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2016 Cambridge Rock Festival – Part Three

This is the third and final part of my review of the five-day festival. The first two parts are here and here.

Sunday was something of a Ladies’ Day, with six out of the eight main stage acts featuring female lead singers. First of these were the seven-piece T Clemente band, who’s flown all the way from San Francisco at their own expense to play the festival. Their tight and polished West Coast AOR sound made a very strong impression for an opening act, and left the impression we’ll be hearing more of this band in the future.

Space Elevator

With a catsuited singer who goes under the name of “The Duchess”, Space Elevator had a very dramatic visual appeal, and had the music to back it up too, with a great hard rock AOR sound. Alongside original numbers about obsessive-compulsive disorder, being dumped, and love letters to Doctor Who, they threw in excellent covers of Thin Lizzy’s “Don’t Believe a Word” and Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator”. Perhaps their only flaw was their use of too much programmed keys rather than having a flesh-and-blood keyboard player in the band.

Making a welcome return after their superb performance on the same stage in 2014, Norway’s The Windmill were the most Prog band of the day; with a flute and a steampunk-dressed keyboard player their music is soaring, melodic and epic with the focus on symphonic composition rather than instrumental virtuosity. Alongside a lengthy new number their set drew heavily from “Continuum”, although sadly there wasn’t time for the 24-minute “The Gamer”. All heady stuff and ticks all the right boxes for the hardcore prog fans.

Heather Findlay

The Heather Findlay Band were eagerly anticipated. They’ve gone through some changes from the band that toured in April, with former Cloud Atlas man Martin Ledger taking over on lead guitar, Touchstone’s Henry Rogers taking over on drums, and the band slimmed down to a six-piece without a rhythm guitarist. From the performance they delivered you’d never have guessed this was the first live appearance of this full lineup. They combined highlights from Mantra Vega’s “The Illusion’s Reckoning” with older Mostly Autumn standards and a couple of rocked-up Odin Dragonfly numbers. Losing the rhythm guitar didn’t seem to leave holes in the sound; Angela Gordon’s keys took a bigger role, and Heather played acoustic guitar on some songs. On “Caught in a Fold” Sarah Dean took over on keys while Angela played the flute parts. One thing that’s notable about the various incarnations of Heather’s band is the way they totally reinvent the songs to fit the instrumentation of the current band. Martin Ledger proved an inspired choice as guitarist, nailing the guitar parts on both the Mantra Vega songs and the older Mostly Autumn material. One surprise was a very powerful “Unoriginal Sin”, which didn’t feature in the April tour, with Heather playing keys. An epic Carpe Diem and the spiralling title track of The Illusion’s Reckoning bought the very strong set to a close.

Purson seem on the cusp of far bigger things. Their take on late sixties psychedelic rock has long been embraced by the underground prog scene, but they’ve been making waves of late in more mainstream waters. They’ve a band with a look that exactly matches their sound, as if they’ve all stepped out of a time machine from 1969, complete with the right vintage guitars. Rosalie Cunningham on lead vocals and lead guitar is the focus, playing raw and dirty riffs and reeling off solos with heavy use of the wah-wah pedal. Despite the brief interruption of a collapsing keyboard stand, they delivered a very powerful set. It does leave you wondering how much longer we’ll still be able to see this band on stages like this.

It’s been a long, long time since Odin Dragonfly have played anything other than the occasional very short support set, so their appearance on Stage Three was a rare chance to see Heather and Angela together as an acoustic duo., the two of them playing their second set of the day. Compared to the rock dynamics on the main stage this was beautiful chill-out stuff with minimal instrumentation, and the emphasis on the vocal harmonies. There were moments when they came over a little under-rehearsed, especially the stripped-down take on Mostly Autumn’s “Evergreen”, but it was still an enjoyable set, with songs from the 2007 album “Offerings” alongside stripped-down versions of Mostly Autumn’s “Eyes of the Forest” and “Bitterness Burnt”, and a new song which might even end up on a long-awaited follow-up to “Offerings”.

