The Heather Findlay Trio at Aces & Eights, London - live review

Intimate London show from Mantra Vega frontwoman

Heather Findlay performing with her guitar
(Image: © Will Ireland)

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Down in the basement of Aces & Eights, where the lights are low and the ceiling lower, Heather Findlay is weaving spells. The room could generously be described as cosy but the singer is in high spirits, greeting the tightly packed crowd with a cheery, “Good evening Wembley!” Joining her tonight are guitarist Martin Ledger and harpist Sarah Dean. It’s an unfamiliar configuration that occasionally seems to be pulling in different directions. There’s Findlay on acoustic guitar and Dean on harp and recorder channelling a strong folk spirit.

Then there’s Ledger on electric guitar, who clearly feels most at home when he’s flexing some muscle. As a result, two-thirds of the band are playing acoustic folk, while the other corner of the triangle keeps tugging them away towards rock.

Whenever Ledger steps on his distortion pedal he drowns out Dean’s dulcet harp in one fell swoop, and in those mercifully few moments the trio appear to be suffering from a disconcerting case of split personality disorder. The band play two sets with a short break. The first set draws heavily on Mantra Vega’s 2016 release The Illusion’s Reckoning. Findlay sounds terrific from the outset on Island and Veil Of Ghosts, the latter of which sees Ledger performing an elegant bluesy solo, while the riff of Mountain Spring sounds like something from the Gallagher brothers without the sneering attitude.

Day Thirteen: Sign has a stumbling start, but is beautifully melancholic once underway, and tonight’s performance is much closer to the folky one on Findlay’s I Am Snow album, rather than the more bombastic original on Ayreon’s The Human Equation. The first set wraps with Findlay nailing the high notes of I Am Snow, with lovely playing from Dean.

The second set sees Findlay dipping into the Mostly Autumn archives with The Eyes Of The Forest, Bitterness Burnt
and Caught In A Fold. Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon is warmly received, and the trio briefly become a quartet when opening act Boss Caine (aka Daniel Lucas) joins them for Nick Caves and Kylie Minogue’s murder ballad Where The Wild Roses Grow. “I apologise if the first verse was your favourite, because I forgot to sing it,” laughs Findlay, but the sense of flying by the seat of their pants lends the performance an invigorating frisson.

The drama of Unoriginal Sin cries out for a full band to realise its potential, before the night concludes with Evergreen, with Findlay throwing in a dash of Zeppelin’s Ramble On. The trio might be an unfamiliar format for the vocalist, but whenever they stumble tonight they quickly right the apple cart, and Findlay’s humour, warmth and passion for storytelling easily smooth over any bumps on this road.

David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.