Tag Archives: Heather Findlay

Heather Findlay announces new dates and new lineup

Heather Findlay has announced some new live dates, a warm-up show for the Cambridge Rock Festival, at The Post Office Social Club on Monday 25th July, and four dates in The Netherlands in November.

There are also some changes to the lineup; the band says goodbye for the time being at least to Alex Cromarty and Chris Johnsom, who had been part of her band from the very beginning, and to John Mitchell.

Joining the band in their places for this run of gigs will be former Cloud Atlas guitarist Martin Ledger and Touchstone drummer Henry Rogers, alongside Stu Fletcher, Angela Gordon and Sarah Dean.

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The Heather Findlay Band – Bilston Robin 2

Heather Findlay at Bilston Robin 2

Although she’s played the odd acoustic gig and made guest appearances with other artists, Heather Findlay’s short run of gigs promoting the excellent album “The Illusion’s Reckoning” is her first tour fronting a full band for three and a half years. So naturally there was a fair bit of excited anticipation, and the Sunday night show at Bilston Robin 2 at the mid-point of the tour drew a sizeable and appreciative crowd.

The evening began with a short but sweet solo set from harpist and singer Sarah Dean, including her spaghetti western interpretation of Dylan’s “Man in a Long Black Coat”, and ending with the stunning a capella “The Traveller’s Prayer”.

The special guests were Halo Blind, led by Chris Johnson. They’re a band with feet in both the progressive and indie-rock camps; the shimmering soundscapes, fragile melodies and spiralling psychedelic guitars having echoes of Radiohead and Anathema. The entire set came from their excellent second album “Occupying Forces”, a record Chris Johnson describe as being about being pissed off but trying to do something about it. The whole set was impressive, with the evocative “Downpour” a particular highlight.

Heather Findlay’s previous solo tours featured a slimmed-down all-guitar band, but “The Illusion’s Reckoning” needed an expanded band to do its layers and harmonies justice. So the core of rhythm section of Alex Cromarty and Stuart Fletcher and multi-instrumentalist Chris Johnson, all of whom were doing double duty with Halo Blind, were joined by Mostly Autumn’s Angela Gordon on keys, flute and backing vocals. Sarah Dean on vocals, harp and recorder, and progressive rock legend John Mitchell on lead guitar.

The set began with “The Illusion’s Reckoning” played in its entirety, and the new songs came over very powerfully live. “Veil of Ghosts” and “Mountain Spring” built from gentle beginnings into big walls of sound, “In a Dream” and “I’ve Seen Your Star” were dreamy and atmospheric, the Fleetwood Mac-like “Learning to be Light” featured some excellent lead playing from Chris Johnson, and the title track made an epic conclusion to the first half of the show.

It all had a very different feel to previous incarnations of The Heather Findlay band; with the keys and woodwinds there was something of the spirit of Mostly Autumn past about it, although the vibe was quite different from the current incarnation of that band. John Mitchell proved himself the ideal choice as lead guitarist from the way he nailed the solo in the opening number “Island” which Dave Kilminster had played on the record. And Alex Cromarty proved himself a man of many talents by taking the lead vocals on a couple of duets, and even playing harmonium at the front of the stage on “I’ve Seen Your Star”.

John Mitchell

The closing part of the set comprised a selection of well-chosen older songs, beginning with a superb “Carpe Diem” with Angela Gordon playing the intro on flute and that spectacular climax with Heather’s wordless vocal intertwining with John Michell’s guitar line. There was a splendidly rocked-up version of Odin Dragonfly’s “Magpie”, and a stunning “Why Do We Stay”, a duet taken from John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot. Perhaps the only moment that didn’t quite work was a rather flat version of “Mona Lisa” which didn’t take off and soar in the way the newer songs in the first half had done. The night ended with a spellbinding “Shrinking Violet”, with a musical box playing “Swan Lake” at the close. No encore, because anything following that would have been an anticlimax.

Heather Findlay has been away for a long time, but this tour represents a triumphant return. The bulk of the set was new material, with just a handful of standards from her days in Mostly Autumn. For those oldies this band kept far closer to the originals rather than the radical reworkings on earlier tours, but they were really a victory lap on a tour that looked forward rather than back.

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The Heather Findlay Band confirmed for CRF

HFB CRF

The Cambridge Rock Festival have added The Heather Findlay band to Sunday’s main stage bill on 7th Augist. They join an already strong lineup including The Windmill, Purson, Curved Air and Mostly Autumn, as well as headliners Focus.

Tickets cost £105 for the full four days or £40 for the Sunday, and can be bought online from the Cambridge Rock Festival website.

