"We certainly weren’t going to destroy the band because Heather left." How Mostly Autumn steadied the ship with Go Well Diamond Heart

Mostly Autumn
(Image credit: Press)

Having suffered the loss of much-loved frontwoman Heather Findlay in 2010, Mostly Autumn steadied the ship when backing vocalist, former Breathing Space singer Olivia Sparnenn (now Olivia Sparnenn-Josh no less) stepped up to the plate for new album Go Well Diamond Heart. Prog spoke to Sparnenn and future hubby Bryan Josh about the evolution back in 2010.

A home-grown and humble success story that encapsulates, more than any other, the slow but steady evolutionary trail that most modern progressive rock bands have walked until very recently, Mostly Autumn have had an unmistakable swagger about them in recent years. With their heartfelt and defiantly unfashionable trademark sound endearing them to an increasingly huge number of fans in the UK and beyond, the band have looked to be on the verge of commercial breakthrough, as time and the tides of taste began to surge towards them.

But, like all perfect plans, the Mostly Autumn story hit an unexpected and genuinely startling full stop at the beginning of 2010 when Heather Findlay, the band’s vocalist since 1997 and their visual focal point for the entirety of their musical life to date, announced that she was to resign her position in order to focus on her young family and a fledgling solo career. Despite the ongoing, reassuring presence of founder member and guitarist Bryan Josh, the sureties of old had been usurped by thoughts of an uncertain future. 

“It was just very sad because Heather was a massive part of our lives,” Josh tells Prog many months later. “We’d grown up with Mostly Autumn for 13 years and this band is like a family, so it was like someone leaving home. We knew things were changing and that it would never be the same again, so it was really quite sad, but we certainly weren’t going to destroy the band because Heather left. Mostly Autumn has existed as an idea since 1989, so the project is something that shifts and changes as time goes on, but this was an opportunity to kick things back into gear and try something a little bit different. This is a chance for us to really go for it and to push forward.”

Mostly Autumn

(Image credit: Press)

Most bands finding themselves without a singer would have been forced to spend a few months engaging in frantic bouts of auditioning while desperately trying to reassure a distraught fan base that normal service would soon be resumed. Fortunately for Bryan Josh, Heather Findlay was not the only exceptionally gifted singer in Mostly Autumn. Already a member of the band for several years, providing the distinctive but elegant backing vocals that contributed a great deal of harmonic counterpoint and depth to the band’s lush but straightforward sound, Olivia Sparnenn was both the obvious and perfect replacement. 

“I honestly don’t know which way we would’ve gone if we hadn’t had Olivia,” says Josh. “Maybe it would’ve changed the goalposts and we could’ve used someone else, but having seen Olivia cover for Heather a few times, it was great and an easy decision. Actually, easy is an understatement, I think! Ha ha! When you know someone’s personality, the way they work, the way they are and how they cope with being on tour, for months sometimes, you just know when it’s right, and Olivia’s been working with us for five years. And obviously she’s a very talented singer.”

With a new line-up in place, the Mostly Autumn camp took a deep breath and immediately ventured into the unknown. After a final gig with Heather Findlay at Leamington Spa Assembly on April 2, the band hit the road with Olivia taking centre stage for the first time, not knowing what the response from the fans would be like. It is, of course, a long-running joke among Marillion fans that Steve Hogarth is still regarded by many as “the new boy” 20 years after joining the band, so could Mostly Autumn, whose fans plainly adored Findlay and greeted her departure with much gnashing of teeth, convince the faithful that this was the start of a new golden age?

“I definitely anticipated that there would be a few people that would say that, for them, Mostly Autumn was the band with Heather fronting it,” says Sparnenn. “I think that that’s something you have to deal with and there will always be people who feel that way. But, at the end of the day, the overall impression from people who came to see the last tour was that they thought it was fantastic. We’ve never had a better response. Obviously you can’t take that for granted and you can’t take away from what the band was before. Heather is an absolutely amazing frontwoman and vocalist, and as long as people remember the way it was, that’s great. It’s different now. It’s a different thing and it’s exciting.”

“In the end the tour went down really fantastic,” beams Bryan Josh. “It was an absolute thumbs-up and people were blown away. The people who didn’t want to know and never turned up, I guess we’ll never know what they think! From the people who actually turned up to the concerts it was an overwhelming response, and I’m not just saying that! I think it was a massive relief to a lot of people as well. They were hoping that Olivia could pull it off and she really did. It was very powerful.”

Mostly Autumn

(Image credit: Press)

The long-awaited follow-up to the widely lauded Glass Shadows, the ninth Mostly Autumn studio album is destined to be a milestone in the band’s career, and not just because it marks Sparnenn’s debut as lead singer. Bearing the poignant and timely title of Go Well Diamond Heart, a title that pays tribute to everyone from soldiers on the frontline to the departing Findlay and the much-missed Rick Wright, the album is also a partial but significant departure from previous recordings. It is instantly recognisable as Mostly Autumn, of course, and yet full of subtle differences and fresh touches that make it absolutely plain that this is the first chapter in a new story for this resilient band.

“Bryan’s never written to please anybody or thought that anything in particular needed to change,” says Sparnenn. “He’s always done what’s right for the band and what’s right at the time. I guess in some ways he’s possibly written things differently to suit my voice, but generally speaking, we carry on as before. We write about life and emotions and I think that will always stay the same.”

“As far as the music goes, it just happens,” adds Bryan. “It writes itself! I’ve always gone for the idea that if you’ve got a feeling, some brooding emotion or something you feel strongly about, it forces itself out and that’s the way I’ve always worked. I’ve never contrived anything or tried to be anything other than what it is. I guess with this being a new chapter, I had it in my mind that I wanted it to be more direct and bit heavier and to have a bit more energy, but having said that, you just write what you write!”

Ranging from adventures in reverb-drenched bombast to some of the most succinct and infectious four-minute rock songs that Josh has ever penned, the new material is among the strongest and most diverse that Mostly Autumn have produced. One song in particular, which at the time of going to press was due to be titled Aftershow Party, looks certain to become a live classic; a spine-tingling, slow motion waltz, it brings the album to a dramatic, heart-rending close and will doubtless do the same at gigs.

“It’s going to be a big moment,” agrees Bryan Josh. “It’s very haunting. It’s about people being reunited, whether it’s on a dance floor in heaven or a dance floor down on earth. It’s two people waltzing round and round, and the beauty and the joy of people being reunited. Olivia sings with such full-bodied emotion and soul, it makes the whole thing incredibly powerful.”

A special edition, two-disc pre-release version of Go Well Diamond Heart will be hungrily snapped up by fans this coming autumn, with the official single-disc version following a month or two later. Back on course and raring to get back on the road and share their new music with an ever-expanding following, Mostly Autumn have weathered the storm and come back brighter than ever. With progressive rock at its most popular for three decades or more, this band’s time has surely come.

“When I started this band, I was never aware of targeting an audience or anything like that,” concludes Josh. “I think great music is great music, whoever’s doing it, and it’s just a matter of people having the chance to hear it in the right context. We have a broad mixture of age groups at our shows now, which is great. We’ve had a massive boost recently and we’ll keep moving forward. It all feels really fresh at the moment.”

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.