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Borderline, London, 26 November 2011

Heather Findlay, photo by Bob Singleton

Six weeks previously I'd stood in this same venue as Heather Findlay supported Touchstone on their mini UK tour.

That night, Heather, aided by Chris Johnson, had served up an acoustic set that, although well received by her faithful fans, had left me rather disappointed and wanting more.

Tonight she was here with a full band to play, amongst other things, all the songs of her new EP The Phoenix Suite and I was looking forward to hopefully being able to write a more positive review.

Shadow Of The Sun, photo by Bob Singleton

Supporting Heather on her tour were newly formed Welsh rockers Shadow of the Sun. It was only seven months ago that vocalist Alexander Powell and guitarist Dylan Thompson started writing songs together and six months since drummer Rhys Jones and bassist Lee Woodmass joined the mix, yet their previous experiences in other bands meant that this was a tight and co-ordinated performance, from the heavy opening number Hourglass via the mellow and melodic Halo to the foot stomping crescendo of I'm Coming Home.

The set showed influences of Nirvana and Pearl Jam here and Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd there and was very well received by all in the audience. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from them in the future.

Set List: Hourglass, Crimson Flags, Never Enough, The Wheelhorse, Halo, Rising, MHIWAO, I'm Going Home

Heather Findlay, photo by Bob Singleton

To a warm and heartfelt round of applause Heather Findlay took to the stage flanked by the musicians she had relied upon for her first solo recording since leaving Mostly Autumn; Dave Kilminster on guitar, Chris Johnson on guitar and keyboards, Steve Vantsis on bass and Alex Cromarty on drums.

A few words of welcome and thanks and the set kicked off with a slightly dark, bluesy intro to 'Phoenix' from 'The Phoenix Suite' followed by the somewhat spikey pop sound of 'Cellophane' from the same album. Both songs were transformed from when I had first heard them live.

Instead of the pared down bare bones, we were treated to all the glorious, intricate layers created by the talented musicians surrounding her, with Heather's magical voice playing around and above the core melodies.

While her vocals were at times restrained even on the EP, here, live at The Borderline, the full power, emotional depth and range of her voice was on offer.

Dave Kilminster, photo by Bob Singleton

Following these two opening songs were the Odin Dragonfly blues rock song 'Caught in a Fold' (where sadly a few technical difficulties beset Dave Kilmister's guitar) and the third song of the night from 'The Phoenix Suite', 'Seven', normally a ballad, but which sounded far heavier, far rockier tonight than I remembered from the EP.

With only five songs on The Phoenix Suite, old ground was bound to be revisited, and why not? Keeping her fans happy with a selection of songs from her Mostly Autumn days, along with a few Odin Dragonfly numbers, a particular highlight was a gentle reworking of a very early song, 'This Game'.

Also included in the set were crowd favourites such as 'Blue Light' (a nice touch being Heather using wordless vocals to replace the clarinet in the original), 'Unoriginal Sin' with it's multi-layered backing vocals, 'Black Rain' and the ubiquitous 'Magpie'.

To complete the main set the final Suite song, 'Mona Lisa', was introduced with a lengthy explanation of how, when everything seems personally rosy whilst awaiting the birth of your second child, it's necessary to look outside of your comfort zone to write such an angst-ridden rock song.

Mona Lisa played live has it all, from soaring vocals to wailing guitars, all the while underpinned by a rock steady bass line and thumping drums that drive the song along.

Indeed, if ever Heather decides to re-record this track, she would do well to allow Dave Kilminster the free rein of his guitar's fret board that he was allowed in this live performance. This was followed by the rockiest version of 'Yellow Time' I've heard, which had the whole audience clapping in time.

Heather Findlay, photo by Bob Singleton

A brief interlude and Heather and Chris (on keyboards) re-appeared for the first encore of the evening, 'Broken', from 'Heart Full of Sky'. This too, had been reworked, as toward the end the other members of the band joined the duo on stage and brought the song to a crescendo lacking in the original.

Then something really different... electric guitars and bass were replaced by acoustic instruments and the mics were turned off for a truly unplugged version of 'Paper Angels' from the 'Glass Shadows' album. To finish off the evening, Heather introduced one of her signature songs, 'Shrinking Violet'.

To play a headline gig with only five new songs could be considered a risk, but the reworking of many of the older songs made for a thoroughly enjoyable set.

Most of the songs were generally rockier than the original recordings ('Magpie' being a particular case in point) and, for this reviewer in particular, they were far better for it.

A predominantly Mostly Autumn set that didn't sound like Mostly Autumn was nonetheless well received by Heather's loyal fans, which should bode well for her future solo career, and will also maybe attract people such as myself who prefer their music slightly rockier than MA ever offered.

Overall, tonight was a masterful performance by musicians at the top of their game.

Review and photos by Bob Singleton

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