Heather Findlay

National Centre for Early Music, York

20 December 2019

Let's be honest at the start: this wasn't a perfect concert. In the first place, the sound was very uneven, instruments not always balanced, some instruments lost entirely, vocals too low at times. In the second place, this is a new band line-up playing mostly new material for the first time, and it shows. Cues are confused, Heather forgets lyrics, songs are started in the wrong key. At one point, Heather stops and restarts a song entirely. Heather is aware of the problems, and thanks us at the end for putting up with their, I think her word was, "unslickness".


But this was the perfect time and place for a tentative performance to bed in new material. Because she's playing to the hardest of her hard-core fans—I recognise half the faces from numerous other gigs—and we're not here for a perfectly slick and choreographed performance, we'll forgive any amount of unslickness because we're here to hear an honest performance from the most beautiful singer in the world today. And she doesn't disappoint us. Because her voice, regardless of fluffed lyrics, is unfailingly note-perfect, and the varied material on offer tonight shows off every aspect of it, beautiful, emotional, and breathtaking in its range and power and versatility. Just the best singer in the world today. And that's why we're here.

She sings the high line of Gaudete, in a place that I'm convinced should be beyond the range of her voice, but it's not, and she sings it perfectly, and if that's all she had done all night I would be sitting here now telling you that it was the best concert I had ever seen.

But that wasn't even the highlight of the night.

She announces special guests, and everything grinds to a halt for five minutes while they try to figure out how to make another guitar work, and which microphone to use, and where everybody should stand, and it feels extremely shambolic and under-rehearsed. But...

But the guests are Bryan Josh and Olivia Sparnenn-Josh, and they play Caught in a Fold, and I haven't seen these three together on stage for ten years. You just... you just can't imagine what that's like if you haven't been there for all the years. It was just the most perfect moment.

And that wasn't even the highlight of the night.

While they are sorting out technical issues with a guitar, Heather decides fill the time by singing Silent Night, alone and unaccompanied, and then Olivia and Sarah Dean join in, and it's just the most perfect thing in all the list of perfect things I have ever heard Heather do over the years and it would be the highlight of the night, except,

Ok, no, there is no except. That actually was the highlight of the night. Of the year.

But I haven't even mentioned Troy Donockley playing pipes and whistle on I've Seen Your Star and I Remember. Or how great Martin Ledger and Simon Snaize are on guitars, alternating solos, and both switching between acoustic and electric. Or how great it is to hear Heather deliver a big rock sound with bass and drums after so many years of acoustic shows. Or how great it sounds to have four strong and varied voices sharing backing vocals. Or... everything.

Maybe I don't need to mention all that. Because at the end of the day, it's all about Heather's voice. And though the overall show might be a bit rough on a technical level, her voice is always and in all ways perfect.

That's why she's still my favourite singer in the world.

And in case I haven't made it obvious: that was the best concert I've ever seen.