Melbourne sisters Charm Of Finches' long European tour is drawing to a close and Sunday night saw them pay their first ever visit to Manchester for a ninety-minute set in the ballroom above Gullivers pub in the Northern Quarter where Mabel and Ivy held an audience's attention captive for an hour and a half. Support came from closer to home in the form of Megan Dixon-Hood.
Megan Dixon-Hood opens the evening playing keyboards and accompanied by Jake on drums playing a set of songs that are mainly taken from an album that she's been recording over the past two years and has just completed. The songs are well-crafted, thought out and make the most use of the impressive range in her voice. There's her next single Athena, a powerful call to arms about female empowerment, the "really happy" but not so happily titled Drown and the set-closing Cloudwalker, a song she describes as being about the carefree nature of festivals and how inspiring that is to her. They bravely take on a cover of Massive Attack's Teardrops and put their own interpretation on a song that might overwhelm less talented musicians. She's amongst friends tonight, as she's been a regular at promoter Red Balloon's events, but gets a very warm response to the set.
Charm Of Finches are coming towards the end of a gruelling four-month European tour, of which they regale us with stories, but if Mabel (vocals, guitar) and Ivy (keys, violin and vocals) are travel and performance-fatigued you'd never know. The sister duo are promoting their third album Wonderful Oblivion that they recorded during one of Melbourne's lockdowns that made Manchester's extended ones seem like a long weekend as well as playing tracks from their debut Staring At The Starry Ceiling and its follow-up Your Company plus a yet untitled new track.
They don't just play the songs though, they give us a fascinating insight into them and their creation, gently rib themselves for their Australian accents as they perform two sets of about forty-minutes each, allowing the audience time to catch their breath and excitedly discuss what they'd witnessed as there was complete silence as they played. Their voices complement each other perfectly, whether acting in union or Ivy providing a contrast to Mabel's lead with beautiful harmonies or when they take on call and response.
Whether it's the personal songs, like The Bridge about the loss of a friend, Fossil In Stone's stresses of a fourteen year-old Mabel that she still says resonate today or the pains of growing up in Wonderful Oblivion's lead single As A Child, or the observational Where Do The Ducks Go? based off Catcher In The Rye, Wonderful Oblivion's title track described as a "lullaby about death" or their gorgeous cover of Joni Mitchell's River, they draw you into the stories and then hook you in with the harmonies and melodies.
It's simple in many ways, often with just an acoustic guitar, but it's compelling and beautiful. The world is a big place and all around it there are magnificent musicians doing their own thing their own way as Charm Of Finches have been doing for close to a decade. But here they are on the other side of the world from home, doing what every musician dreams of doing, playing to a room of strangers who are intoxicated by and fixated on your art. Charm Of Finches should be on big open stages and not an oppressively hot room above a pub where they can make thousands rather than a few dozen fall completely under their spell.