MANTRA Vega, the transatlantic band co-founded by York singer-songwriter Heather Findlay and Sound Of Contact’s Dave Kerzner, are releasing a song on Bandcamp tomorrow to raise funds for humanitarian relief in Ukraine.
Heather, formerly of Mostly Autumn, now one half of Odin Dragonfly and a solo artiste, reunited with Dave to write and record We See You.
Mantra Vega’s recording features Findlay on lead vocals; Kerzner on keyboards and vocals; Dave Kilminster, from Rogers Waters, Steve Wilson and Keith Emerson’s bands, on lead guitar; Chris Johnson, from Mostly Autumn and Halo Blind, on rhythm electric guitar; Stuart Fletcher on bass and Alex Cromarty, ex-Mostly Autumn, on drums.
In addition, Mantra Vega have made a Global Sing-Along Mix of We See You, where “anyone in the world can sing the verses in their own language or with the wordless anthemic chorus”.
Kerzner says: “Heather came to me with this great idea of reuniting Mantra Vega to do a song for this global concern regarding the war in the Ukraine. I’m proud to have taken part in it.
“As well as raising funds to help the people of the Ukraine, we also wanted to send love and support to all who are suffering from this crisis through the universal language of music.”
We See You will be available exclusively from Bandcamp from midnight tomorrow (May 6) for a limited time, launching on Bandcamp Friday, a monthly event when the ten per cent revenue share that Bandcamp usually takes is waived. In this instance, that means more funds can be donated to Ukrainian aid.
In an incentive to help spread the love, Mantra Vega invite fans to share Howard Rankin’s artwork from that midnight launch onwards, either as their profile picture or as a social media post, accompanied by the download links, encouraging their friends to head over to Bandcamp to buy the single.
All proceeds will be donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Appeal.
YORK duo Odin Dragonfly release second album Sirens tomorrow, fully 15 years since their debut, Offerings.
Heather Findlay and Angela Gordon met in their late teens, first writing, playing and singing together when on the road with York prog-rock band Mostly Autumn.
“Lovingly crafting away behind dressing room doors, in hotel rooms, on the tour bus and in airport lounges while we whiled away the spare hours touring life brought, in 2007 we decided we had collected enough songs together to make a record, and so our debut album was born,” they say on their website.
They duly offered up Offerings, released under the name of Odin Dragonfly, an anagram of their surnames Findlay and Gordon.
They have gone on to play together across Britain, Europe and the United States, while Heather has built up her solo career post-Mostly Autumn and Angela has performed with Leather’O, a gypsy, Celtic and folk band, and Stout Boots, who specialise in “Celtic pub songs played hard”.
Sirens has emerged under contrasting circumstances to Offerings, under the shadow of the pandemic. Last May, Heather posted: “Myself and Angela are tracking our instruments for the new Odin Dragonfly album in our home studio spaces and we are planning to get together to record our vocals in the very near future!
“This album has a very mystical, evocative and oceanic vibe to it and the artwork is being created by our wonderful and very talented friend Howard Rankin, whose work we absolutely love!
“We’ve been brainstorming with him online and the three of us will be heading to a blustery Yorkshire beach next month [June 2021] to capture some vibey, windswept shots!”
At the time, Heather was hopeful Sirens would come a’calling towards autumn, and yes, she and Angela did meet up to record their vocals and did make it to the beach for photographing Rankin’s beautiful album artwork. However, the album launch was moved to today, preceded by the January 7 single, Driving, and pre-orders for the limited-edition “1st 500” bundles of Sirens.
Now the day has arrived, Angela says: “It feels like the most personal piece of work I’ve been involved in. It has my heart and soul in it. I think people will hear that. It’s been kind of strange, listening back, how current some of the themes sound, given that some of these songs are 15, 20 years old.”
Heather reflects: “In creative terms, I feel Sirens features some of our most accomplished song-writing. As Angela says, it’s been quite magical to see how these songs have woven themselves together into this one body of work, which has ended up feeling so cohesive.
“It’s almost as if Sirens was written completely as a concept album, made to reflect the current times we are sharing on this planet.
