O’Hooley & Tidow in concert at St John on Bethnal Green Church, East London – Saturday 15th December
Join ‘one of British Folk’s mightiest combinations’ (MOJO), O’Hooley & Tidow, for an evening of beautifully performed original, contemporary, and traditional winter songs from their latest album WinterFolk Vol 1, produced with BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Ben Walker.
Nominated this year for the fourth time in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, and described by the Guardian as ‘exceptional songwriters’, Belinda and Heidi’s powerful, deeply moving, and soulful performances are infused with an honesty and empathy that will disarm the hardest of hearts.
‘They sing together in the way families do…like The Coppers or The Watersons’ Tom Robinson, 6 Music
My first Christmas review of the year, it seems to have become de rigueur now that at some point the great and good of the contemporary British folk scene should release an album of festive material. Kate Rusby’s third is due shortly, last year it was Cara Dillon’s turn and now Belinda and Heidi get in on the act. However, being who they are, this isn’t your usual tidings of comfort and joy as they turn a musical eye on the darker corners of the yuletide season. Case in point being a rework of ‘One More Xmas’ from their 2010 album Silent June which offsets a poignant reminiscence of childhood and memories of mum with scenes of domestic abuse, the new version featuring string arrangement for cello and violin with Chumbawamba’s Jude Abbott on swelling flugelhorn solo.
On a similarly poignant, sung unaccompanied, the self-penned ‘Winter Folk Carol’ serves reminder of the need to connect with others, especially at Christmas, and to remember those displaced by war, homelessness, family issues, debt and bereavement as the sing “may there always be a hand to hold”.
A mix of originals, traditional and covers, there’s a couple of other revisits to past work. ‘The Last Polar Bear’ originally appeared on 2012’s The Fragile, restyled here with a more stately, contemplative arrangement anchored by Jo Silverston’s cello and reworked lyrics focusing on loss and loneliness, Likewise, ‘Calling Me’ is another from that same album and also concerns being alone with its hints of death in “Mother Nature’s fingers reaching for my own.”
The starkly sung, cello drone ‘Whitehorn’ goes further back to when O’Hooley was part of Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, the song written for the 2007 album The Bairns and being based on the true story of her Irish great grandmother, the title referring to the tree under which her stillborn babies, being denied a Catholic burial, were laid to rest.
Originally performed by Belinda on her 2013 Lullabies tour with Jackie Oates, the unaccompanied ‘Wexford Lullaby’, written by John Renbourn, is based on the 12th century ‘Wexford Carol’. There’s also two actual traditional carols, first up being a magnificent classical instrumental reading of the 16th Century ‘The Coventry Carol’, recorded in one take with O’Hooley playing the Steinway grand piano at the Museum of Art in Machynlleth. The other, drawing on the duo’s German and Irish heritage and sung in both German and English, is a haunting take on the evergreen ‘Stille Nacht’, dedicated to those babies under the whitehorn. It also rounds off the album with a brief reprise, recorded as they warmed up, Heidi distantly humming the refrain and Belinda tracing out a minimal piano accompaniment.
As mentioned, there’s also covers, the album opening with Steve Ashley’s suitably invitation to break out the ‘Fire & Wine’ with the heralding of winter, while, a staple of the duo’s WinterFolk shows, opening a cappella, Richard Thompson’s ‘We Sing Hallelujah’ strikes a jubilant and joyous complete with tumbling brass from Abbott.
The final number is their arrangement of the song voted Britain’s all time Christmas favourite, ‘Fairytale Of New York’. Previously covered by the likes of Christy Moore, Ronan Keating and Maire Brennan, Razorlight, Amy Macdonald, Damien Dempsey and Sinead O’Connor, The Wurzels and, god help us, Tony Hadley, none sound remotely like this, slow seven-minute version with its strings accompanied waltz on which they do, as the press release puts it, wraps fairy lights around the words.
They’re out on this year’s WinterFolk tour from the start of December and I’d imagine pretty much everything here will feature prominently in the set. If you can’t make a gig, treat yourself to an early present and grab mince pie, a glass of mulled wine and settle back with a copy of the CD.
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Refugees and migrant musicians from Sudan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Israel and India have been named in the line up of a new world music ensemble that will make its debut at this year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival.