Sonya Kristina

The clash with Odin Dragonfly meant I only caught the end of Curved Air’s set, but from what I saw it seemed like the tail end of a barnstorming set, with two of the biggest hits right at the end, “Back Street Luv” as the closer. With so many progressive-leaning bands with female lead singers on the bill over the course of the weekend it’s fitting Curved Air were one of them. Sonya Kristina is an absolute legend and still in fine voice. And they’re yet another reminder that progressive rock needs more violins.

Mostly Autumn are a fixture in this festival, having played every year since at least 2008, and the weekend somehow wouldn’t be the sane without them. Despite having seen the band more than a hundred times, they still retain the capacity to astound. They began as on their spring tour, with the instrumental “Out of the Inn” which starts as a celtic-folk jig centred on Angela Gordon’s flute, and develops into a hard rock workout, before Olivia Sparnenn made her customary dramatic entrance for “In for the Bite”, a song from the recently-released Josh & Co album. Much of the early part of the set was hard-rocking numbers from the recent albums since Olivia took over as lead singer, with “Skin on Skin” showcasing Alex Cromaty’s remarkable drumming. In contrast, the beautiful stripped-back balled “Silhouette of Stolen Ghosts” was a change of pace. The came a truly epic version of “Mother Nature” performed with an exceptional intensity even by their standards. The obligatory closer “Heroes Never Die” ought to have been worn smooth by over-exposure by now, but even that packed a powerful emotional punch.

Alext Cromarty with Mostly Autumn

It wasn’t easy for headliners Focus to follow that. Like Curved Air they’re a legendary band who are regulars on the festival circuit, but with their two biggest hits quite unlike the rest of their material they can come over as marking time until the hits at the end. But Focus do what they do, and the chilled-out jazz-rock workouts like the lengthy “Eruption” deserved to be appreciated on their own merits. But after the slow start, “Sylvia” and “Hocus Pocus” came as expected at the end, and the festival finished in a frenzy of air-guitar and yodelling, and so it should.

This weekend turned out to a good candidate for the best CRF yet. The bill was a great mix of old favourites and new discoveries. The old favourites showed everyone why they keep getting invited back, and newer bands rose to the big occasion. The main stage bill across Saturday and Sunday was remarkable in its consistent quality this year; there are plenty of acts who’d played earlier years who would have seemed out of place this year.

While some higher profile festivals this year had bills heavy with heritage acts (HRH Prog and Ramblin’ Man, I’m looking at you), it was good to see representatives of the current generation of bands making up the bulk of the bill. It was also good to see so many women on the bill; can you imagine Glastonbury or Reading featuring six female frontwomen out of eight acts?

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Some tantalising hints on the Odin Dragonfly Facebook page suggest something might be stirring in the Odin Dragonfly camp. It’s been a long time since their last live appearances and an even longer time since the release of the album Offerings.

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Heather Findlay – 2012 Tour

The Heather Findlay Band at Bilston Robin 2. 19 Nov 2012

The Heather Findlay Band took to the road with a short tour of UK cities, the second full band tour since Heather left Mostly Autumn in 2010. The band had a new look this time around; with Dave Kilminster and Steve Vantsis unavailable due to other commitments, they featured Simon Snaize on lead guitar and one-time Seahorse Stuart Fletcher on bass.

I got to see three dates on the tour, at The Brook in Southampton, The Borderline in London the following night, and The Robin 2 in Bilston a few days later, of which the London show was the best of the three.

A brief word about the opening acts. The main support for the whole tour was The Raggy Anns, an acoustic duo playing a kind of Americana-tinged folk. Not quite my thing, but they did perform with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and got noticeably better as the tour went on. And although I only saw them the once, Heather herself opened some of the shows as part of Odin Dragonfly, which really left me in two minds. On one hand, it was great to see Heather and Angela on stage together again, but their set was disappointingly short. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’d love to see them play a far longer headline set, even if it’s just a single one-off gig somewhere like York.

