O’HOOLEY & TIDOW – Shadows (NoMasters NMCE47)

ShadowsTheir third album in as many years, after the two-handed format of The Hum and the limited hand-signed micro-release Summat’s Brewin’, the duo’s fifth studio outing, Shadows, sees them return to the fuller sound of their first two albums with a post-Bellowhead Pete Flood on drums, Andy Seward on double bass, frequent collaborator Jude Abbott providing brass and Rowan Rheingans on fiddle and viola. There’s also a, perhaps surprise, appearance from Michele Stodart of The Magic Numbers contributing electric bass guitars and Ebow.

With songs about home, the environment, nature, inspirational women and social issues, it’s familiar territory, comprising a couple of covers alongside the self-penned material, the latter including two instrumentals. But familiarity doesn’t breed complacency, and the writing and performances here as every much as impassioned as any fledgling act looking to make an impressive debut.

It opens with a love letter to their home, ‘Colne Valley Hearts’, and the strength and fortitude it instils, the songs itself beginning with birth (“smacked me head coming out, made me rugged, shoulders broad. Ready to carry, ready to work”) as Belinda provides jittery piano accompaniment to Heidi’s vocals, the chorus refrain “cold hands, warm hearts lighting up the cut tonight” as much a defiant anthem of Northern pride as “the fog on the Tyne is all mine”.

From Huddersfield, the album expands to take in the bigger picture with the first of the socio-political numbers, the trumpet-streaked ‘Made In England’. Written in response to the worrying rise of UKIP a few years back, it draws as much on music hall as it does traditional folk it’s a ‘Ballad of Britain’ for “you everyone that inhabit dear old Albion”, a rejection of the UKIP view (and that of “Mosely’s henchmen” before them) that “foreigners are thieves and perves” who just “pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap”, and a celebration of multiculturalism “with me ruby murray, kebab in a hurry, fags and Becks from the corner shop, head to toe in Pradamark.”

Equally pointed, based on an old Sunday School hymn titled ‘Little Reapers’ and sung with starkly interwoven voices, sombre piano ballad ‘Reapers’ is in the voice of a child and initially appears to about innocents, leading lost souls to God, but, in the second verse takes on a darker hue that explains why it is dedicated to all children abused at the hands of the Church.

The abuse of children, in this case their forced migration to Commonwealth countries between 1869 and 1970, is at the heart of ‘The Dark Rolling Sea’. It’s actually a short piano instrumental that grew out of Tidow’s obsession with an instrumental passage in ‘Why Did I Leave Thee?’, a setting of a poem by child migrant Frederick Henderson, the duo set to music for last year’s Ballads Of Child Migration album. The other instrumental, a solo O’Hooley composition, is the simple but no less resonant title track, which, played on the Machynlleth Tabernacle Trust’s Steinway, she says reflects how playing piano helps express emotions she finds hard to verbalise.

It’s not all gloom. ‘Blankets’ may concern baby elephants orphaned by poachers or human-wildlife conflict (it’s inspired by the David Sheldrick Widlife Trust in Kenya), but its tremulously crooned, brass and piano slow waltz focuses on the brightly coloured blankets that give them comfort, safety and warmth. Likewise, turning to inspiring women, the uptempo ‘Beryl’ is a tribute to Beryl Burton, a Leeds cyclist who, despite chronic health problems, became a champion racing cyclist, the track taking an appropriately jaunty approach with the sort of breezy chorus Gracie Fields who have loved. This is followed by its companion piece, the piano tinkling ‘The Pixie’, another tribute (commissioned for the WWI commemoration event at 2014 Glastonbury), this time to Oxenham’s Daisy “Pixie” Daking, a dance teacher and member of the Cecil Sharp’s EFDS, who, in 1917, went to France as part of the YMCA to boost the war-weary troops’ morale by teaching them morris, sword, and country dancing, something she continued until 1919.

Of the album’s two covers, one is the strings-adorned ‘River’, Joni Mitchell’s Christmas-set bluesy regretful rumination on a lost relationship, a song they featured in last year’s winter shows in Marsden, while the other, the dreamy and rather lovely piano ballad ‘Small, Big Love’ was actually penned for them by Kathryn Williams and Graham Hardy to celebrate their wedding.

