Mostly Autumn – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

Sadness sells.  Just think of the dirges- (“To Live is to Die” by Metallica) the elegies (Elegie, Patti Smith) and the requiems ( Verdi’s Requiem).  Dark timbres, moody textures, melancholy notes, slow movements,  sometimes painful yet always perfectly rendered visual images – these all contribute to expressing the emotion of sadness.

Mostly Autumn know that sadness sells. They know that a walk around a lake in Cumbria is likely to fill you with a kind of joyful sadness. It is that bittersweet release that makes it so poignant. Autumn seasons are sad. The vitality and new life of spring is over. The fullness and maturity of summer is all gone. Only a future of darkness and cold is to be seen. Autumn is the saddest month because things are no more. Nor have just begun. We compare the seasons for the duration of our lives, so the ‘autumn of our  life’ can be seen as a golden age at the end of a prosperous and fruitful time, but can also be seen as harbinger of the dark days, the decline and death.

So Mostly Autumn gently turn their sweet yet mournful songs into exquisite symphonies of majesty and power for the crowd at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush.  ‘Marcia Brady’ looking golden-haired beauty Olivia Sparnenn (also ‘Breathing Space’) now ‘fronts’ the band and looks like a radiant angel in her white smock over tight black pants and long boots. She has the same kind of range and power as Christine McVie and delights with her soaring voice. Upon the stage it seems as if she can talk to the spirits (within some kind of trance) and at times I could make out what sounded very much like Sigur Rós-type ‘singing in tongues’. Maybe it is the Jórvík in her!

Big man Bryan Josh is the big daddy of the outfit. He is very much the “auteur” and director of the show -although the band probably says that it is a matter of cooperation. You get the feeling, though, that this giant haystack of a man, with his thick rubbery lead-guitar solos and thumping, crashing chords is the power-house of the band. Near to him were Andy Smith – Bass Guitars and  Gavin Griffiths – Drums – stirring up one hell of a wasp-nest of excitement and dangerous fury. On the other side of the stage were the combined talents of Iain Jennings and Anne-Marie Helder on those luscious keyboards.

Ann-Marie also played the haunting flute pieces (so reminiscent of The Moody Blues) and also came ‘out front’ for the odd ditty and jig, when the time was appropriate. Liam Davison also provided a ranging mix of guitar sounds.  All-in-all this was a big sound from a very big band- almost an orchestra – both in dimension and aspiration .

One of my favourite pieces (and you must think of the work of Mostly Autumn as ‘pieces’ in the classical sense) is “Dreaming” from the 2007 album ‘Heart Full of Sky’.  It has to be said that this has an annoying euro-pop almost Abba-esque sound to the  chorus bit it is the verse that I most enjoy – very reminiscent of May’s “The Prophet’s Song”  off  of Queen’s 1975 album ‘A Night at the Opera’.  Like many Mostly Autumn pieces, it has that evocative thin slice of spine tingling lead guitar in the middle. The focus of this perfect composition is a duet by Anne-Marie and Olivia, before returning to the lively chug of the verse. A very accomplished composition.

Many fans were saddened by Heather Findlay’s autumn departure from the band but I think that Olivia is a worthy and valuable replacement and she deserves her place at the front. She holds the fragile hearts of the audience gently and compassionately in her expressive hands, as the finale to the show – the crowd pleasing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ type masterpiece ‘Evergreen’ –  is teasingly unravelled for all to behold. This is an epic song full of grace and charm.

And maybe Heather knows what it’s like to be Evergreen ….

Oh, a little sadness . . .  but sadness sells well.  And I am sold.

© Neil_Mach
May 2010



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