It wasn’t just the promise of tickets waiting for me on the door that drew me back for a second night with Mostly Autumn. I’d enjoyed the first night and I was interested to see how the previous night’s shenanigans would effect the prospect of recording a live album at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (a venue I don’t like but, hey, I live just round the corner). Would Heather’s "scratchiness" (her term) floor the attempt at making a live album? Would the live album be released with a fill-in vocalist or be aborted all-together? Hey, it’s a hard rock soap……… The answers as always fell somewhere in between the obvious guesses.
Tonight, the band have more than adequate space to flex their musical and physical muscles. Unlike in Mancester, they’re not all stood on top of one another, eight musicians on a stage built for three. The audience can actually see Iain Jennings. Not least because he’s lost the top keyboard of the three on his tower. Anne-Marie Helder can get out from behind her keys when she is playing the flute and Andy Smith can wander the stage at will which makes him look just a little more Spinal Tap than he did last night…..
The setlist is the same as last night on the whole with those songs that were dropped because of Heather’s health mostly restored to the line-up. Eye contact between Josh and her is restored and there is even signs of some humour between the pair. Inbetween song comments are kept to a minimum in the spirit of the intention to capture this for a live recording without too many fake fades being required. The band members still have an irritating habit of leaving the stage when the songs do not require them to be there which looks unprofessional but that is their choice, I guess. All is well, the mix is better than the night before and except for one peculiar moment when Ms. Findlay seems to be asking the sound engineer to take her down in the mix (down???) there is none of the problems from the previous night which could have been interpreted as being a little prima-donna-ish……
And then Heather introduces "Above the Blue" from the new album "Glass Shadows". Now this isn’t my favourite song from that set. To these ears, it all sounds a little too much like the Carpenters. But Heather obviously believes in it. She has dedicated it to her baby and her partner and for her it is obvious that this is one of the key moments of the night. Perhaps it all meant a little too much. The band all left the stage except Anne-Marie who plays delicate and sensitive keys and for the first two verses all is well. But Heather has decided that a snare-drum has been left taut and is causing an intrusive echo or click and all of a sudden the song is off and needs to be begun again. There is some yelling and some semi-humorous comments aimed at the drummer who showed no signs of taking it all personally (I think most would have done). The audience are very much on the band’s side and take it in good spirits and the song is started all over again – for the good of the live recording. There is one moment when the security guard at the front of the stage allows his walkie-talkie to go off mid-song second time around and just for a second I think we’re going to have the same problem again but Heather digs down deep and completes her song. Strange.
The rest of the show goes off mostly without incident. The band are tight, energetic and enthusiastic and, most importantly, unphased by what has gone before. Anne-Marie Helder, still battling with her sounds been way too low in the mix, has real talent and charisma. Olivia Sparnenn takes her moment in the spotlight (smaller tonight) with aplomb. And Bryan Josh masters it all, level-headed, thoughtful, talented.
The first encore, Tearing at the Faerytale, which was missing last night is restored and goes very well indeed. The band are all set for "Carpe Diem" from "Storms Over Still Water" which had been a major highlight the night before when Heather shows Bryan "thumbs down" and the song has to be skipped and the bemused band move on to the final encore. The final encore is a cover of Genesis’ "Turn it on Again". The night before with Olivia having to handle lead at short notice and the band overwhelmed by complex timing, they had murdered this. Tonight, with Heather on vocals but the band still a little at sea, it is a little better. It is fun but not the big finish its meant to be.
So over two nights, Mostly Autumn showed themselves capable of scaling "Half the Mountain" but health (and personnel?) issues kept them from any kind of peak. Whether this is a temporary blip or sees the band heading for winter, only time will tell……..
Andy Smith and Heather Findlay
Goodnight and Thank you
(Combined) Set list for the last two nights
Caught In A Fold
Flowers For Guns
Dark Before The Dawn
Answer The Question
Last Bright Light
<<Above The Blue >> second night
Half The Mountain
Close My Eyes
Never The Rainbow
Heroes Never Die
<<Tearing at the faerytale>> Second Night
<< Carpe Diem>> first night
Turn It On Again