Which leaves ‘The Needle and the Hand’, a key track yet also the only number that doesn’t have an annotation in the lyric booklet. However, gradually swelling on drums and swirling strings, rhyming pewter and fuchsia and with lyrics that concern changing seasons, regeneration, tattooing – or rather beautilation – (it actually features the sound of a tattoo needle) and memory, it draws on Tidow’s own troubled childhood as seen through now adult eyes and concerns guilt, love, self-worth, self-discovery and embracing the fullness of life. These are shadows you really do want to lose and find yourself in.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: http://ohooleyandtidow.com/

‘Beryl’ – live at Grewelthorpe Village Hall:

O’HOOLEY & TIDOW live at The Live Room, Saltaire

O’HOOLEY & TIDOW live at The Live Room, Saltaire
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

What is there new to say about O’Hooley & Tidow? The Hum tour was almost over by late July and the songs well established after countless performances, although Belinda and Heidi never lose the passion in their music, and they are full of confidence. This, however, was O’H & T on their own turf at a venue full of friends and family where everyone seemed to know everyone else and if they didn’t know you they made it their business to find out. Before I’d settled down I was in conversation with the venue’s photographer and being introduced to Belinda’s father, Seamus. You don’t get that in Camden Town.

They opened with ‘The Hum’, a song that starts small and gets big, and ‘Just A Note’, another song that began with something small and says a lot. After the a capella trio of ‘Spancil Hill, ‘Teardrop’ and ‘Banjololo’ came the moment we were waiting for: the live recording of ‘Summat’s Brewin’’ for their next album. We did our best. ‘Two Mothers’ was stunning with Belinda unleashing a tidal wave of piano and Heidi clinging to the microphone stand to withstand the storm.

Photograph by Dai Jeffries
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

The second half began with more serious songs including ‘The Tallest Tree’ and ‘Peculiar Brood’ before Seamus was encouraged up on stage – it didn’t take much encouragement – to sing ‘Phil The Fluter’s Ball’ and completely steal the show. After ‘A Daytrip’ and ‘Kitsune’ they finished with ‘Like Horses’ and returned to encore with ‘Gentleman Jack’. And then…

It seemed we’d not done terribly well on ‘Summat’s Brewin’’ so we did it again, Belinda nailed the piano solo to her satisfaction and Neil Ferguson didn’t have to keep us in after school (but they’ll probably dub Coope Boyes And Simpson on later). And then … there had been a request for ‘Too Old To Dream’ so it was sung and that was a good finisher. And then … Belinda and Heidi came down on the floor to sing a beautiful and heartfelt ‘Parting Glass’ by which time the poor compère had no idea what was going on. You don’t get that in Camden Town, either.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://ohooleyandtidow.com/

‘Just A Note’ – official video:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Land Of Hope & Fury (Union Music Store UMS009)

Land Of Hope & FuryLand Of Hope & Fury is a collection of contemporary protest songs – a compilation inspired by the realisation on May 8th 2015 of the enormity of what the British people had done. Not just the greedy and the fascists but also those too pusillanimous to stand up for what they actually believe in. We can thank Stevie and Jamie Freeman for the work that went into putting it together.

The album opens quietly with Luke Jackson’s ‘Forgotten Voices’, the story of an old soldier left on the scrapheap feeling that his voice counts for nothing. It may be better to protest by whispering in someone’s ear than screaming in their face and even Mark Chadwick is quite restrained but I kept having the feeling that what the record needed was one really good rant. Moulettes’ ‘Lullaby’ is a lovely song but it’s somewhat opaque in this context. ‘The Hum’, from O’Hooley & Tidow’s third album takes a positive line, one that’s on the side of working people. OK, it sticks it to the aspirational middle class but that’s almost incidental.

Lucy Ward’s ‘Bigger Than That’ is a real killer track – still quiet but with uncompromising lyrics and ‘Filthy Lucre’ by The Mountain Firework Company does the same to the sound of a hillbilly banjo. There are excellent songs from Phil Jones, Will Varley and Chris T-T and Plumhall’s ‘Never Forget My Name’ serves as a warning to the slavers and taskmasters and Grace Petrie’s ‘If There’s A Fire In Your Heart’ acts as a rallying cry.

