Heather Findlay

Kennedy's Bar, York

4 August 2011



Heather Findlay has two sides (at least), and they are so different you might think it's two different singers. First there's acoustic-folky-Heather, like I saw in this venue a month ago; the most beautiful singer you will ever hear. Then there's rock-star-Heather, like I saw here last night; dynamic and charismatic band frontperson. I would normally tell you I preferred acoustic-folky-Heather, just because that's the way my taste runs, but after last night I'm not so sure. Because rock-star-Heather is mind-blowingly good. And she's backed by a stunningly good band.

How good? Well, let's give this as an example. The set included Black Rain (from Storms over Still Water), which I have always said is the worst song Mostly Autumn ever recorded. And I'm listening to this band doing it and thinking... yes... this is a bloody good rock song.

If I had one criticism it's that the sound is overly dense for the tiny space, sometimes you're feeling battered by the wall of sound and little things like lyrics become lost. Is that a criticism? No, just an observation, as a criticism implies there was something wrong with the gig, which there wasn't. It was perfect.

Other Mostly Autumn songs the band blaze through with ease are Caught in a Fold, Blue Light, Heart Life, Half a World, Shrinking Violet, and Yellow Time. All of them are rearranged to varying degrees to suit the current band, and all of them sound heavy and powerful. Things like Caught in a Fold have Dave Kilminster playing the flute parts (solos and all) on guitar, and it's so brilliant that I don't even miss hearing the flute (you probably have to know me to realise what that admission really means).

Yellow Time has a completely bonkers arrangement. Seriously, I can't even begin to describe it, you need to go and hear it. It's the highlight of the show. (That's not actually true of course, because Shrinking Violet is in the set and nothing in this world can out-highlight Shrinking Violet.)

The rest of the set (which was about one hour 15 minutes in all) was made up of all five songs from the Phoenix Suite EP, all in their full-band glory. Every one sounds great. I (and others) have struggled to describe the Phoenix Suite songs, as they seemed so different from Heather's earlier work. But listening to them tonight in this set with this band I realised exactly how to describe them: Heather Findlay songs. They don't sound at all out of place next to the Mostly Autumn tracks she wrote. Half a World follows on from Cellophane and they sound like they could have come off the same album. Heather just makes it all sound right.

They also played Shine on You Crazy Diamond. (Only kidding. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.) (Actually they did play part of it. I’m not kidding.)

The band: Steve Vantsis on bass is new to me but apparently a big name in the business and it's easy to see why, as he's one of the best I’ve seen. Chris Johnson on guitar, keyboards, and vocals we all know of course and always brings something special to whatever project he's involved in. Dave Kilminster on guitar and vocals has been a favourite since I saw him with Keith Emerson nearly ten years ago, and he's brilliant. Just brilliant. Many of the songs don't give him an opportunity to do anything flashy, but even when he's playing something apparently simple he makes it look complicated, so watching his fingers is always entertaining! And when he does cut loose, such as his solos on Yellow Time (yes Yellow Time has a rock guitar solo now, you seriously need to hear this version!) or Shrinking Violet (he plays it like Bryan but with more notes!) he is amazing. Alex Cromarty on drums and vocals is the star of the show for me. Playing an apparently un-miked drum kit, he's alternately powerful and subtle (sometimes playing with brushes), whatever the song needs, playing everything with great feel. I'm an instant fan. And I don't think I've ever seen a man look so happy on stage. Whatever he's on, I'll have two of them. In fact, the whole band seems happy, relaxed and joking with each other. They're so relaxed, you wouldn't think this was their first gig together.

Heather explains that this is a kind of "rehearsal" for their Cambridge gig, and yes there are some rough edges: confusion over the set list and discussions over cues. But never any problem in the music itself. When they are playing, they sound like they've been together for years. And none of the rough edges matter, they never feel unprofessional, quite the opposite, they feel like pros who have playing together for years and are so confident, so good at what they do, that they can make it up as they go along.

And finally, there's Heather.

This has been an awfully long review for quite a short gig, but at the end only one thing matters:

There's Heather.

Best singer in the world today.

Best gig I've ever been to.

Best t-shirt I've ever bought