I still tend to think of Bella Hardy as one of the bright young things of folk music but she has already done more than enough to justify Postcards & Pocketbooks, a double-CD retrospective, all the tracks remastered by Ian Carter. Bella is an old-style fiddle-singer, a 21st century songwriter and just about everything between. She can bring power to traditional songs and weave old themes into new songs and you can never be sure where her muse will lead her next.
The first disc opens with ‘Learning To Let Go’ from her poppy album, Hey Sammy, built on the pounding drums of John Blease. It sounds like the song of someone still seeking a way forward and if it’s autobiographical then that might explain Bella’s frequent changes of approach. That’s followed by the almost traditional ‘Whisky You’re The Devil’ and her award-winning ‘The Herring Girl’. This could be a traditional song or, at least, a traditional story but there is not hiding its provenance. You might expect ‘Sylvie Sovay’ to be traditional but here again Bella just takes the names and the germ of the theme and works them into something very new.
‘Maying Song’ and ‘The Seventh Girl’ are largely old songs and the first half ends with the first of two unreleased tracks, the gorgeously pure ‘Sheep Crook & Black Dog’.
The second disc opens with a new version of ‘Three Black Feathers’, the song that first made her name. Here it’s pared back to a simple guitar accompaniment by Sam Carter and the experience of nine years is obvious in Bella’s voice. Sam is there again on a new version of ‘Time Wanders On’ and the second previously unreleased song, ‘Tequila Moon’. Other standout tracks in the half are ‘True Hearted Girl’ – a robust version of ‘When I Was On Horseback’ – ‘Walk It With You’ with vocals by Kris Drever and the marvellous ‘Jolly Good Luck To The Girl That Loves A Soldier’.
The set ends almost where it began with ‘Redemption’ from Hey Sammy followed by the closing ‘Tequila Moon’ based on a chunky guitar part. I’ve heard most of Bella’s albums but Postcards & Pocketbooks succeeds in giving a different overview of her career – a mix-tape that entertains and makes you think a little more deeply about what you’re hearing.
BBC Folk Singer of the Year Bella Hardy found her first home in folk music through a childhood love for ballad books. A self-taught ‘fiddle singer’, she began performing at Cambridge and Sidmouth festivals from the age of 13. Her debut album Night Visiting established her reputation as a talented songwriter when her first original composition ‘Three Black Feathers’ earned a BBC Folk Award nomination. Since then, Bella has sung unaccompanied ballads at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall, taken a band of drums, brass and electronics to the National Concert Hall of Budapest, and learnt the songs of Chinese farmers during her time as British Council Musician in Residence in Yunnan Province. She’s sat on the moors of her beloved Peak District with only her fiddle for company. She spent a year in Tennessee as a ranch hand, looking after horses, fiddle-singing in the diners, and immersing herself in the music culture of Nashville. With her mesmerising voice and ability to conjure and twist stories that call straight to the heart, Bella has beguiled audiences from Canada to Japan, from Spanish bars, to Castles, to Concert Halls.
With unflinching courage, Bella Hardy has explored and blurred musical boundaries in her search for meaning. From her mastery of tradition music and the stripped back strings and concertina of her debut album Night Visiting (2007), to the electric guitar and drums in the self-penned humanist hymns and feminist battle cries of Hey Sammy (2017), via the Derbyshire ballads of The Dark Peak & The White and ancient Chinese poetry of Eternal Spring, an album of songs and poetry recorded in China. Her themes of displacement and home, lost and found love, heartache and joy, are delivered with her unique, disarming honesty, and, of course, the acclaimed crystalline voice that won her BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Singer of the Year.
And she shared the whole extraordinary journey with you in her first nine records, in the space of just ten years.
Postcards & Pocketbooks is a double CD of her most highly treasured works, with remastered recordings of classic material and two new tracks, ‘Tequila Moon’ and ‘Sheep Crook & Black Dog’. Bella will also be publishing a lyric book bringing together her original writing and reworkings of traditional material. There will be over one hundred songs in the collection.