“It kind of confirms to me the sense that songs really do come from somewhere else. I imagine it almost as though they were like a message in a bottle that was always meant to be washed ashore right now.”
Heather found the album’s journey to the finishing line becoming increasingly cathartic and therapeutic against the backdrop of Covid’s stultifying grip. ” It was magnifying glass to a lot of what was going on: the enforced separation that led us to look within. The recording process we had to do brought out what was already in the songs,” she says.
Angela, pianist, flautist and singer, explains the lengthy hiatus between albums: “Sirens has been a long time in the making because it was a backburner project for us as we’re both busy with lots of other projects, but then we found time to record the piano and guitar parts separately, and after the first lockdown we were able to get together for Heather to record my vocals and flute,” she says.
“The songs were devised before Covid struck and some of them we’d been playing live for a couple of years, so a lot of the collaborative work had been done.”
One progression for Angela has been in her confidence in singing. “Heather has coached me through my vocals, where I can be front and centre in my own songs for Odin Dragonfly, to the point where I can sing some lead vocals for Leather’O and Stout Boots. Heather has fed my confidence for those other projects.”
Heather, vocalist, guitarist, low whistle player and percussionist, says: “It’s difficult to express it in words, but I know what shape the voice needs, or what way the face should be pulled, for singing. It’s a very unschooled way of ‘feeling’ the other person’s feelings, but I would say Angela needs a lot less coaching than she thinks!”
Angela rejoins: “Part of having confidence is being able to get up and perform in front of people, but it was more personal than that for me. It was about mine and Heather’s relationship with the songs, and this album came from deeply expressed emotions that are really difficult to sing.
“So, there are things on the recordings that I wouldn’t have kept, but Heather’s super-skill is her ability to draw out both the emotion and the technical craft. I wouldn’t have kept as much of the emotional side if I’d been working with someone else but that would have been detrimental to the album. It became like a therapy session as much as a recording session, expressing those deep, deep feelings.”
Heather concurs: “The more singing you do, the more it opens your heart to show your vulnerabilities. If something is tugging at the heartstrings so much that you need to sing about, it becomes cathartic.
“You have to sing from your heart; otherwise you will not connect with the song; it has to have that authenticity,” she says. “But I’ve had awful experiences with a lack of confidence, where I’ve had to have a word with myself about ‘self-sabotage’ when singing.”
Performing a song requires you to “connect to the moment”, suggests Heather. “When you are singing or using the instrument that you’ve grafted over till it becomes part of you, that’s when you should be in ‘the moment,” she says.
Angela notes: “If you’re performing your own songs, it’s different to performing music written by someone else or your ensemble or a cover version. The feeling of vulnerability comes when you’re singing your own song.”
“But at other times, it can come from a fear of being judged when there’s already a precedent there for singing that song,” says Heather.
Describing herself as “an instrumentalist before a vocalist,” Angela says: “You can express yourself through that instrument, and I believe the ultimate musical experience is not singing your own songs but performing with others.”
Prompted by enjoying the moment when Kate Bush sat alone playing the piano at the end of her concerts in her 2014 residency at London’s Eventim Apollo Hammersmith iand Tori Amos’s solo performances too, Angela played some solo piano concerts but…
…”It turns out there’s very little joy in performing alone, where you learn that’s not what music is for,” she says. “I now have no desire to perform on my own: as a vocalist I love creating harmonies and as a musician I love being part of the overall sound.”
The Sirens motif for the album emerged in part from a song that does not appear on the recording: Sirens Of The Sea. “It’s a classic pop song, an Ibiza trance kind of tune by OceanLab that we kept thinking would be a lovely song for Odin Dragonfly to cover, with a deep, emotional feel to it,” says Heather. “So that became like the intro track to what Sirens would become.”
Sirens Of The Sea sparked the nautical theme. “It lent itself to water sound effects at the start of the record and to the songs that we’d already collected like Across The Sea and Gulls,” says Angela. “It wasn’t a case of reverse engineering. It just felt right to call it Sirens.”
