Heather Findlay Band + The Raggy-Anns + Odin Dragonfly @ The Robin, Bilston – 20 November 2012

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Review  by Paul Quinton

It’s been a year since Heather Findlay graced the stage of The Robin, with only the rather fine ‘Songs From the Old Kitchen’ CD to keep the fans happy, and in the interim her band lost two members, so not only was there a new line-up to check out, but she’d also put together a rather mouth-watering bill to put before her followers.

Firstly, she renewed her much admired project, Odin Dragonfly, with former Mostly Autumn bandmate Angela Gordon. While it’s a little unusual to see a headliner effectively opening for herself, for the average HF fan this was just being spoiled. I’ll always maintain that their gig at the old Little Civic in early 2007 was my absolute favourite ever in that venue, and it was a real pleasure to see Heather and Angela on stage together once more.  While they opened with a sublime ‘How I Feel Today’, and it took no time at all to establish their usual rapport with the crowd, fate was about to deal a savage blow. When Heather introduced ‘This Game’, undoubtedly the best song Joni Mitchell never wrote, it was obvious something was badly wrong on stage. At first it looked as if Heather was having problems keeping her guitar in tune, but it transpired that it was the keyboard programming having a fit of the vapours. They eventually played the song with just guitar and flute, and even then, it cast a genuine spell over the Robin. With the gremlins still present, Angie then delighted the longstanding Mostly fans with a quick burst of her riotous flute piece ‘Which Wood’, which had everyone clapping along, before, with the gremlins finally banished, they ended a sadly curtailed set with another Mostly song ‘Eyes of The Forest’. A short set maybe, but very sweet at times.

To give Heather a break before the main set, there was a set from another band from York, the Raggy-Anns. At first I thought they might be better suited to a pub rather than a venue the size of The Robin, comprising two voices and a guitar playing a variety of folk and blues, but they won over the crowd with some good songs and excellent playing from Jacob Best. I really enjoyed the country blues of ‘Shoot It In The Dark’ and any band that has a song called ‘Scrumping’ in the set-list is undoubtedly a band to be reckoned with. I didn’t really know what to expect from them, but they’re definitely a band that will put a smile on your face if you let them.

With bassist Steve Vantsis departed and guitarist Dave Kilminster building Walls with Roger Waters, Heather recruited local musicians Stu Fletcher and Simon Snaize to fill the vacancies and put together a set that mixed both new material and some favourites from her past, but perhaps her biggest headache in making up the set was the balance between old and new. She may have broken away from Mostly Autumn, but having released only one 5-song EP of original material since, meant that the great bulk of the set was made up of songs she at least co-wrote for the Mostlies, and even one or two Odin Dragonfly songs. Nevertheless the set opened with two songs from the ‘Phoenix Suite’ EP and as she moved into the first Mostly song, a much heavier version of ‘Black Rain’ than the original, with some almost Who-like riffing, then an inspired ‘Half the World’, it seemed as if the gig was really about to take off.  However, at this point, the gremlins returned, as drummer Alex Cromarty was playing so hard, he snapped his snare stand in half, and a break for repairs, even with Heather filling in by playing a spellbinding ‘Gaze’ acoustically, did nothing for the show’s momentum.

For all the reliance on older material, one highlight of the set was the inclusion of a new song, ‘Shine’, which continued the pattern laid down by ‘Black Rain’, heavy and very Zeppelin, which may be a fascinating indication of a possible future direction. The show reached its climax with a tremendous ‘Unoriginal Sin’, in which the band gave a strong indication of how much potential it has, before another magical moment in the encore, when Heather was joined only by Chris Johnson and Angie Gordon for one of her signature songs, ‘Evergreen,’, followed by the full band storming through ‘Carpe Diem’.

As she admitted afterwards, she badly needs new material and to write and record with her new band. She’s still a tremendously charismatic performer, and her voice only gets better over time. Momentum is the key word here, to keep gigging and writing, but nevertheless, it’s always a joy to see her at work.