Heather Findlay Band / Odin Dragonfly

Post Office Club, York

25 June 2016

I'll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell the headline band: I came to see the support band tonight.

But as the start time slipped later and later from advertised, I started to think that Odin Dragonfly would only do a short, token set. But when they finally came on stage at 8.45, they stayed on for an hour, more than I could possibly have hoped for. And they were perfect.

Ok, not "perfect" perfect. There was an under-rehearsed feeling to the set, but to be fair everybody had been open about this being a "warm up" gig, and as Angela said after one false start to a song, "That's why you're only paying five pounds!"

Did I care? No. Maybe it even made it better. There's always been a relaxed vibe on stage at an Odin Dragonfly gig, like you're secretly sitting in on two people getting together to have a natter and play a few songs just because they like playing songs together. And the extremely short notice in arranging the gig and the minimal publicity meant that the crowd (around 80 people, half of them appearing to be friends and family of the band) were all committed fans completely aware of what they were getting, and one hundred percent happy with it. And all completely, respectfully silent throughout every song, something of a welcome surprise at gigs these days.

And let me be clear: when I suggest it was less than fully rehearsed I'm not talking about the songs themselves, which, false starts aside, were never less than perfect to my ears.

Odin Dragonfly are Angela Gordon and Heather Findlay, as if you didn't know, who for years now have been probably the best vocal partnership since ... well, ok, actually just best, full stop. Since the first day I saw Mostly Autumn and all Angela sang was "ahhhhh" backing vocals behind Heather and was already the best thing ever, but went on to be a beautiful lead singer, not to mention song writer. In tonight's gig they split the leads fairly equally between them, Heather perhaps taking slightly more but I wasn't keeping score. Angela was kept ridiculously busy with flute, piano, and singing—virtually all at the same time in some songs. Heather played guitar (acoustic, obviously) on everything except ... the song where she plays high whistle instead because Angela needs to play piano ... er ... Web? (Give me a break, it's been a late night!)

The set list was surprising, adventurous, and just, well, perfect. Everything I would have wished for and some things I would never have imagined. They started with Mostly Autumn's Eyes of the Forest (they played it at the early Odin Dragonfly gigs, before they had their own album released), and ended with Mostly Autumn's Evergreen (best surprise of the night, it works as well in a stripped-down version as it always does as a rock epic). In between they included the Odin Dragonfly songs How I Feel Today, This Game, Waiting for the Snow, Given Time, Web, Yellow Time ... hold on, I might be getting mixed up with what the Heather Findlay Band played. No, I think that's right.

There was a new song! Not actually a new song, but Angela's Four and Twenty Moons, which she played at some of her solo gigs years ago [Edit: I wasn't certain it was the same song but I've just had it confirmed by Heather!]. It's a beautiful, piano-led melody and is long overdue for ending up on an album. (An album is promised. And an autumn tour.)

And a couple of covers: Jethro Tull's Witches Promise, with dual lead vocals and of course flute flute flute. And a song I didn't know but which we are promised will also be on the new album.

How good was it? I could have gone home then and thought it was worth the trip, that's how good. An hour of slightly under-rehearsed Odin Dragonfly is worth far more than five pounds.

But then I thought I might as well stay around for the headline band too: The Heather Findlay Band, featuring the best singer in rock today, oh, what's her name ... ?

Again this was announced as a "warm up" gig for their Cambridge Rock Festival set next week, but even being the first gig for the new band line-up it felt like they didn't need any warming up, everything was polished and professional (he says, glossing over the funny piano incident) and the band gelled together superbly. From the last seven-piece incarnation of the band they are down to a five piece, but there were no obvious gaps in the sound and the arrangements all sounded complete. (It's a magical thing about the whole Mostly Autumn family of musicians, that you can put any combination of them together with any combination of instruments and they will still find a way to make their songs work beautifully.)

Heather seems to excel at surrounding herself with incredible guitar players, and continuing the trend tonight is Martin Ledger. I've seen him before (with Cloud Atlas) and thought he was good, but he must have been holding back because he's more than good, he's exceptional. He starts off quite restrained on the first few laid-back songs but as the set slowly gets more rocky he slowly turns into a rock star, throwing out some astounding solos, complete with all the right poses. During Caught in a Fold I happened to glance over at a certain Mr Bryan Josh over at the bar, and he seemed to be nodding his approval. So, yes, ok, we'll keep him. (Also nice to note that during the same song Olivia, next to Bryan, seemed to be singing all the "ooooo" parts!)

New on drums is Touchstone's Henry Rogers, a technical powerhouse who is more than capable of handling whatever the songs need.

Stu Fletcher is still on bass, and heavily favoured by the sound mix tonight so that occasionally it seemed like the bass was taking the lead line!

And on keyboard, flute, and backing vocals (often all at the same time) ... well, you've probably figured that out by now.

So, the set. They played for just an hour, which I guess will be their full festival set at Cambridge, and it was like an abridged version of the tour set earlier in the year but with a few surprises. It's a hard-rocking set, with even the laid-back songs like Lake Sunday delivered powerfully, which is probably exactly what they need for a festival, but there is still plenty of light and shade and subtlety on offer.

She started with Island, Veil of Ghosts, and Lake Sunday, with Lake Sunday a particular favourite of mine (that countrified vocal melody is just in a class of its own). But then that's it for The Illusion's Reckoning, and there are a few Mostly Autumn songs ... Caught in a Fold (best song ever), and, wait for it, best surprise of the night, almost never played live before: Bitterness Burnt.

I'd assumed Carpe Diem would be out of the set, because how can you have Angela play the flute when you haven't got an extra person (it was Chris Johnson in the last incarnation of the band) to take over the piano? Easy, you have Angela play the piano and Heather play the flute part on low whistle. And so, best version of Carpe Diem ever. And perfect solo from Martin Ledger to top it off.

There's a murmur of surprise as Heather sat at the piano, and an actual "Ohhhhh" when she announced Unoriginal Sin. I knew she played the piano, but this is the first time I've ever seen her do it in concert. A fantastic version of Unoriginal Sin, too, and really powerful. It's a song I never warmed to on the Glass Shadows album, but every time Heather sings it live it's lifted up to become something amazing.

A couple of Odin Dragonfly songs are given a powerful, full-band treatment: Magnolia Half Moon and Magpie. No, wait, I might be mixing them up with the Odin Dragonfly set. Ah, it doesn't matter what songs they were, all the songs are perfect, Heather's never written a bad song and never sung a bad note. It's all beautiful all the time.

It's reached the point where it's hard to top the highlights so far, but epic The Illusion's Reckoning is the best song on the new album and it's delivered perfectly to end the show.

What will the encore be ... Odin Dragonfly did Evergreen, so not that. Maybe Shrinking Violet, but is it too difficult without a spare keyboard player? No, it's going to be Passengers, obviously ...

No. "Sorry, that's all we know," says Heather, as the band takes their bow and leaves the stage. No encore? Well, I guess they wouldn't need to rehearse one for a festival set ...

You know what? I don't care. It's been an hour of my favourite songs by the best singer in the world and even though I could make a wish list a yard long there have already been more highlights than I could honestly have wished for and it's been the best concert I've ever seen, well, apart from the support band who really did give the best concert I've ever seen. Well, ok, it's a tie. Best evening ever. Five pounds? Worth ten times that even without an encore.

And a tour in the autumn. I'm sure I heard that. I didn't dream it, did I?

I'm not sure I can wait that long ...