A round trip of well over four hundred miles seems a long way go for a midweek gig that’s a fiver on the door, but when it’s Halo Blind supported by Heather Findlay, it’s worth making the journey. The headliners were playing a low-key warm-up for their appearance two days later at the prestigious Isle of Wight Festival, and the late addition of Heather to the bill gave fans an added incentive to turn out.
Halo Blind, put together by Chris Johnson, were originally called Parade. They had to change their name to avoid confusion with the reportedly awful but much-hyped girl band who stole their name. As Parade they’ve always been a great live band. And as for Heather, after more than a year since that emotional night in Leamington, it’s been far too long since I last saw her perform. It’s not the first time she’s played live since leaving Mostly Autumn, but it was the first of her low-key acoustic gigs I’ve been able to get to.
The basement bar at Kennedy’s was tiny; the capacity can’t have been much more than a hundred or so. It was one of those gigs where I recognised probably three-quarters of the audience by sight, if not by name. I’ve always loved this sort of gig.
It was great to see Heather back on stage again. Even though this was “only” an acoustic gig, she’s lost none of that magic, and was on fine form vocally. Without the backing of a full band there’s nowhere to hide, and the whole thing depends on the strength of the vocalist and the quality of the songs. Not that there were really any doubts in this case.
Her set was a mix of new material from her debut EP “The Phoenix Suite” and a few older Mostly Autumn and Odin Dragonfly songs. The songs from The Phoenix Suite came over very well live, and didn’t seem to lose anything when pared down to acoustic duo format. If anything, they came over more strongly, and I was more aware of the absence of the flute in the Odin Dragonfly songs than the lack of an electric rhythm section in the new songs. Some of this was down to Chris Johnson’s talent as a rhythm guitarist; even on a battered acoustic his playing has a lot of power, particularly evident on songs like “Red Dust”.
Interestingly both Mostly Autumn songs were Chris Johnson compositions from “Heart Full of Sky” rather than Heather’s own. “Gaze”, a song I’d never heard performed live before, was beautiful, and I loved the way Heather sang the clarinet line on “Blue Light”.
Headliners Halo Blind are difficult to categorise musically; Chris Johnson has played in indie, prog and even country & western bands over the years, and elements of all of these have found their way to the band’s music. Tonight was their first gig under the new name, as well as marking the debut of their new bassist, ex-Seahorse Stuart Fletcher.
Their set was a run-through of the setlist for the festival, drawn entirely from “The Fabric“. Short but sweet, and they simply rocked. The technical problems when the keyboard went wibbly couldn’t take the edge off things. Stuart Fletcher and the powerhouse drumming of Gavin Griffiths make for an impressive rhythm section, Chris Farrell plays some ferocious lead guitar, and Chris Johnson and Anne-Marie Helder’s voices combine to produce some sublime harmonies. At the time of writing this I haven’t heard how well they went down at the Isle of Wight Festival, but on the strength of a performance like this, they deserved to go down a storm.
Only complaint about the whole evening that it was all over too quickly – I’d have loved both bands to have played all night.