Photo © Howard Rankin
On Friday, April 1st, York’s finest rock band Mostly Autumn played a special show in aid of the charity Pilgrim Bandits. The guest of honour was Ben Parkinson, a Mostly Autumn fan critically injured while serving in Afghanistan. The title track of “Go Well Diamond Heart” is dedicated to his story. Whatever your feeling on the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan, you can’t fault his indomitable spirit in coping with something far more traumatic that most of us will ever face. “A man with a mountain on his back”, as the lyrics say.
I had a gut feeling this was going to be a very special event, and the band did not let us down.
The band chose a very interesting way to open the show. Instead of rolling an intro tape they began with keyboard player Iain Jennings alone on stage kicking off the looping rhythm track that heralds the instrumental “Distant Train”. The rest of the band came on stage one by one, first Anne-Marie on flute, then Bryan on guitar, until Olivia Sparnenn made her dramatic entrance as the band segued into “Answer the Question”.
What we witnessed over the next two and a half hours was a band absolutely on fire. Olivia Sparnenn has grown in self-confidence over the past year, and has now stamped her own personality on things. She’s taken older songs such as “Evergreen” or “Fading Colours” and made them hers, and really shines on the newer material written for her voice. Bryan Josh was on equally superb form on guitar, his solos alternately soaring and shredding with a style that transcends his obvious influences. It’s a very different Mostly Autumn to the band of a year ago, but on the strengths of performances like this, they’ve every bit as good as they were when fronted by Heather Findlay. All seven members make a significant contribution to Mostly Autumn’s multi-layered and hugely melodic sound. Iain Jennings’ cinematic washes of keyboards and Anne-Marie’s flute, keys and vocal harmonies add a great richness, as does Liam Davison’s often understated guitar; melodic runs and atmospheric fills rather than traditional rhythm playing much of the time. And the whole thing benefited from a mix in which you could hear every voice and instrument clearly. And like all the best gigs, it was clear the band were enjoying every minute their time on stage.
The setlist was a near-perfect mix of old and new. Naturally the new album “Go Well Diamond Heart” featured very heavily, the band playing all but one song from the first disk plus the two obvious standouts from the bonus disk. “Forever Young” and the emotionally powerful “And When The War Is Over” are well on their way to becoming live favourites. It’s nice to hear “Violet Skies” played live at last, even if the shimmering pop number didn’t quite work as well live as I’d hoped. Given the amount of new material most of the older songs were the obvious standards, but the band still threw in a surprise in “First Thought”, a seldom-played song from “Passengers”. But yet again, one of the real high spots was the former Breathing Space epic “Questioning Eyes”.
Given the nature of the gig as a charity event rather than a stop on a regular tour, in a city the band have never played before, it was a different sort of audience, with a great many unfamiliar faces in the crowd. The band deserve to have picked up plenty of new fans.
The band will be touring in May and June, culminating in some festival appearances in July and August. On this sort of form, they’re a band not to be missed.