Friday night found me in Manchester, considering another writing gig and checking out the possible subjects – Mostly Autumn. I understood Saturday night’s show in London was to be recorded for a live album and I wanted to catch this band when they weren’t just so – and it proved to be a good decision.
Mostly Autumn. They are the band who really define what it means to be "indie" and internet-driven. "Indie" not in the sense of any contrived musical style – I’m never sure what that label means in that sense. It seems its possible to be "indie" and the slaves of one of the corporate giants although the equally unpleasant term "britpop" seems to be back to the forefront at the moment. And internet driven not in the sense of Lily Allen who had a large budget to ensure she was discovered on "MySpace" and not in the sense of Sandi Thom whose discovery seems to have lasted for approximately one song but in the sense of a band who have independently launched a succession of reasonably successful albums via that medium and who have created a niche audience for themselves who are clearly with them for the longhaul.
Mostly Autumn. Darlings of the prog rock scene who, thankfully, aren’t really prog rock. Mostly Autumn who gather fans who’d rather watch Pink Floyd but have found the Floyd are Mostly not around anymore. Mostly Autumn – who seem to have passed their peak without ever charting an album – can they ever be more than a second division band?
Friday night at the Manchester University Academy. Eight musicians on the smallest stage of three. All busy tonight. Mostly Autumn are (having gone through a number of personnel changes which perhaps hints at their problems) :
Bryan Josh. band leader. lead and rhythm guitar. vocals. old-style rocker and the one they audience feel is their friend.
Heather Findlay. vocals. guitar. whistle. tambourine. Dresses like Stevie Nicks, looks like Christine McVie.
Anne-Marie Helder. Keyboards. flute. harmony vocals. Her sound is too low in the mix.
Olivia Sparnenn. Vocals. Youngest member who finds herself with extra duties tonight.
Iain Jennings. Keyboards. Didn’t play on the most recent album but is back in the touring band.
Andy Smith. Bassist. Looks like and dresses like Bill Nighy when he was a strange fruit.
Liam Davidson. Acoustic guitar, 2nd lead and rhythm guitar. Another returnee to the fold.
Henry Bourne. Drummer. Solid.
The show, on Friday, got off to a solid enough start with "Fading Colours" but it soon becomes evident that all is not well. There is a sharp exchange of words between Heather Findlay and Bryan Josh and then an announcement that Olivia Sparnenn will stand in for Findlay for the bulk of the rest of the show. Now, Olivia is a strong vocalist (some would say stronger than Heather – check out her own band, Breathing Space) but it is Heather that the audience have come to see and this should have been sorted prior to the show with the show perhaps cancelled until all were well. But this show has been rearranged once already and there is a consideration about that live album show tomorrow night (and the income that will generate) and it seems that Heather has unilaterally decided that her voice must be rested. Certainly there is no eye contact between her and Josh for the rest of the night and it seems that there is a tension amongst the camp.
Internal issues aside, this is a tight show and the fill-in vocalist is more than up for it. Highlights? "Unoriginal Sin", "Evergreen", "Broken Glass", "Carpe Diem", the vocal version of "Spirits of Autumn Past", and a number of others. There are one or two moments when the band get bogged down in their own boogie and you’re caused to think that this is what it might have been like if Saxon had hired Stevie Nicks as their vocalist but they transcend that most of the time.
Josh is not quite the vocalist he is in the studio (where his sound reminds me of the late-Genesis and sometime-Stiltskin vocalist Ray Wilson) but is guitar work is interchangeably forceful and dynamic then thoughtful and provocative. Smith, Davidson and Bourne are a solid backline and rhythm section. Helder is a real talent and Sparnenn handles the change-overs like a pro and excels herself.
All-in-all, a difficult night but a good night. It remains to be seen whether the band can overcome those tensions and these setbacks.