BELINDA O’HOOLEY – Inversions (No Masters NMCD53)

InversionsIf you’ve followed Belinda O’Hooley’s career you’ll be aware of what a fine musician she is and you will have noticed how her talents have grown and developed in the decade that she and Heidi Tidow have worked together. It’s a big step from lugging an electronic keyboard up folk club stairs to playing the Steinway in the Purcell Room, although Belinda and Heidi are sufficiently down to earth to still do the lugging when necessary. Incidentally, Heidi produced and recorded Inversions and provided backing vocals and the voice of the two spoken word pieces so she wasn’t far away.

It’s been quite a year for the duo with ‘Gentleman Jack’ playing in the nation’s living-rooms every Sunday evening and “Little Crumb” expected in October. It’s not surprising that Belinda has embarked on a solo project nor that it was recorded on her favourite piano in the Machynlleth Tabernacle but I have to say that some parts of the album are not what I was anticipating. The development of Inversions began with ‘The Bonny Boy’, which Belinda played at her father’s funeral in 2017. You couldn’t sing the song to Belinda’s development of the tune any more than you could sing ‘Skibbereen’ over Michael McGoldrick’s Uillean pipes but you could manage a verse or two of ‘The Hills Of Greenmore’

Inversions begins and ends with two accompanied poems. The closing piece, ‘My Father’s Reel’, is sometimes a biography of Belinda’s father, sometimes her autobiography and this is her voice we hear. It might be a good idea to play this track first before starting at the beginning – for me it provides a context for what has gone before. Three of the original compositions concern the couple’s love of hill walking – not in their native Yorkshire this time, but Snowdonia. ‘Felingerrig’ is one of Belinda’s more majestic compositions full of big chords, Heidi wrote ‘Aran Fawddwy’ for her favourite mountain and Belinda composed ‘Cadair Idris’, a piece that could have come straight out of Wagnerian opera but also gives us the sound of good Welsh rain.

Inversions is a fascinating album, full of unexpected twists and turns and one which will keep you engrossed for hours.

Dai Jeffries

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The Inversions documentary:

NIC JONES – An Introduction To Nic Jones (Topic TICD014)

An Introduction To Nic JonesAlongside the 80th anniversary celebrations, Topic Records complete their introduction series with An Introduction To Nic Jones. This presented something of a problem. Nic recorded the sublime Penguin Eggs, his final album for them and licensed a set of live recordings which appeared as Game Set Match. The rest of Nic’s catalogue remains unavailable (and we all know why that is, don’t we, boys and girls?) but the label had the man himself to compile the selection and the gift of two previously unreleased studio recordings from 2013 which are enough to sell this album by themselves.

Penguin Eggs provides five tracks starting with the opening, ‘Courting Is A Pleasure’. It’s a perfect start with its deceptively lazy guitar intro leading into a gentle love song – contrast the style with the urgency of ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ later in this set and originally from the same source. Jones’ instrumental prowess is further demonstrated by ‘Hamburger Polka’. Then comes a sequence demonstrating Nic’s unique choice of material. ‘Isle Of France’ is one of his big songs – I only know of a couple of other singers who have performed it – but the story seems implausibly romantic. Next is the tragi-comedy of ‘Billy Don’t You Weep For Me’ followed by the real tragedy of ‘Dives And Lazarus’ and the uproarious story of ‘Barrack Street’ with the distinctive clatter of Tony Hall’s melodeon. You couldn’t find four more different moods handled with such aplomb.

Two written songs lead us up to the present day. Paul Metsers’ ‘Farewell To The Gold’ features chorus vocals by Bridget Danby and Dave Burland and Harry Robertson’s ‘Humpback Whale’ sees Nic solo with a (relatively) modern whaling song. Which leads us to the bonus tracks featuring Nic’s son Joe on guitar and Belinda O’Hooley on accordion and piano. The first is the gorgeous ‘I Only Spoke Portuguese’, written by Bill Worsfold and based on the story of his great-grandfather and listening to the simple emotion that Nic brings to the song it’s easy to forget that it had been more than thirty years since he had been in a studio. The second new track is very different. Written by Nic himself, ‘Now’ expounds his philosophy that there is no point looking back – although if anyone has an excuse to regret the past, it’s Nic Jones.