The Passerine band, led by folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow, will present fresh arrangements of new and traditional music that will explore and celebrate diverse world cultures during its premiere on the festival’s Bellstone stage on Sunday August 27.
– Sarah Yaseen (UK/Pakistan) – vocals/guitar/darbouka
– Shurooq Abu Nas (Sudan) – vocals
– Avital Raz (Israel) – vocals/guitar/tampura/glockenspiel
– Arian Sadr – (Iran) – daf/goblet drum
– Mina Salama – (Egypt) – oud/ney/vocals/nailute/kawala/duduk/kanun/mandolin/udu-drum
– Vijay Venkat – (India) – violin/flute
– Performance poet Dean Atta (UK/Jamaica/Cyprus) will join the ensemble as narrator and relate new and existing work at the performance.
The Passerine, which means songbird, is one strand of the festival’s Room for All project that will celebrate cultural diversity and highlight the plight of refugees and immigrants. Room for All came as a direct response to the racial hatred and opposition to refugees, migrants and other cultures that emerged during the Brexit campaign.
Belinda O’Hooley said: “The musicians have been handpicked by us. We all have a story about how we came to be in England and how our ethnicity has shaped our experiences and lives; whether we were born here to migrant parents or migrated here ourselves.”
Heidi Tidow added: “The Passerine will include stories of flight to safer havens, away from conflict and political oppression, as well as the experience of xenophobia and racial prejudice within the UK. Above all, however, it will be a celebration of the wide-ranging and amazing culture in the UK today.”
Room for Allalso includes a programme of education and outreach work in the rural county that has relatively little exposure to world music and dance. It is being part funded by a £95,000 investment from Arts Council England. Shropshire Council has awarded the festival a £1,000 Arts Revenue Grant. It follows on from the festival’s successful All Together Now programme that focused on introducing a new audience to world music and dance during 2015 and 2016.
Coven aren’t so much a group as a collective made up of three elements. On the one hand there is the musical delicacy of Lady Maisery and on the other the homespun Yorkshire charm that O’Hooley & Tidow exploit. In the middle is Grace Petrie, a thorn between two roses, and more of her anon.
They originally came together three years ago to celebrate International Women’s Day, which coincidentally was the date of this event, and their show still has that as its central theme. Lady Maisery opened with ‘Sing For The Morning’ from their latest album followed by ‘Portland Town’, a remarkable arrangement featuring fiddle and feet before finishing with ‘The Crow On The Cradle’.
Next came Grace Petrie who I hadn’t heard before. She’s something of a fire-brand and the wit of her stage chat carries over into her writing. Her first song, ‘A Revolutionary In The Wrong Time’, describes her career: “not folky enough for Whitby; not cool enough for Cambridge” is her self-deprecating description. The second song, written for her niece Ivy, describes rushing away from Glastonbury to be home for her arrival. It is probably the most unsentimental sentimental song you’ll hear and Grace wrapped up her set with her contender for the new national anthem, ‘God Save The Hungry’. I really liked her and her crusade to prove that there are still protest singers around – and that there is still a need for them.
Belinda and Heidi chose three songs about inspiring women: ‘Beryl’ and ‘The Pixie’ from Shadows and ‘Too Old To Dream’ from their first album. Three songs about three very different women in very different circumstances.
Coven only sang six songs as a unit, the six that appear on their EP, ‘Unholy Choir’, and I found that a little disappointing. The first of these closed the first half: Rowan Rheingans’ new setting of ‘Bread And Roses’ which dispenses with the martial rhythm of the more usual version.
The second set followed a slightly different pattern. O’Hooley & Tidow opened with ‘Gentleman Jack’ and ‘The Needle & The Hand’ before bringing the whole group together for ‘Coil & Spring’. Lady Maisery did likewise with ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ and ‘Order And Chaos’ before ‘This Woman’s Work’. Grace’s two solos led into ‘If There’s A Fire In Your Heart’ to close the show.
Well, of course, there were two encores; The Roches’ ‘Quittin’ Time’ and ‘Never Turning Back’ and Coven really gave us our money’s worth with a show that lasted well over two hours and never outstayed its welcome. There are five gigs left on this tour and that will be it until next year unless the rumours of summer festivals are true. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, let me explain. Coven combines the prodigious talents of Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, Lady Maisery (Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans) and Grace Petrie. They have worked together, when commitments permit, for about three years having got together for International Women’s Day but Unholy Choir is the first time they have recorded. A word of warning, though, this six-track EP will only be available at gigs on their tour starting on March 1st.
