Monday, 10 October 2016

Mostly Autumn - Leamington Spa Review

After a fantastic Christmas extravaganza last December (which I reviewed here), Mostly Autumn returned to The Assembly in the beautiful Midlands town of Leamington Spa for another mini festival of their own making. Last year's equivalent featured the last full performance to date of the fantastic Dressed in Voices album, along with an acoustic set, a set of Pink Floyd covers, and an extended encore that included some Christmas festivities. While it was a little early in the year for Christmas songs this time, the formula for this second Leamington 'evening with' Mostly Autumn was very similar. The band started the evening with an hour or so of acoustic music, followed by a support act, which in turn was followed by Mostly Autumn's main two-act headline performance. Last year's show was one of the best Mostly Autumn shows I have ever seen, which is no mean feat considering this one I am currently writing about is my 35th Mostly Autumn show, and this one promised to be up there with it. While I do not think this particular show eclipsed last year's wonderful evening, this was another excellent evening of live music full of new memories of one of my favourite live acts. The Assembly is one of the best mid-sized venues in the country, with an excellent central location and a wonderful sound system. It is no secret that bands have chosen it for conventions and all-day events in the past, with Mostly Autumn being the latest band to take full advantage of this facilities. The only real downside of the evening though was the turnout, which was considerably lower than last year. Last year's event saw the venue almost full, with fans travelling from far and wide to see the band. That was unfortunately not the case this year, but there were still enough people in the venue to make for a great atmosphere. Mostly Autumn fans tend to be very vocal and loyal anyway, and those that came again this year were treated to a fantastic set in the band's inimitable style. Despite the lower turnout, I have a feeling these 'evenings with' in Leamington will become annual events. I certainly hope so anyway!

The venue opened at 3pm, and Mostly Autumn hit the stage about half an hour later for a laid back hour of acoustic music before the show really started. The term 'acoustic' is used lightly here, as towards the end the band were firing on all of their rock cylinders, but things started off much more sedately than usual. They opened with two stripped back oldies, Never the Rainbow and Nowhere to Hide (Close my Eyes), which set the tone for most of the set. Olivia Sparnenn-Josh (vocals/glockenspiel/percussion) sung the first wonderfully, as the song took on a more lounge/jazz style than the 1970s hard rock of the original, and harmonised with Bryan Josh (vocals/guitar) beautifully on the second - which was the first real sing-along moment of the evening. Angela Gordon (vocals/flute/keyboards/whistle) took centre stage for a cover of Christy Moore's Ride On where she showcased her Celtic-infused playing and powerful voice. It has been good to have her back in the band these past couple of years, and I hope she sticks around! There were also a few solo spots in the set. Chris Johnson (vocals/guitar) sung the beautifully sparse Gaze, Alex Cromarty (vocals/guitar/drums) came out from behind his kit to sing a song, and Gordon had further chance to shine with a stunning version of her Odin Dragonfly song Given Time, with Johnson standing in for Heather Findlay with harmony vocals and acoustic guitar. This was easily the highlight of this first set, and the slightly revamped version (Josh added some electric guitar lines occasionally) was probably better than the original! Sparnenn-Josh then sung her ballad The Rain Song, which has morphed from an acoustic number, to a full band arrangement with Breathing Space, and back to an acoustic song again with piano and flute accompaniment. There were two songs left, and they were anything but acoustic! The Last Climb was dusted off again for a welcome outing. The song was a set regular for a few years, but has been used more sporadically recently and this was the first time I had seen the band play it for a couple of years at least. From the bluesy intro, through Gordon's lengthy flute solo, to Josh's long guitar solo, the song was fantastic, and it was good to hear it live again. The set came to an end with a storming version of the once ever-present Evergreen. It is a song that has not been featured much at all live year, but it was brought out again for this special occasion and Sparnenn-Josh owned it as she always has done since taking over the frontwoman spot in 2010. It was a great end to the set, and it gave us a taster of what was to come later. The setlist was:

Never the Rainbow
Nowhere to Hide (Close my Eyes)
Ride On [Christy Moore cover]
{Unknown} [Alex Cromarty solo material]
Given Time [Odin Dragonfly cover]
The Rain Song [Breathing Space cover]
The Last Climb

After a quick change-over, it was time for the evening's 'proper' support act. As it was last year, violinist Anna Phoebe (who seems to be the latest addition to the large Mostly Autumn extended family) provided early evening entertainment for the gathered crowd, with some new material composed with guitarist Nicholas Rizzi. I saw the duo with Anathema in Exeter last year, but this time they are going under the name Papillon and seem to be looking to make this project into a full-time venture. At last year's Leamington show, Phoebe was accompanied by a classically-trained pianist, which I felt was better suited to her violin playing than the guitar was, but the two pairings show two very different styles. The set was the pianist was much more traditionally classical, whereas with Rizzi the music is quirkier and more upbeat. Rizzi is a good guitarist in his own right, and the two play off each other well. This sort of music will never be my favourite, but Phoebe is an extremely talented musician and it is always good to see something out of your comfort zone.

