Tag Archives: Heather Findlay

Cult heroes: Mostly Autumn

gu-mostly-autumnMy “Cult Heroes” piece on Mostly Autumn is now published in The Guardian Music Blog.

It’s both a great honour and more than a bit scary to be asked to write about a favourite band for the online section of a national newspaper, especially when I’m on first name terms with many past and present members of the band. They have always had a few noisy detractors, mostly jealous fans of less successful acts. They also had some very defensive obsessives who used to take the mildest criticism as an personal attack on the band. There was always an outside chance of the comments turning ugly.

I wanted it to read authentically rather than something fanboyish, so I covered the downs as well as the ups; mentioning the mis-marketing during the Classic Rock Productions years as well as the wobbly period when Iain Jennings (briefly) left in 2006. But I hope those are balanced by more than enough strong positives.

With a word count of a thousand words give or take a hundred, there wasn’t room for everything I wanted to include. One thing I’d like to have said more about was the extended family of related bands in their orbit. That includes side-projects like Odin Dragonfly and Josh & Co, as well as separate creative projects by past and present members, such as The Heather Findlay Band, Halo Blind and Cloud Atlas. Or Breathing Space, the side project that took on a life of its own before being reabsorbed back into the mothership. They’re all part of the Mostly Autumn story, and they’re a part of what the fandom is about.

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Heather Findlay postpones tour, but announces new album

i-am-snow

Two pieces of news from Heather Findlay, one very exciting, the other a ittle disappointng.

To get the bad news out of the way first, the next run of full-band gigs, including the show at Maltby and the four gigs next month in The Netherlands are postponed until next year due to illness. The acoustic shows in support of Touchstone in December and the Christmas gig in York are still going ahead.

To quote Heather herself

Unfortunately, due to doctor’s orders because of illness, I have been advised not to travel and to rest for the next couple of months which means we have to postpone all current plans for the shows beginning this weekend and throughout November. I can only express my sincere apologies to those that will be let down as a result.

All of these shows will be moved to 2017 and all tickets will be either honoured at the rescheduled shows, or fully refunded. This has been a very tough decision to make at this time and although fortunately it is not a hugely drastic or threatening health concern, it is one I have to take seriously to ensure I can continue to reach you in tip top condition!

In far more positive news, Heather has a new album coming out. “I Am Snow” is due for release in late November. It’s a mixture of re-worked songs from across her back catalogue and brand new material, and celebrates the folky, proggy side of her music. It features a cover by Richard Nagy, who did the artwork for Mostly Autumn’s “Glass Shadows”.

Heather describes the album as a “candle-lit, baroque-tinged companion for the winter month’s ahead“. It includes a cover of Fotheringay’s “Winter Winds”, and a “chamber-esque, harp-spangled” version of one song from Ayreon’s prog-opera “The Human Equation”.

Full details will be revealed on Heather’s website over the weekend, and The Merch Desk will be taking pre-orders from November 1st

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Heather Findlay replaces Knight Area at Summer’s End

Dutch neo-proggers Knight Area are out of Summer’s End festival.

As reported by Prog

The band say: “Due to technical demands which cannot be met, we have to withdraw from Summer’s End. Both organising committee and we as a band decided together in good harmony that we would not be able to take care of a top-notch show as the technical conditions we need to give our audience the show they deserve could not be fulfilled.

“Knight Area will be part of the Summer’s End festival in a future edition of the festival and we look forward to this. We feel sorry not to play, especially for the fans who bought tickets, but we hope you will understand that we only want to play if we can perform to the standards we think are necessary for a good show.

One can only specululate as to what these technical demands might be. But those of us with long memories may remember The Classic Rock Society’s Octoberfest in Wath-upon-Dearne way back in 2009.

Knight Area were special guests, with Breathing Space headlining on a bill that also included Mermaid Kiss (playing a very rare electric set) and Tinyfish. Despite not being the headliner Knight Area insisted on using their own sound board and sound engineer. This caused a significant delay to the start, throwing out the entire schedule, and forcing the headliners to play a truncated set because of the venue’s curfew. None of the other bands on the bill were impressed.

The replacement on the bill for Summer’s End is The Heather Findlay band, who were on superb form at the Cambridge Rock Festival in August.

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Heather Findlay announces additional Christmas show

Heather Findlay has added an additional hometown Christmas show in York on the 21st December, in addition to the Dutch tour in November and the acoustic support for Touchstone in December.

They’re also playing the Forever Young festival in York (today!), and a CRS gig at the Wesley Centre in Maltby on October 29th.

She’s promising one or two suprises in the setlist.

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Touchstone Tour News

Touchstone have announced that Liam Holmes will be guesting on keys for their three Christmas shows at St Helens, The Borderline in London, and Bilston Robin 2.

The Heather Findlay band playing as an acoustic trio with Martin Ledger and Sarah Dean will be the support for all three dates, which Ghost Community also appearing on the bill for the final show at Bilston Robin 2.

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2016 Cambridge Rock Festival – Part Three

This is the third and final part of my review of the five-day festival. The first two parts are here and here.

Sunday was something of a Ladies’ Day, with six out of the eight main stage acts featuring female lead singers. First of these were the seven-piece T Clemente band, who’s flown all the way from San Francisco at their own expense to play the festival. Their tight and polished West Coast AOR sound made a very strong impression for an opening act, and left the impression we’ll be hearing more of this band in the future.

Space Elevator

With a catsuited singer who goes under the name of “The Duchess”, Space Elevator had a very dramatic visual appeal, and had the music to back it up too, with a great hard rock AOR sound. Alongside original numbers about obsessive-compulsive disorder, being dumped, and love letters to Doctor Who, they threw in excellent covers of Thin Lizzy’s “Don’t Believe a Word” and Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator”. Perhaps their only flaw was their use of too much programmed keys rather than having a flesh-and-blood keyboard player in the band.

