Tag Archives: Mostly Autumn

Mostly Autumn and The Windmill for CRF 2016

CRF 2016 Poster (25th Jan)

Mostly Autumn, The Windmill and Pearl Handled Revolver are the latest bands to added to the bill for the 2016 Cambridge Rock Festival, all of whom played the last festival in 2014.

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2015 in Live Music – Ten of the Best

Touchstone Farewell Gig

It’s harder to rank gigs in any kind of order than it is for records, since you can’t relive a one-off experience. These ten are those which have particularly stuck in the mind, and there is probably a bias towards the end of the year since those are freshest in the memory.

The Marillion Convention

There is nothing else quite like the fan conventions Marillion hold every other year. They see the band perform seven hours of music over three nights including a lot of rarely-played material, all before an audience of fanatical hardcore fans. This year’s was no exception, the highlight of which was the double album “Marbles” played in full on the Saturday night.

The Session at The Swansea Jazz Festival

One cannot live on prog alone, so The Swansea Jazz festival is always a good opportunity to explore something outside of the usual comfort zone. Some sets had far too many bass solos, but this New Orleans-based quintet were the undoubted highlight, with a frontline of sax and trumpet. The first solo from trumpeter Steven Lande was like hearing a really good blues or metal guitarist cutting loose.

Ramblin Man Fair

My first open air festival since High Voltage in London a few years back took place in leafy Maidstone. Saturday saw great sets in the sunshine from Touchstone, Blue Öyster Cult and the legendary Camel, the only disappointment being the lacklustre phoned-in set from Dream Theater. But the musical highlight was much of Sunday, with a bill beginning in the rain with Anna Phoebe, Knifeworld (“Excuse me while I towel down my guitar”), The Pineapple Thief and Riverside, and ending in a mesmerising set from headliners Marillion after the clouds cleared and the moon came out.

King Crimson at Hackney Empire

The unexpected emergence of a new incarnation of King Crimson didn’t disappoint in the slightest, and the seven-piece lineup with three drummers went from intense improvised jazz-metal workouts to fresh interpretations of the stately magnificence of their 70s classics. Some too-cool-for-school mainstream critics just didn’t get it at all, but it was their loss; the set included superb performances of some of the greatest music of the 20th Century, and that’s not something you say lightly.

Steven Wilson at The Royal Albert Hall

In terms of profile, Steven Wilson stands head and shoulders above any other contemporary progressive rock act, able to sell out venues that are otherwise the preserve of the 70s legends of the genre. I made the mistake of booking for just one of the two nights rather than both, for the sets were completely different. So I didn’t get to see the bulk of “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” played live, but did see Porcupine Tree classics and an intense “Raider II”. It was still an amazing experience.

Gazpacho & Iamthemorning at Islington Academy

I got wind of this gig via a fan of Iamthemorning who was wondering aloud if headliners Gazpacho were worth seeing live. Both bands turned out to be mesmerising; the way you could have heard a pin drop during the acoustic support act really says it all, and the headliner’s absolute mastery of atmospherics managed to outdo even Marillion. Progressive rock needs more violins.

Gloryhammer at Islington Academy

One support band of 2015 deserve a mention. Scotland’s heroes were special guests to Finnish power-metallers Stratovarious, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen a support act so completely outclass the headliners. They has better songs, better stagecraft, and a level of fire & passion that the headliners completely lacked.

Public Image Limited at Reading Sub89

The artist formerly known as Johnny Rotten has still got it, and his singing style is totally unique. The other three quarters of PiL are tremendous musicians; a tight rhythm section and always inventive guitarist in Lu Edmonds meant that you spent as much time listening to the bass grooves or the guitar lines as the vocals. It’s a long way from classic rock, but it’s got more in common with the avant-garde end of progressive rock than you might think.

Touchstone & Magenta at Leamington Assembly

The farewell show for Kim Seviour and Rob Cottingham pulled a packed crowd to the magnificent central England venue. Because Kim had suffered a throat infection days before they gig, they added former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay to the band as cover, and the band turned into a kind of heavy metal ABBA. It certainly brought a triumphal close to one chapter in the Touchstone story. And that’s before any mention of special guests Magenta, with a performance strong enough have been in this list in its own right.

