Saturday 28 January 2023

Charm Of Finches / Little Sparrow - Salford Sacred Trinity Church - 27th January 2023

Charm Of Finches returned to Greater Manchester after last year's shows in Manchester and Bury for an intimate sold out night in the inspiring surroundings of Salford's Sacred Trinity. Performing songs from their three albums to date as well as new songs from their fourth which they plan to record in Canada next month, the Australian duo had a reverent audience under their spell over two sets. Support came from closer to home in the form of Little Sparrow who reminded us of the majestic beauty of tracks from her debut album Wishing Tree and subsequent singles.

A Little Sparrow show is a rare treat these days, music having to fit around real life and the difficulties facing grassroots artists with no backing or budget. Katie tells us half way through the set that her and Jonny Lexus, on loan from Paul Heaton on guitar, have started work on her second album and that there will be another Portico Library show in September, so there are bright spots on the horizon for one of Manchester's most under-appreciated artists, and over the course of forty-five minutes, to complete silence during the songs, Katie, Jonny and Robin Dewhurst on keys give us a reminder of exactly why she's so adored by those fortunate enough to have crossed her path.

Little Sparrow's songs centre around Katie's vocals which hold the audience's attention throughout, even though there's a sizeable element of them who haven't heard her before. It's welcoming to actually experience that respect from an audience for once. The songs have the versatility to adapt to whatever version of her band she has with her - and the setlist is adapted accordingly. Memories Maid and By My Side don't always appear, but with the trio make perfect sense - the former Katie jokes about her vocals sounding like barking, as she doesn't just sing, but uses her voice to harmonise whilst the latter allows her to put her opera-trained vocals to full effect. Corner Of The Room, which she explains is an attempt to write something more accessible to radio, might not be pop music, but it wouldn't sound out of place anywhere. 

Wishing Tree's title track follows, preceded by a story about spending twenty four hours talking to people pinning wishes to the wishing tree at Glastonbury, whilst a more recent track Dry Your Eyes, from an EP she recorded with Robin, showcases a more pared down version of Little Sparrow. The two final songs, I Found A Way and Struck Gold, are the two highlights - the songs have an ebb and flow, the latter aided by the audience singing the harmonies (in tune, unlike most audience participation) that gives them a real sense of genuine connection and that's achieved through grace and the ability to capture personal emotions in a way that's universal. Commercial or not, that's when music is at its most powerful.

It's a tough act for Charm Of Finches to follow, but those who've seen them before know it's one that they're more than capable of. The two sisters, Mabel and Ivy, may only be in their early twenties, but they've got three albums under their belt as well as national music awards back home in their native Australia and they're already exceptionally accomplished performers, unfazed by playing to a room of strangers thousands of miles away from home. If their trajectory continues, the comparisons to First Aid Kit, may become far more than just musical stylings, sibling relationships and starting off releasing music as teenagers.

They split their show across two thirty-five minute sets that takes heavily from their third album. They have limited instruments at their disposal - an acoustic guitar, a keyboard, a violin and a tambourine - but that's all they need, combined with their vocals which equally as potently with one lead, them harmonising or acting as a call and response. The beauty is in the simplicity on songs like Carry On Breathing and Canyon that open the first set - there's moments throughout where you can hear the quiet before a voice or a note breaks it and that sparsity holds the adoring audience fixed under their spell. The church is a perfectly setting for this, the acoustics allowing everything to be heard crisply and clearly - one day they'll have the challenge of their sound filling out bigger halls, but here the intimacy and closeless really enhances the audience's absorption into these songs.

Like the great storytellers they also take the time to explain their songs before each one which adds to their impact. New song Temporary Home, Mabel tells us, written about homesickness on the road on their four-month tour of Europe in 2022 and alongside new tracks Leave It All Behind, Bend And Break, Human and Clean Cut show that the sisters songwriting craft is developing at quite a pace. The camaraderie between the two adds to the feeling that we're being allowed into something special - a couple of in-jokes, telling us that their final song of the second set Wonderful Oblivion is about death but more cheerful than their others and Mabel gently chastising Ivy for mentioning them recording their next album in Canada and Ivy responding by mentioning it several times in a way only siblings can.

As they finish the evening with a perfectly executed cover of Joni Mitchell's The River, which they manage to keep faithful to the original whilst stamping their own personalities and style on it, no mean feat, they leave the Salford audience talking excitedly about what they've witnessed. One day Charm Of Finches will play churches many times the size of this and those privileged enough to witness them here will be able to smugly reminisce.
Charm Of Finches' website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter

Little Sparrow's website can be found here and she is also on Twitter and Facebook

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