The Heather Findlay Band – Fibbers, 18/11/11

I had been looking forward to tonight’s visit to Fibbers for a while, mainly because of the headline act but also because of the pedigree of the support.

Shadow of the Sun are a relatively new band, put together shortly after guitarist Dylan Thompson had left The Reasoning. As well as Thompson, the band consists of Matthew Alexander Powell (guitar and vocals according to the website, vocals only tonight as far as I remember), Lee Woodmass (bass) and Rhys Jones (drums) and together they list influences from Pink Floyd to Motorhead by way of Tool, Alice Cooper, Muse and the delightfully named Snot, as well as a fair few bands that haven’t registered on my radar. Which might explain why I found it difficult to classify their music – not quite heavy enough to be metal and not quite light enough to be the sort of prog that I’m usually drawn to. Musically, the songs were intricate so I am leaning towards prog, but with a darker tone than what I’m used to. Powell’s vocals started off raw but very clear and he seemed a little nervous. By the end of the set, however, he’d shown a good range and seemed a lot more relaxed, even if his banter between songs sounded like little more than mumbling from where I was standing. Highlights for me were the set opener, which contained some very intricate time changes and Crimson Flags, which started with a rat-a-tat drum beat before Dylan cut loose on the guitar and built the song to a crescendo. Never Enough was heavier, faster (and, vocally less clear) and imbued with a dense bass line. I’m not sure whether it segued into the next song or whether it was itself a very complex number. This was followed by a much more mellow duet with Dylan taking an increased vocal role, although not coming across as powerfully as he did when he sang with The Reasoning. The rest of the set contained a mixture of rockier numbers and one song which was very understated musically, but had great vocals. (I wish I’d managed to get a set list, then I wouldn’t have to be so vague…) In all, it was an excellent set, well received by the crowd with enough content for what must be the inevitable album release.

Apart from an acoustic, limited ticket performance alongside Chris Johnson a few weeks ago and a couple of gigs at Kennedys, it’s been a while since Heather Findlay performed in York. I don’t think she’s played a gig here since she left Mostly Autumn back in early 2010 (and her last local performance with that band would have been in 2009). She still has her fans, though and Fibbers was very well attended tonight, with lots of familiar faces, including former band mates, in the crowd. This was just the second night of Heather’s tour with her new band – Dave Kilminster of Roger Waters’ band on guitar, Steve Vantis formerly of KT Tunstall’s band on bass, Alex Cromarty on drums and longtime friend and collaborator Chris Johnson on guitar, keyboard and vocals – although they did play a few of the Summer festivals.

With just one solo E.P. – The Phoenix Suite – released so far, tonight’s set relied heavily on re-workings of Mostly Autumn songs alongside a couple of songs from Odin Dragonfly, Heather’s collaboration with Angela Gordon. At least three songs from the E.P. – Seven, Mona Lisa and Cellophane –  were peppered throughout the set and, while I admit I was more than a little underwhelmed by the release when first listening to it, the live versions are much better and the CD has been growing on me since I started playing it to get familiar with the tracks again. From the Odin Dragonfly release, we were treated to Yellow Time, a rocked up version of Magpie and This Game, which featured one of the few times you will see a drummer take to the front of a stage. But it was the Mostly Autumn songs that seemed to be getting the biggest response from the audience. Although I recognised all of the songs, I’m not enough of an aficionado to know all the titles. I do know that we got Caught In A Fold from Passengers, Half A World and Blue Light from Heart Full Of Sky, Black Rain from Storms Over Still Water and Unoriginal Sin and Paper Angels (as part of the encore) from Glass Shadows. Throughout the set Heather showed near boundless energy, seeming to thrive off the responses she was getting from the audience, whether it was the enthusiastic cheering and applause that came after every song (and before some) or the banter being directed her way from friends in the crowd. The band were quite simply superb, as you would expect from such accomplished musicians and there was a relaxed atmosphere on stage, with jokes aplenty about Fibbers’ variable temperature. Special mention must go to Kilminster’s brilliant guitar playing and to Chris Johnson who worked incredibly hard as the line-up’s own one-man-band. But this was Heather’s show and she was, all the way through, stunning vocally. Highlights were her performance of Blue Light, which retained it’s peculiarly distinctive vocal sound and the final song of the encore. Shrinking Violet has long been a favourite of mine (as well, I think, of many others) and hearing it always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Tonight it was performed with such emotional power that it nearly brought a tear to my eye. There aren’t many performers that can do that.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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