Heather Findlay

Aces & Eights, London

29 November 2018

I said this year that I was going to stop writing reviews of bands I have seen dozens of times before, because I just end up repeating myself.

But I've still got Shrinking Violet running through my head and I'm not going to sleep unless I write something down, so I'm just going to repeat myself:

Heather Findlay is just the most perfect singer I can imagine.

You shouldn't be able to play rock songs with just two guitars and a harp but here she is screaming out Caught in a Fold and it rocks like anything. And then she can switch gears and softly croon through Above the Blue. So many shades and styles in her voice, it's miraculous.

I've barely started this review and I've already mentioned three of my favourite songs in the whole world, but I'm not going to attempt to remember a full set list in order. I'd half expected a copy of the set on the Aces and Eights CD, recorded by the same trio in this venue 18 months ago, but instead she completely mixed things up, less from Mantra Vega and, as it's almost December, a lot more from I Am Snow.

Highlights ... I've already mentioned them. Shrinking Violet, which is my favourite Heather song, and Above the Blue, which is my favourite Heather singing (if you see what I mean). Lake Sunday, which is beautiful. And the biggest surprise, Steal Away, the first Mostly Autumn lead vocal she sang, 20 years ago, but which I've never ever heard her sing in dozens of shows over those 20 years. And Gaudete, in a range that I don't think should be possible for her voice. But, she is miraculous.

It's all perfect. I don't think she's capable of singing a bad song.

Oh, there are mistakes, to remind you that this is the first gig of the tour after a long time off. A song starts in the wrong key; lyrics are mixed up. But you don't care about things like that in a live gig. A human error and a graceful recovery from it is what makes every live gig unique and special. What matters isn't the slips, but that every note that comes out of her mouth is perfect, and that the emotion in every line she delivers is real and tangible.

That's Heather, this is the band: Martin Ledger is superb on guitar (and mandolin), and it's really down to him that songs written for an eight-piece prog rock band can work with an acoustic trio. He fills in all the cracks, playing not just guitar parts but parts that should be on keyboards. Highlight is playing the flute riff and solo on Caught in a Fold, without losing any of the guitar part.

Sarah Dean brings multiple instruments to make up for the other half of the "missing" band. As well as backing vocals she plays harp, harmonium, recorder, flute, bells and whistles (literally). I wish the harp had been a little higher in the mix, but I'll fix that next time by sitting on the right so I can hear it acoustically.

Speaking of sound, the Aces and Eights venue might be a small and oddly-shaped room (and packed) (and swelteringly hot) but it has a really nice, clear sound, and the band is amplified just right to fill it without being overly loud. But due to a peculiarity of the layout, if you're sitting at the front the speakers are almost behind you. So while I could hear Martin's electric guitar from somewhere off to my left, I could clearly hear Heather's unamplified voice directly in front of me. Her voice is so big, it could fill this room without amplification (and I'm sure she's aware of it, as she often moves back off the microphone while she's screaming).

I just can't repeat enough how extraordinary she is.

And any concert that ends with Shrinking Violet is going to be the best concert I have ever seen.

I wish I were going to see it all over again next week.

Oh ... I am!