Heather Findlay

Fibbers, York

14 April 2016

York has turned into my second home for music, and it seems I'm always going down there to see someoneorother, usually some ridiculously talented musicians from York playing a home-town gig. And here I am again tonight to see a home-town gig from Ms. Heather Findlay and her (mostly) York-based band of ridiculously talented musicians and York-based support bands. It must be something in the water ...

I honestly wasn't going to review this gig. I've seen Heather on stage 63 times, and written reviews of most of those times, probably tens of thousands of words, and what is there left to say?

But now it's the next afternoon, and I'm on my way to another (not-Heather) gig, which is wrong when Shrinking Violet is still filling my thoughts, and if I don't write it all down I will lose ... something. So here it is, but it will be a next-afternoon rational review not a 2am emotional one. I've already written about the set list in Leicester, so this will just be a brief (I promise) look at the differences.

I like the new Fibbers, it's a good sized room (but nowhere near packed to capacity tonight, which was disappointing considering who it was and where she was playing) and has a good sound, good lights, and a sensibly high stage which lets short people stand a little way back and still see the band. The only thing I don't like is that Fibbers ALWAYS seems to have a noisy crowd, and the placement of the bar too close to the stage doesn't help in that respect. (Insert your own grumpy-old-man rant here.)

Sarah Dean opened the show again, and due to time pressures she was on stage literally five minutes after the doors opened, and therefore playing to a very small (but enthusiastic) audience. The same set as in Leicester (I'm pretty sure), four songs beautifully played on the harp.

A quick change over for Halo Blind, who played 45 minutes again and impressed me all over again with their energy and inventive song writing. They remain elusive to categorise, sitting between (or maybe across) genres, and sometimes I think even Chris Johnson isn't sure what he wants to be. But I can't understand why he's not a global megastar, unless it's just because nobody knows how to pigeonhole him. The set was mostly the same as in Leicester, but added in The Puppet, a beautiful ballad played on piano and cello — and yes, a cellist (possibly the one from their album, but I didn't catch her name) did join them on stage for it.

John Mitchell's car broke down on the way to the gig (as we learn from Heather during her set) and he arrived ten minutes before the band was due on stage, with no sound check and barely time to set up his gear. So when the intro tape started and the Heather Findlay Band came on stage at precisely 9.00, he was without a working guitar! Cue the whole band standing around like dummies while people rustled up spare leads and other bits of kit. Heather suggested that there should be a Gordon/Johnson duet to fill the time, and after Chris was prodded a few times to make him understand what she meant, he picked up his acoustic guitar and with Angela on flute started into an impromptu ... Shindig!

Which is a wibble moment at the best of times, and doubly so when you already think you know what the set list is going to be. But wait, it gets better. Heather picked up her whistle and joined in, which is boggling when you consider she probably hadn't played it since 2007 (which was when Angela left Mostly Autumn). Even Alex Cromarty and Stu Fletcher (who has surely never played it?) join in, leaving John Mitchell (guitar now ready) to watch them all with a bemused look on his face, probably wondering how he found himself in a folk rock band. I think Angela got a bit lost in the middle, but that didn't stop it being the best thing I've ever heard (and no it doesn't "prove she's only human", because she's still Divine), and I think they had trouble working out how to stop (but I would have been ok with them playing it all night) and it was just a completely unexpected emotional kick for us old Mostly Autumn fans. Best way I can imagine starting a concert.

And that is why you have to see bands more than once on a tour. And I'm not seeing this band nearly enough times on this one.

After that, it's business as usual. In other words, flawlessly beautiful songs, sung as only the best singer in the world today can sing them when backed by a band like this. The Illusion's Reckoning is played all the way through in the first part of the set, then a bunch of old favourites to finish off. Except due to the venue curfew something had to be cut. After frantic negotiations on stage following Magpie, and Heather appealing to the audience to find out what time it was (can't believe nobody said "Time to rock"), Angela (very wisely) said, "Do John's song." In other words, Why Do We Stay from his Lonely Robot album. Which means we lost Magnolia Half Moon, Mona Lisa, and (eek!) Caught in a Fold, which in other circumstances would have been a personal tragedy of epic proportions. But she called it right. Why Do We Stay is stunning, and I'd have picked it over Caught in a Fold too. (Yes, I know. I never expected to write that either.) And I'd had plenty of unexpected extra flute anyway, so everything was just perfect. And then of course Shrinking Violet at the end with Heather looking at least as happy as I felt, to make everything beyond perfect. Happiest I've ever been at the end of a gig.

I was thinking about the first time I heard The Illusion's Reckoning album, at the launch gig in January. That was billed as an intimate acoustic concert, and ended up being a full band show with electric guitars, keyboard, and drum kit. And tonight's show is meant to be a rock gig, and yet has exactly the same instruments as the "acoustic" gig — Chris and John (and Heather, actually) play acoustic guitars on several songs, and I've Seen Your Star is played on two acoustic guitars, flute, harp and harmonium and in any other setting that combination would be called a folk ensemble not a rock band. And yet the whole concert, even moments like I've Seen Your Star, is undoubtedly a rock concert. It's not the instruments or the level of amplification that makes the difference, it's the attitude. And whatever they were playing, the band last night was a rock band, and Heather was the complete rock star, even when she's sitting down to sing I've Seen Your Star. Heather is just the complete everything. The most complete, rounded singer I can imagine, with so many facets to her voice. I would go and see her sing anything. And have. (63 times.)

With Heather it's always the best concert I have ever seen. And this isn't 2am over-emotional hyperbole speaking. It's a fact.