The last couple of times I've seen Mostly Autumn I have been rather disappointed. I initially saw them perform a short acoustic set opening for Ritchie Blackmore in London (interestingly I first saw Karnataka support Jump at the Half Moon in Putney two days later) and then with the fuller line-up in a couple of support slots in later in the summer of 2000 at the Horses Head Soup Festival (arranged by JUMP) and a few weeks later at the Whitchurch festival. I was pleasantly surprised by their take on what seems to be dubbed progressive folk (though Floydy folk would be more accurate, Pink Floyd meet Fairport Convention perhaps). Being a Scot I guess my folk leanings are a little different to those from south of the border but to my mind Mostly Autumn sound anglo Irish when it comes to the folk half of the equation. Certainly the folk side of things seems to have been toned down a little on their third album.
The show was billed as a joint headliner by two acts on the Classic Rock Legends label, Karnataka opening proceedings with Mostly Autumn as 'headliners'. Both bands had recorded gigs for CD/DVD release in this very venue over the previous six months, the Mostly Autumn one ( 'The Story So Far') being available tonight. I was at that recording and was less than impressed with both the new material and the way it was integrated almost completely into the second set that evening. At that point I had not heard 'The Last Bright Light' album (I'd not seen it in any shop - much like the resulting DVD/live CD release of the show) so playing most of it rather than a more even spread of material rather spoilt the evening for me. The venue tonight was less than half full, certainly emptier than at the recording of the DVD (the band had organised busses down for fans from the York area for that show - the accents being noticeably missing tonight), though I am led to believe as full as when Karnataka recorded their DVD. The raised area in front of the stage was still reasonably full however (the upstairs area being partially shut off) and getting back to the position I held near the front for Karnataka proved impossible.
I watched most of the set from about a third of the way back in front of keyboard player Iain Jennings who had a curlier hair than I remembered from before - I'm sure he used to have a crew cut. Lead vocalist Heather Findlay was also rather more covered than last July, though in clothing rather than hair, the most revealing costume of the evening having been worn by Rachel of Karnataka earlier in the evening. None of that matters of course as the music is the reason I came along tonight, though judging by the thickset guys that replaced me down the front, and the greater than usual male contingent, I think Heather and Angela were a major attraction for a good proportion of the audience. Nothing wrong with that of course but I wonder if they bought a CD after the show - or maybe just the DVD which would have infinite picture replay?
The set opened half a dozen minutes before eight thirty with one of my favourite tracks, WINTER MOUNTAIN, from Mostly Autumn's debut album 'For all We Shared...'. I like the sort of rotating guitar riff and the power of the piece, with the almost wailing keyboards fighting the descending riffs in the tailing instrumental section, before Heather begins "coming down" to the abrupt end.
With time for just a few claps of appreciation the riffing began again for something more recent, THE DARK BEFORE THE DAWN, from the third album. It races along with some folky whistle and flute care of the ladies before Bryan heads into guitar overdrive before calming once again for the chorus. The track doesn't sound this good on the CD. All the instruments end in a crescendo before the crowd have a proper chance to show their appreciation.
Heather finally welcomed everybody to the show before leading us into her fantasy land by asking us to "pretend we're not here but sitting in an ageless forest". Bryan gently sang the opening lyrical lines over just a quiet drum and keyboard backing that certainly captures THE SPIRIT OF AUTUMN PAST, the title track of album number two. The tempo takes us from a casual walk through the wood, where Heather added some acoustic guitar to the frame, to a headlong dash from the scarier areas of the forest in which those Spirits lurk. During this section bass player Andy Smith stepped forward out of those shadows (or was it just from the poorly lit rear stage area) and hammered home his four stringed message to the crowd.
Thankfully the spirits are scared to leave the forest and we are treated to a much more pleasant tune about the "marriage of nature and our emotions", EVERGREEN. Some gentle guitar picking (acoustic care of Liam Davison as well as Bryan's electric) and keyboard chords provide a mellow backing for Heather to vocalise her view of Mother Nature over with harmonies care of Angela. The mood darkens a little as the drum beat increases both the tempo and volume to a peak that suddenly just stopped.