Mostly Autumn at Leamington Assembly

Rather than their customary multi-date Christmas tour, Mostly Autumn decided to end 2015 with a single showcase gig in a central venue, what an event it turned out to be. Five hours of music included remarkably varied acoustic set that featured Angela Gordon singing lead at one point, a mesmerising but all-too-short set from violinist Anna Phoebe, what was probably the last full performance of “Dressed in Voices”, a Mostly Floyd set that was far, far better than any sceptics expected, and those traditional Christmas covers. And stunning versions of the rarely-played “The Night Sky” and “The Gap Is Too Wide”.

Those were just some of the many highlights of a great year of live music. Honourable mentions to Panic Room, Karnataka, Chantel McGregor and Luna Rossa, which have featured in this blog a lot, and to New Model Army and Lazuli, both “new” to me in terms of seeing live.

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Mostly Autumn – Leamington Assembly

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”.

Anna Phoebe

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.

Alex Cromary

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.

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2015 Records of the Year – Not only but also…

My self-imposed rules for album of the year restricts the list to full-length albums of new material. That means it excludes live albums, unplugged records with new versions of existing songs, or EPs. So to keep you all waiting a bit longer for my Album of the Year, some mentions of records that my rules disqualify, but are too good to be ignored altogether.

Panic Room – Essence

Panic Room EssenceThe Kickstarter-funded unplugged album reworks favourites from the band’s first three albums into radically different forms, resulting in a beautiful record than emphasises Anne-Marie Helder’s remarkable vocal talent. Though it crosses the streams with the acoustic side-project Luna Rossa to some extent it’s still got more of a Panic Room vibe. It’s not entirely acoustic, since new guitarist Dave Foster cuts loose on electric a few times. There are a couple of new songs too, the classic Anne-Marie Helder ballad “Rain & Tears & Burgundy”, and “Denial”, the first time Panic Room have ever recorded a blues number.

Mostly Autumn – Box of Tears

Mostly Autumn Box of TearsA live recording of last year’s “Dressed in Voices”, an album regarded by many as their career defining masterpiece. Unlike their other recent live albums this one’s a single disk of the Dressed in Voices set rather than the whole show (Do we really need yet another live version of “Evergreen” or “Heroes”? I don’t think so). But like those other live albums it does capture the power and intensity of the Mostly Autumn’s live performances, the big sound of the seven-piece band at full tilt.

The Fierce and The Dead – Magnet

TFATD - MagnetMatt Stevens’ four-piece instrumental noise merchants could be described as a sort of punk version of King Crimson. Their latest EP sees a move away from the garage-rock feel of their last record. “Spooky Action”. Magnet is darker and denser, with more of a focus on the post-rock and electronica side of their music. Like all of their records, it has feet in many camps, defies simple categorisation, and makes a rewarding listen for anyone who wants to get out of their musical comfort zones.

Mantra Vega – Island

A taster from the forthcoming album “The Illusion’s Reckoning”, three songs with a strong 70s classic rock vibe with echoes of Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. The lead song in particular is lovely, with Heather Findlay playing to her strengths as a vocalist, and features a short but very effective guitar break from Dave Kilminster.

Zero She Flies – The River

Zero She Flies - The RiverThe band formerly know as Mermaid Kiss return with a new singer in the shape of Maria Milewska and a new name. The four-track suite “The River” was originally slated to be part of a full-length album, but has mow been spun off as a separate EP on its own. It’s largely acoustic, piano and acoustic guitar based songs with woodwind and strings for colour, plus some touches of electronica, and Maria Milewska proves to be excellent singer. Highlights are the woodwinds meet trip-hop instrumental “The Undertow” and the gorgeously atmospheric closing number “Rivergirl”, but the whole EP is excellent.

Big Big Train – Wassail

Big Big Train WassailThis intermediate release filling the gap before their next full-length album eschews ambitious multi-part epics in favour of more straightforward songwriting. But most of the things we’ve come to expect from Big Big Train are present; big soaring melodies and rich layered arrangements that evoke the spirit of 70s pastoral progressive rock with lyrics steeped in English landscapes and history. The largely instrumental keyboard-heavy “Mudlarks” ticks a lot of classic prog-rock boxes, but with the woodwinds, violins and 12-string guitars there’s also an element of 70s electric folk-rock. It’s all delightfully retro in its use of vintage guitars and keyboard sounds, but that’s always been a major part of their appeal.