When you have finished listening to this CD, you’ll want more and I’d respectfully direct you to the Mollie Music website where more delights await.

Dai Jeffries

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Label website: www.topicrecords.co.uk

‘Isle Of France’ – old record/modern video:

GRACE PETRIE – Queer As Folk (own label)

Queer As FolkThe only time I saw Grace Petrie on stage, I was bowled over. I bought an EP and was impressed by that. Always her own person and doing things her way, Grace could now be on the verge of a breakthrough. Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, Queer As Folk is a properly funded album produced by Matthew Daly, who also plays drums, and mixed by Neil Ferguson. Some stellar friends joined her: Miranda Sykes on bass, Hannah James on accordion, Nancy Kerr on fiddle, Belinda O’Hooley on piano and Caitlin Field on bass and percussion. Grace is powerful enough on her own but this gathering pushes her on to another level.

Queer As Folk opens with ‘A Young Woman’s Tale’, a remarkably understated take on Ian Campbell’s ‘Old Man’s Song’ dragged into the 21st century. Its quietness adds to the power of Grace’s words but up next comes an up-tempo reading of Graham Moore’s ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, its pace suggesting a sense of impatience and leaving the listener breathless. ‘This House’ concerns the death of a father, whether Grace’s own we are not told, full of a sense of emptiness like the house he’s left behind. ‘Baby Blue’ is about love betrayed and the powerful ‘Pride’ puts it into context and is where the band comes into its own.

These two songs lead into the superb ‘Black Tie’, which takes the form of a postcard to Grace’s teenage self, reassuring her that it all will work out and containing one of the best rhymes of the year. Grace is affirming her identity here as if we were in any doubt about it. It would be a great single except that it wouldn’t get radio play – the rhyme I mentioned would see to that.

The other cover is ‘Beeswing’. I tend to get a bit protective about Richard Thompson songs but Grace doesn’t need to make many changes except to lose the word “man”. But, and it’s a big but, she misses out the verse about marrying Romany Brown. Why? Is L all right but not B? That’s a disappointment. Nancy and Caitlin give it a folky swing on fiddle and bodhran and it’s one of the best arrangements of the song I’ve heard.

We’re back to politics with ‘Farewell To Welfare’, a song with a really powerful wrap-up but then ‘Iago’ seems to contradict ‘Black Tie’ and I’m still figuring that one out. The closer, ‘Northbound’, sets the life of an itinerant musician to a rocking country beat and is a great way for the record to sign off. Queer As Folk may well turn out to be one of my albums of the year – it’s not perfect but it’s not far off.

Dai Jeffries

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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Artist’s website: www.gracepetrie.com

‘Iago’ – live:

O’HOOLEY & TIDOW – Winterfolk Vol 1 (No Masters NMCD51)

WinterFolkMy 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.

Mike Davies

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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Artists’ website: www.ohooleyandtidow.com

‘Fairytale Of New York’ – live:

The Passerine to make its debut at Shrewsbury Folk Festival

Passerine

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.

The musicians involved in The Passerine are:

– Belinda O’Hooley (UK/Ireland) – musical director/vocals/piano/accordion

– Heidi Tidow (UK/Ireland/Germany) – musical director/vocals/foot percussion

– 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 All also 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.

This year’s festival is from August 25 to 28 at the West Mid Showground and tickets are available at  www.shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk

Belinda and Heidi introduce The Passerine:

COVEN live at the West End Centre, Aldershot

Coven
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

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.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ websites: http://ohooleyandtidow.com/
https://www.ladymaisery.com/about
http://gracepetrie.com/

Venue website: https://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/

‘This Woman’s Work’: