Despite West End Christmas distractions and IQ’s annual seasonal bash just across town, there’s a healthy, eager audience here for Touchstone’s first London show with their rejuvenated line-up.
Heather Findlay’s largely unplugged band warms up the crowd first. Ably accompanied by guitarist Martin Ledger, virtuoso harpist Sarah Dean and enthusiastic Touchstone drummer Henry Rogers’ turn on cajon and a surprise stint behind the keyboards, Findlay focuses on her recent winter-themed anthology I Am Snow, and on tunes spanning her impressive career. From Mostly Autumn we get delicate ballad Eyes Of The Forest and the fragile melancholy of Above The Blue, and from the Mantra Vega project, Lake Sunday. Findlay is spot on throughout, capturing changing moods and folk-steeped beauty.
Highlights include Dark Eyes, one of the new songs from I Am Snow, which, like its central theme of the sea, appears initially calm but builds to reveal power and hints of danger. It’s a slick, relaxed and confident performance from the whole band, before the set is wrapped up with a Steelye Span hit, the medieval multi-part harmonies of Gaudete, and the whole of the track I Am Snow itself, featuring the only – and quite lovely – electric guitar solo of the set.
Touchstone’s future looked uncertain when both founder member/keyboard player Rob Cottingham and much loved singer Kim Seviour announced their departures. A year on, and a three-track EP (Lights From The Sky) later, the band are back playing live with this second show of a three date run, giving London fans their first look at new keyboard man Liam Holmes and vocalist Aggie. The muscular punch of Flux and the unapologetically gritty and urgent These Walls demonstrate that Aggie can certainly sing, recreating her predecessor’s lines with assurance. As the show progresses – with the likes of fan favourites Spirit Of The Age, Throw Them To The Sky and Zinomorph – the band focus on their slightly shorter, heavier output, toying with arrangements a bit, as seems to be the case with both Fragments and Contact later in the set. The latter, especially, betrays a more explicitly sensual edge than was previously the case. All the tracks from the recent EP get an airing, with the lightly middle-eastern and space rock-infused Tangled Lines giving Aggie the opportunity for some impressive vocal gymnastics.
Holmes fits in well with a number of keyboard showcases including the solo on Black Tide and the closing section of Zinomorph, and can often be seen sharing nods and smiles with drummer Rogers, who appears to be having a whale of a time behind the kit. Unfortunately, the sound out front muddies both the keyboards and Adam Hodgson’s guitar, and it’ll be revealing to hear the band with a better balance. Interestingly, despite Aggie’s tough, black leather clad stage persona contrasting with Seviour’s more wistful and quirky presence, it’s bassist Paul ‘Moo’ Moorghen who does much of the inter-song patter, suggesting some confidence building stage work is still required, which is a little surprising perhaps given Aggie’s background in musical theatre. A Christmas song medley with a big crowd singalong, and a trio of encore tunes – the epically inclined Wintercoast with Jeremy Irons’ portentous intro, the almost ubiquitous Strange Days and the new EP Lights From The Sky – close the evening.
It’s fairly early days for this Touchstone line-up and understandably it feels like there is still ‘work in progress’ around where the band go musically and how Aggie asserts herself in a live performance, but alongside the forthright and classy Lights From The Sky release, tonight Touchstone provide solid indications of an enjoyable and reassuring future.