Twelfth Day / Charm of Finches

Drygate Brewery, Glasgow

25 January 2023

The last time I was at a gig under the Celtic Connections banner was almost exactly three years ago, when I came up to Glasgow to see Esther Swift, who happens to be the harpist half of tonight's harp/violin duo Twelfth Day. The violin half of the duo, Catriona Price, is playing here in a couple of days, and as I could only realistically make it to one of the gigs it was a tough choice. The thing that swung it was the other band on the bill, Charm of Finches, who I was first introduced to when they collaborated remotely with Twelfth Day while the bands were locked down in their respective countries. I saw Charm of Finches twice on their UK tour last year. And weirdly, though I've known Twelfth Day for a lot longer, I think I've also only ever seem them live twice before. (Are you keeping up? There will be a quiz later.) So whoever decided to now put these two bands on the same bill is a genius, because it's made this concert basically unmissable.

And while I waited for the concert to start I realised I didn't actually know which of the bands is supposed to be the headline act tonight. And didn't actually care: I would be happy with both sets, no matter what order they came in.

It turns out that Twelfth Day come on first, and they get to play for about 45 minutes, and most of it is familiar from the last time I saw them live and their various on-line concerts, but they also surprise me with an arrangement of a Schubert song (remarkably, sung in German) and then a piece of completely improvised music. Probably the most fascinating part of the whole concert, watching how they interact and what they each choose to play based on what the other is doing. The level of their musicianship just overwhelms me. And right at the end of the concert, they sing Auld Lang Syne, with the whole audience joining in, because apparently it's that night, and we're in Scotland...

After a short interval, Charm of Finches come on and overwhelm me in a completely different way. Despite the obvious superficial similarities—a duo of young women who both sing and play instruments—Charm of Finches and Twelfth Day are not really anything alike. Twelfth Day's music sounds like it draws from jazz and contemporary classical music, and I know Bjork is a big influence on them. They grab your attention with unusual rhythms, syncopation, powerful and pure classical voices, astounding vocal leaps, and biting lyrics. In contrast, Charm of Finches don't forcibly grab your attention, they just wrap it up in beautifully warm harmonies, and you don't want them to let go. Charm of Finches could have written these songs 50 years ago (they cover a Joni Mitchell song in their encore, to emphasise the point), in a world that never heard of Bjork. And though their lyrics are often downbeat, dealing with topics of jealousy, homesickness, loss, and death, the effect is completely uplifting. They are just beautiful songs, and the vocal harmonies are beyond perfect.

I still can't say which set I preferred. So different, but both so good.

And they finished with all four of them on stage, singing Army Dreamers. Concerts just don't get better than this.