So, this is a really good collection of songs for our troubled times but, you know what, it still needs one really good rant.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: facebook

Plumhall – ‘Never Forget My Name’:

Land Of Hope & Fury – what it’s all about

Land Of Hope & Fury

A message from Jamie & Stevie Freeman:

We woke up on May 8th to election results that left tens of millions of people feeling disenfranchised and without a voice. Rather than wait quietly for another five years before we got to have our say, we decided to return to the proud musical tradition of the protest song. Our votes might have counted for nothing, but we could still make our voices heard.

We contacted our many friends in the roots music world and asked them to contribute something to a compilation of contemporary protest songs, and the results were an incredibly diverse range of musical, emotional and political styles. Land Of Hope & Fury was born. Sixteen artists in total donated songs with nine of them written specifically for the album. This coming together of people, all acting out of simple desire to make the world a better place, has been the single most encouraging aspect of this project, It is the proof that Margaret Thatcher’s suggestion that “there’s no such thing as society” is as wrong today as ever it was.

38 Degrees

We didn’t want to profit financially from the album, so we looked for a suitable beneficiary that was aligned with our frustrations, but not bound to one set of policies. Politics had let us down, so a campaigning group from outside of the political system seemed like a good choice. We felt 38 Degrees’ mix of online petitioning and real-world actions was just right for Land Of Hope And Fury, and they were delighted to take part. We couldn’t be happier to have them alongside us.”

Jamie’s brother Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, The Office, Sherlock) made a video supporting the Labour Party, so his family are no stranger to politics.

Track List

Luke Jackson – Forgotten Voices
Mark Chadwick (Levellers)  –  No Change
Emily Barker – Doing The Best I can
Moulettes – Lullaby
Lucy Ward – Bigger Than That
The Jamie Freeman Agreement – Homes for Heroes
The Self Help Group  – Funeral Drum
The Dreaming Spires – Follow The Money
Mountain Firework Company – Filthy Lucre
Phil Jones (Hatful Of Rain) – New Homes
O’Hooley & Tidow – The Hum
Will Varley  – The Sound Of The Markets Crashing
Chris TT – A-Z
Plumhall – Never Forget My Name
Grace Petrie – If There’s a Fire In Your Heart
Danni Nicholls  – A Little Redemption

Buy it from https://unionmusicstore.com

CHRIS WHILE & JULIE MATTHEWS – Who We Are (Fat Cat FATCD029)

Who We AreAfter 20 years and nine albums, Chris While and Julie Matthews, the undisputed queens of British female folk duos, continue to come up with the goods, delivering songs about human frailty and human endurance that showcase their seemingly inexhaustible creative talents as both writers and performers.

They get the ball rolling in vigorous style with ‘If This Were Your Last Day’, an uptempo, fairly self-explanatory titled don’t put off until tomorrow number from Matthews that blends folk and country with mandolin and accordion, before joint composition ‘Gone Girl Gone’ takes the tempo down slightly for a bittersweet tale of a free spirit always moving on in search of herself. Joined by daughter Kellie, While’s first track is ‘Get Through This Somehow’, a mid-tempo song about having to make a life on your own that conjures a cross between Kathy Mattea and Christine Collister before ‘I Don’t Know’, another shared credit brings in banjo for a bluegrass tinged number that casts them as the UK’s answer to Lady Antebellum and The Indigo Girls in one package.

The album then takes on a more serious mood, beginning with the uplifting ‘Dancing Under The Gallows’, written and sung by Matthews with While on lap steel, that (with a faint musical echo of ‘Born Free’) pays tribute to the fortitude and courage of Alice Hertz Sommer, the oldest survivor of the Holocaust who died this year, aged 111. Then comes While’s history lesson, ‘Heaven Is Changing’, a tender acoustic guitar and piano number which recounts the plague that devastated the Derbyshire village of Eyam in 1665 as a passer-by rescues an unaffected baby, one family’s sole survivor.