Making a welcome return after their superb performance on the same stage in 2014, Norway’s The Windmill were the most Prog band of the day; with a flute and a steampunk-dressed keyboard player their music is soaring, melodic and epic with the focus on symphonic composition rather than instrumental virtuosity. Alongside a lengthy new number their set drew heavily from “Continuum”, although sadly there wasn’t time for the 24-minute “The Gamer”. All heady stuff and ticks all the right boxes for the hardcore prog fans.

Heather Findlay

The Heather Findlay Band were eagerly anticipated. They’ve gone through some changes from the band that toured in April, with former Cloud Atlas man Martin Ledger taking over on lead guitar, Touchstone’s Henry Rogers taking over on drums, and the band slimmed down to a six-piece without a rhythm guitarist. From the performance they delivered you’d never have guessed this was the first live appearance of this full lineup. They combined highlights from Mantra Vega’s “The Illusion’s Reckoning” with older Mostly Autumn standards and a couple of rocked-up Odin Dragonfly numbers. Losing the rhythm guitar didn’t seem to leave holes in the sound; Angela Gordon’s keys took a bigger role, and Heather played acoustic guitar on some songs. On “Caught in a Fold” Sarah Dean took over on keys while Angela played the flute parts. One thing that’s notable about the various incarnations of Heather’s band is the way they totally reinvent the songs to fit the instrumentation of the current band. Martin Ledger proved an inspired choice as guitarist, nailing the guitar parts on both the Mantra Vega songs and the older Mostly Autumn material. One surprise was a very powerful “Unoriginal Sin”, which didn’t feature in the April tour, with Heather playing keys. An epic Carpe Diem and the spiralling title track of The Illusion’s Reckoning bought the very strong set to a close.

Purson seem on the cusp of far bigger things. Their take on late sixties psychedelic rock has long been embraced by the underground prog scene, but they’ve been making waves of late in more mainstream waters. They’ve a band with a look that exactly matches their sound, as if they’ve all stepped out of a time machine from 1969, complete with the right vintage guitars. Rosalie Cunningham on lead vocals and lead guitar is the focus, playing raw and dirty riffs and reeling off solos with heavy use of the wah-wah pedal. Despite the brief interruption of a collapsing keyboard stand, they delivered a very powerful set. It does leave you wondering how much longer we’ll still be able to see this band on stages like this.

It’s been a long, long time since Odin Dragonfly have played anything other than the occasional very short support set, so their appearance on Stage Three was a rare chance to see Heather and Angela together as an acoustic duo., the two of them playing their second set of the day. Compared to the rock dynamics on the main stage this was beautiful chill-out stuff with minimal instrumentation, and the emphasis on the vocal harmonies. There were moments when they came over a little under-rehearsed, especially the stripped-down take on Mostly Autumn’s “Evergreen”, but it was still an enjoyable set, with songs from the 2007 album “Offerings” alongside stripped-down versions of Mostly Autumn’s “Eyes of the Forest” and “Bitterness Burnt”, and a new song which might even end up on a long-awaited follow-up to “Offerings”.

Sonya Kristina

The clash with Odin Dragonfly meant I only caught the end of Curved Air’s set, but from what I saw it seemed like the tail end of a barnstorming set, with two of the biggest hits right at the end, “Back Street Luv” as the closer. With so many progressive-leaning bands with female lead singers on the bill over the course of the weekend it’s fitting Curved Air were one of them. Sonya Kristina is an absolute legend and still in fine voice. And they’re yet another reminder that progressive rock needs more violins.

Mostly Autumn are a fixture in this festival, having played every year since at least 2008, and the weekend somehow wouldn’t be the sane without them. Despite having seen the band more than a hundred times, they still retain the capacity to astound. They began as on their spring tour, with the instrumental “Out of the Inn” which starts as a celtic-folk jig centred on Angela Gordon’s flute, and develops into a hard rock workout, before Olivia Sparnenn made her customary dramatic entrance for “In for the Bite”, a song from the recently-released Josh & Co album. Much of the early part of the set was hard-rocking numbers from the recent albums since Olivia took over as lead singer, with “Skin on Skin” showcasing Alex Cromaty’s remarkable drumming. In contrast, the beautiful stripped-back balled “Silhouette of Stolen Ghosts” was a change of pace. The came a truly epic version of “Mother Nature” performed with an exceptional intensity even by their standards. The obligatory closer “Heroes Never Die” ought to have been worn smooth by over-exposure by now, but even that packed a powerful emotional punch.

Alext Cromarty with Mostly Autumn

It wasn’t easy for headliners Focus to follow that. Like Curved Air they’re a legendary band who are regulars on the festival circuit, but with their two biggest hits quite unlike the rest of their material they can come over as marking time until the hits at the end. But Focus do what they do, and the chilled-out jazz-rock workouts like the lengthy “Eruption” deserved to be appreciated on their own merits. But after the slow start, “Sylvia” and “Hocus Pocus” came as expected at the end, and the festival finished in a frenzy of air-guitar and yodelling, and so it should.

This weekend turned out to a good candidate for the best CRF yet. The bill was a great mix of old favourites and new discoveries. The old favourites showed everyone why they keep getting invited back, and newer bands rose to the big occasion. The main stage bill across Saturday and Sunday was remarkable in its consistent quality this year; there are plenty of acts who’d played earlier years who would have seemed out of place this year.

While some higher profile festivals this year had bills heavy with heritage acts (HRH Prog and Ramblin’ Man, I’m looking at you), it was good to see representatives of the current generation of bands making up the bulk of the bill. It was also good to see so many women on the bill; can you imagine Glastonbury or Reading featuring six female frontwomen out of eight acts?

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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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