Friday 28th November: I still find it difficult to believe that, until just over a year ago, I hadn't heard of Mostly Autumn. York-based, prog-rock (with more than a hint of folk), eleven years old, extremely talented and, somehow, completely off my radar until I took a chance and went to the launch of Offerings by Odin Dragonfly.
Yet, in some ways, it's not that surprising. Despite a country(world?)-wide hardcore of truly dedicated fans, the Mostlies still come across as a small band that have somehow made it reasonably big. The band members are people you could pass in the street and not have an inkling that they were, at least in the minds of some people, rock gods. Being York people, you occasionally see them in local pubs (usually when music is involved) and, if you timed it right, you could probably bump into some of them in the supermarket. Their style of music isn't the most popular around and, unless you listen to the likes of Planet Rock, you aren't likely to hear them on the radio. Modern progressive rock seems to exists solely on the foundations of word of mouth and links on the internet.
However, since I discovered them, Mostly Autumn have become one of my favourite bands and though them I have come across a few similar outfits. Currently, Mostly Autumn (or, perhaps more specifically, Bryan and Heather) appear to be the music centre of a whirlpool of talent. Past and present members link the band to Panic Room, Breathing Space, Fish, Coverdale's Night, Odin Dragonfly and, probably, many more. Just following links from those bands can open up a world of exciting and interesting music.
When Mostly Autumn played their York gig last year, I missed it and went to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band instead. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with the latter's performance and vowed that I would take the next opportunity to see the former. So, when tickets went on sale for tonight's gig at York's Grand Opera House, I bought mine almost straight away. Despite it being month's away, my anticipation was high.
Tonight's gig was the first after a four month break due to the birth of Heather's son in October. Heather herself looked radiant in a series of simple black and red dresses. The relatively small stage meant that, from where I was sitting, I could hardly see anything of Iain Jennings, only saw Anne-Marie Helder whenever she ventured from behind her keyboards to play flute or guitar or Livvy Sparnenn, who looked incredibly lonely so far back on the stage by herself. The rest of the band were fully visible, however, with Bryan and Heather front of stage (but who was that third microphone for?), Andy Smith alternating between pacing around like a caged tiger and retreating to his corner, Liam Davison rarely coming forward from his central position and Henry Bourne, of course, staying in place behind the drums.
The set itself contained about an even split of songs that I did know and ones that I didn't, although their were more from the latest album, Glass Shadows, than I had expected from reviews of other gigs. The vast majority of songs were excellent. My only complaint would be that the simple repetitive keyboards of Above The Blue was pretty much repeated a handful of songs later - once was just about bearable, the second time was bordering on monotonous. It should be said, though, that Heather's rendition of Above The Blue was absolutely superb. A lot of the band's songs are written, from the heart, as personal tributes or celebrations of life. Powerful songs that, in some ways, batter the audience on an emotional level (as Bryan himself pointed out). Heroes Never Die and Tearing At The Faerytale aren't the kind of songs you hear from "ordinary" bands and the audience loved them. A Different Sky is an entirely different type of song - the archetypal three-minute pop song - and was almost a breath of fresh air compared to some of the others. Songs such as Evergreen and The Spirit Of Autumn Past are typical of the style of the band and are personal favourites. There were (obviously) more but I either can't remember them or didn't know them.
Mostly Autumn are, without doubt, an ensemble band. Yes, Bryan is the heart and guitar of the band and Heather is the voice, but everybody has their part to play and, tonight, they did so admirably. Iain's keyboards soared, Anne-Marie's flute was used to great effect and the various guitarists were brilliant, while the backing vocals added just the right amount if variation to to the main ones. Towards the end of the show, the mystery of that third microphone was solved - Troy Donockley appeared on stage to perform a tune on the Uillean Pipes and continued to play for the remainder of the gig, providing accompaniment on the pipes, various whistles and guitar. The whole performance was highlighted with a much smaller and much less subtle, but no less effective, light-show than you would normally expect from a rock concert.
Despite it still being November, Christmas was an ongoing theme during the gig. The first half was ended with Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas, while the encore started with Heather singing Silent Night accompanied by former band-members Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson. Bryan then proceeded to tell us how the band see Christmas as a special time for family and friends before announcing that they were really going to "*&%$ing ram it down our throats..." What followed almost needed a bigger stage as the whole line-up ended the show with Fairytale Of New York and Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody, while wearing suitably festive headgear. At one point, Livvy was joined at the back by Heather, Angela and Anne-Marie - that's not a bad-looking backing vocals line-up in anybody's book.
Throughout the show the band appeared to be having fun on stage. At the end, the audience (finally) got to their feet and gave them resounding applause.
Forget Chinese Democracy being the most anticipated album of the year. Tonight's gig was my most anticipated of the year and it lived up to those expectations. To my mind, there isn't another band quite like Mostly Autumn. Conversely, Mostly Autumn are like quite a lot of other bands, but I don't mean that in any disparaging way whatsoever.