It’s been a happening few months for Caitlin Gilligan and Lee Parry, collectively known as Finch and the Moon.
The harmony-driven acoustic pairing recently headlined an event at Manchester’s Castle Hotel, helping spread the word about their From Sand to Sea four-track EP.
They led a bill effectively showcasing a growing North-West folk scene, and while featuring just Caitlin and Lee on their debut release, I get the feeling they may branch out from here.
Lee was on a bus into Manchester ahead of a Paris weekend when we caught up, and I don’t reckon it was just that he was sharing public transport making him come over shy.
Believe me, this is a fella unlikely to go big on self-promotion, reticent to give too many rock-n-‘roll soundbites detailing a bright musical future.
Nevertheless, it’s been a promising start to 2015 for Finch and the Moon, with plenty of interest in their first recordings and a good night had by all at their Castle launch.
Caitlin’s brother Calum Gilligan (who has appeared with Lucy Hume in the rather splendid Subject to Change) and Jonny Woodhead also put in sparkling solo sets on the night.
In fact, looking at the photographs, I thought I’d stumbled upon out-takes from the Coen brothers’ 2013 movie Inside Llewyn Davis, the early ‘60s Greenwich Village scene transported to the North-West of England. So how did Lee feel the launch went?
“It was really well attended, and the support acts were great, both Jonny and Calum. Our set went through without too many hitches, and we sold a few CDs.”
Those who got along certainly seemed to be raving about it. Has the Castle in Manchester become something of a home from home?
“Kind of. It’s a great venue and the sound system’s really good too. We’ve been lucky enough to get a few support slots there so far.”
There seems to be something of a semi-acoustic movement around Greater Manchester at the moment, which no doubt you feel part of.
“I’d say so. It’s been strong for a while, and this year should see a big push, with a lot more big gigs.”
Lee also name-checked other performers on that scene, including Alastair James Dickie and Joe McAdam, with the latter’s open mic. event at the Whiskey Jar a regular Tuesday night haunt.
So go on then, Lee – explain the name, Finch and the Moon. I’m thinking it’s related to Scout or Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s classic 1960 US novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
“You are correct! We spent ages thinking of a name and then decided to adopt these two characters. I think Finch was my suggestion, while Caitlin is enamoured with the moon and all things celestial.”
(Incidentally, when I was putting this together, my 15-year-old daughter reminded me of a character called Finch in the Chocolate Box series by Caitlin’s mum, best-selling author Cathy Cassidy. But perhaps that’s another story, so to speak)
I’m getting a band feel on a couple of the EP’s tracks, thinking Finch and the Moon might in time evolve a little from this current two-piece.
“Absolutely, especially for the bigger gigs. It was me and Caitlin playing all the instruments this time, which was nice to do, but it would be good to get more people involved and chip in new ideas.”
The EP’s title is there in the somewhat dreamy lead track Baby, Lay with Me – ‘my kingdom from sea to sand’.
“Yeah, well, we were talking about something set in stone that would explain the feel of it.”
It’s a beautiful song, the tandem vocals underpinned by understated guitar and Caitlin’s occasional flight of fancy tangents. It works on at least two levels – as a sweet lullaby or an outright love song with a ‘me and you against the world’ sentiment.
Do they both pitch in with the lyrics and music?
“It tends to be one or other of us coming in with a verse or chorus, and we either go ahead or dismiss it, putting it in a list of maybes.”
I have to say, Lee’s vocal on lead track Baby, Lay With Me and the EP’s pensive closer This Town Has Fallen brings to mind Art Garfunkel.
“Oh, that’s great – thank you!”
And perhaps the overall harmony suggests an Everly Brothers touch too. Did you grow up around those kind of influences?
“I did, with a bit of classic rock or dad rock too. Those harmony-driven influences were a big part of my growing up.
You also cite Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan – possibly with Caitlin’s folk roots shining through, a love she shares with her brother and parents. Was it the same with Lee?
“Absolutely. And like you say, with Caitlin, her brother plays that kind of set, and with her parents that stuff’s played around the house quite a bit. There’s a nice kind of organic, freedom-fighting kind of influence there.”
Finch and the Moon’s influences also extend to blues and gospel. But it’s not all about the past. I’ve heard Laura Marling mentioned. So what other contemporary acts appeal?
“Well, I wish Fleet Foxes would bring something else out, and really like New Orleans-based Hurray for the Riff Raff, who I’ve been lucky enough to see a couple of times in Manchester.”
A lot of that vast musical mood-board can be heard in Caitlin’s voice, which takes us into a whole different setting at times.
