Mostly Autumn

Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival

17 June 2005

A bus, a Metro, three different trains, and I finally found myself in the middle of nowhere, four miles from Middlewich, on a road with no signposts, with no idea of what to do next. So out came the trusty compass and I started walking in what seemed like the right direction. Four miles later, I was in Middlewich. Not a bad walk, though crossing the M6 was a bit exciting.

Why was I doing this mad thing? Well, you see, I had this idea... the idea that at a folk festival we might get a slightly different type of show, different from the hard-rocking Astoria show a fortnight ago. Not that there was anything wrong with the Astoria show — it was magnificent, and I would have been happy with a repeat of that at Middlewich (so I was in a win/win situation). But Mostly Autumn is a band with a lot of sides, and I wanted a chance to see another side again.

Ok, let's be honest, just the chance that I might hear Which Wood? One more time made the gamble worth it.

And was the trip worth it?

Let's just say that this was the best concert I have ever seen.

The venue was a big tent in the festival fairground — where they had the usual kiddies' rides and traditional festival-type stalls. An excellent setting — all concerts should be preceded by doughnuts and candy floss.

So in the tent we find a mixed audience of young people, old people, pre-school children, two local mayors, and a dog. (Later revealed to be Bryan's new puppy, Merry. Wonder where he got the name from?) The scattered Mostly Autumn t-shirts seemed lost in the mix and I began to wonder if the band could win over such a "different" audience. (Oh, me of little faith.) I started to get a bit more alarmed when they sat the elderly Lord Mayor next to Patrick...

The support band (support band? There's a novelty for Mostly Autumn) was a trio from Stoke called Queensbury Rules, who played an entertaining set of folky-type songs on a variety of instruments, getting a good response from the crowd. They played for an hour and I wondered if Mostly Autumn would play a short set because of that. No, Mostly Autumn came on at about 9:30 and played until something-to-twelve.

Judging the crowd and the venue, I thought I might remain seated for this one, even though the usual suspects were already moving to the front. I was about six rows back and could see all the important parts of the stage. Then I saw them lay out the bodhran, recorder, and whistles, and realised I couldn't sit. I moved up to stand in front of the stage. Front and right, naturally.

And after a short wait, they started.

And, oh my god, it was an absolutely perfect set. It was almost like they picked it especially for me. And it went something like this (though not necessarily in this order):

The Last Climb
Caught in a Fold
Something in Between
Broken Glass
Simple Ways
Out of the Inn
Blakey Ridge
Which Wood?
Never the Rainbow
Black Rain
Shrinking Violet
Heroes Never Die
Candle to the Sky
Spirit of Autumn Past
Mother Nature

This is everything that (to me) makes Mostly Autumn Mostly Autumn, so many shades within one concert, so much variety, nobody else could ever do this... so much energy and emotion... they all sounded great, they look so happy and relaxed, and they're playing perfectly.

The three new songs fitted flawlessly into the mostly "older" set. (Ok, time for a philosophical interlude. A lot has been made of the "heavier" and "darker" nature of the new album, and how it represents an evolution in their sound. And I think this misses the point. What Storms Over Still Water has done isn't to "evolve" the band's sound, it's simply added another facet to it. Mostly Autumn is made of a lot of things, and one of those things is Storms Over Still Water. If they couldn't make an album as different as Storms, they wouldn't be Mostly Autumn. And if they couldn't play Shindig followed by Black Rain in the same gig, they wouldn't be Mostly Autumn. Their diversity is their uniqueness, and that's why I still want gigs like tonight's.)

I love the big shows with the lasers and choirs and string quartets, but this is how I really want to see them. Three feet away from me, in a big tent, taping their equipment back together as they go, laughing and joking with each other, making things up as they go along, and just playing the most perfect set of songs ever.

What did the crowd think? I don't know... but the cheers seemed much too loud to come from a couple of dozen people in Mostly Autumn t-shirts, and when I looked round, sure enough, the handful standing at the front had become a throng, and, how can you see this band and not fall in love with them? It's not possible. They're too perfect.

I would do the whole ridiculous journey all over again, and more, to see this again... but I'll never see it again because Mostly Autumn are never the same twice and the next time I see them (which will be in about 36 hours) they will surprise me again with something completely different but still wonderful.

I've just realised that I've seen Mostly Autumn 29 times. That's now more times than I've seen Deep Purple. And Mostly Autumn might be the greatest rock band in the world... I'm not sure... ask me in 30 years...

Anyway, the tent was a surprisingly good venue. The stage was raised a couple of feet and we could stand right up against it. I could see everything perfectly, and the sound was clear and well-mixed — and not too loud. I think I could actually hear un-amplified instruments on the stage (at one point I could hear a flute sound from two sources: one three feet in front of me and one from the PA ten feet to my right. I think I heard un-amplified backing vocals, too. Or maybe she was just singing louder — well, they were extremely prominent in the mix. Everything was perfect. I'm so happy.

Oh, before I forget, I want to mention Liam's solo in Mother Nature: absolutely fantastic. Longer next time, please.

In fact, I think this was my favourite EVER version of Mother Nature, with extra added "Ahhhhhh"s during the (Echoes) finale — and did I mention how prominent the backing vocals were?

Ok. Ran out of things to say. Another review peters out into random spluttering...