After an hour or so's break where the members of Mostly Autumn came out into the crowd to sign autographs and chat with the fans, the band started their marathon three hour plus set with a set of covers of songs that had inspired them. Considering most of the band's previous covers have been prog-related (mostly Pink Floyd), the set was full of quite a few surprises and it made for a diverse hour of music. Floyd's Us and Them got the show off to a good start, and the band were once again joined by saxophonist Chris Backhouse for the number as they were last year. Sparnenn-Josh then tackled Led Zeppelin's Rock and Roll with ease. Her and Josh had performed this at the Josh & Co. Limited shows back in 2009, so it was great to see her really cut loose on this blues rock classic again. Phoebe joined the band onstage for Fairport Convention's Who Knows Where the Time Goes? which Gordon sung beautifully, before Johnson sung Neil Young's Like a Hurricane (which was the highlight of this set) and Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees. Another highlight was Sparnenn-Josh's showpiece ballad All by Myself, originally by Eric Carmen but covered by Celine Dion among others. This hour-long set ended with a storming cover of Floyd's Comfortably Numb, which turned into a real guitar showcase for Josh. The song contains two iconic guitar solos, and he nailed both with ease. You can tell from watching Mostly Autumn play this song just how much the sound and songwriting style of Pink Floyd has influenced Josh and the band. Many old press releases used to refer to the band as the new Pink Floyd (which probably was not the greatest advertisement campaign) and it is easy to see their influence in the band's songs.

A twenty minute break followed, and the band came back onstage for the rest of their headline set, which was two hours of their own fantastic material. The set was largely the same as the one they have been playing on the road this year, but with a couple of choice changes to shake things up. The folky instrumental Out of the Inn, leading into the gothic rock of In for the Bite, have established themselves as another great concert-opening duo, and make for a dramatic entrance for Sparnenn-Josh on the latter. Josh's solo song has fit seamlessly into the set, and feels at home despite being darker and heavier than most of the band's material. The current set is a good balance of old a new, with the best of the Sparnenn-Josh-era of the band mixed in with classics from the past. Drops of the Sun, Skin on Skin, and Deep in Borrowdale (all from the Sparnenn-Josh-era) all rock hard and dominate the early part of the set. Skin on Skin particularly is a live highlight these days, with Cromarty's customary drum solo in the middle which leads into a folk rock workout at the end. The soaring symphonic rock of Wild Eyed Skies is another early highlight, with a soaring vocal performance and wall of keyboards from Iain Jennings and Gordon. Johnson's Silver Glass is a still a real showstopper live. His songwriting style is very different to that of Josh or Jennings, but that is what made his contributions to 2007's Heart Full of Sky so special. His songs sit well in the Mostly Autumn canon however, and hearing this one live again over the past couple of years has been a real treat. Mother Nature, brought out of retirement again this year, as easily the best song of the evening however. It is one of the best songs the band have ever done, from the melodic first half with the soaring chorus, to the prog rock instrumental ending which sees Josh and Jennings both have chances to solo as the energy builds up to a climactic finish with Andy Smith's bass solo. Phoebe rejoined the band on stage again for The House on the Hill which was lovely, as was the ballad Passengers which is always such a powerful live number. The main set came to an end with Sparnenn-Josh's signature number Questioning Eyes which is always an emotional moment, with Jennings' delicate piano melodies and Josh's ending slide solo. There was still time for a couple more however, and Phoebe took to the stage for the final time for the oldie (written in 1989 according to Josh!) The Night Sky which is rarely played live these days. It harks back to the time Mostly Autumn had a violinist in the band, and Phoebe and Josh both played their hearts out trading licks and melodies throughout. As always, Heroes Never Die brought the evening to a close, and the band took their bows to rapturous applause from the appreciative crowd. The setlist was:

Us and Them [Pink Floyd cover w/ Chris Backhouse]
Rock and Roll [Led Zeppelin cover]
Who Knows Where the Time Goes? [Fairport Convention cover w/ Anna Phoebe]
Like a Hurricane [Neil Young cover]
Fake Plastic Trees [Radiohead cover]
Take the Long Way Home [Supertramp cover w/ Chris Backhouse]
All by Myself [Eric Carmen cover]
The Great Gig in the Sky [Pink Floyd cover]
Comfortably Numb [Pink Floyd cover]
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
Silver Glass
Mother Nature
The House on the Hill [w/ Anna Phoebe]
Dressed in Voices
The Spirit of Autumn Past - Part 2
Questioning Eyes [Breathing Space cover]
The Night Sky [w/ Anna Phoebe]
Heroes Never Die

Mostly Autumn shows are always powerful experiences, and this extended show was no different. It is great that the band puts on evenings like this for the fans, and they seemed to be having fun up there on stage throughout. The diverse covers set gave us an insight into the band's influences, and the powerful main set showed me yet again why they are one of my favourite bands. This is probably the last time I see the band play some of these songs for a while, as I have no more Mostly Autumn gigs planned for the rest of this year. February next year sees the release of their upcoming album Sight of Day, so I look forward to seeing the band again next year with a new album and a new set!


  1. so true , was a perfect night for he fans , and i hope this will be on every year !

  2. Methinks perhaps you give faint praise for Alex with his self penned passionately sung song.