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Happy Birthday Heather and Kim

Touchstone Farewell Gig

Two of progressive rock’s much-loved singers, Heather Findlay and Kim Seviour, share a birthday today. Here’s the two of them sharing a stage at The Assembly in Leamington Spa last November.

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Mantra Vega – The Illusion’s Reckoning

Mantra Vega The Illusions ReckoningMantra Vega is a collaboration between former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay and Sound of Contract keys man Dave Kerzner, with a supporting cast made up largely from members Heather’s own band, including Roger Waters’ guitarist Dave Kilminster, one-time Seahorse Stuart Fletcher, and two members shared with the current incarnation of Mostly Autumn, drummer Alex Cromarty and guitarist Chris Johnson.

Although Heather Findlay has guested on a number of projects over the last few years, most notably Rob Cottingham’s Captain Blue, this is the first record promoted as one of her own projects since 2012′s acoustic “Songs from the Old Kitchen“, and her first new material since “The Phoenix Suite” a year before that. A single taken from the album, “Island” appeared in the middle of last year and did a lot to whet the appetite for the eagerly-awaited album, two years in the making,

As that earlier single had suggested, this is a record with a strong 70s vibe. There are nods to Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac and the rootsier side of Led Zeppelin, as well as the folky feel of Heather Findlay’s work with Odin Dragonfly and early Mostly Autumn. In places it evokes a similar mood to “Songs from the Old Kitchen”, but the album as a whole feels closer to a logical progression from her work back in Mostly Autumn days than the more experimental direction of The Phoenix Suite. With the possible exception of the keyboard-led spoken word opener “Every Corner” and the epic title track, it’s perhaps more classic rock than progressive, but it’s an extremely varied record with feet in a lot of camps.

Heather herself is on superb form, and this record might just contain some of her best vocal performances to date, displaying all the warmth and emotional depth on which her reputation rests. Her lyrics are steeped in eastern spirituality, referencing Indian Yogiraj Gurunath Siddhanath, with the songs portraying a spiritual journey from darkness into light. Songs such as “Islands”, the ballad “Lake Sunday”, and the epic title track all feature gorgeous soaring melodies. The Zeppelinesque “Mountain Spring” is intense and passionate, while the dreamy acoustic “I’ve Seen Your Star” recalls the delicate beauty of Odin Dragonfly. “Veil of Ghosts” also features guest lead vocals from Angela Gordon, Nightwish’s Troy Donockley and Irene Jansen, younger sister of Floor.

Arrangements alternate between rich and layered, and pared-back simplicity. There’s more emphasis on guitars than on keys, and it’s only right at the very end that Dave Kerzner cuts loose with spiralling a synth wig-out; instrumental breaks more often take the form of swirling atmospherics than solos. Guitar virtuoso Dave Kilminster only actually appears on a few songs, though he makes his mark when he does, most notably his fluid melodic break on “Island”. Chris Johnson, though better known as a rhythm guitarist, ends up playing a fair bit of lead, with an understated but effective style, his lead flourishes on “Learning to be Light” are particularly impressive. Ayreon’s Arjen Lucassen also makes an appearance with some shredding guitar work on the title track.

The capable rhythm section shouldn’t forgotten; notable moments are Stu Fletcher’s hypnotic circular bass riff that forms the foundation of “Mountain Spring”, and Alex Cromarty going full John Bonham at the end of “Veil of Ghosts”. Last but definitely not least, a couple the acoustic numbers feature the evocative bansuri, the Indian bamboo flute played by Remko de Landmeter.

It’s been a long wait, but this album proves worth that wait. Dave Kerzner proves as excellent a co-writer and creative foil to Heather Findlay as she is at giving voice to his compositions. The result is a record that’s as good as anything either of them have done. For Heather in particular it embraces her musical legacy without being constrained by it.

The album is released on Monday 25th January, and is available from The Merch Desk.

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Lonely Robot, The Scala

The album “Please Come Home” by Lonely Robot, the solo project from John Mitchell of It Bites, Frost* and Arena fame was a definite highlight of the early part of 2015. He had previously performed some of the material live as an acoustic duo with pianist Liam Holmes, but the full-band showcase gig with an array of special guests at The Scala in London a few days before Christmas promised to be an Event.

The capable support band, Helz deserve a mention. Their highly melodic twin-guitar prog-metal relied on solid composition rather than technical showboating, though they still found room for a few bursts of fluid lead guitar. They succeeded at exactly what what a support band is supposed to do, setting the scene for the main event.

