was probably the high point of the entire evening, especially when they hit the choral section. The triple vocals of Olivia Sparnenn, Angela Gordon and Hannah Hird comes close to replicating the full choir and more than do the song justice. They followed that with a really powerful “Questioning Eyes”, which replaced Evergreen (When did Mostly Autumn last play a full set without playing Evergreen?).
After the obligatory “Heroes Never Die” they bought out the Christmas covers; “A Spaceman Came Travelling” with Chris Johnson singing lead, “I Believe in Father Christmas”, and “Fairytale of New York” with Anna Phoebe on violin, which seemed to work far better than a couple of years back. They finished an extended and largely improvised “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” with everyone playing a solo, including an impressive country & western style guitar solo from Chris Johnson. Those final songs had the atmosphere of an end of term party, a contrast to the emotional intensity of the earlier part of the evening. It was past ten o’clock, which meant the audience had been on their feet for six hours. Not that it seemed anything like that long.
So ended Mostly Autumn’s 2015. Playing a single Christmas show in a central location rather than a tour of half a dozen dates appeared to have paid off in terms of turnout. In a year when too many gigs by too many bands had depressingly low attendances, it was great to see a big crowd in a larger venue. And the band rose to the occasion with a performance that’s a candidate for gig of 2015 in a year that’s included Steven Wilson and King Crimson.