The Heather Findlay Band took to the road with a short tour of UK cities, the second full band tour since Heather left Mostly Autumn in 2010. The band had a new look this time around; with Dave Kilminster and Steve Vantsis unavailable due to other commitments, they featured Simon Snaize on lead guitar and one-time Seahorse Stuart Fletcher on bass.
I got to see three dates on the tour, at The Brook in Southampton, The Borderline in London the following night, and The Robin 2 in Bilston a few days later, of which the London show was the best of the three.
A brief word about the opening acts. The main support for the whole tour was The Raggy Anns, an acoustic duo playing a kind of Americana-tinged folk. Not quite my thing, but they did perform with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and got noticeably better as the tour went on. And although I only saw them the once, Heather herself opened some of the shows as part of Odin Dragonfly, which really left me in two minds. On one hand, it was great to see Heather and Angela on stage together again, but their set was disappointingly short. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’d love to see them play a far longer headline set, even if it’s just a single one-off gig somewhere like York.
With her own band Heather played a full-length set. Although they played most of the 2010 EP “The Phoenix Suite”, including a punky version of “Cellophane”, the setlist was still heavily dependent on older Mostly Autumn material, including standards like “Caught in a Fold” and “Evergreen” alongside songs from “Storms Over Still Waters” and “Glass Shadows” that haven’t been in recent Mostly Autumn setlists. There were a few changes from last year’s set, and some songs that had been played before had new arrangements. One real highlight was the semi-acoustic “Bitterness Burnt” where Heather out-drummed her own drummer on floor tom, and it was great to hear “Carpe Diem” once more, a song I’d wondered if we’d ever hear played live again. The setlist did change slightly from night to night; at Bilston were were treated to an unscheduled acoustic “Gaze” played while two of the band repaired a collapsed drumkit.
The one brand new song, “Shine”, was very, very good, a Led Zeppelin style riff-based rocker with a real groove to it, and such a strong vocal melody that I had it stuck in my head the morning after the Bilston gig. I hope there’s more where that came from.
Heather was on superb form. She’s still a class act as a vocalist, with a combination of power, range and emotional depth few can match, and still has a dominating stage presence. There was a real intensity to her delivery, with The Borderline in particular being as good a vocal performance as I’ve seen from anyone this year.
Stuart Fletcher made a very strong impression on bass; more rocker than muso, and when combined with Alex Cromarty’s drumming makes for powerful rhythm section which gives a huge amount of energy to the band. Simon Snaize probably needs some time to grow in to the role. His playing got noticeably more confident as the tour went on, with added touches like some bluesy licks on “Phoenix”. I found I preferred his more melodic playing to his shredding, in particular he was excellent on “Carpe Diem”. One of the most exciting moments was when he went all Nile Rogers on a seriously funked-up version of “Flowers for Guns”.
Despite the absence of any rock royalty for this tour, these shows still have a rock energy and a dynamic sound that bears little resemblance to anything she’s put out on record since going solo. She does really need more new material rather than continuing to rely so heavily on the songs she wrote for another band, and the new song “Shine” is a definite step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see where Heather goes next.