…and it’s time for the now annual trip to see Mostly Autumn at York’s Grand Opera House. Much has already been said, by better writers and critics than me, about the line-up change resulting from Heather Findlay’s departure from the band and with Go Well Diamond Heart marking a return to form for one of my favourite bands I was really looking forward to tonight’s gig. Overall, I have to say that it lived up to expectations. However, some of the following may seem a little controversial.
The first set started with an instrumental introduction while album covers and photos of band members, past and present, were projected onto a screen above the stage. I think I can understand why this was done – the message seemed to be that the band were experiencing both a departure and a new start and that this was a new chapter in their history – but, at around fifteen minutes long, it did start to overstay its welcome just a little and I almost breathed a sigh of relief when the band finally took to the stage and started playing Deep In Borrowdale, the rocker from the new album. What followed was a mix of songs both old and new, including two from the second disc of the special edition of Diamond Heart (The Sound Of The World and the superb Ice) and the live staple Spirits of Autumn Past. I had a vague feeling that this set was a bit more Bryan-centric than previous times when I had seen the band and this seemed to be confirmed by watching the That Night In Leamington DVD the next day. (Although it is possible that the Leamington gig, given its significance as Heather’s swansong with the band, was more tailored to her and that I just have a bad memory.) Livvy only really seemed to really front Passengers and Questioning Eyes, a personal song that she has brought with her from Breathing Space. One highlight of the set was a guitar solo from Liam, used to introduce one of the songs (I forget which – there’s that bad memory again) and give most of the rest of the band a few minutes off stage. This solo seemed a little more intricate than those of Bryan and if it is the sort of thing that can be found on Liam’s recent solo album I will definitely be seeking out a copy.
After a short break the band returned to the stage and started the second set with Fading Colours then continued with most of the remaining songs from the standard release of Diamond Heart, including the lyrically challenged Something Better, For All We Shared and the title track, during which some effective light effects were added to the sounds of war to provide a somewhat harrowing backdrop to the song. Back To Life showed that Livvy has, indeed, got a superb voice and was the best song she performed all night. In fact, she seemed to almost be finding her voice so far into the evening as this was followed by Slow Down (from Bryan’s solo album, Through These Eyes) for which she provided some stunning backing vocals and, shortly afterwards, she performed Evergreen very well. As usual, the main set ended with Bryan’s dedication to his father, Heroes Never Die but the band soon returned for an encore which included Forever Young and the brilliantly performed When The War Is Over, before regaling us with the usual Christmas songs and, from Livvy, an unaccompanied version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
As usual, it’s a treat to see arguably one of York’s biggest bands perform in their hometown. I’m never sure of the Opera House as a venue but maybe that will be put right when York’s Barbican opens again next year. I couldn’t help thinking, though, that this year there was just a little something missing. Livvy isn’t bad. In fact there’s very little wrong with her performance except that she doesn’t seem to have the vocal power that Heather had (something I think I’ve also mentioned when reviewing Breathing Space). One thing that did strike me was that, when Heather sang, I never really noticed Livvy or Anne-Marie’s backing vocals but, when Livvy was singing tonight, it was easy to pick out Anne-Marie. It might just be a matter of time or it might be that the sound mix and, indeed, set list is being tweaked to make up for the new singer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pining for Heather to come back – Livvy isn’t Heather and there will, inevitably, be a change in the band dynamic – but I certainly can’t agree with the person sitting somewhere nearby who, when Bryan jokingly said, “some of you will have noticed that Heather isn’t with us tonight” was heard to mutter, “thank f*** for that.”