York singer Heather Findlay turns her hand and mind to creating illustrated therapeutic storybook Raising Violet to find balance

Victory, from Heather Findlay’s illustrated therapeutic tale Raising Violet

HEATHER Findlay, York singer, songwriter, musician, producer, artist and mother, has written an illustrated therapeutic tale, Raising Violet, The Storybook.

For November’s Folktale Week 2022 global initiative, she had decided to unfurl a story that had been piecing itself together since January, prompted by a series of illustrations. Encouraged by onlooking fans on social media, she heeded the call to turn Raising Violet into a “physical book for all to keep”.

“I set about the job of writing an introduction and an afterword, along with some other fun additions, and began mapping out the book with a designer to create a beautiful, 40-plus page, hardbacked offering,” she says.

In Heather’s story, there once was a time when all Violet knew was how to shrink, but with the help of her friends, Samson and Barney, a curiously unexpected series of encounters with a mysterious new friend finds her learning the art of balance, where raising Violet becomes the theme.

“Having felt called to create something new that might help in some way to ease the suffering that so many of us are, or have been, going through in these times of global change, it is my hope that sharing Violet’s story brings a sense of upliftment, comfort and inspiration that goes some way towards achieving this.

The book cover for Heather Findlay’s Raising Violet

“Someone said to me during Folktale Week, ‘I can see myself in Violet’. My feeling is, there might be a bit of Violet in us all.”

Now, Heather is welcoming pre-orders for the first edition of Raising Violet. “It’s over to you to weave your magic in helping bring Violet to the page!” she urges. “If you’d like to become a Magic Key Holder, you’ll receive – along with the book – a handmade Magic Key bookmark, your name in the credits and a huge thank-you for making this book possible!

“Why a Magic Key? Because it’s the key that unlocks the book – and ‘we all need a bit more magic in our lives!’, according to Snow in the story!”

The Magic Key Holder’s package must be booked by January 7 2023, with £5 off the £25 price if ordered by December 31 2022. To pre-order, head to: https://www.blacksandrecords.com/product-page/raising-violet-the-storybook-an-illustrated-therapeutictale-first-edition. Shipping is expected to start in mid-to-late January.

In addition, seven specially signed and titled art prints are available (as one print, three prints or the full set) with more details on prices at blacksandrecords.com.

“My feeling is, there might be a bit of Violet in us all,” says author and artist Heather Findlay. Picture: Adam Kennedy

Here, CharlesHutchPress asks Heather Findlay about creating Raising Violet, the need for therapeutic tales and striving to live a balanced life

What was the starting point for Raising Violet: an illustration or an idea for a story?

“The first thing that arrived was an illustration. It was last January and I had been poorly for a while with something strange, either chronic fatigue, or long Covid. Slowing me down quite a lot, it left me with lots of time to think and contemplate. I had the idea that it might become part of a series for a book or even an oracle deck.” 

What triggered the need to write this book?

“While considering what I would do next, I knew that I really wanted it to be something that would serve as some kind of antidote to these stressful times we’ve all been through.

“I love watching astrology videos and oracle card readers on YouTube while cooking, or even while falling asleep, and find it really comforting.

Costume, by Heather Findlay

“Some of the artworks on the oracle decks I’ve seen are so beautiful and uplifting, and I think that’s what it inspired me to want to create something of a similar vibration.

“It’s probably a little influenced by The Boy The Mole The Fox And The Horse too, by Charlie Mackesy. I love that book so much and literally bought it for everyone a few Christmases back!” 

How would you summarise your book’s theme?

“Violet lives with depression and anxiety and often finds her inner voice to be one that is unkind. Throughout the story, she learns, or remembers, through various experiences to quieten those harsh voices and, in doing so, gives rise to a much friendlier inner voice. This leads her to notice the beauty all around her and how grateful she is for it.”

What makes a book therapeutic?

“The story has a happy ending and a realistic one. Although Violet has to work hard at feeling happy, she learns the ways in which to achieve it. They are simple ways too, like grounding, gratitude, breathing, letting go, slowing down, being outdoors in nature and generally being open to the unknown and even the possibility of magic… 

Fool, by Heather Findlay

“As the story unfolded over Folktale Week, the feedback it received gave me the impression that it’s effect is therapeutic. “

Is it self-help book?

“Writing it certainly helped me! I do feel there’s a bit of Violet in everyone and if it uplifts the reader in some way, then why not?”

Is it a universal tale?