Another from their first album, but one they've just re-recorded though Heather wasn't sure "if it's out yet", OUT OF THE INN. The track is indeed out and avaiable on 'Music Inspired By The Lord Of The Rings' (with a first pressing that has sold out according to one punter I overheard in the crowd) and on what I see as a bit of a cash in on the new Lord of the Rings movie. Still, with some of the songs dating back several years it is perhaps not quite as much a cash in as much of the other merchandise awaiting the unwary LotR purchaser. Certainly this tune is jaunty and uplifting and would fit nicely into a Hobbit gathering in the shire.
With but a brief pause the band moved straight into an initially bass heavy plod that eventually reaches the nice chorus of NOWHERE TO HIDE. It does expand musically but there is still an underlying plod factor that felt a touch tedious below the vocals that I do like. Odd.
Rachel Jones joined Heather (in less a revealing outfit this time) for a track that is special (and autobiographical I believe) to Heather, SHRINKING VIOLET, especially as it won 'Best Track' in the recent Classic Rock Society BOTY (that is Best Of The Year rather than what you may imagine) awards. Heather thanked the CRS members (of which there seemed to be a large proportion in the crowd judging by the cheer) for the award*. The track is long and slow with lots of harmony "la, la, lah's" that seem to drag on a little too long but that may just be the impatient rocker in me wanting to get back to something a little more interesting and uptempo.
Uptempo is what we were presented with next in the form of a clap-along to the rhythm of the jig that is SHINDIG. If this was Scotland and a Wolfstone gig (or maybe even Yorkshire) the whole place would have been dancing but unfortunately we were in staid London town and everybody stood still and watched the the two ladies playing tin whistle (Heather) and flute (Angela) throughout. The tempo changed mid way through and I always think it is a different track but then I am easily confused when it comes to instrumentals.
A heavier beat took over and as the instrumental moved up a notch and became NEVER THE RAINBOW. I'm not sure if it was where I was standing but the drumming to this point seemed fairly pedestrian, keeping the beat but not really driving the band to my mind. Still, the beat was kept and that is one purpose of percussion, though some more interesting rhythms other than the repetitious snare - cymbal - snare - cymbal beat that permeated the set would have helped. I note from the official website that the band claim a Deep Purple influence (I can't really see the influence, it is certainly less obvious than the Pink Floyd one). Well, one surname is there, but unfortunately Jonathan Blackmore is named after the guitarist rather than the talented Mr. Paice. I wonder how Ritchie is on drums?
One final song for the main set and Josh introduced it after querying if we'd had a good evening. He explained how the song was written about his father, as most of the audience knew, before some gentle strumming introduced HEROES NEVER DIE properly. Bryan sang lead with Heather echoing during the choruses. The music took a darker tone as the lyrics reached the "tears that fall are blood" before lightening a little without losing the power of the feelings of losing a loved one. A lovely guitar solo soared over and around the repeated chorus of the track title that Bryan and Heather shared. The set ended at half past nine, just over an hour after starting. I was surprised but expected a couple of encores.
The band returned a minute later and as they donned instruments again Heather asked the usual question. "Would you like to hear some more?" Needless to say the audience were keen for at least one more and so a delicate guitar and keyboard (Angela was also adding keys on a single keyboard that had previously been hidden to me - I'd moved to the other side of the stage during the last track) backing slipped out of the PA below the restrained vocals of Heather and Bryan for MOTHER NATURE. The tempo suddenly increased, as did the volume, half way though as the vocalists echoed the "sometimes she cried out" section in both action and word. Things quietened after a loud and vibrant instrumental section back to an expected long fade out to finish the song as it began. Not so as Bryan moved into another measured solo for the last couple of minutes before the keyboards tinkled for the last time as the guitar droned to a climax. When the band left the stage it was for the final time. An eighty minute set seemed a little short but aith a quarter to ten curfew there was no time for another song.
So, overall a pretty good performance and much better than the last couple I'd seen. I think the main reasons for this are that the new material was better integrated with the older tracks and probably that I was a little more familiar with The Last Bright Light. I'm still not convinced about it as an album and greatly prefer the first two, but at least live the material has grown on me. I just have to play the CD a few more times I guess, preferably at decent volume.
* ( Mostly Autumn also won 'Best Band' and 'Best CRS Gig' for another joint headliner they did with Karnataka. Rachel Jones of Karnataka won 'Best Female Vocalist ' however)
I dropped my notebook at the end of the show (my Psion having died the previous evening) so if you found a black and red A6 book with lots odd, scrappy, handwriting about Jackie Leven in Germany, please get in touch. I've managed this review without the notes but the Leven ones will prove rather more difficult.