Saturday, 13 May 2017

Mostly Autumn - Tavistock Review

Mostly Autumn's now-annual trip down to the West Country to the excellent Wharf in the Devonshire town of Tavistock is always one of the highlights of my gigging year. I have said this many times in the past, but the first ever concert I went to was to see Mostly Autumn at The Wharf back in 2006 and it was an evening that changed my life. It would be the shows supporting the Heart Full of Sky album the following year that would really cement my love for the band, including the one and only Mostly Autumn Convention, but that show in 2006 was where it all started. I usually see Mostly Autumn a handful of times each year, but the Tavistock shows are always special ones for me. This one was extra special in the fact that it was the first time I had see the band since the release of their excellent new album Sight of Day. In fact, the show in Tavistock was only the second UK show in support of the new material. The 2017 tour was kicked off in the band's hometown of York at the beginning of April to coincide with the official release of Sight of Day (although those of us who pre-ordered the album through the band's website have had their copies since February), and a string of dates in the Netherlands and Germany followed. I am glad the band continue to make the effort to come down to Tavistock each year, and luckily it seems there are plenty of others in the South West who share that sentiment. While I do not the turnout was quite as strong as it has been for the past couple of years, there were still plenty of people in attendance and the atmosphere was excellent throughout. While the current line-up of Mostly Autumn is the same as it has been since the 2015 tour, the band looked a little different at this show as regular drummer Alex Cromarty was unavaliable for this short run of shows, which also includes gigs in Southampton and Cardiff over the weekend, so his place behind the kit was filled by Henry Rogers from Touchstone, DeeExpus, and many other bands. Rogers (although Bryan Josh kept calling him Henry Roberts for some reason!) did fantastically throughout, having learnt a lengthy set in a very short space of time. He is more a technical prog drummer than is usual for the type of drummers Mostly Autumn usually go for, so it was interesting to see his heavier style (with the use of double bass drumming in parts) fit in with the band's music. It worked really well, and Rogers really is a fantastic drummer, but I still feel that Cromarty's more organic swing-based drumming is the best style for this current line-up of Mostly Autumn.

The show itself returned to the split-set format that the band used to use regularly, with a short interval for trips to the bar and to the toilets! As has become customary over the past year or so, Angela Gordon (flute/keyboards/vocals) and Chris Johnson (vocals/guitar) took to the stage alone and got the folky instrumental Out of the Inn started. The song builds from a flute-driven jig and soon morphs into a hard rock workout based around Bryan Josh's (vocals/guitar) guitar solo. The rest of the band slowly come on stage throughout the song as it builds up towards a strong climax. As with last year, the song led nicely into In for the Bite, from Josh's recent solo album, with it's Blackmore-inspired main riff and dramatic vocal from frontwoman Olivia Sparnenn-Josh. Despite being quite heavily pregnant now, with the baby due at the end of June/beginning of July I believe, her vocal performance throughout was as flawless as ever and seemed unaffected vocally by the tiny eighth member of the band! The set was clearly well-paced to allow her to get some little breaks occasionally but she sung her heart our as always throughout. The first set was filled with older material, and was mostly a condensed version of last year's touring set. It was good to hear Running from Dressed in Voices included again, as it was absent from last year's shows, and was the first song in the set where Sparnenn-Josh really let rip vocally. A couple of old standards that have not been played as much recently, the classic Evergreen and the bluesy-prog of The Last Climb, were extremely well-received by the long-standing fans. The former is always a live favourite, and builds towards and emotion climax which saw Rogers really explode behind his drums with a flurry of fills. Wild Eyed Skies is saw another dramatic vocal performance, backed by Iain Jennings' (keyboards) delicate piano melodies, before again exploding into a real symphonic rocker with walls of keyboards and guitar chords. The first set came to end with a stunning rendition of Johnson's Silver Glass, which has become a real setlist staple over the past couple of years, which was sung in his usual enigmatic style while Jennings played the piano parts and Josh nailed the emotional solo. It has always been one of my favourite Mostly Autumn songs, so it has been great to hear it live again a few times over the past few years.

After a short break, the band came back with another set that was dominated by songs from the new album. No short of four of the new songs were played in succession to kick things off, with Jennings' synth-heavy Tomorrow Dies getting this part of the evening off to a winning start. It is one of Sparnenn-Josh's most explosive vocal performances on record, and that was replicated perfectly live above the somewhat dancey rhythms. The ending saw both Josh and Johnson harmonising during the emotional dual-lead guitar ending, and it was great to see Johnson getting a chance to play a little lead guitar along with Josh. Only the Brave is made to be heard live, with Josh's raw lead vocals above the driving hard rock riffs and drumming. Gordon's flute solo replaced the myriad of folky instruments that are used in the instrumental section on the album version, but sadly she was a little buried in the mix so the effect was lost somewhat. The laid-back rocky vibe of Once Round the Sun and Sparnenn-Josh's delicate but gorgeous piano-ballad The Man Without a Name rounded out this little suite of new material. Mother Nature is possibly the ultimate Mostly Autumn song, and since it's resurrection in the live set last year it has become an ever-present fixture again - at least for the time being. It has everything that makes the band great; from the opening vocal harmonies from Josh and Sparnenn-Josh, through the Pink Floyd-inspired mid-section built around a lengthy Jennings' keyboard solo, to the hard rocking closing section which saw the band firing on all cylinders. Another real highlight for me was Johnson's Changing Lives, which is one of my favourite songs on the new album. The somewhat strange song worked really well live, and took on a slightly rockier edge than it does it on the album but Johnson's strong vocal performance still drove everything. The ending with the wordless vocal section saw a bit of crowd participation, and the lengthy instrumental section gave everyone on stage more chance to rock out. The last new song in the main set was Hammerdown, a song I have always enjoyed on record but it really came alive when played live. The organsic, bluesier sound was made for the stage and the gorgeous vocal harmonies really shone through. Sparnenn-Josh's Questioning Eyes has been a staple in the set since she took over lead vocal duties in 2010, and it is always a powerful live number. Her emotional vocal delivery always makes the song a special moment, and the slide guitar solo from Josh at the end only emphasises this. The cinematic Tonight, complete with band introductions, which has been out of the set for a couple of years, brought the main set to a soaring close. There was of course time for a couple more, and plenty of cheers and clapping brought the band back on stage. Raindown was the last new number of the night and a lengthy flute intro for Gordon introduced it before Sparnenn-Josh's gorgeous vocal lines really stole the show. The vocal harmonies between the two ladies are a key part of the band's sound and this song exemplifies this with the two giving their all during the section where the title of the song is repeated many times to a powerful effect. The ever-present set closer Heroes Never Die brought the evening to a close and the song always packs a punch live and it would not be a Mostly Autumn show without it! The setlist was:

Out of the Inn
In for the Bite [Bryan Josh solo material]
Drops of the Sun
The Last Climb
Wild Eyed Skies
Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts
Silver Glass
Tomorrow Dies
Only the Brave
Once Round the Sun
The Man Without a Name
Mother Nature
Changing Lives
Nowhere to Hide (Close my Eyes)
Questioning Eyes [Breathing Space cover]
Heroes Never Die

Mostly Autumn shows are always special, and this one was no different. It was great to hear so much of the excellent new album played, although I do hope the band choose to play the epic title track of the new album live one day - maybe at the shows later in the year after the baby is born! Luckily I do not have to wait long to see the band live again, as I am heading up to Bilston in June to catch the band at the Robin 2, which after last night's display I am already looking forward to.

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