Much of the material is drawn from back catalogues but these are all new recordings that combine the power of six voices and their instrumental skills. The opening track is ‘Coil & Spring’, written by O’Hooley and Tidow with the assistance of Boff Whalley about the Pussy Riot protest. I must have chosen itself as it gives the EP its title. Next is ‘Bread & Roses’. Rowan has given the song a new tune which makes it less of a march with a much more English feel. An inspired move.
‘This Woman’s Work’ is an obvious choice and Kate Bush’s song gives the group something to get their musical teeth into but, being old and male, I prefer ‘Quitting Time’ by the late Maggie Roche. Its footloose feel is enhanced by Belinda’s rolling piano but softened by the sweetness of six voices in harmony. Grace wrote ‘If There’s A Fire In Your Heart’ and she sings it an appropriately confrontational style. The message is simple: get out there and do something, however small.
The final track was recorded live. It’s Pat Humphries’ anthemic ‘Never Turning Back’. It’s a song I didn’t know from a writer I hadn’t heard of but I wasn’t surprised to learn that Pat knew Pete Seeger. Coven sing it a capella (the way Pat does) using the natural acoustics of Cooper Hall where they made the record and it brings the set to a rousing, optimistic close.
You have twelve chances this year to hear Coven live and acquire a copy of Unholy Choir. Don’t miss out.
There’s a new gang in town and if their publicity photographs are any guide they mean business. Coven combines the talents of O’Hooley & Tidow, Lady Maisery (Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans) and singer Grace Petrie. Belinda O’Hooley explains how it all came about.
“We were introduced to Grace’s work by Huw Pudner at The Valley Folk Club in Pontardawe. He was raving about her, and around the same time, Jude Abbott from the No Masters Co-op was also singing her praises. We watched some of her stuff on YouTube and thought she was such a firebrand, standing up for what she believes in and doing great things for women. We spent a summer doing the same concerts at festivals as Lady Maisery and were blown away by their live show. We got to know them along the way. Heidi and Rowan chatted about doing something as a collective at some point, and here we all are!
“Coven was Heidi’s idea. She had previously set up a Women Make Music night in Huddersfield and had experience of this sort of thing. Both Lady Maisery and Grace Petrie were well up for forming a collective with us and celebrating International Women’s Day in a series of concerts. The first Coven tour was just three dates which all sold out. The second year, we played ten dates and this year, we’ve got twelve.”
The name could be something of a hostage to fortune. Whose idea was it?
“I can’t remember who thought the name up, it wasn’t me. I think it suits us; a gaggle of witches.”
I couldn’t possibly comment on that but the press photos seem to suggest that Belinda and Heidi are the dominant force. Either that or it’s a case of big’uns in the middle and little-uns on the ends.
“Ha! I think it looks like me and Rowan have got married and the rest of Coven are our bridesmaids. Elly Lucas took the photo at Kellam Island in Sheffield. We love the way she utilises the background of a rusty metal fence with the sunlight, to create texture and atmosphere. She’s a bit good. Looking at that photo, I wouldn’t want to mess with any of us.”
Again, I couldn’t possibly comment but what can we expect from a Coven gig?
“The show consists of us performing separately in our bands and also collectively together on existing material and also songs that Coven members have brought to the group. Over the course of the last two tours, these songs have taken on a life of their own and it has been very rewarding and exciting to record them and make an EP.”
Having developed rather below the radar over the last couple of years, Coven are embarking on a fully-fledged tour in March. Can we take it that Coven will be an on-going project?
“I think all of us want Coven to be an ever developing project as we all have so much to give to it. We all seem to get on really well and there is room for creativity and expression both individually and as a collective. It helps that we all like vegan food too. Hannah James is the most wonderful vegan chef, and kept us all fed beautifully for the five days we spent at Cooper Hall, Frome recording the EP. Fay Goodridge invited us there, and through their bursary scheme, we were able to record in their extraordinary venue. This EP, recorded by me and Heidi and mixed and mastered by Neil Ferguson will be available initially exclusively on the tour”