Charm of Finches

Holywell Music Rooms, Oxford

23 April 2022

I discovered Charm of Finches a couple of years ago, via an on-line event. I bought their albums, but they're based in Melbourne, Australia, so I was resigned to never seeing them live.

Then they announced a UK tour. At a time when gigs are being pulled with little notice, and everybody is saying ticket sales are terrible, flying half way round the world to play 12 dates in a country where you probably don't have too many people who have heard of you seemed incredibly brave. And although none of the dates were anywhere near me, it would seem rude not to make the effort. Come on, if they can travel half way round the world then I can manage Oxford. And this might be the only chance I ever get to hear their songs live.

So here I am in Oxford for the first time, and for the first gig on their tour. Not really knowing what to expect from the gig. Because, seriously, how well known are Charm of Finches? Am I going to be the only person in the venue?

Well, thankfully, no I'm not. There are around 100 people, which doesn't pack the venue to capacity but feels comfortably full. And it's a beautiful venue, a neoclassical interior with a layout that suggests it was once a chapel, and with banked seats that give perfect views of the small stage.

How can I describe Charm of Finches? They are a duo, Mabel and Ivy Windred-Wornes. Both sing, and both play multiple instruments. They would probably be labelled "folk", but that's not a good description as their songs are all new and don't have any obvious traditional stylistic influences. They're just songs with beautiful melodies, compelling lyrics, and some of the best harmony vocals you will ever hear. They played around 90 minutes in all, with most of the songs drawn from the current album, a handful from the last one, and a couple of older songs. Plus a Leonard Cohen cover.

Limitations of touring as a duo means the song arrangements are stripped back. They have one violin, one guitar which they share, and one keyboard which they share. But the songs don't feel limited, if you don't know the album versions you will assume they were meant to sound like this, because what matters is the beautiful melodies and the imagery of the lyrics, and they shine through in these arrangements. And the main selling point of the duo, the reason I'm here, is the stunning vocal harmonies, possibly the most beautiful duo harmonising I've ever heard.

All I can think of when I leave the hall is how I need to get to another show on this tour. Because who knows when they'll come here again?