The Heather Findlay Band at The Brook, Southampton in November 2012

With her own band Heather played a full-length set. Although they played most of the 2010 EP “The Phoenix Suite”, including a punky version of “Cellophane”, the setlist was still heavily dependent on older Mostly Autumn material, including standards like “Caught in a Fold” and “Evergreen” alongside songs from “Storms Over Still Waters” and “Glass Shadows” that haven’t been in recent Mostly Autumn setlists. There were a few changes from last year’s set, and some songs that had been played before had new arrangements. One real highlight was the semi-acoustic “Bitterness Burnt” where Heather out-drummed her own drummer on floor tom, and it was great to hear “Carpe Diem” once more, a song I’d wondered if we’d ever hear played live again. The setlist did change slightly from night to night; at Bilston were were treated to an unscheduled acoustic “Gaze” played while two of the band repaired a collapsed drumkit.

The one brand new song, “Shine”, was very, very good, a Led Zeppelin style riff-based rocker with a real groove to it, and such a strong vocal melody that I had it stuck in my head the morning after the Bilston gig. I hope there’s more where that came from.

Heather was on superb form. She’s still a class act as a vocalist, with a combination of power, range and emotional depth few can match, and still has a dominating stage presence. There was a real intensity to her delivery, with The Borderline in particular being as good a vocal performance as I’ve seen from anyone this year.

The Heather Findlay Band at The Brook, Southampton in November 2012

Stuart Fletcher made a very strong impression on bass; more rocker than muso, and when combined with Alex Cromarty’s drumming makes for powerful rhythm section which gives a huge amount of energy to the band. Simon Snaize probably needs some time to grow in to the role. His playing got noticeably more confident as the tour went on, with added touches like some bluesy licks on “Phoenix”. I found I preferred his more melodic playing to his shredding, in particular he was excellent on “Carpe Diem”. One of the most exciting moments was when he went all Nile Rogers on a seriously funked-up version of “Flowers for Guns”.

Despite the absence of any rock royalty for this tour, these shows still have a rock energy and a dynamic sound that bears little resemblance to anything she’s put out on record since going solo. She does really need more new material rather than continuing to rely so heavily on the songs she wrote for another band, and the new song “Shine” is a definite step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see where Heather goes next.

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Odin Dragonfly return to support The Heather Findlay Band

Heather Findlay had previously announced a seven-date UK tour in November with her full band including Dave Kilminster and Steve Vantsis. Even more exciting is the news that one of the supports for four of the dates is none other than Odin Dragonfly, her acoustic duo with former Mostly Autumn flautist and keyboard player Angela Gordon. It will be their first live appearences for more than five years.

They’ll appear at the Newcastle, Bilston, York and Leicester shows. The support for the remaining three dates at Southampton, London, Norwich will be the Julia Jenkins Trio, while the opening act for the whole tour is The Raggy Anns.

Despite the presence of two supports, and the fact that Heather will be her own support act, she’s still promising 90-minute headline set.

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The Sound of the World

It may be that social networking has killed the webforum, but HippyDave, who already runs the official Panic Room and Stolen Earth forums has started a new forum The Sound of the World, dedicated to Mostly Autumn and the extended family of side projects and related bands. It has sections for Mostly Autumn, Halo Blind, Morpheus Rising and for Heather Findlay’s solo career, as well as past projects such as Odin Dragonfly, Josh and Co, and Breathing Space.

It’s a matter of debate as to whether or not the world really needs yet another Mostly Autumn forum. As HippyDave himself explains, a great many people, including a lot of dedicated fans, have issues with the way the official forum is over-moderated. There is already an unofficial forum, but that suffers from the opposite problem in that it’s under-moderated and tends to get overrun by trolls. There isn’t a place online where you can have a serious discussion about their music without the constant feeling that you’re walking on eggshells.

Time will tell if the forum gets a critical mass of regular posters and hosts meaningful discussions about the bands’ music.

