Just when you thought it was safe to take a breath, another great band has bought the farm. This time it’s Breathing Space, a superb York-based band.
Originally, the name ‘Breathing Space’ was just the name of the first solo album by Mostly Autumn‘s keyboard player, Iain Jennings. However, as Iain assembled personnel to both play on the album and to perform the material live, the project took on a life of its own, and became a ‘proper’ band. Despite frequent personnel changes, Breathing Space went on to make two further albums, Coming Up For Air and Below The Radar, both of which were truly excellent. Many a happy hour at Hippy Towers has been soundtracked by Breathing Space’s output.
However, Breathing Space has always lived in the shadow of its musical mothership, Mostly Autumn – not least because Iain rejoined the band (after leaving to record the Breathing Space album), and because Breathing Space vocalist Olivia Sparnenn has been a backing vocalist for the band since 2005. Consequently, the band has had to work around Mostly Autumn’s fairly busy schedule, resulting in a relative dearth of live performances (outside of the York area, at least) and lack of promotion. As a result they never really reached the size of audience they so richly deserved. All seemed lost when Olivia announced her departure last year. Mostly Autumn’s vocalist Heather Findlay had decided to leave Mostly Autumn to pursue a solo career, and Olivia was offered the lead vocal position. I don’t blame her for accepting, really: it’s hard to say no to a band comprised of people you’ve known and worked with for so long already.
However, this left Breathing Space at a bit of an impasse: whilst the band was about more than Olivia’s (extraordinary) vocals, it was going to be very tough to find someone of the same calibre to replace her. Taking a leaf from Marillion’s book, the band replaced Olivia with someone every bit as talented but very different, in the shape of ex-Mostly Autumn vocalist Heidi Widdop (yes, it’s all a bit incestuous really!). Heidi possesses a much rawer, ballsy voice and I suspect many fans were desperately hoping that Heidi had the power and charisma to pull it off when Breathing Space returned to the live arena last summer. No-one need have worried – their set at the Cambridge Rock Festival last August blew the bloody doors off. The band sounded re-energised and confident, and Heidi’s performance was superb in every way, despite her falling ill shortly before the festival. Everyone was looking towards a bright future for the band…
And now, mere weeks after a string of live dates for 2011 were announced, the band have issued a statement saying that they have disbanded. Happily, it seems that it’s a fairly amicable situation, with everyone deciding it was for the best. One can’t help thinking that perhaps the pressures of constantly playing second fiddle to Mostly Autumn’s activities might well have become a factor. I’ll miss Breathing Space a great deal. Their material was always inventive and passionate, and Olivia’s recorded vocal performances are something that she should continue to be very proud of. Personally I’ve always felt that she was a much stronger vocalist than Heather, and I’m pleased that she now has found a potentially much larger audience – Heather’s departure and her emergence as a frontwoman for Mostly Autumn seems to have woken that band from its recent stupor as well, which is good news for everyone (well, except those few who seem unable to accept a Mostly Autumn without Heather, but – as with the fans of Fish who refused to accept Marillion’s new vocalist Steve Hogarth – that’s very much their loss). I hope that Iain either finds a new channel for his writing, or channels it more into Mostly Autumn, too, as I’ve always felt he was Mostly Autumn’s best writer.
As for the other band members… It seems that there is already talk of a new project featuring the core of the last Breathing Space line-up. There’s a wealth of talent there, too, as anyone who heard the rejuvenated band’s recently-aired new material will testify. I wish them all the very best and will most definitely be keeping a close eye on what they come up with.