The vinyl edition, scheduled for springtime, will continue the theme with its transparent design with splashes of blue, and it has had an impact on the track order of CD, download and LP alike.. “The first side has the darker songs; Side B has the songs where it feels comforting and that it’s all going to be all right,” says Angela.
Track seven, Four And Twenty Moons, marks the change, taking on greater resonance in Covid times. “You think about the two years we’ve been through, with all that tumult, and there’s that feeling of ‘Enough. Blow the candles out’,” says Heather.
And what should we make of the choice of album title? Sirens may carry a Greek mythical status as dangerous temptresses whose singing drew sailors towards the rocks, but Angela counters: “We like to think of them luring you to their songs with their singing.” Odin Dragonfly certainly do that.
Odin Dragonfly release Sirens on Black Sand Records tomorrow on CD and download; the vinyl edition will follow in March or April. They will NOT be supporting One Iota at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tomorrow as first planned.
CHRISTMAS shows, Christmas concerts, Christmas plays, ‘tis the season for Charles Hutchinson’s diary to be jolly full.
Busy week for comedy: Jason Manford: Like Me, York Barbican, Thursday and Friday, 7.30pm.
SALFORD’S Jason Manford revives his funny-bloke-next-door schtick for Like Me, his follow-up to “the fun we had on my last tour”, Muddle Class, a show about turning from working class to middle class that played York Barbican in February and October 2018.
“In these trying times, it’s always important to be able to get away for a couple of hours and exercise the old chuckle muscle,” reckons Manford, 40, who has tickets available for both nights at yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Meanwhile, Jack Dee’s Off The Telly gig, moved from April 25 2020 to tomorrow night, has sold out. So too have Alan Carr’s Regional Trinket shows on December 18 and 19.
Exhibition of the week: Rosie Dean, Seascapes, Village Gallery, Castlegate, York, until January 22, open 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday.
SEASCAPE artist Rosie Dean has taken part in York Open Studios for the past ten years. Now she is exhibiting at Simon Main’s Village Gallery through the winter months.
“I feel total peace breathing the ozone, staring out to sea and focusing on the horizon line, sensing all around me and feeling the elements around me, the sights and sounds, the salt in the air. Pure contentment,” says Rosie.
Curiosity concert of the week: The Magical Music Of Harry Potter Live In Concert With The Weasleys, York Barbican, Monday 8pm.
POTTY about Potter? Then exit those Shambles shops and head to York Barbican for a night of music from Harry’s films and the West End musical, performed by the London Symphonic & Philharmonic Film Orchestra with the Weasley brothers in tow.
Original actors, magic, star soloists, a choir and the orchestra combine in the debut European tour’s programme of John Williams, Patrick Doyle, Nicolas Hooper and Alexander Desplat’s soundtrack magical moments, plus selections from the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child score.
More music in York Barbican’s crammed pre-Christmas diary comes from Levellers, Brighton’s folk-rock stalwarts, tonight and Steve Steinman’s tribute show, Anything For Love: The Meat Loaf Story, on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
If you seek out one gig, make it: Steve Mason, Stockton on the Forest Village Hall, near York, Tuesday, doors, 8pm; start, 8.30pm.
STEVE Mason was the frontman of The Beta Band, cult Scottish exponents of folktronica, a blend of folk, psychedelia, electronica, experimental rock and trip hop.
He first dipped his toe into solo work on Black Gold, his mournful 2006 album under the guise of the short-lived King Biscuit Time and has since released Boys Outside in 2010, Ghosts Outside with Dennis Bovell in 2011, Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time in 2013, Meet The Humans in 2016 and About The Light in 2019.
Presented by All Off The Beaten Track, Mason will play solo on Tuesday. Box office: seetickets.com/event/steve-mason/stockton-on-the-forest-village-hall.
Christmas jamboree of the week: The Arts Barge Christmas Party!, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm.
THREE York community musical groups, Bargestra, The Stonegate Singers and The Blind Tiger Dance Band, unite for the Arts Barge Christmas bash.