“I think it is, yes. Young children can relate to Violet as much as elderly ones! Sadly, too many are suffering these days and my hope is that either those who know a Violet might gain better understanding of how life might feel for her, or for all Violets out there, that they might feel less alone through reading this, or even feel inspired to open to new ways of feeling better.” 

Tree, by Heather Findlay

How much have present times – Covid, lockdowns, people’s struggles with so many things – influenced the book?

“A lot! I feel the times we’ve all shared over the past couple of years have certainly brought home a greater need to acknowledge and to remedy mental health issues. Especially among our young.

“We’re constantly bombarded with sensory offerings via technology and media. Arguably, a book is more input, albeit more organic. But it takes time to turn and feel pages and a book also carries the hope that we might all find time to slow down and read with our families from time to time.” 

How would you describe Violet’s character, apart from ‘shrinking’?!

“She’s a fighter, but she’s tired of fighting now. She’s sweet and lovable and easily finds gratitude in her heart for all life brings her. She is bright, curious and open minded. She is sensitive and loves animals and the outdoors. Her favourite things are Sun, Snow, Samson and Barney! 

Stars, by Heather Findlay

Who are her friends Samson and Barney?

“Samson is the best! Samson is loyal and faithful, through and through. He’s constantly there for Violet. He adores her. Like all Springer Spaniels, he’s pretty bonkers too! Teddy bear Barney is quiet. Constant. Takes it all in. Always there. Always smiling. Always ready for the next hug!” 

What can you say of the “mysterious new friend”?

“Well, she’s certainly mysterious…! And kind of familiar…”

What gave you the idea for a Magic Key bookmark for pre-orders?

“I was shopping online and saw these beautiful antique-looking keys. I love creating something special for fans who pre-order my offerings and the idea just came in a flash.” 

A Magic Key bookmark for Heather Findlay’s Raising Violet

What and when is Folktale Week?

“Folktale Week is a global initiative that encourages artists to illustrate a folktale from around the world over the span of one week in November each year. There are seven prompts given early on in the month, one per day, and your story is told using them.

“A different handful of artists host the event each November, as artists from around the world share their work on Instagram throughout the challenge. I’ve not participated in it before but decided – as telling your own tale is also an option, and spookily the prompts seemed to fit – to rise to the challenge by bringing Violet’s story into being through it.

“As I’d been holding back a bit on Violet, it felt like a nudge from the universe to get the story out there. And it worked!” 

What do the pictures bring to the story? For example, captioning one picture ‘Victory’ is a powerful message, isn’t it?

“I hope the pictures bring with them the essence of the story itself. Even the sad ones are beautiful in some way. Perhaps even more powerful. Victory was actually the first image I created for Raising Violet and curiously, it became the last image in the book too. Violet is very small and cute in this illustration and in the book it’s where she looks back on her younger self and sees herself healed. A definite victory!”

Rebel, by Heather Findlay

How would you describe your pictorial style and what materials/media do you use? 

“It’s sketchy, but detailed. Colourful and expressive. I use Derwent watercolour pencils, but without the water! I love the softness of their touch on the paper. Quite blendable. They have a really strong pigment too, so their colours are nice and punchy.

“I used black art paper for Raising Violet, with titanium white as the main pencil colour and black representing the dark and white, the light. The two together represent balance.”

How do you achieve “balance” in life as a prog-rock/folk musician, artist and mother of two sons?

“It takes constant practice for me! Life easily gets chaotic if I don’t keep it simple. 

“Plenty of sleep, daily yoga and energy medicine practices without fail and enough time out from work. I’ve underdone sleep and overdone work for too many years of my life and often paid the price of burnout. And it’s really not nice.” 

Heather Findlay performing at Big Ian Donaghy’s charity fund-raising concert, A Night To Remember, at York Barbican in September 2022. Picture: Dave Kessell

Away from the book, what are your music plans for next year, both for Heather Findlay, solo artist, and with Odin Dragonfly?

“It would be lovely to play some live shows with Odin Dragonfly to celebrate the Sirens album. The last year proved a bit of a challenge on that front, but let’s see what 2023 brings.  

“Solo wise, I’ve a been preparing demos over the past 18 months or so, ready to be turned into new songs, so I’m excited about delving into those in the coming year. 

“There are a few songs coming out soon that I’ve worked on with other artists too. The first one will be a new single, Two Rock, from York’s own Martin Ledger on January 6. (You can read more about it at http://www.martinledger.com/).”

