It’s now Thursday night, and I still haven’t quite come down to earth.
The weekend began with the five and a half hour journey from Cheshire to Bournmouth by Virgin Voyager, followed by a lengthy wait for the coach to the convention site, a holiday centre and caravan park just outside of Ringwood in Dorset.
The whole thing was a big meetup for fans, not just from Britain but from around the world. One of the first people I met was Paul Konstant, who’d come with his family from the US. There was another fan from New Zealand. The weekend was a chance to properly get to know a lot of the people who’s previously been just faces at gigs, and to put faces to names for regulars on the band’s web message boards. So I met up with the likes of Dr Wart Hoover, Paul Ozzy Hodgson, Mike and Eileen Foley, Peter the Great, David Taylor, Rog, Anthony from Holland, and many many more.
Two typical reprobates propping up the bar
Friday was the warm up, consisting of an ‘open mic session’ around an imitation campfire, plus a set by the local band Rushing With Apathy. RWA showed a lot of promise; I wasn’t quite sure about the singer, but the instrumental side was pretty solid; more Rock than Indie. The open mic session was a bit variable, but it still takes some bottle to get up an play in front of some members of the band.
As well as the music (a total of eight live sets over the three days), there were a lot of other events. I took part in the ‘Eggheads’ quiz on Saturday, with four teams of volunteers going head-to-head against a team made up from members of the band. Unfortunately our team didn’t make it past the first round; how can anybody expect to beat Bryan on questions about Mostly Autumn? The question-and-answer session got some illuminating answers, including those for the three questions I submitted. No, they don’t reject the ‘Prog’ tag Then there was the charity auction on Sunday, with people bidding £200 for Heather’s worn-out tambourine, bits that had fallen off included!. It raised more than two thousand pounds in total.
Things like this showed the human side of the band; who would have guessed that their nicknames are “Faery Pants”, “Witch Face”, “Bum Face”, “The Crow” and “The Princess of Atlantis”.
Olivia Sparnenn and someone in a dodgy t-shirt
And then there was the music itself.
For the main events on Saturday and Sunday the small stage was far too small for all seven of the band to fit, so they ended up using the stage purely as drum riser, with the rest of the band playing on the floor in front. This meant that they played to an audience sitting cross-legged on the floor; very very 1973. I have to say that Angie Gordon misquoted me, I didn’t actually say that’s the first time I had sat cross-legged on the floor at a gig; I’m not quite that old! The front row was made up of small children, which made for a very different atmosphere from a more normal rock gig. I think it’s the first (and probably last) time I’ve ever played air guitar at a gig while lying flat on my back.
First musical event of Saturday was a short solo set from Angela Gordon, just voice and piano. Some beautiful songs, some of which would also appear in Odin Dragonfly’s set later on, and showed what a talented singer and musician she is.
Odin Dragonfly played two short sets on the Saturday and Sunday. They were every bit as good as last time I saw them, with an amazingly rich sound from just two people. Although their album still isn’t out, I found that I remembered most of the songs from York a few weeks before. Saturday’s set finished with the cover of Jethro Tull’s “Witches Promise”, starting with the spectacular flute flourish, then Heather broke a guitar string on the first chord. Oops. At least meant Angie got to play that intro a second time! I can’t wait for the album.
Heather Findlay during Odin Dragonfly’s set on Sunday
Iain Jennings’ Breathing Space played a lengthy set early evening on Sunday, with a special appearance by former (and Mostly Autumn) drummer Andy Jennings. As with Odin Dragonfly it was more or less the same set as I’d seen performed in York in February, but this time without the terrible equipment problems that had marred that gig, so I got to see what the band is supposed to sound like. Because they were a late addition to the bill, it meant they were also without guitarist Mark Rowen who was on holiday in Canada! Stand-in was a fellow called Alex (don’t remember the surname) who did an admirable job, even though he was leafing through a folder with the chords in it between songs. Bryan Josh took over for the last four songs, MA oldies “Distant Train”, “Hollow”, and “No Promises” and “Believe” on which he’d played on Iain’s album. A strong performance that ought to win them plenty of new fans. And hats off to Livvy and Andy for playing two sets back to back, totally not far short of three hours.
The obvious highlights were the sets by the band themselves finishing off Saturday and Sunday. Saturday saw MA performing their full 2½ hour set. It was much the same setlist that they’ve been playing on the tour so far, drawing heavily from the excellent new Heart Full of Sky interspersed with just enough old favourites to keep the old-timers happy. I haven’t seen them live since the Astoria launch party six weeks ago, and the whole performance was a lot more confident, especially Gavin Griffiths’ performance on drums, now he’s settled in to the role. Don’t know what the mix was like further back, but from the front the backing vocals were very prominent, with good enough separation between Heather’s, Angie’s and Livvy’s voices. Are these more elaborate vocal harmonies a replacement of sorts for Iain Jennings’ cinematic keyboards? I noticed Angie replacing some of Liam’s guitar lines on flute as well, such as the end of “Heroes Never Die”. Did she do this at the Astoria, or did I notice this time around because the flute was higher in the mix?
Sunday’s finale, with Andy Jennings guesting on drums straight after playing for Breathing Space, was an absolute blinder. Whereas Saturday had seen a tight professional set, this time they were on fire, and tore the place apart with incredible energy. Limited rehearsal time meant quite a few songs repeated from the previous day, but we also got plenty of oldies like “The Last Climb”, “Heart Life” and of course, all the jigs. Just after midnight we all sang “Happy Birthday to You” to Livvy, who turned 22 on Monday. Then they closed with a stunning version of “Shrinking Violet”. Sadly they ran out of time, and we didn’t get “Mother Nature”. Could any over-hyped indie band come up with a performance like that?
There was an incredible vibe during the whole weekend. The organisers Sarah-Jane and Jeanette, the convention centre staff, and of course the bands themselves all did a fantastic job. The first Mostly Autumn convention was a huge success, and I hope it will be the first of many.
I’ve uploaded more photos from the weekend here.