Mostly Autumn played their first headline appearances of 2013 with four shows over the May bank holiday weekend. On the Sunday night they came to The Brook in Southampton for the last of those four dates.
The seven-piece band kicked off the two hour show with couple of oldies, beginning with the electric folk-rock tinged “Winter Mountain”, then rocking out with a very high-energy version of “Never the Rainbow”. “Unquiet Tears”, the first song from their most recent album “Ghost Moon Orchestra” was extremely powerful, building from a quiet but ominous beginning to an epic that recalls the symphonic metal of Nightwish. The moment where the full band come in and Olivia pulls out all the stops vocally is simply jaw-dropping.
Four dates in and they’ve had more than enough time to blow away any cobwebs, and the performance was both tight and powerful. They’ve made quite a few changes since the previous tour at the end of last year, bringing back a few other old favourites such as “Simple Ways” and “Nowhere to Hide” that hadn’t been played live for a while alongside the usual standards and highlights from “Ghost Moon Orchestra”. An interesting change of pace was “Rain Song”, a song Olivia Sparnenn wrote long before joining Mostly Autumn, later to be recorded on Breathing Space’s “Coming Up For Air”. Here it took a stripped-down form accompanied by just piano and flute.
Though the set was a good mix of old and new, since “The Ghost Moon Orchestra” is less than a year old, I can’t help feeling that they could have included more than three songs from the retail edition of the album. But my biggest quibble was the inclusion of two songs from Bryan Josh’s solo album “Through These Eyes”. That album had a very different style and feel, and the songs don’t quite work in the context of a Mostly Autumn set. “Appian Way” in particular came over crude and over-simplistic compared with the more sophisticated material from Mostly Autumn (or Breathing Space) albums.
The main set ended with an intense version of the epic “Questioning Eyes”, another number that first appeared on a Breathing Space album, but which has always worked as a Mostly Autumn song. After the obligatory first encore of “Heroes Never Die”, they finished with one more spectacular Olivia Sparnenn vocal showcase, “Tonight”.
Olivia Sparnenn’s and Anne-Marie Helder’s voices work extremely well together. While Olivia has always been able to do the older material justice, she’s really come into her own since the release of “Ghost Moon Orchestra” and a setlist containing a higher proportion of songs written to take full advantage of the remarkable range and power of her voice. Anne-Marie harmonises superbly, singing counter-melodies to Olivia’s vocal lines, particularly effective on “Passengers” and “Wild Eyed Skies”, enhancing the songs while never trying to steal Olivia’s spotlight.
It’s hats off to Alex Cromarty, standing in for the unavailable Gavin Griffiths. Despite a very limited time to learn the songs, on only his fourth gig with the band he managed to completely nail the material, and played with a tremendous amount of energy. Best known as the drummer for The Heather Findlay Band and Riversea, he will be playing live with Mostly Autumn for the rest of the year.
Great as the gig was, it’s an event tinged with sadness, because, as Bryan said at the end of the gig, it looks like this will be Anne-Marie Helder’s last appearance in the band for quite a while. Anne-Marie has been a part of the band for more than five years, and her contributions as multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist will be greatly missed. I suppose it was always on the cards that as her own band Panic Room grew in profile and status that it would get harder to continue combining her roles in both. Mostly Autumn have been fortunate in being able to retain the services of such a talented musician and singer in a supporting role for so long.
Mostly Autumn next appear live at the end of the month in Maryport, followed by extensive touring the following months, including several shows in the second half of the year with Chantel McGregor as special guest. Full details on their website at www.mostly-autumn.com.