Heather Findlay and fellow Odin Dragonfly musician Angela Gordon

Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner reunite Mantra Vega for Ukraine humanitarian aid song We See You on Bandcamp Friday

Howard Rankin’s artwork for We See You, Mantra Vega’s fundraising release on Bandcamp for the DEC Ukraine Appeal

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.

The Mantra Vega line-up put together by Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner, second from left, to record We See You

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.”

Reunited: Mantra Vega’s Dave Kerzner and Heather Findlay

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.

Odin Dragonfly go down to the sea to launch the alluring call of their Sirens album

Sirens by the sea: Odin Dragonfly’s Heather Findlay and Angela Gordon. Picture: Howard Rankin

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”.

Odin Dragonfly in their Offerings days

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.”

Howard Rankin’s album cover artwork for Odin Dragonfly’s Sirens

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.

“This album has a very mystical, evocative and oceanic vibe to it,” say Odin Dragonfly

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.

“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,” says Heather Findlay

“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.”

They must go down to the sea again: Odin Dragonfly’s siren call. Picture: Howard Rankin

“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.”

“It feels like the most personal piece of work I’ve been involved in,” says Angela Gordon

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.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as something wickedly funny this way comes. List No. 64, courtesy of The Press, York

When shall we three meet again? When the hurlyburly’s done in The HandleBards’ Macbeth at York Theatre Royal

AS the pantomime season draws to a close, Charles Hutchinson turns his focus to new seasons and new reasons to venture out.

The skittish play: The HandleBards in Macbeth, York Theatre Royal, January 25, 7.30pm; January 26, 2pm and 7.30pm

THE HandleBards were the first professional company to play York Theatre Royal after Lockdown 3, lifting the long gloom with a ridiculously funny Romeo And Juliet. Now the three-pronged troupe opens the Spring! Season with an all-female, bewitching, unhinged, bicycle-powered, dead funny take on Macbeth, starring Kathryn Perkins, Natalie Simone and Jenny Smith.

Expect music, mayhem, murders, unusual applications of cycling paraphernalia and more costume changes “than you can Shake a spear at” in this irreverent, skittish romp through Shakespeare’s tragic “Scottish play”. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Charles Court Opera in The Mikado, visiting Harrogate Royal Hall on Sunday. Picture: Bill Knight

Oh, Vienna: International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival’s New Year celebration, Harrogate Royal Hall, today and tomorrow, 7.30pm.

ENCHANTMENT awaits in the Magic Of Vienna New Year Gala Concert today when the National Festival Orchestra, conducted by Aidan Faughey, presents works by Johann Strauss, Mozart and Lehar. International opera stars James Cleverton and Rebecca Bottone will be the soloists.

Charles Court Opera’s London production of G&S’s The Mikado will be performed on Sunday night, accompanied by the National Festival Orchestra. Box office: 01422 323352 or at gsfestivals.co.uk.

One Iota: Debut album launch at the JoRo

York album launch of the month: One Iota, supported by Odin Dragonfly, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 21, 7.15pm

YORK band One Iota are launching their debut album, More Than You Take, recorded at the venerable Abbey Road studios, in London, and Fairview Studios, Willerby.

Adam Dawson, James Brown, Andy Bowen and Phil Everard’s alt-pop group grew out of their three-piece tribute to The Beatles – The Threetles, of course – when they acquired a taste for writing their own songs in lockdown.

One Iota’s debut live show promises a full line-up, featuring live string arrangements for the Fab Four-influenced songs marked by rich vocal harmonies, innovative melodies and “more hooks than a cloakroom”. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Jacob George: Soloist for Schumann’s Violin Concerto at the Academy of St Olave’s January concert

By George, he’s back: Academy of St Olave’s Winter Concert, St Olave’s Church, Marygate, York, January 22, 8pm

THE Academy of St Olave’s Winter Concert features Jacob George, son of musical director Alan George, as soloist for Schumann’s Violin Concerto. He returns to solo duty for the York chamber orchestra after performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto in 2019.

The ASO’s first concert since last September’s sold-out resumption also includes two works inspired by Italy: Schubert’s Overture in the Italian Style, and Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony No. 4. Box office: academyofstolaves.org.uk.

Nunkie Theatre Company’s artwork for the third instalment of their M R James Project, A Warning To The Curious

Ghosts at play: Nunkie Theatre Company in M R James’s A Warning To The Curious, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, January 28, 7.30pm

NUNKIE Theatre Company bring two of M R James’s eeriest and most entertaining ghost stories back to life in Robert Lloyd Parry’s candlelit one-man show. Lost Hearts, an early work, is constructed around one of his most memorable villains, the predatory scholar Mr Abney.

