The Zombies / Heather Findlay

The Duchess, York

6 October 2012

I've seen The Zombies on every tour for the last few years, but this year they didn't come to the North East. The closest gig was York, in The Duchess, my least-favourite small venue in the country. So reluctantly I decided to skip their tour this year.

Then I heard the Heather Findlay was the support act.

So here I am in the worst venue in the country, the cavernous space swallowing any chance of a good sound, the lights so poorly arranged that it's hard to see the stage, and the floor so sticky you could cut it up and use it as sticky tape.

On the plus side, nobody in the Zombies' audience has heard of Heather Findlay so I could comfortably get a space front and centre at the rail without having to fight off the usual suspects.

On the negative side, nobody in the Zombies' audience has heard of Heather Findlay, and show no inclination to find out, so they talk loudly all the way through her set.

I can see why Heather needs to play this kind of gig if she's going to expand her fan base beyond the old Mostly Autumn die-hards, but it must be soul-destroying to be giving your all on stage to an almost-empty hall while a group of people are standing five feet away from you and shouting to be heard over your music.

But if it bothers Heather and Chris they don't let it show, and they don't let it distract them from playing and singing at their best for a 35-minute set drawn from their combined back catalogues.

No surprises in the set list — if you've seen the duo before, you know which songs they played. If you haven't seen them like this, you really need to. Heather is beautiful and Chris is her perfect musical complement on guitar and vocals. The highlight is the last song, Silver Glass. With the epic band sound of Mostly Autumn stripped away to leave just two voices, acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, it sounds fragile and heart-stoppingly beautiful. The noisy bunch to my right actually shut up and faced the stage for the first time in the set. That's how awesome Silver Glass is.

I hope Heather and Chris won some new fans after this performance. They deserved to.

If the crowd was a tough one for Heather to win over, The Zombies had them in the palms of their hands from the moment they hit the stage with the powerful vocal extravaganza of I Love You.

They played about 1 hour 50 minutes of songs drawn from their entire 51-year (yes!) history, and every one, whether written in 1961 or 2011, got an uproarous reception from the crowd who appeared to know every word of every song. The audience includes a surprising large proportion of young people, who knew the songs just as well as the old fogies — are The Zombies suddenly trendy again?

The band sound as good as ever. No, Colin Blunstone is never going to sound like a teenager again. But he still has the same breathy quality to his voice and the beautiful pure tone on the high notes. And the whole band plays like the seasoned pros they are, instrumentally tight and harmonically perfect. Rod Argent dominates the show with solo after amazing solo on piano and organ: rock and roll, jazz, blues, it doesn't matter — he throws it all in. Anyone who doesn't list Rod Argent in their top five rock keyboard players of all time hasn't been paying attention.

The set is so well structured and so crammed with hits that I don't even notice they haven't played their biggest-known song — She's Not There — until they announce it as the last song of the set.

There are encores — but it's pushing very close to the last train home and I might have to miss them...

...But the encore is God Gave Rock And Roll To You, and I think, what the hell, trains are unimportant in comparison with staying to the end of the best concert I've ever seen.

I'm out of the door as the last note of the second encore song (Gershwin's Summertime) dies away, and I found I can do The Duchess to York station in nine minutes if I'm sufficiently motivated (and walking to the rhythm of Hold Your Head Up).

Brilliant show, worth the trip even without the added incentive of Heather Findlay.

Though to be honest, "Silver Glass" alone was worth the trip.

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