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Mostly Autumn – York Grand Opera House

Bryan Josh and Anna Phoebe

Mostly Autumn’s annual York shows had traditionally taken place at the beginning of December, and had come to represent the start of the run up to Christmas, though they skipped last year because the venue was fully booked. This year they’ve done things differently; a show in York in mid-November and a separate Christmas showcase in Leamington Spa in December. For both shows they’ve advertised a couple of special guest musicians in the shape of Anne Phoebe on violin and Chris Backhouse on saxophone.

Olivia SparnannThe first set, like the majority of shows this year, was the 2014 album “Dressed in Voices” played in full as a continuous piece. It’s their strongest album for many years, full of soaring guitar and swirling organ, and the band delivered an intense performance.

It diverged from previous shows during the folk-flavoured “Skin on Skin”, when Anna Phoebe joined the band on stage, first following Alex Cromarty’s drum solo with some spectacular violin pyrotechnics, then adding some more delicate textures to “The House on the Hill”.

Right through to the acoustic coda “Box of Tears”, this set was one of the most powerful live versions of “Dressed in Voices” to date. Of course nobody knew at the time the band were played a concept album with a narrative told the the point view of the victim of a senseless massacre at the same time as the tragic events were playing out in Paris.

The second half was billed as the “Mostly Floyd” set, reprising a selection of Pink Floyd covers the band had performed a decade or so ago. The announcement bought the band criticism from some quarters; not everyone thought the idea of a band with a substantial body of work of their own playing what amounted to a tribute set; for a few it bought back bad memories of the band’s misplaced promotion during the ill-fated Classic Rock Productions era.

But they did start with one of their own numbers, an atmospheric and evocative version of “The Night Sky”, a song last performed at the 2007 “Heart Full of Sky” launch gig at The Astoria, when Peter Knight played the dramatic violin solo that forms the centrepiece of the song. This time it was Anna Phoebe on violin, and it was a joy to hear such a rarely played song live, especially since it’s one of the best songs from the band’s early years.

For the Pink Floyd songs another guest joined the band, backing singer Hannah Hird, who had toured with the band during much of 2013. They began with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Time”, but the set  really caught fire with “The Great Gig in the Sky” featuring Olivia Sparnenn on that famous vocal workout, and a very hard-rocking “Sheep” with Chris Johnson singing lead.  They played the obvious standards “Wish You Were Here”, which featured vocals from drummer Alex Cromarty, and Comfortably Numb with Chris Johnson and Olivia Sparnenn combining as the creepy doctor.

But the strongest highlights were “Us and Them” enhanced with Chris Backhouse’s sax, and a superb “On the Turning Away” with Bryan Josh completely nailing the solo. By the end, the tight and passionate performance and the rich layered sound by what for some songs was a nine-piece band evaporated any scepticism about the set.

The encored with another iconic early song, “The Gap Is Too Wide”, again featuring Anne Phoebe’s violin. It had been a regular encore in the later years of Breathing Space, but Mostly Autumn themselves hadn’t played themselves for many, many years, and it was great to hear it live once more. Olivia has always nailed the emotive vocal, and the arrangement was quite different from with Olivia, Angela and Hannah singing in harmony for the choral version. After that, the traditional set closers of “Evergreen” and “Heroes Never Die” close what had been one of Mostly Autumn’s most powerful shows this year.

Many thanks to Howard Rankin for thie use of his photos to accompany this review.

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Good on Mostly Autumn, confirming that this coming weekend’s gigs in Verviers and Zoetermeer are still going ahead despite the attacks in Paris.

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Paris

First they came for the cartoonists. And some people wrote ugly victim-blaming thinkpieces in response, preferring to denounce the victims than criticise the ideology of the murderers.

Then they came for the rock fans.

