Heather Findlay

The Musician, Leicester

10 April 2016

I've been to The Musician before, and it's a nice venue, well laid out, decent sound (for a club venue) and decent sized stage. But I knew it was a low stage, so if I was to have any chance at all of seeing the band I needed to be at the front. The front row of a small venue is always a trade-off: get a (probably) worse sound mix but a better view. So it's not always the best thing. But tonight it was exactly right. Getting there early to be about eight people back from the front of the queue, then ignoring the bar (of course) and barely looking at the merchandise desk long enough to say "Hi" to Roger Newport, meant I was not only front but also dead centre of the stage. Actually this felt a bit too close, the stage is small enough that I would be literally three feet from Heather, so I took two paces back and hoped that no inconsiderate tall person would move in front of me. (No-one did; somebody did stand between me and the Divine Angela's keyboard, but he wasn't to know so I let it pass.)

There were two support acts, both from people I've seen before and was happy to see again. First, Sarah Dean played a short set (harp and voice), only four songs but all of them new to me (it's years since I last saw her, and she's evidently been recording at least two CDs of new material since then). A solo harpist might be an unconventional opening act for a rock gig, but the audience all appreciated it and were (surprisingly) quiet throughout the set.

Next act was Halo Blind, Chris Johnson's current band. I find them hard to categorise. Not prog rock by a long chalk, but nor are their songs straightforward three-chord rock. Everything Chris touches has an intelligence about it, his songs are never ordinary and always do something unusual, and he's backed by a band easily capable of doing his music justice. The Halo Blind songs teeter between complex instrumental interplay and bursts of manic energy, and are full of unexpected ways of using sound. It's an excellent, powerful set that lasts about 45 minutes.

So, a short break while Halo Blind's vast array of guitar effects pedals are removed (or, in Chris's case, just moved backwards) to make room for the Heather Findlay Band. There isn't actually much equipment change going on, as the bands are sharing a drum kit, bass guitar, keyboard, and microphones. Which is useful, because the band are doing all the work themselves. Heather flits on stage wafting incense sticks around while she looks for somewhere to stick them. Angela comes on carrying multiple instruments, and I already know this is going to be the best concert I've ever seen. Plus, despite doing my best not to read the set lists laid out on the stage, I've just caught sight of two words that guarantee it: "Carpe" and "Diem".

It's finally all ready, and the band sneak back off and wait to come on when the intro tape plays — the spoken-word Every Corner from The Illusion's Reckoning — and they go straight into Island.

I'll be honest the best performance I've ever heard from her. From anyone. Ever. I can't take my eyes off her even with all the flutey and guitary things going on. Just astonishing.

Next, a couple of Odin Dragonfly songs, Magpie and Magnolia Half Moon, but played by the full band, transforming them into powerful rock numbers — though still with the Findlay/Gordon vocal duet at their heart.

Mona Lisa is the only song from The Phoenix Suite — but it's the best one from it, and it once again showcases Chris Johnson's unique approach to music as he plays the unconventional guitar wall-of-sound required by the song. Then Chris sings the last verse and the song culminates in Heather, Chris, and Angela competing in a who-can-sing-the-highest contest (Angela wins).

I'm sure I've missed something here, the curse of my bad set-list memory, but it's two o'clock in the morning so give me a break. Anyway the important thing to mention is that they played the best possible flute song you could want them to play, Caught in a Fold. And I will say no more about it. Other than: flute!

And then, a total surprise (though not, in hindsight), John Mitchell duets with Heather on Why Do We Stay from his Lonely Robot album (which Heather sang on, in case you didn't know). It's a beautiful, emotional song, and a great idea to include it in the set.

Finally, last song — really the last, they've played one hour 45 minutes and there will be no encores — and it's the one Heather hinted she would sing, and the one song I really wanted her to sing, the one I always want, the best thing she's ever done and the best Mostly Autumn song there ever was and the best thing ever there will be ever and just how you want the concert to end because it hasn't been the best concert I've ever seen if it hasn't made me cry, and there's a recorder trio from Heather, Angela and Sarah Dean, and an actual musical box at the end which is a perfect idea and she's just perfect and oh, I didn't say what the song was. Shrinking Violet.

The end.