Bargestra, the 20-piece Arts Barge band skippered by Christian Topman, play jazz, swing, Beatles, ska and more. The Stonegate Singers, a community choir open to anyone, is directed by Jon Hughes, who teaches the music by ear, one part at a time, so that anyone can do it.
The Blind Tiger Dance Band, Arts Barge’s 16-piece Lindy Hop swing band with Rinkadon Dukeboy up front, brings together seasoned professionals and rising young instrumentalists. All three groups will join together to make a 50-piece ensemble for the festive finale.
Recommended but alas sold out already at The Crescent are Christmas shows by Mostly Autumn on Sunday and fellow York band The Howl & The Hum on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm.
Chapter House Choir at the double: Carols by Candlelight, York Minster, Wednesday; Festival of Carols, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 18, both at 7.30pm.
THE Chapter House Choir’s Carols by Candlelight at York Minster has sold out, but a second chance to hear the York choir and its bell ringers comes at St Michael-le-Belfrey.
Tickets for a Festival of Carols are available via Eventbrite, but do hurry because they are limited in number and selling fast.
Global warming alert of the week: Badapple Theatre Company in The Snow Dancer, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Thursday, 7pm; Green Hammerton Village Hall, December 20, 2pm
GREEN Hammerton’s Badapple Theatre Company has revived artistic director Kate Bramley’s magical eco-fable, The Snow Dancer, for its latest rural tour.
Bramley’s original story blends festive family entertainment with an important eco-message and an original score by Jez Lowe, as actors Meg Matthews and Danny Mellor tell the story of the animals of The Great Wood, who are desperate for a long sleep, but find it too warm because something is awry.
The intrepid heroes in this fairy tale with a furry tail must search for the mysterious Snow Dancer to make it snow if they are ever to sleep. Box office: York, 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk; Green Hammerton, 01423 339168.
Christmas plays of the week: York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust in A Nativity For York…Out Of The Darkness, Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York, December 17, 7pm; December 18, 2pm, 4pm, 6.30pm. A Christmas Carol, Mansion House, York, December 17 to 19, 7pm.
TERRY Ram directs the second York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust community production for Christmas, drawn from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays in the old church atmosphere of the Spurriergate Centre. Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/york-mystery-plays-supporters-trust.
The Penny Magpie Theatre Company, from York, have sold out all three Mansion House performances of director Samantha Hindman’s adaptation of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, a version seen through the eyes of modern-day schoolboy Jon, who is gradually welcomed into Scrooge’s redemptive tale. Carols, mince pies, mulled wine and a house tour complete the festive experience.
Leaping into 2022: Johannes Radebe, Freedom, Grand Opera House, York, April 12, 7.30pm.
MAKING swish waves with baker John Whaite in Strictly Come Dancing’s first all-male coupling, South African dancer Johannes Radebe has announced his debut tour, Freedom.
Radebe will lead a company of dancers in classic Ballroom and Latin arrangements, scorching South African rhythms and huge party anthems, as he takes you on his journey from growing up in Zamdela, to travelling the world, winning competitions and becoming a Strictly professional.
“Leave your inhibitions at the door and get ready for a night of energy, passion and freedom,” he says. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.
The general release date will be confirmed by Heather once her wait for the final masters is over. Keep an eye on her website and CharlesHutchPress for an update.
“Earlier this year, I was fortunate to have been able to tour Wild White Horses in the UK with an absolutely stellar bunch of hugely talented and wonderful souls,” says the former Mostly Autumn and Mantra Vega vocalist, who toured in a seven-piece line-up. “We recorded some of those shows, from which I’m delighted to be able to offer a new live album.”
Released on Black Sand Records, Live White Horses combines a first disc of a 17-song January concert recording with a complementary disc of live sessions, bootlegs and rare and secret gems from throughout the Wild White Horses ride, beginning in Nashville, Tennessee, in July 2019, travelling onward across Europe, with stops in London and Germany, and then heading back home again.