Like so many others on Friday night, I was at a gig. At the time the terrible events in Paris were happening, Mostly Autumn were playing at The Grand Opera House in York. In a dark coincidence they were performing the album “Dressed in Voices” in full, a concept album told from the point of view of a victim of a senseless massacre.

After the gig I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in a pub with several members of the band. Someone did mention that there had been some kind of terrorist attack at a gig in France, but details were still sketchy. It was only when I got back to my B&B and checked the news websites that the full scale of the tragic events in Paris became apparent. As someone who goes a great many gigs, that struck very close to home.

In a sense it was like an attack on a place of worship. It’s what you expect from a cult who regularly attacks mosques that belong to Islamic traditions other than their own during Friday morning prayers.

Terrible events like this bring out the worse in some people and the best in others. The usual attention-seeking blowhards are spouting predictably offensive things; I really do not want to hear what racists, Christian fundamentalists, militant atheists or the US gun lobby have to say and wish others would stop signal-boosting their garbage. The same goes for anyone who’s first instinct is to pin all of the blame on anyone else but the terrorists and their direct supporters. There’s plenty of other blame to go around from the neocons’ ill-conceived and incompetently executed wars to the postmodern left’s unholy alliance with radical Islamism. But it was neither neocons nor postmodernist academics who pulled the triggers on Friday night.

Life has to go on. If Europe becomes a meaner, more xenophobic and more authoritarian place, it will let terror have what it wants. There is great danger that bad actors such as the far right and the security-industrial complex will try to exploit this tragedy, but we should resist them. We must not give in to fear. But we also need to be able to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions about what sort of society we want to be, and exactly what we are prepared to do in order to protect it.

I haven’t enabled comments on this post, because I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with the drive-by trolls any post on this subject is likely to attract.

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Less than three weeks until Mostly Autumn play the Grand Opera House in York. If you’re travelling to the city, why not make a weekend of it and see Cloud Atlas at The Post Office Social Club the following night. Tickets from the Cloud Atlas Webstore.

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Mostly Autumn announce special guests and new live EP

Mostly Autumn have announced a Live Acoustic EP featuring Bryan and Olivia as a duo, recorded when they supported Steve Hackett last year.

They have also announced that they will be joined by Anna Phoebe on violin and Chris Backhouse on sax for their showcase gig at The Grand Opera House in York in November, as well as at the December Christmas show in Leamington Spa. The latter will also include a support set by Anna Phoebe.

But before then, the band hit the road this coming weekend, with shows in Crewe on Friday 23rd, Wath upon Dearne on Saturday 24th, Norwich on Sunday 25th and Southampton on Monday 26th. Full details on the Mostly Autumn website.

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Progzilla and their Problematic List

Heather Findlay of Mostly Autumn at The Met Theatre in Bury, June 2007

Progzilla Radio have done a countdown of the Top 100 Modern Prog Classics.

Unfortunately, the list is, as the saying goes “problematic”.

While all lists of this nature are subjective and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, this one is especially bad. The way the same half-dozen bands appear multiple times suggests that the voters’ listening isn’t terribly broad; have Transatlantic really done that many classic songs?

Far worse is the near absence of women on this list. The sole song with a female songwriter and lead singer is Mostly Autumn’s “Shrinking Violet”. There is no mention of Magenta. Or Panic Room. Or any incarnation of Karnataka. There isn’t even room for anything from Kate Bush’ magnificent “Aerial”. And don’t say “Kate Bush isn’t proper prog” when the list has Radiohead on it.

When the competent but unremarkable Lifesigns, who have just one album to their name, can manage no fewer than three songs in a list that has no room for Magenta, Karnataka, Panic Room or Kate Bush, it’s hard not to conclude the list has very a bad case of sexism.

It’s true that progressive rock is still predominately male. But it’s not exclusively a boy’s club, especially in recent years. Look at the pages of Prog magazine, or the festival bills of events like HRH Prog or the Cambridge Rock Festival and you’ll see a significant proportion of bands with at least one woman in the band.

Therefore I have to conclude that a list of “greatest modern progressive songs” that’s 98% all-male bands is in fact a load of sexist bollocks.

(edit – Changed “compilers” to “voters” to make it clear it’s a listener’s list)

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