Last Friday I spent a very enjoyable evening at Hyde Park Book Club. Charm of Finches, together with their support act, Serin, presented a fresh and very welcome approach to folk music to a discerning audience in Leeds.
Charm of Finches are Mabel and Ivy Windred-Wornes. They hail from Melbourne and in 2021 they won Music Victoria Best Folk Act. The duo exude confidence and professionalism beyond their years, Mabel is twenty two and Ivy nineteen. Their stage presence is not surprising, given that they recorded their first EP when they were just fourteen and eleven. They played music from all three of their albums and the early EP, Home.
Charm of Finches are named after a collective noun for a group of finches. Their name is indicative of an interest in the natural world. The pair demonstrate high levels of musicianship. Ivy’s violin playing is more in the classical than folk tradition. Mabel used the guitar to both accompany and drive songs. Both women skilfully played the keyboard, although their voices really leave the most lasting impression. They have an easy ability to harmonise that perhaps can only belong to siblings who have grown up and learned music together, and have been compared to Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit, who are playing the Piece Hall in June. Both duos produce complex harmonies whilst never losing the individuality of each voice.
They write all their own material, with a focus upon life, love and grief. Their indie folk tackles big themes but never in a way that is self indulgent, with poetical lyrics which seem driven by a need to understand and marvel at the world. Some lines stayed with me long after the performance, ‘now I know your side of the story I struggle to see my own’, a line in Paint me a Picture, raising big questions about individuality and relationships.
Surprisingly, one of the most positive songs was Wonderful Oblivion, the title track of their new album. Surprising because the track is about death, and the topic is one that the pair seem quite happy to contemplate. Mabel prefaced the song by telling us that their favourite TV series is ‘Six Feet Under’ and that their father is an undertaker.
Earlier they had sung The Bridge, a song prompted by meeting grieving young people on a bridge. They explained ‘we found out their friend had jumped off the bridge during a party and didn’t make it’. This song explores the shock and devastation experienced when people die young. The line ‘our laughter turned to howling when gravity took you in his hold’ summed up the transformation from joy to grief.
Wonderful Oblivion is a very different song. It is nihilistic in its approach to death but still positive. The chorus makes it clear that death is natural, not to be feared. Their image of a ‘well of wonderful oblivion’ was reassuring rather than threatening.
Charm of Finches were supported by local folk duo Serin. They were a perfect match. Wren Boon and Lucy Bacon combine vocal harmonies, powerful violin melodies and gentle guitar. They also focus on birds, which featured in their set – from Wren’s composition Canary to the traditional Black Crow. They list themes in their songs as queerness, powerful women, and birdwatching.
Wren is composing some interesting songs concerning attitudes to gender. I hope they soon produce a record as their lyrics are worth repeat listening. Wren summed up their songs as being about birds and sadness. Lucy introduced their final song Oak and Jay as being more positive as it focussed upon friendship, then went on to point out that the friends are a long way apart, so there’s still some melancholy.
It’ll be interesting to see how this duo develop. Musically their performance was at its strongest when they performed Black Crow. The guitar was left to the side and Wren’s voice was allowed to shine. Both performers showed themselves very accomplished singers with skilful harmonisation.
This is Charm of Finches’ first visit to Europe. They say they hope they’ll return to Melbourne with suitcases empty of CDs and full of vintage clothing. Watch their videos on YouTube and you’ll buy into their love of vintage dresses. The dresses are often dyed and then put into historical or natural settings, adding the beauty in their melancholy.
They leave the UK for mainland Europe mid-month, visiting the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Sweden, then return to the UK in July, finishing their tour at the Live Room in Saltaire on 31st July. I’m certain they’ll be given an enthusiastic welcome when they return to Yorkshire.
Photography by Jazz Jennings.