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Albums of the year 2007

Everyone else seems to be doing their annual ‘best of’ list, so it would be remiss of me if I didn’t do one as well. I’m not going to try and rank everything in order.

Album of the Year

  • Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet. It feels as if the whole of their 15 year career has been working up to this album. It combines metal influences of their recent work with the soaring atmospheric soundscapes of earlier albums to produce the most consistently good album they’ve ever recorded. Just six songs, the longest clocking in at 17 minutes, with not a weak moment among them.

Runners-up

  • Fish – 13th Star. A major return to form by an artist too many have written off as a has-been who can’t sing any more. This emotionally-charged album seems him singing in a lower register, half-spoken in places, that suits his present-day vocal range, backed by a hard-edged guitar-driven groove-orientated sound. His best album since at least “Sunsets on Empire”.
  • Odin Dragonfly – Offerings. Not a prog album, or even really a rock album, but an acoustic work with guitar, piano, flute and two voices. The result is a stunningly beautiful album that perfectly captures their live sound. Yes, they really do create those harmonies on stage with just two people.
  • The Reasoning – Awakening. Remarkable debut album marking the welcome return of Karnataka’s Rachel Jones. Best described as prog-tinged hard rock, with some remarkable harmonies from their three lead vocalists, and full of melodies that get permanently stuck in your head.

Strong Contenders

  • Breathing Space – Coming Up For Air. Effectively the debut for the lineup of the band that’s been playing live over the past year, it’s a well-crafted mix of 80s pop/rock numbers and the sort of sweeping rock ballads Iain Jennings used to write when he was with Mostly Autumn.
  • Dream Theater – Systematic Chaos. Complex, epic prog metal by the band that really defined the genre, and a rather more consistently strong album that their previous couple.
  • Joe Bonamassa – Sloe Gin. Part acoustic, and part guitar-shredding electric blues. The title track has to be one of my songs of the year.
  • Epica – The Divine Conspiracy. The European rock scene is awash with female-fronted symphonic metal bands, and this album is perhaps the best out of a whole bunch of good ones.
  • Therion – Gothic Kabbalah. Scandinavian choral death metal, totally bonkers but compellingly brilliant. Because a lot of the arrangements are a bit off-the-wall it does take repeated listenings to really get in to.
  • Apocalyptica – Worlds Collide. One of the most metal albums of the year, except it’s all played on cellos rather than guitars. 50/50 mix of manic instrumentals and songs featuring a variety of guest vocalists.
  • Rush – Snakes and Arrows. Return to form after the disappointing “Vapor Trails”. I find my enjoyment of any Rush album is directly proportional to how prominent Alex Lifeson is in the mix. He’s to the fore on this one.
  • Marillion – Somewhere Else. The album that’s really divided the fanbase. While this is no ‘Marbles’, it’s still a good album once you get into it, simpler songs with more straightforward arrangements rather than the multi-layered epic approach some might have expected.

And there were plenty of other great ones, making 2007 such a great year for music. And then there are a few albums people have raved about although I have yet to hear them, such as the new ones by The Pineapple Thief and Riverside.

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Odin Dragonfly: York and London

While I’ve seen quite a few bands more than once on the same tour this year, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the same act on two consecutive nights in completely different cities.

Friday night at Fibbers was on Odin Dragonfly’s home ground of York before an audience made up of an equal mix of hardcore Mostly Autumn fans and friends of the band, which made for a tremendous atmosphere; an awful lot of familar faces, and one of those gigs that’s more like a big private party that a regular concert. It’s the first time I’ve been (literally!) dragged to the pub afterwards by the support act and made to drink beer. ’twas one of those nights.

Saturday was at The Fly in New Oxford street, a very small and intimate venue, probably one of the smallest venues I’ve been to this year. With the low stage in one corner, only the front few rows could actually see much of the band! The sound was still excellent, though.

Support at Fibbers was half-hour sets from the excellent harpist Sarah Dean, who I’d seen supporting Odin Dragonfly before, and Aimee Ryan. Aimee’s set was rather spoiled by far too much audience chatter while she was on stage, especially when everyone had kept quiet during Sarah’s performance.

