@ The Sage Gateshead, July 16 2011

There is something wholly admirable about Mostly Autumn. Formed in York in 1996 they’ve dedicated themselves to a genre, prog rock, that had it’s heyday in the 70s.

And they’ve persevered and succeeded despite never having a major record deal – instead primarily self-financing their tours and album releases. 

They’ve been rewarded by attracting a die-hard, if somewhat select, fanbase and by garnering plaudits for their music from the likes of the late Rick Wright, Ian Anderson and Jon Lord.

Although Mostly Autumn’s line-up has always fluctuated, the constant factors have been lead guitarist, vocalist and founder Brain Josh and vocalist Heather Findlay. For many they represented the heart and soul of the band.

It was therefore a shock when, in early 2010, Findlay decided to call it a day in order to go solo and also to devote more time to her recently expanded family. Olivia Sparnenn, MA’s former backing vocalist, has stepped into the breach and this is her debut tour fronting the seven-strong band.

The instrumental Distant Train kicked things off, a prime example of the band’s mutli-layered, epic sound. Olivia Sparnenn entered the stage as the instumental segued into Answer the Question, and a striking figure she cut too: all long, blonde tresses and swaying hips, sporting knee length black boots, black mini skirt and off-the-shoulder, floaty, purple top.

Her voice has a pure, ethereal quality that meshes well with the band’s soundscapes. Despite being relatively new to the role, her stage presence was that of a confident frontwoman at ease in the spotlight.

The set, split in two, featured a mix of material old and new, though unsurprisingly it leant heavily on the most recent Go Well Diamond Heart album, the first to feature Sparnenn’s  lead vocals. Josh, whose vocals somehow sound more emotive live than they do on disc, may have looked like a grizzly bear of a man, wearing a punk-styled military jacket, but proved gently spoken and clearly boasts a poetic sensibility when it comes to music and lyrics.

His emotive Gilmour-esque guitar style is central to Mostly Autumn’s appeal. A word of praise should also go to Anne-Marie Helder, who when she’s not behind her keyboards and contributing backing vocals, switches to the flute and here she added a decidedly Tullian flavour to the likes of Caught In A Fold and The Spirit Of Autumn Past: Part 2 – second guitarist Liam Davison showcasing some Jeff Beck-style playing during the introduction to the latter song.

Highlights included the new song Deep In Borrowdale – beginning with a haunting piano intro from Iain Jennings, it slowly builds to a cresendo where Oliva really let rip vocally – and fan favourite Evergreen, which received the loudest cheers of the night and perhaps should have been the set closer.

With a slot on the Prog stage at the High Voltage festival imminent, followed by a co-headling tour with It Bites, a new Mostly Autumn chapter appears well and truly under way.

Martyn Jackson