You can definitely hear Americana influences, but Finch and the Moon don’t come over as copyist. Maybe there’s a bit of the Girl from the North Country there, and I don’t just mean the Bob Dylan song.
“Absolutely, yeah, and Caitlin grew up in the hills of Galloway, so Scottish folk was a big part of her growing up.”
Funny you should say that, as one of the tracks prompted me to scribble down ‘The Proclaimers’, thinking of some of their more country moments.
It’s not all guitars and sublime harmonies though. How about Lee’s whistling skills on the new record – is that difficult to pull off live?
“I whistle all the time while walking around, so get lots of practise. It’s not too hard actually. There’s a bit of fiddly mic. technique, mind.”
Respect. I’d get the giggles, whether I was trying to emulate Otis Redding, John Lennon, Bryan Ferry or even Roger Whittaker.
So is the washboard, which also features, a new-found skill for Caitlin?
“That’s quite new to her. She really likes Pokey la Farge, who have a very Cajun feel, and they use washboard, harmonica and all that.”
Lee was at the controls for all the songs on the EP. Is that something he’s learning as he goes along?
“I studied music tech at A-level a few years ago, and ever since I’ve recorded my own material in the bedroom.”
But in this case, all the songs were recorded in Caitlin’s parents’ kitchen in the Wirral, I believe.
“Yeah, it’s great, a really nice sound. I was there one weekend, having a cup of coffee and just realised how good it sounded, so thought, ‘Let’s do it here!’
Are those yer actual Birkenhead birds (cue 1970s politically-incorrect imagery) singing at the beginning?
“Yes, we captured a few outside.”
Not literally, I’m guessing. And it was all recorded over four days, so I guess it all just fell right for you.
“It was pretty much non-stop. Caitlin’s family were away for a long weekend, so we worked right through.”
There’s a feeling of motive power – be it on the North American railroads or our own West Coast mainline – attached to the EP’s country-tinged second track Train of Thought.
“That’s one of Caitlin’s, and I think mostly inspired by that. Being from Scotland, she spent a lot of time heading down to Manchester for uni.”
There’s a nice retro feel there, and an array of styles, while third track I Miss You, I’m Blue and I’m Down is perhaps my favourite on the EP.
It could be Johnny and June Carter Cash, but perhaps more likely Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter Sarah Lee Guthrie harmonising with Johnny Irion.
“That actually came from an Everly Brothers listening session, evolving from those sweet harmonies and simple chords.”
There’s a cinematic sound throughout too, and – like all of these tracks to some extent – it seems tailor-made for a film soundtrack. Maybe I just need to pen a film that goes with it.
“Yeah? Thank you!”
So did they record any other songs for these sessions?
“We did one other, The Keeper, but it’s more a sea shanty and a little more upbeat, so didn’t quite fit in with the overall vibe.”
What happens next? Dare I mention a debut album?
“Eventually, yeah. We’ve just put lots of Manchester gigs together to push the EP, and a few further afield in York, and have applied for a long list of summer festivals.”
Any particular highlights spring to mind from your first nine months performing together?
“Yes, the Wickerman Festival was amazing, where we got to open the acoustic stage on the Friday.”
As well as that growing South-West Scotland annual event, there was an outdoor highlight in North Yorkshire, at Galtres. I have to admit my ignorance here though – I thought that was an overseas festival. And you have to admit, it does sound French.
The band have a bit of a following East of the Pennines too, not least as Lee’s originally from York, having met Caitlin while both were students in Manchester.
That’s all behind them now though, Lee graduating in September and Caitlin just before, with Finch and the Moon now taking up much of the pair’s time. So do they both still play solo gigs as well?
“We do, and happened to record Caitlin’s debut EP at the same time as this. I think it’s nice for us both to have outlets beside the duo.”
Do the solo shows help build confidence, or was that never an issue?
“I’ve been playing live around 12 years now, and have known everything that can go wrong to go wrong … so yes!”
I get the impression you can’t really teach a good harmony though. Was it a pretty intuitive thing for you when you joined forces?
“Absolutely. I was sat in the Whiskey Jar when I heard Caitlin for the first time, and something just clicked. I thought I’ve got to get on board with her. And that was it!”
I know a little about the Gilligan clan as a creative pool. So how about the Parry family?
“Erm … just me, I’m afraid. Or at least nothing at all that I can find.”
Finally, your press suggests ‘a mutual love for songs with a laid-back feel and emphasis on a strong melody/harmony line’. I think I might have worked that out! Ever feel the need to rock out a bit?
“Well … not so much. But now you mention it, we both like First Aid Kit, and were saying the other day how their first two albums were pretty laid-back while the latest is more rocky.
“But for now we just love singing and strong melodies and letting the music speak for itself.”