The support at The Fly was the excellent Anne-Marie Helder, who I’d seen supporting Mostly Autumn back in February. I recognised several of her songs from theat Astoria show; as I said back then, a solo acoustic set requires a powerful voice and strong material; Anne-Marie has both.

As I’ve come to expect from them, Heather and Angie put on a great show both nights. I still find it amazing that they can produce such a rich sound with just the two of them on stage, with nothing more than acoustic guitar, piano, flute and two voices. The setlist this time around was made up of the “Offerings” album played in order, plus a lot of the usual banter between songs. So much banter, in fact, that the York show started running considerably over time, and “Caught in a Fold” had to be dropped. They manage to fit all twelve songs in the time allowed at The Fly.

It’s just impossible to single out any highlights, there were just too many. There was Angela’s fantastic flute playing on the cover of Jethro Tull’s “Witches Promise”. There were the two beautiful renditions of “Magnolia Half-Moon”, one of my favourites from the album. Their cover of the unreleased Stevie Nicks song “Forsaken Love” comes over really well live too. But so does everything else; there really weren’t any weak spots on either night.

If anyone had told me a year ago I travel a couple of hundred miles to see two shows by female acoustic duo, I wouldn’t have believed them. But they were well worth seeing.

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Odin Dragonfly – Offerings

I’ve finally got to listen to the long-awaited album by Odin Dragonfly, the acoustic side project of Mostly Autumn’s lead vocalist Heather Findlay and flautist/keyboard player Angela Gordon.

Back in February, I saw Odin Dragonfly live at Fibbers in York. I went knowing Heather and Angie from Mostly Autumn, but without having heard a note of their music as Odin Dragonfly, and not knowing quite what to expect. They won me over within the space of a couple of songs. I saw them again at the Mostly Autumn convention in March, after which I had several of their songs stuck in my head for weeks, notably “Magpie” and “Given Time”. There was something magical about their live performances.

Now they’ve successfully captured that magical sound in the recording studio.

This isn’t the sort of music I normally listen to. Definitely not ‘prog’, and not even rock, there’s not a Fender Stratocaster or Mellotron in sight. It’s 100% acoustic, with just guitar, piano, flute, penny whistle and two voices. But the result is something of stunning beauty. The signature sound is one of sublime vocal harmonies, with plenty of Angela Gordon’s flute, something which has been thin on the ground on recent Mostly Autumn releases. The piano and guitar accompaniment is understated but effective.

Eight of the twelve songs are originals, with the album rounded out with a couple of reworked Mostly Autumn tunes, and a pair of well-chosen covers, including their version of Jethro Tull’s “Witches Promise” with which they normally end their live shows.

Early favourites of mine are Angela Gordon’s piano-led “Given Time”, and Heather’s “Magpie” and “How I feel today”, both featuring wonderful interplay between Heather’s voice and Angela’s flute. Then there’s “Magnolia Half Moon”, a achingly sad breakup song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on “Heart Full of Sky”, since it has quite a bit in common with “Half a World” both musically and lyrically. But this is one of those rare albums without any real filler, consistant from beginning to end.

You can order the album online from Odindragonfly.com

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Mostly Autumn Convention 2007

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 reprobates propping up the bar
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”.

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
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.

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Breathing Space and Odin Dragonfly, York, Feb 2007

I’ve just about got my brain functioning again after the weekend. Not only did I take in the Harrogate model railway show, I went to two gigs in York, Breathing Space at the Roman Bath on Saturday night, followed by Odin Dragonfly at Fibbers on Sunday, neither of whom I’d seen live before.

Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the Viking festival taking place in York that weekend, which meant there were no hotel rooms to be had on Saturday night. That meant I had to catch the 1:50am train back to Manchester, and finally arrived home at a quarter to five. After a few hours sleep I got up just in time to catch the train back to York in time for Sunday’s show. The whole weekend meant I saw a lot more of the inside of First Transpennine’s shiny new class 185 Desiros than I’d bargained for. The overnight trip even featured the scenic delights of the Calder Valley line, which was wasted on me because (a) it was dark and (b) I was completely knackered. I know the train reversed at Leeds, but have no idea what route it took from York.

Fortunately I did manage to find a B&B room the second night.

The Harrogate show was a bit of disappointment; not nearly enough N, and not quite enough D&E era either, although I did meet up with a few familiar faces.

As for the gigs, Breathing Space, for those who don’t know them, is the band formed by Iain Jennings and Olivia Sparnenn after Iain’s departure from Mostly Autumn. Currently they’re looking for a permanent drummer; in the meantime Livvy’s dad Howard is filling in on the drumstool.

To give an impression of the venue, I think there were four rows of people between the front of the ‘stage’ and the bar. And everyone had to get through this area to get to the loos. And I thought the Uplands Tavern in Swansea was weird.

In this impossibly cramped venue with the audience wedged in like sardines, Breathing Space overcame some quite severe equipment problems that delayed the start by more than half an hour, and still gave us a great show. Previously I’d only seen Livvy on stage as Mostly Autumn’s backing singer, sharing lead vocals with Heather on just one song. To see her fronting her own band, it’s apparent that she’s as good a frontperson as she is a singer. And she sounded and looked fantastic.

Material from Iain’s solo album, rather poppier than Iain’s old band in direction, made up the core of the set, with the addition of a great version of ‘Hollow’, some new songs which will presumably appear on the next album, plus a few covers, including Pat Benetar’s ‘Heartbreaker’ and a version of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ that owed a lot instrumentally to Muse’ version of the song. I may be completely wrong, but I take this as a hint that their future direction might be a bit harder-edged and guitar-driven. High spots were ‘Shades of Grey’, one of my favourites from the album, with a strong dance music element, and the excellent ‘Hollow’.

At least when playing on home turf, they’ve outgrown this size of venue. When do we get to see them play on our side of the Pennines?

Sunday’s show was in the rather larger Fibbers, a rock club with a proper stage. Odin Dragonfly are a side-project of Mostly Autumn, consisting of vocalist Heather Findlay and keyboardist/flautist Angela Gordon performing as an acoustic duo. This was supposed to have been the launch party for their album “Offerings”, but unfortunately the release has been delayed. When I walked in I recognised a good third of the audience, including Bryan Josh (who recognised me!), Andy Smith, Livvy and Howard. The whole place gave off an incredible friendly vibe.

There were two support acts. First up was vocalist and harpist Sarah Dean. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen a solo harpist live; I don’t think I have. Heather gave an introduction and asked the audience to keep quiet during the songs – and you could have heard a pin drop throughout the set. Second support was Hijack Oskar, a six-piece playing a semi-acoustic sort of folky pub-rock that makes perfect sense after two or three beers.

Odin Dragonfly played for about an hour, with Heather on acoustic guitar, Angie on piano and flute. It was a stunningly beautiful set, with the two of them sharing vocals. While I’ve always known how well Heather can sing, I hadn’t realised what a lovely voice Angie has when she sings lead.

Since the album’s not yet out, I didn’t know the majority of the songs, apart from some acoustic versions of Mostly Autumn oldies such as the seldom-played ‘Steal Away’ and ‘Eyes of the Forest’. They included an arrangement of ‘Caught in a Fold’ that sounded totally different from the hard-rock version I’m used to, though still recognisable as the same song. They also played a couple of covers, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ (not a song I know) and the encore, Jethro Tulls’ ‘Witches Promise’, both of which I believe are going to be on the album.

The evening ended with a few hardcore fans visiting the Old White Swan pub after chucking out time at Fibbers, to be joined by Bryan, Andy, Livvy and Howard.

I’ll be seeing both Breathing Space and Odin Dragonfly at the Mostly Autumn Convention in a month’s time. If you’re going, or thinking of going, see you there!

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