Making up Disc 2 are Broadway Bootlegs: She Rocks Showcase, recorded live at Tin Roof, Broadway, Nashville, in July 2019; Secret Sari Sessions, Unplugged, Live at Total Rock Radio, London, August 2019; Das Bootlegs, Live at Vinyl Cafe Schwazes Gold, Dorsten, Germany, with guitarist Martin Ledger, August 2019; Live in Session at York St John University Chapel, York, February 2020, and Acoustic Solo Sessions, live at home in York during lockdown, Summer 2020.
Here Heather saddles up her Wild White Horse for a ride through Charles Hutchinson’s questions.
Releasing a live album can only remind you of what you cannot do at the moment. What are you missing most about live performances?
“I miss my band mates and connecting with a live audience! There’s nothing that can replace that collective mood, or vibration if you like, of a live performance. When all elements come together, there’s a certain magic that happens which, once any element is removed, it’s very hard to recreate.”
When and where did you last perform on an indoor stage with your band?
“My last show with the band was the last night of the Wild White Horses tour earlier this year at the Robin 2 in Wolverhampton. That was on January 22. The last time I was on a York stage was at Big Ian’s A Night To Remember charity fundraiser at York Barbican on February 29.”
Was a live album always in the pipeline or did lockdown’s enforced blockade of concerts make you think this would be a good time for one?
“During our shows, my friend and support band leader Hughes Taylor announced he’d not only been recording his own band’s performances but, in stealth, he’d managed to capture ours too! We hadn’t planned to record any of the shows, so that was a real surprise!
“Once Hughes got back to the USA, he sent over the files, so I sent them to my engineer to throw up some draft mixes and I was thrilled to find the performances had been really well captured.
“Like most, I really wasn’t sure what on Earth to do at a time like this. I pondered over many things, but in a sudden moment of inspiration I just decided to go for it.
“It was a risk as I had no idea how new music would be received at a time when so many are struggling and suffering, but it really seemed that with the lack of actually experiencing live music in people’s lives, the timing of this might just be right.
“I was then pretty overwhelmed when the Limited Edition sold out so fast, but I was really glad I’d gone with my gut and taken the leap! Music can be such balsam and, seemingly, exactly what people need to help see them through tough times.”
Capturing the essence of a live concert on an album is always a challenge. What makes you feel that these recordings have captured that essence?
“That’s very true! Well, in this case, the whole band had worked really hard in rehearsals and the musicians I was blessed to have with me throughout the tour really are world class and super-reliable. The chemistry between us from the get-go was fantastic too.
“Lots of laughter and a sense that everyone was really giving it their all and truly enjoying being there, with the common goal of lifting hearts and roofs! Then, of course, there’s the audience who were just amazing. So generous and the icing on the cake!”
Did you have loads of recordings from which to choose the live sessions, bootlegs and rare, secret gems from your Wild White Horses travels for Disc 2?
“I didn’t have a vast amount to choose from, to be honest, and it’s not something I consciously planned either. Getting Wild White Horses off the ground and into production was all consuming. I kind of wear all the hats, so there’s often very little headspace to forward-plan alongside that.
“In some ways, it’s quite mysterious how it all came together for this live album really, but I was fortunate that the whole journey had been documented in some way or other from that first show in Nashville.
“For someone who finds it quite hard to stop doing and just be, lockdown in some ways provided the permission to do just that. Once my schedule allowed me to actually slow down and get in the flow, I found that I was able to let go of worrying about how things would unfold and this is when the inspirations and, in turn, solutions appeared.”
What made you decide to add the second disc?
“I liked the idea of offering up rare stuff from the archives that doesn’t normally get released, but as I’m quite a perfectionist in my work, I’m usually way too self-critical for anything like that to be released!
“This time though, I liked the challenge of forcing myself to get over that, because what I realised I was missing was that many fans really love experiencing some of those things they’d have ordinarily missed out on. The unpolished, fly-on-the-wall stuff, if you like.
“The bootlegs on Disc 2 really are just that! Bootleg recordings captured by loving fans, so by no means the polished, multi-track experience Disc 1 offers. The Secret Sari Sessions are great and showcase some of the Wild White Horses album tunes in a different, more unplugged format, whereas the recording of Firefly is a beautifully intimate recording of just Emily Lynn and me around the grand piano at the York St John University Chapel.
