Folk used to be the preserve of beardy blokes in Arran sweaters singing about nautical disasters. Now the likes of Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow are reclaiming our nation’s traditional music for a new generation.
O’Hooley used to tinkle the ivories for The Unthanks before hooking up with fellow Huddersfield lass Tidow to form a duo that has produced three critically acclaimed albums. The critics are wetting themselves over their new album The Hum.
“We have been stunned actually but we had a quiet confidence because we were so proud of the album,” says Tidow. “But you never know how the press and everyone will react.”
Sometimes an artist produces an album that is a game changer and The Hum’s fuller sound is the one where this pair have stepped up a couple of gears.
“The biggest difference this time is we are working with a producer called Gerry Diver who has played all the instruments and then developed the sound of it in his studio,” explains Tidow. “He’s done lots of different mixing and production techniques which we hadn’t done before so he has given us a totally new sound.
“Since we brought out The Fragile in 2012 we’ve done an awful lot of touring so our singing, our playing and the way we work together has really developed. You can hear that on The Hum.
“We’re much confident and the vocals are stronger, plus we felt very passionate about the topics we write about on this album as we are very much going through a difficult political period which has really informed this album.”
As well as intense songs like Two Mothers recalling the appalling shipping off of orphans to Australia in the 1950s, these proud Yorkshire women reflect on what it is like to live in a close knit community where people accept you for who you are.
Tidow says: “We live in the Colne Valley and there is a very strong community feel because it is a bit outside of Huddersfield town centre. There is a whole network of people helping each other out and people talk to each other. In a lot of ways it’s quite old fashioned as there are old mill houses and weaver cottages. People seem to come together which is important in these times of the internet and people talking less so you really need your community.”
Like all great songs The Hum was written to honour someone who not only influenced the pair’s artistic thinking but their lives too.
“The song The Hum was very much inspired by our neighbour Mrs Peace who lived on our street for a very long time, and she has given me and Belinda a lot of wisdom,” recalls Tidow. “She told us a lot about the area, she has seen it all really. She told us the story about the factory, the hum that came out of it and these people who pulled out of the sale of a house because of that humming. That sparked a lot of ideas in us about the importance of work and how the North has been decimated by the loss of industry. That is very important to us both because we were born in Yorkshire and our families have been through that difficult period when textile industry went downhill.”
Despite their commitment to social justice the duo do have a sense of humour, penning the jaunty Summat’s Brewing as a tribute to the real ale fraternity who are often to be found in the nation’s folk clubs.
“Me and Belinda are mad about real ale and because we are on the folk scene playing at festivals we get to sample of lot of ales,” smiles Tidow. “We’ve done a lot research for this song which was really, really hard work!
“It is really a tribute to the real ale revolution in Huddersfield as there are a lot micro-breweries popping up all the place all producing fantastic ale. I think people are starting to realise that there is more to drinking than cheap gassy lager, and there are quality ales being brewed in your local area.
“We wanted to incorporate the traditional refrain ‘Oh good ale, thou art my darling’ and put a modern twist on it. Our research into ale continues quite regularly.”
O’Hooley recently toured with lost folk legend Nic Jones who is back on the road after decades recovering from a horrific car crash that almost ended his life. But is it still a bit risky covering his Ruins By The Shore which is a bona fide folk classic?
“Nic always says ‘if you are going to cover one of my songs, please don’t copy it’. Mess it up or ruin it so we thought that is what we will do,” laughs Tidow. “So we’ve added a minor element to it and made it bit more classical, and thankfully he likes it.”
The Staves are another band making name for themselves on the nu-folk circuit; as they are three sisters there is a telepathic understanding between them when they harmonise. Is the same true for Tidow working with her partner?
“We’ve always enjoyed singing together and it was what brought us together in the first place. So the longer we sing together the more telepathy we have with each other. It’s lovely to have that trust with someone on stage because you know where they are going to go, so if they do something different on the night you can go with it.”
Ticket info here: http://themet.biz/event/o%27hooley+and+tidow/1867/
They also play the National Centre for Early Music in York on March 12, 2014