Heather Findlay Band Live Review - St Helens, The Citadel

Heather Findlay rolls out her Mantra Vega set with support from Halo Blind and Sarah Dean.

Live audience at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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The compact, acoustically perfect Citadel annually hosts the local show of each Mostly Autumn tour, so where better for their ex-singer and her family tree to showcase the recent Mantra Vega project?

Before that, though, we’re treated to a short set from Heather’s band member Sarah Dean, whose gentle harp and vocals receive hearty applause from the partisan crowd.

Similarly, there’s a big MA/Heather Findlay Band presence in Halo Blind, fronted by Chris Johnson. They provide the main warm-up with a set of melancholy, angst-ridden, guitar-based tunes.

The absence of Sound Of Contact keyboardist Dave Kerzner and Roger Waters guitarist Dave Kilminster raises a question mark over the validity of performing the whole of Mantra Vega’s The Illusion’s Reckoning album. However, having it take up only half the set, and using most of Mostly Autumn/Mantra Vega in Chris Johnson, Stu Fletcher, Alex Cromarty (drums, vocals) and Angela Gordon (keys, flute, woodwinds), as well as harpist Sarah Dean and lead guitarist John Mitchell, is a smart move and allows an enthralling trip through Heather’s career.

Dressed in white lace, Findlay and her band run through The Illusion’s Reckoning with the minimum of fuss; Mitchell, in particular, adding fiery lead playing to highlights such as In A Dream and the title track, and beautiful acoustic guitar to I’ve Seen Your Star. Heather’s vocals are superb, channelling Stevie Nicks and Ann Wilson as required, helped by no less than five backing vocalists.

The best moments come after the Mantra Vega section is finished. Mostly Autumn’s Carpe Diem and Caught In A Fold are simply stunning, played with a conviction missing in their original format. It’s also interesting to hear the acoustic tunes Magpie and Magnolia Half-Moon revived from the Findlay/Gordon side project Odin Dragonfly, not to mention the beautiful Mona Lisa from her debut EP.

John Mitchell sings his only co-lead vocal on the Lonely Robot song Why Do We Stay? While the encore-less set ends with the Mostly Autumn tour de force Shrinking Violet, and the rest of the band cracking up as Mitchell fluffs
the acoustic intro.

This is one of those rare occasions where band, setlist, venue and crowd all contribute to a stunning evening. With all the musicians commenting later about how much fun this run of dates has been, it seems Heather Findlay has found a niche that allows her talent to shine.