“After the tour, it was suggested that we make a live recording of that song as it was such a special moment in the set. I got talking to Chris Johnson about it and that’s when he offered to record us there. The secret part about that track is that we filmed it for a video too, but now it’s no longer a secret! Oops!.More on that soon.”
What have you been up to in lockdown and beyond? Recording at home, for example.
“Recording Here’s To You, Already Free and a new song, Solitaire, with just me and an acoustic guitar at home felt like an authentic 2020 snapshot, or time stamp if you like. I was really back home again, like everyone else, but as I’d never released anything that featured just me and my guitar before, I felt I wanted to capture that and offer it as a full circle moment in the Wild White Horses story, as that’s really how all of my songs actually begin.
“Solitaire was written around the same time as some of the Wild White Horses material, but being a different flavour didn’t quite fit with the rest of the album.
“It’s a song inspired by Solitaire, the mystical seer and tarot woman played by Jane Seymour in Live And Let Die. My kids and I went through a Roger Moore Bond phase around that time and Live And Let Die ended up being our favourite. I liked how the last song on the album, recorded in an unforeseeable, solo lockdown situation is actually called Solitaire!”
What else have you done?
“A bit before I got the idea to release Live White Horses, I’d been brainstorming, trying to come up with a way that I could help people while still staying at home. As a lone parent, I had to put caring for my two kids first – home-schooling and all! – so volunteering was out of the question.
“The idea then came to launch a campaign calledLove For Sale, whereby I would send out free, signed ‘care package’ albums to fans who ordered them as cheer-up gifts for their friends and loved ones during lockdown. I offered ‘PS I Love You’s’ too, which were specially handwritten notes offered to someone’s loved one on their behalf.
“The campaign ran throughout the lockdown period and to my surprise I was totally inundated with orders. I loved that old-school connection with people that this brought. Actually writing in pen and ink! I think this is really what reinvigorated my faith in the power that music has to uplift and connect people.”
What did you learn in lockdown?
“Despite the current restrictions imposed across music worldwide, I was just really grateful I was still in a position to both help in some way and to remain connected with the outside world in a way that avoided the darkness and drama that seemed to be taking hold of people.
“Naturally, people are very scared at such uncertain times as these, but I felt strongly that I wanted to promote hope and an optimism that we would get through this. This is also what gave me the idea to create something a bit more special and personalised for Live White Horses by offering dedications with the limited-edition version of the album.
“Other than this, I also enjoyed gardening with the kids, planting veggies and cat mumming. I also revisited creating art here and there. I’ve always been intrigued by astrology too, so I also began studying Vedic astrology, which has been fascinating, and along with my yoga practice, another way to connect with India.”
What were your plans for 2020 before Covid-19 changed all that?
“In February, I had no idea how the rest of the year would pan out. The plans at that point were to film one more video in April with my friends Danny and Luke from Thunder and, come November, to go back out on tour.
“Of course, both of those plans were halted due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Like everyone, I’ve had to think outside of the box as to how to move forward at this time.
“Especially as in music many avenues remain blocked, so I’m even more grateful that the Universe appears to have delivered me a clear pathway forwards and lined it with a very supportive audience who are excited to hear what is on offer!”
What are your plans for the rest of the year or is everything up in the air?
“Well, as up in the air as much of life still is, with further touring being halted, Angela Gordon and I have decided it’s time to finally begin recording the long awaited, second Odin Dragonfly album, Sirens!
“We’ve been writing for it over the past few years on the back burner and alongside our other projects. Recording proper has kept being put off until we both have more time to give it its due.
“For me, now the Wild White Horses chapter is drawing to a close, it feels like that time is here. It’s a beautiful and mystical collection of songs, which strangely I’ve always envisioned getting stuck into the recording of once the leaves are turning and days are crispy, cold and witchy faery again…
… “Somewhere between Faeryland and Jiffy Bag mountain is where you’ll find me!”