It’s been one of those bank holiday weekends – four gigs in four days, which I think is the greatest amount of music in the shortest time I’ve ever done outside of a festival.
Things started a day early on the Thursday, with The Reasoning at The Met Theatre in Bury. Support band Morpheus Rising are a five piece band shamelessly citing the 1980s NWOBHM as a principle influence, now reclassified as hard rock following boundary changes. Entertaining high energy stuff.
I’d seen The Reasoning a week earlier in London, where a very poor sound mix really hadn’t done the music justice, and the performance suffered badly as a result. Tonight was far, far better. Bury Met is always a great gig whoever is playing, and The Reasoning I know and love were back with a vengeance, now expanded to a seven-piece with new members Jake Bradford-Sharp on drums, ex-Fish keyboard player Tony Turrell and vocalist Maria Owen. The new album “Adverse Camber” features heavily, which takes a slight step back from prog-metal in favour of some elements of the atmospheric melodic music that Rachel did with Karnataka. Not that the twin guitar attack of Dylan Thompson and Owain Roberts doesn’t still rock hard plenty of times, but the overall effect is to make their live set a lot more varied and multi-dimensional, which cannot be anything other than a good thing.
On Friday I travelled down to Cardiff to see Hawkwind supported by Panic Room at St David’s Hall. I’ve seen Panic Room many times before at their own shows, here they made the most of their five-song 30 minute slot, naturally including a great version of “Apocalypstick”. Blessed with a good sound mix for a support, they seemed to go down well with Hawkwind’s audience, and told me they sold a lot of albums after the gig.
Hawkwind themselves I hadn’t seen since 1980, and had lost track of what they’ve been doing since the mid-80s, so I really didn’t know what to expect.
I think Southend is the furthest I’ve travelled to date for a Breathing Space gig. But with Olivia Sparnenn leaving the band at the beginning of April there are a limited number of chances to see the current incarnation of the band on stage. And with relatives in that part of the world, there was the opportunity to combine a must-see gig with a family visit.
I’ve not been to The Riga Bar before; it’s an excellent little venue, great sound, and a crowd who made up in enthusiasm what the lacked in numbers.
Breathing Space were, as usual, superb. Over the past year they’ve significantly upped the energy level of their live performances, replacing the jazz-inflected ballads with tougher guitar-driven numbers. Although the setlist drew from all three albums, songs from last year’s “Below the Radar” featured heavily.
Livvy Sparnenn was on great form; lovely renditions of songs like “Dusk” and “Drowning” as well as rockers like “Clear”. Fans of Mostly Autumn have nothing to fear when she takes over in that band next month. And we were also treated with some excellent lead guitar from Bryan Josh, in much more relaxed form when he’s not leading his own band.
It’s clear that this lineup of the band is determined to go out with a bang. Just one more gig to go now, at Bilston Robin 2 on Easter Sunday, April 4th. If it’s possible for you to get there, be there.
When Chris Johnson left Mostly Autumn at the beginning of 2008 he stated that he was to work on a solo album. In the coming months touring as Fish’s second guitarist took up a lot of his time, but when I asked him about his solo project when I met him in York at the end of the year he told me it was still on track, and had some interesting collaborators.
The Fabric is that album. The collaborators turned out to be Panic Room and Mostly Autumn vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Anne-Marie Helder, Mostly Autumn, Panic Room and Fish’s drummer Gavin Griffiths, and two of Chris’ long-term associates, bassist Patrick Berry and guitarist Simon Snaize, The album also features guest appearances on a few tracks from Heather Findlay, Olivia Sparnenn and Bryan Josh.
This is certainly an album that took me a few listens for this one to click; on the surface it’s an indie-sounding album with it’s sparse chiming guitars and clattering drums; but listen more closely and there’s some real musical depth there. Chris Johnson sings the majority of the lead vocals with Anne-Marie taking a largely supporting role singing harmonies and middle eights, which may disappoint some fans of Anne-Marie’s vocals, but this is basically Chris’ album.
High spots are many, the menacing-sounding “The Dogs” ending with a lacerating solo from Simon Snaize, “The Diamond” where Anne-Marie makes my heart melt with the line “For a while.. you were mine”, and the wonderfully atmospheric “High Life” again featuring some tremendous wordless vocals from Anne-Marie at the end. The album closes with the epic harmony-filled “Ending” perhaps the closest in sound to Chris’ work with Mostly Autumn, a connection made stronger with a great solo from Bryan Josh.
Like many self-released prog albums, this was released as a pre-order some time ago, but has a full retail release on Monday 25th January. You can stream some of the music from the band’s website, www.paradeband.com.
Breathing Space performing the song Questioning Eyes at Bilston Robin 2 in May last year.
This was the first time they’d performed it live, having laid down the song in the studio only days before. I was in the audience (you may or may not be able to make out the back of my head in the crowd), and I remember congratulating composer Iain Jennings immediately after the show telling him I thought it was as good as anything he’s ever written.
Possibly because I know the story behind this song, I find it incredibly moving – it only takes the intro to bring a lump to my throat.
Another prog band have had to replace their singer in the new year, Also Eden. Their new singer is none other than Rich Harding, sometime contributor to Readers Recommend under pseudonym of AfraidOfSunlight, the other person apart from me who continually nominated Marillion songs only to find Dorian never A-listed them:
Rich Harding has been singing live since 1985, fronting bands as diverse as The Allnight Chemists (space rock), Sane (prog) and Twisted (heavy metal). For the last few years he has also been performing with a number of successful Marillion “tribute” bands, in the UK and on the continent (Misplaced Neighbourhood, Lords of the Backstage and Skyline Drifters). His voice is very different to Huw’s – but he has power, energy and enthusiasm and we know he’s going to make a huge impact on the band’s sound this year.
I’m sure everyone on The ‘Spill will offer their congratulations!
Sometimes a bombshell comes completely out of the blue.
As everyone on The Spill knows, I’m a huge fan of York progressive rock band Mostly Autumn. I’ve even managed to persuade CaroleBristol to see them on their last tour.
Late on Thursday night came the news that Heather Findlay is leaving the band to concentrate of a solo career. I’m still trying to come to terms with it. I’m completely devastated in a way people for whom music is background wallpaper or a once-a-year trip to an enormodome will never be able to understand, but I’m sure plenty of ‘Spill regulars who have been hardcore fans of any band will have been there.
I first saw Mostly Autumn live at Jillys in Manchester back in 2004, and have seem them 40-odd times since, 30 of those in the past three years. Their music has changed my life over the past few years in ways I could never have anticipated, and helped me through some difficult times in my life.
There’s just something uniquely magical about Mostly Autumn’s live shows; no other band is quite like it for me. Seeing another great band live is like visiting an exotic location on holiday, seeing Mostly Autumn feels like coming home. I’ve made so many great friends through Mostly Autumn fandom it feels like an extended family.
Although I’ve only met Heather a handful of times, she has always treated me like a personal friend.
Mostly Autumn are to continue, with their backing vocalist Olivia Sparnenn taking over on lead vocals. The knock on effect of that is that Olivia will be leaving her own band, Breathing Space, another great band I’ve seen almost as many times as Mostly Autumn, and who now face an uncertain future.
The absolutely electrifying live shows in 2009 meant Heather’s time with Mostly Autumn ended on a high. She will be playing one last farewell show with the band, at The Assembly in Leamington Spa on Good Friday, April 2nd. I’ve already got my ticket.