Mostly Autumn – The Grand Opera House, 05/12/09

…and, as bands continue to morph into other bands, the Mostly Autumn themed mini-festival continues as three of us (again not the usual three, although the usual three for this particular gig) make our way through the damp evening to York’s Grand Opera House for the Mostlies themselves.

In the case of this gig, we more or less knew what to expect. But there was to be a couple of surprises. After getting my lost (probably thrown away) ticket reprinted by the lovely “Rocky K” in the box office, we decided to head directly to our seats as there wasn’t long to go until the advertised 8pm start. As we had our tickets (including my nice shiny new one) checked, we could hear the strains of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall coming from the auditorium. Good choice of music and, if last year was anything to go by, just a recording being played to entertain those who took to their seats early. So, imagine our surprise when we got through the door and found a duet on stage, belting the song out (errm, somewhat incorrectly due to a couple of technical issues, but they admitted to that). There was a man on guitar and a woman on bass and, technical issues aside, they played well. I’m not sure what the second song was – it sounded like a Floyd song but not one I recognised. I’ve tried to Google the lyrics I can remember but only come up with something by Stephen Stills and I don’t think it was that one. At the end of their set, they did announce their name but, being honest, not very clearly and none of us caught it. It was a shame, really, that there was no notification of any sort of support act as we would probably have made a bit of an effort to get their earlier. (Late edit, a combination of posts on the Mostly Autumn forum reveal that the duet was The Secrets, the lady was original MA singer Heidi Widdop and that they would be on stage from 19:15…)

Then, to what I assume is a standard entry, Mostly Autumn took to the stage. Five of the line-up had been seen as part of at least one of the acts we had seen the previous night. (Chris Johnson joined some of them on stage for one song later on, making a total of six crossover artists.) It’s a little hard to add anything to the review I posted last year. This is the annual Christmas show for York so is probably a little different to other gigs throughout the year.

With the Mostlies, you pretty much know what you are going to get. The ladies will look stunning, the playing will be superb and Heather’s voice will be clear and emotive. With no studio album release in 2009, there was no new material to showcase so, for the most part, the two-part set contained the staples from their back catalogue. In fact, there was quite a crossover between the songs performed last year and the ones performed tonight. There were differences (or my memory is failing me) between the two years but I couldn’t accurately document them. The first set almost matched the track listing on Live 2009, part 1, although Shrinking Violet was in the set but not on the CD.

The second set started with the ladies (including Heidi from The Secrets) and Chris Johnson performing Silent Night, a cappella – the first of tonight’s seasonal songs. I don’t think any of us could remember all the songs performed after this if we tried but it was less like the track listing on Live 2009, part 2 than the first set was to part 1. Nonetheless, it included the staples and missed some favourites out.

It’s the encore when the Christmas part of the show takes off properly, with versions of the likes of Faerytale Of New York and Merry Christmas Everybody performed while Heather, in the slinkiest “Santa” dress you are ever likely to see, runs around trying to put Christmas hats on the rest of the band. (Strangely, Iain Jennings’ red woolly hat made him look more like Bennie from Crossroads than anything Christmas-linked…) Again, Heidi took to the stage to perform alongside Livvy on backing vocals and I think a heavily disguised Chris was playing guitar during the final song. Being a Christmas show (and, probably, being a Mostly Autumn show), there were humorous moments. There was also one rather large sombre moment. I’ll come back to that later.

It’s more or less impossible to comment on the band’s performance. Anybody who knows them will know that they play and sing brilliantly, those that have never experienced them may well wonder how a ten-year-old band that they have never heard of could be that good. I’ve now seen them twice and thoroughly enjoyed both times. I’ll almost certainly see them again and I’ll almost certainly enjoy them as much next time. For me, at least, their music is that good. As an aside, I was missing one studio album, which I was planning to pick up that evening. Checking the web-site earlier in the day, I was a little dismayed to find that it was listed as “Temporarily out of stock”. I still visited the merchandise table as there was other things I intended buying. There, on the table, was the CD I was looking for. In surprise and despite it having the title on the cover, I asked the guy behind the table, “Is that The Last Bright Light?” “Yes,” he replied, “it’s the last The Last Bright Light.” I snapped it up before anybody else did. How lucky???

Now, about sombre bit. And I apologise in advance if I offend anybody here but it’s my blog and these are my opinions….

Quite early on, Bryan had announced that the band had a very special guest coming on later and towards the end of the second set and just before what turned out to be a rendition of Heroes Never Die, the band melted off the stage and were replaced, without any introduction by a man who started talking about Afghanistan and our forces out there. He introduced the special guest – 25 year old Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, recently announced Yorkshire Man of the Year for 2009. Ben suffered horrific injuries in Afghanistan and was joined on stage by his mother and commanding officer in a few minutes which couldn’t help but tug at the heartstrings. There was talk of the conditions facing the forces in Afghanistan and details of the charity Help For Heroes, before Mrs Parkinson was presented with a large bouquet of flowers and Ben was presented with a framed Heroes Never Die t-shirt. We were informed that there would be collecting buckets for the charity as we left the gig and Bryan was asked to dedicate Heroes Never Die to a number of soldiers from Ben’s regiment who had lost their lives in service to their country.

Now, I have no issues with most of that. I have supported the charity in a number of ways over the last few months. I’m not political and, despite knowing two people (one army, one RAF) who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq recently, my opinions are basically formed by BBC news reports. I support the fact that our troops are over there while thinking, with my limited knowledge, that there are probably ways that things that could be made better for them. I sympathise with the injured and the families of those who have not returned. I had absolutely no problem showing my support for Ben and his colleagues with the rest of the audience and would almost certainly have dropped some cash into a bucket if I had simply seen it on the way out. I also understand that music is a powerful tool for raising awareness of charitable issues.

However, I also believe that there’s a way of doing these things. If you went to Live Aid, you had no right not to expect to be preached at by Bob Geldof. Unfortunately, this felt a bit like hijacking a Christmas show by one of my favourite bands to get a message across, especially since there seemed to be no link between the band and the introduction-less man, except that he had sent his brother two MA CDs while was posted over there. I still put cash in the bucket and I still have all the same feelings I listed above, I’m just a little disappointed in the way it was done.

Anyway, enough soapbox ranting (and apologies again for any offence caused). Overall, this was an excellent gig and continued what is turning out to be a very good weekend.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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