Lonely Robot’s stage set featured an array of pop culture detritus; Star Wars and Dr Who toys, a Space Shuttle, an 80s 8-bit computer and a big old-fashioned television. The show began with a NASA astronaut removing his helmet and turning on the TV to show imagery from the early days of space exploration, before the band came on and launched into the spiralling guitar-shredding instrumental “Airlock”.

For this gig and one earlier show in Holland John Mitchell put together a four-piece band featuring drummer Craig Blundell, who had played on the album, plus Caroline Campbell on bass and Lauren Storey on keys. While you shouldn’t expect a band put together for a couple of one-off gigs to display the onstage chemistry of a band who have been touring together for years, they lacked a coherent visual image; the stage outfits made them look not only like members of completely different bands, but completely different genres.

Musically, though, it was an altogether different matter, and for a progressive rock audience that’s the important thing. They were exceedingly tight and the entire album came over powerfully live, going from the industrial metal of “God vs Man” to the 80s pop of “Boy in the Radio” within the first few songs. Craig Blundell in particular was a force of nature on drums. Peter Cox, Heather Findlay and Kim Seviour all reprised their guest roles from the album and enhanced the show without stealing the spotlight, as did Mitchell’s partner-in-crime with Frost*, Jem Godfrey. The sound quality was excellent down the front, though reports from further back suggested the mix had too much drums and not enough vocals.

Lonely Robot

The consistent quality of the material made it hard to single out highlights, but “Oubliette”, the duet with former Touchstone singer Kim Seviour with the chorus “Don’t Forget Me” was particularly poignant given that it might her last appearance on stage for a while. In contrast, “Why Do We Stay” with Heather Findlay foretold John Mitchell adding yet another band to his CV, as he will be joining her band for their tour in April.

With the album “Please Come Home” forming the whole of the main set, the encores began with an absolutely epic drum solo from Craig Blundell. Jem Godfrey returned for the intense swirling tapestry of notes that was “Black Light Machine” by Frost*. Finally came a progged-up cover of Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home” with Kim and Heather joining on backing vocals.

As the last significant gig in progressive rock’s calendar, it made a great finale to the year. John Mitchell has already said that there will be a follow-up album to “Please Come Home”, which made this less of a one-off showcase, more the start of something bigger.

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Heather Findlay Band to tour in 2016

John Mitchell and Heather FindlayHeather Findlay has announced a tour in April 2016, to support the album “The Illusion’s Reckoning.

Because Dave Ketzner and Dave Kilminster are both unavailable due to other commitments, the tour is billed as The Heather Findlay Band rather than Mantra Vega, though they’re promising that they’ll be playing the album in full along with a few selected older favourites.

For this tour it will be a six-piece band including Angela Gordon on keys and flute, and John Mitchell on lead guitar alongside Chris Johnson and the rhythm section of Alex Cromarty and Stuart Fletcher.

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Mantra Vega’s “The Illusion’s Reckoning” Pre-Order

Mantra Vega The Illusions ReckoningThe long awaited album “The Illusion’s Reckoning” is finally available for pre- order from The Merch Desk. The album will ship on 25th January 2016.

As regular readers of this site ought to know, Mantra Vega is the collaboration between Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner, also featuring Alex Cromarty, Chris Johnson, Dave Kilminster and Stuart Fletcher. The album has been two years in the making, and if the single “Island” is anything to go by, it should be well worth the wait.

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Touchstone & Magenta, Leamington Spa

Touchstone Farewell Gig

Touchstone made the sad announcement early in the year that frontwoman Kim Seviour was stepping down from the band for health reasons. Initially their scheduled appearance at HRH Prog in March was to have been the farewell. But there were many dedicated fans who were unable to travel at short notice to the far end of Wales. so the band made the wise decision to play a headline show later in the year to give her a proper send-off. In the end it turned out to be two shows, one in London and one at The Assembly in Leamington Spa. the second of them a co-headliner featuring Magenta, and these would also be keyboardist Rob Cottingham’s last appearances with the band, making it a double farewell.

The Leamington show proved to be a major gathering of the clans, and after some depressingly badly attended gigs by some other bands this year it was great to see this magnificent venue not far short of full.

Lonely Robot

John Mitchell and keyboardist Liam Holmes opened the show. Billed as Lonely Robot, they played an entertaining set, largely stripped-down arrangements of songs from the album “Please Come Home” plus piano and vocal version of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood”. John Mitchell introduced the latter by describing himself as a Tescos Value Peter Gabriel, but his spine-tingling rendition proves he’s far more than that. A beautiful “Why Do We Stay” with a guest appearance from former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay was another highlight.

