Mostly Autumn came to the O2 Academy in Islington for the second night of the tour promoting the album “The Ghost Moon Orchestra”. It’s their first headline appearance in the capital since 2009, three years ago, previous appearances having been restricted to co-headlining with It Bites last year, and a support for Wishbone Ash back in 2010.
While by no means full, the show still attracted a respectable crowd, and there was a buzz of anticipation before the band came on stage with the instrumental “Distant Train”. After that familiar opener from last year’s greatest hits set, they launched into “Unquiet Tears” from the new album. It began with a goth-clad Olivia Sparnenn accompanied by just the two keyboard players for the ominous and brooding opening section before exploding into a symphonic metal monster demonstrating just what she can do as a vocalist. From then on, set was a mix of old and new, drawing heavily from the new album combined with old favourites and a few more recent highlights. The sound early on was somewhat muddy, although it improved as the show went on; to be fair a seven-piece band with two guitars and two keyboard players is never going to be easy to mix.
The early part of the first set had a very strong hard rock feel. The revived “Never the Rainbow” sandwiched between two new songs gave a Deep Purple vibe, with a lot of Hammond organ from Iain Jennings. Parts of second set had more of the atmospheric celtic-prog mood of old, older epics such as “The Last Climb” alongside new album standout “Tennyson Mansions”. They threw in a few surprises, including songs from “A Weather For Poets”, the bonus disc from the now sold-out special edition of the new album. The new material comes over very strongly, and even the couple of songs which weren’t entirely convincing on record come to life on stage.
Olivia Sparnenn was on fantastic form. Unlike the last couple of tours she’s singing a far greater proportion of the lead vocals, and remained centre stage throughout the set. She’s really in her element now the band have a setlist filled with songs written for her voice. She’s taken a while to grow into the role of fronting the band, but after two years there can be few doubts that she was exactly the right person for the job. Her take on “Evergreen”, for so long one of Heather Findlay’s signature tunes, was flawless, and she really lets rip on the newer material. The former Breathing Space number “Questioning Eyes” never fails to raise the hairs on the back of the neck, and new songs such as “Unquiet Tears” and “Wild Eyed Skies” give a hint of how Nightwish might have sounded had she got the gig with them a few years back.
Anne-Marie Helder deserves a mention. While her own band Panic Room have achieved a significantly higher profile of late, her role in Mostly Autumn is more a supporting one, on keys, flute and backing vocals. But she still plays an important part in the sound. Her harmony lines, often a counterpoint to Olivia’s lead line added a lot to many songs. She’s not playing as quite much flute on this this tour, although she did get her moment in the spotlight during “The Last Climb”. Bryan’s lengthy guitar solo on the same song was mesmerising too; his playing has been getting better and better over the last couple of years.
By the final encore of “Tonight” bringing a very lengthy set to close with another of Olivia’s magnificent soaring vocals, it was clear that this was the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in the Mostly Autumn story. They packed a very powerful punch despite a few sound problems early on. It’s still the early stages of the tour, and the new songs have yet to fully bed in, so they are sure to raise their performances to still greater heights as the tour progresses.