Mostly Autumn / Breathing Space

The Duchess, York

3 May 2009

What an absolutely excellent evening!

The first band came on stage at 7.00 and the curfew was listed as 1am. Being far too old and decrepit to stand for six hours, I bagged some comfy chairs at the back and sat down for the first three bands. Couldn't see a thing of the stage, and the sound was a bit muddy at the back of the cavernous Duchess, but that didn't really matter.

The first three bands were (I think) Smart Move, Freeway and Free Spirit. Between them they managed very credible covers of Whitesnake, Dire Straits, Bad Company, Free, Thin Lizzy, UFO, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and other stuff like that. Given the music and the setting, I had the bizarre feeling of being back in the Mayfair in 1985... it's virtually the exact playlist I would hear there on a rock night, and even the crowd looked identical (but with a lot less collective hair). Weird, but really good fun.

Each band got a 30 minute slot and a 15-minute change-over and everything seemed to be running remarkable smoothly and to schedule. That's got to be a first!

The next band was called (I think) Flight and, if I understood things correctly, had reformed after 30 years just for this gig in honour of their original drummer Howard Sparnenn and were playing after just one rehearsal!

(I probably ought to explain that the whole evening was a charity gig in support of the brain tumour charity "Andrea's Gift" and in memory of Howard Sparnenn.)

Anyway, Flight were the first band of the night to play original material. How to describe it...? Energetic melodic rock, very obviously 70s in style, with a bit of bluesy material and at least one song edging into Buzzcocks territory. Apart from the singer leaping about with lyric sheets in his hand, there was no sign that this was the first time they had played the songs in 30 years. Great musicians, good songs. Really impressed!

Then the sound mix went disastrously wrong for Breathing Space!

By now I was one row back from the front of the stage (thanks to Aneil (he won't be reading this but you all know who he is) for letting the short people stand in front of him!) and all I could hear was a wall of mush punctuated by monstrously loud drums.

I've got to cut Breathing Space a bit of slack, because they were playing with only three regular members and three stand-ins, but this wasn't the best I've seen them. The sound mix didn't help them, but I believe they also suffered from not being a coherent band. Harry James is a phenomenal drummer, one I've enjoyed seeing with several other bands, and he played the songs perfectly. Andy Smith is a superb bass player, and he also did a great job. But they did the job — and that's all. Bryan Josh... well, you all know what I think of Bryan Josh, but again he just "did the job". His guitar playing was very restrained. Faultless, but not inspired. During the instrumental jam at the end of You Still Linger (a highlight of Breathing Space shows) I found myself thinking... Mark Rowan did this better. Bryan's moment to shine actually came in The Gap is Too Wide (which also featured Anne-Marie Helder on flute). Words fail me when it comes to describing this epic. Tonight it even managed to rise above the dodgy sound mix and EVERYONE'S playing was inspired.

So, all that sounds like an overly negative review of Breathing Space, but that's only because I have come to expect such great things of the band and tonight they were playing in understandably difficult conditions. And because I haven't yet mentioned the woman of the night: Olivia Sparnenn.

Olivia was unbelievable. She started out hard to hear in the sound mix, but I think she quickly realised this and instead of turning her microphone up to "11", she solved it by singing LOUDER! Suddenly her voice was cutting through everything, even Harry's drums, and you could visibly see the effort she was putting into it. I can't remember ever seeing a more impressive demonstration of vocal power, and all the way through it she never missed a note of her considerable range. She sang her heart out, and when at the end of their one-hour set she announced that she was knackered I thought, bloody hell, I'm not surprised!

So far so good. A really enjoyable evening. Next up was Mostly Autumn, who were scheduled for a 75-minute set. Very short by their standards, but I'd heard enough to get my money's worth before Mostly Autumn even came on.

Before they even hit the stage, and throughout their set, Mostly Autumn were plagued by a catalogue of minor equipment malfunctions that was almost comical. Did it phase them one bit? Nope. The intro tape finally agreed to work and the band hit the stage with Fading Colours (and a miraculously improved sound mix)... and I took a metaphorical double-take...

Sometimes I forget. Maybe I take them for granted because I've seen them play so many gigs. But sometimes I forget one simple fact, and I need to see them again to remind me:

Mostly Autumn is the best band in the world.

I could splutter on for another two pages trying to expand on that. But there's no point. Mostly Autumn is the best band in the world. Ever.

(And, because it's expected (but also because it's true))...

Best concert I've ever seen :)

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