Lloyd Parry pairs it with perhaps James’s most poignant and personal story, inspired by his holidays in Aldeburgh: A Warning To The Curious’s account of a young archaeologist being haunted and hunted by the guardian of an ancient treasure. Has the English seaside ever looked so menacing? Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Yvette Stone’s life-size puppet of The Creature, as first seen in Blackeyed Theatre’s Frankenstein in 2016. The new tour visits Scarborough next month. Picture: Alex Harvey-Brown

Monster smash: Blackeyed Theatre in Frankenstein, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, February 9 to 12

NICK Lane has reinterpreted John Ginman’s original 2016 script for Blackeyed Theatre, built around Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel, wherein nothing can prepare Victor Frankenstein for what he creates in pursuit of the elixir of life.

Eliot Giuralarocca’s highly theatrical production combines live music and ensemble storytelling with Bunraku-style puppetry to portray The Creature, in the life-size form of Yvonne Stone’s 6ft 4inch puppet, operated by up to three actors at once. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

Four decades of topical songs and glamour: Fascinating Aida’s Liza Pulman, left, Dillie Keane and Adèle Anderson. Picture: Johnny Boylan

Never tire of satire: Fascinating Aida, York Barbican, February 12, 7.30pm

DILLIE Keane, Adèle Anderson and Liza Pulman’s latest Fascinating Aida tour show features old favourites, songs you haven’t heard before and some you wish you’d never heard in the first place.

“But the songs are mostly topical and the glamour remains unstoppable,” say the satirists, who have been capturing the political and social fixations of our times for nigh on 40 years, from 1984’s Sweet FA to 2012’s Cheap Flights and beyond. All tickets remain valid from the postponed May 5 2021 date. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Marc Almond fronting The Loveless, headliners at late-October’s Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival in Whitby

Looking ahead to Halloween: Marc Almond’s The Loveless, headlining the Saturday bill at Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival 2022, Whitby Pavilion, October 29

THE Loveless make their Tomorrow’s Ghosts debut with a headline set of their devilishly dark arts at Whitby Pavilion next Halloween.

In a project designed to take its constituent parts back to where they all began, Soft Cell singer Almond, Sigue Sigue Sputnik axeman Neal X, Iggy Pop’s touring rhythm section of Mat Hector and Ben Ellis and haunting Hammond organist James Beaumont “pledge themselves to the pulp appeal of garage rock in its rawest, most gripping guise”.

The Loveless draw material from Almond’s expansive back catalogue, Lou Reed and David Bowie’s canons, warped 1960s’ R&B staples and lost garage-rock gems. Box office: ticketweb.uk/event/tomorrows-ghosts-festival.

Artist Stephen Todd in his Sheffield studio

Weekend opening: Kentmere House Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York, today and tomorrow

NEW year, New Beginnings and a website “going live again at last” adds up to the start of 2022 for Ann Petherick’s gallery in her home at Kentmere House, York.

Among the works on show today and tomorrow from 11am to 5pm are Allotments In Autumn paintings by featured artist Stephen Todd, from Sheffield.

Kentmere House Gallery also will be open for the York Residents Residents’ Weekend on January 29 and 30, 11am to 6pm each day.

No concerts since February, now is perfect time for Heather Findlay’s live album

“With the lack of actually experiencing live music in people’s lives, the timing of this live album might just be right,” says Heather Findlay. Picture: Kennedy

YORK folk/prog singer and songwriter Heather Findlay is to release a live album this autumn, Live White Horses, “to document the whole Wild White Horses experience”.

Signed copies of the “double-disc jewel” can be pre-ordered exclusively from Heather’s official website at www.heatherfindlay.co.uk/shop.

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.” 

Those were the days pre-Covid lockdown: Heather Findlay, left, Jess Steel, Beth McCarthy and Annie Donaghy giving their all to I Feel Like A Woman on A Night To Remember at a sold-out York Barbican in February . Picture: David Harrison

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!”

The artwork for Heather Findlay’s autumn album, Live White Horses

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.”

“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,” says Heather

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 Salewhereby 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.”

“There’s nothing that can replace that collective mood, or vibration if you like, of a live performance,” says Heather. Picture: David Harrison

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!”

Soon to fly again: Heather Findlay and Angela Gordon are to record their second Odin Dragonfly album, Sirens