Magenta at Leamington Spa

Magenta are always an amazingly tight band considering the complexity of their 70s-sryle symphonic rock and how infrequently they play live, and tonight was no exception. They suffered some early technical problems, such as the rumbling bass feedback that Christina blamed on Chris Fry eating too many mushy peas. But they overcame them to deliver a stunning performance even by their standards. Highlights included “Lust” from the 2004 album “Seven” and a sublime “Pearl”, the evocative ballad from their most recent album, one of their simplest songs, before they ended with dense and dark epics “Metamorphosis” and “The Lizard King”.

Guitarist Chris Fry was on superb form on guitar, with the occasional not to Yes’ Steve Howe in some of his solos, and Christina Booth balances precision with emotional depth in a way few other singers can match. As always, there was a passion and intensity in their live performance which merely hearing them on record never quite prepares you for.

Immediately before the two shows in London and Leamington, disaster struck for Touchstone; Kim went down with a throat infection. The band had the choice of postponing the gigs at very short notice, going ahead and hoping for the best, or geting some backup. They went for the last option and asked Heather Findlay, who had worked with Rob Cottingham in past, if she would help out.

Touchstone Farewell Gig

Friday’s gig in London had been great, despite Kim saving her voice for the following night, and Heather having very little time to learn the songs. This second night, with Kim’s sounding more confident and Heather more familiar with the material, was just phenomenal. The effect was a kind of heavy metal ABBA. Much of the time Heather doubled Kim’s lead vocals and covered the high notes, though quite often Kim’s voice was in good enough shape to cope on her own without help.

Beginning with a thunderous medley of “Discordant Dreams” and “The Beggars Song”, Touchstone took us through most the high points of Kim’s eight years fronting the band, The emphasis was on the harder-rocking side of the songbook, keeping the energy at roof-raising levels throughout, and drawing heavily from “Wintercoast” and “Oceans of Time”, perhaps their two strongest albums. They did find room for one real oldie, “The Mad Hatter’s Song” from the band’s début EP from before Kim joined. She told us the song was her audition for the band all those years ago.

They encored with a monstrous “Wintercoast” and their rocked-up cover of Tears for Fears “Mad World” with John Mitchell guesting on guitar, and so ended what had to be one of the best gigs of the year. Both Touchstone’s and Magenta’s performances were in best-of-the year league on their own; having both of the same bill lifted things to stratospheric levels.

It made a great send-off for Kim Seviour and Rob Cottingham, and whatever projects they work on next will be awaited with interest. Meanwhile Moo Bass, Adam Hodgson and Henry Rogers will be recruiting a singer and keyboard player for the next incarnation of Touchstone, and begin a new chapter.

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Mantra Vega announce album release and launch party

Mantra Vega & Dave Kerzner Poster

Mantra Vega announce the release date of their long-awaited album “The Illusion’s Reckoning”

After almost 2 years in the making, Monday January 25th 2016 will see the release of The Illusion’s Reckoning from transatlantic project band, Mantra Vega co-founded by Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner  (Sound of Contact).

“The Illusion’s Reckoning album features lead vocals from Heather Findlay; keyboards and vocals from Dave Kerzner whilst at the band’s core is rhythm section Alex Cromarty on drums and bassist Stu Fletcher along with lead, rhythm and acoustic guitarists Chris Johnson (Halo Blind) and Dave Kilminster.

Joining the project for special guest appearances are Nightwish‘s Troy Donockley on vocals and lead guitar; Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) lead guitar; Irene Jansen (Star One/Ayreon) on vocals; Angela Gordon (Mostly Autumn/Odin Dragonfly) on recorders and vocals and Dutch woodwind player, Remko de Landmeter on Bansuri.

“The Illusion’s Reckoning is a concept album flowing more like a film score than a more typically linear piece. The album’s journey is painted with far reaching audio moodscapes which in their diversity, purposely echo thoughtful lyrical themes. The album is delivered in a predominantly progressive rock package, but at times takes on a hard rock, contemporary, retro, and even acoustic, folksy twist…”

And there is to be a “Moorland Gathering” the celebrate the launch

To celebrate the release, there will be a very special pre-release party gathering at The Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge (spiritual home of many of the band’s musicians) on January Saturday 23rd January. There will only 60 tickets available which will include a meal, one off acoustic performance from Heather, Chris, Angela, Stu and Alex (and may also feature one or two very special guests!) Slightly ahead of the scheduled release date, this event will be a chance to buy and hear the album for the first time!

Making this event all the more special is the fact that this will be a one off for the now retired, legendary moorland venue too!

Tickets for the event will be just £20 and will go on sale on Monday 30th November at 9am from www.mantravega.co.uk

Depending on number wishing to travel via this option, there may be a coach/bus which will run from York across the North Yorkshire Moors and back for those wishing to travel from the nearest city.

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