It is nearly ten years since I went to my very first concert. Way back in 2006 I was just starting to get into rock music in a big way, and a friend of my Dad's said that we should all head off to the Devon town of Tavistock (about 30 minutes drive from where we lived in Saltash) to see this progressive rock band called Mostly Autumn that he had seen a little while previously supporting Blackmore's Night. The rest, as they say, is history as that night in Tavistock kick started the lifestyle that I now lead and introduced me to the world of live music. I have gone to see the band many more times since, and while my memories of that first gig in 2006 are extremely limited (I was not keeping setlists at this point and I was not at all familiar with Mostly Autumn's music), but seeing them live at the wonderful Wharf venue always feels like coming home. Lucky for me, the band come down to Devon most years for a gig at the Wharf (although sometimes the Acorn in Penzance or the Phoenix in Exeter has been used as a West Country alternative) so there is usually at least one local gig per year I can attend. I have travelled around to various places to see the band too, and I have seen Mostly Autumn over 30 times now (by my count this show is number 33). The last two Mostly Autumn shows I had attended before this one were both very special. Their mammoth 4-set show in Leamington last December has to be one of the best concerts I have ever been to, and their support slot with Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow at the Genting Arena in Birmingham were both fantastic for different reasons, and helped to further cement my love for the band. This show at the Wharf was a more routine show for the band (although there is no such thing as a 'normal' Mostly Autumn show, as they are always special) but I did not realise going in that this would be one of the best 'routine' shows from Mostly Autumn that I have seen yet. There was support at this show from local band Secrets for September, but I had seen them live before and not thought much of them so I decided to enjoy the sun and catch up with members of Mostly Autumn - many of whom I had not spoken to properly for quite some time.
While the band's latest album Dressed in Voices has been dominating the band's shows over the past couple of years, Mostly Autumn have opted to return to a more varied set this year as the main Dressed in Voices touring cycle is now over. With the band in the process of working on a new album, they took the opportunity to pull some songs out of the vaults while they do not have a new product to promote. The show started in fine fashion, with Angela Gordon (flute/keyboards/vocals) and Chris Johnson (vocals/guitar) taking to the stage to start the Celtic-tinged instrumental Out of the Inn, which is from the band's 1998 debut album, which is a song that gradually builds up introducing other members of the band as it moves along. Gordon's flute dominates the early part of the song, before it morphs into a hard rocking beast led by a trademark Bryan Josh (vocals/guitar) guitar solo. Josh was on fire all night, and in my position on the floor right in front of him, I could take in all of his lead playing with ease. From the past to the present, the set then moved on to In for the Bite from Josh's latest solo album. This introduced Olivia Sparnenn-Josh (vocals/glockenspiel/percussion) for the first time during the evening and she delivered one of her soaring performances. Her voice was buried in the mix somewhat during the first couple of numbers, but the sound was soon balanced out and ended up being one of the best sounding Mostly Autumn gigs at the Wharf for a while. Skin on Skin, one of the two Dressed in Voices songs to be retained in the set, was an early highlight. Now freed from the rigid concept structure of previous performances, the song is now extended further with Alex Cromarty's (drums) now-customary solo lasting longer, and the jammed outro instrumental section taking on a real hard rock edge. Cromarty, during recent performances, has established himself as the band's best ever drummer, and he brings a real flair and personality to the drum stool that his predecessors have lacked (taking nothing away from some of the great players who have played with the band in the past).
The symphonic rock of Wild Eyed Skies saw a welcome to return to the set after a couple of years on the shelf, and the band's two keyboard players helped to bulk up the sound with some gorgeous soundscapes that make Sparnenn-Josh's voice shine. She also shined on the sparse ballad Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts backed only by Iain Jennings' (keyboards) piano melodies. Those two have always had a special chemistry since the Breathing Space days, and it is fantastic to see them still working so well together after all these years. Another real highlight followed in the form of Silver Glass which returned to the set last year. Johnson joining the band again in 2014 has given them a real boost. His aggressive rhythm guitar playing has helped to toughen up the sound somewhat, and it means that some of the songs he wrote for the band during his first tenure have been dusted off. This was always his masterpiece though, and hearing his fragile voice sing it live is always a magical experience. By this point the large crowd were totally into the show and the band could do no wrong. The Spirit of Autumn Past - Part 2, another song to have been left out for a few years, saw a recall and was a real sing-a-long moment, before the band's best epic Mother Nature, which has not seen the light of day since 2010, just blew everyone away. This was the real highlight of the evening with beautiful vocals from Josh and Sparnenn-Josh, before the extended Pink Floyd-inspired outro (with fantastic keyboard and guitar solos) saw the atmospheric side of the band's sound pushed to the max. It even ended with a short bass solo from Andy Smith! The set ended with a powerful version of Sparnenn-Josh's signature song Questioning Eyes before Mostly Autumn left the stage to rapturous applause. There was time for a few more though, including a surprise inclusion of Jennings' composition Hollow and a dust off of Passengers that had been left out for a few years too. The show ended with the traditional set-closer Heroes Never Die which never looses it's impact no matter how many times I hear it. The setlist was:
Out of the Inn
In for the Bite [Bryan Josh solo material]
Answer the Question
Drops of the Sun
Skin on Skin
Deep in Borrowdale
Wild Eyed Skies
Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts
The Spirit of Autumn Past - Part 2
Dressed in Voices
Nowhere to Hide (Close my Eyes)
Questioning Eyes [Breathing Space cover]
Heroes Never Die
As I said before, there is no such thing as a 'routine' Mostly Autumn concert. Each one is special for different reasons and I have seen many great occasion-type shows from the band over the years. This show really was up there though, and the varied setlist that fused old and new so well was a real treat. Luckily I only have to wait just over two weeks to see the band again, as they will be making their usual appearance at the Cambridge Rock Festival in two weekends time to once again impress the festival goers!