Two songs mark both World War I and II. The first is While’s worksong-like ‘Drop Hammer’, sparse percussion backdropping her lead vocals and a female chorus that features daughter Kellie, Kit Bailey, Mel Ledgard and the ubiquitous O’Hooley & Tidow on a song that celebrates the women of Sheffield that kept the steel mills running during both wars. A rather less upbeat narrative informs ‘White Feather’, which, featuring Bryan Hargreaves’ hand percussion and a fierce electric guitar solo from Howard Lees and penned by Matthews for the BBC’s Radio Ballads, recalls the notorious white feather movement of WWI whereby women would cast a white feather in at men in civvy street, accusing them of being cowards for not enlisting.

Changing focus, ‘Mad Men’ is a bluesy and bluegrass co-written environmental protest about global warming featuring While on bowed psaltery before, for the final two numbers, things return to a lighter more optimistic and intimate note for the hymnal-like piano shimmering ‘That’s Not Who We Are’ about putting aside differences and pride “to recover our senses and heal this scar”. Introducing brass, strings, glockenspiel and ukulele, the carousel-swaying, oompah rhythms of ‘Under A Button Moon’ brings things to a lovely, pick me up romantic conclusion, linking back to the opening number’s seize the day theme and, ever so subtly, recalling the theme music to the 80s children’s programme of similar title.

So, first class songs of female fortitude, the iniquities of the world, history, heart and humanity, delivered with to die for harmonies, immaculate musicianship and melodies that lodge themselves in your brain. Pretty much While & Matthews business as usual then.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.whileandmatthews.co.uk

‘Drop Hammer’ from the album Who We Are live in Bristol:

CHARLIE DORE – Milk Roulette (Black Ink Music BICD8)

Milk RouletteAlthough she never really attained the stardom predicted for her when she released ‘Pilot Of The Airwaves’ back in 1979, the Pinner-born singer’s not exactly done too badly for herself, sustaining a successful career over the years as an actress, producer and songwriter, as well as regularly releasing albums and performing live. This, her eighth album, is particularly personal, the title track referring to how, to test whether the milk had turned sour, her father would simply take a swig and approach he, an ever optimistic widower, apparently applied to the women in his life. As the title suggests, family loom large too in ‘Looking Like My Mother, Acting Like My Dad’, a song and arrangement that, especially in Dore’s husky quiver, feels very much of the 30s or 40s (possibly down to its homespun recording), while album closer, ‘Cradle Song’, brings together a transcription of a piano instrumental written by her mother as a young child and an old cassette recording of her father reading his poems.

Although ‘Three A Penny’, a three-part harmony unaccompanied (save for barely discernible keyboard) number about the culture of cheap downloading, and featuring O’Hooley & Tidow, clearly comes from the very heart of a working musician, elsewhere, personal resonances are more open to interpretation. Sketched out on sparse piano notes, opening number, ‘All These Things’, another pre-war sounding track with co-producer Julian Litman on Indian harmonium, is about the hopes and heartbreak of IVF, ‘Born Yesterday’ a love letter from a new mother to her young child and ‘Firewater’, a guitar rippling, viola accompanied song about falling for a handsome man with a brilliant mind who, unfortunately, also happens to be a career drunk.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, death makes an appearance, conceived as an unwanted salesman peddling his wares to her father and brother on the defiant ‘Stare You Down’ and, equally poignantly, at the core of ‘Please Don’t Let Me Be Promoted’, a strings arrangement in which the euphemism of the title and recalling the passing of her mother when Dore was 15 rejects the idea of being taken to a better place in favour of staying on the shop floor a little longer.

The remaining number, the tumbling, chorus-catchy ‘Best Man For The Job’ featuring harmonium and Dobro with Reg Meuross and Jess Vincent guesting on vocals, recounts the ironically titled tale of a neglected wife warning husbands that if they don’t tend the garden then weeds and discontent may grow and lead others to cultivate it instead.

Often fuzzily warm, sometimes playful, sometimes touching, but always immensely listenable, you really should pour a couple of pints.

Mike Davies

Artist website: www.charliedore.com

I included this video because Guildford Vox is one of our local community choirs. That should be Anna Tabbush conducting but if it isn’t I’m sure she’ll tell me!