May 24th 2014 is the 73rd birthday of Bob Dylan, and the 195th birthday of Queen Victoria. It’s also acclaimed folk songstress Bella Hardy’s 30th.
To mark the occasion, Bella is taking the party on the road with her band The Midnight Watch, and embarking on an epic adventure to visit thirty of her favourite venues, celebrating her six solo albums to date.
“…unveiled, committed, uncontrived, persuasive, passionate, empowering, and utterly wonderful” Colin Irwin, fRoots
One of the most creative, prolific and original singers in the UK and now winner of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of The Year award, Bella Hardy’s captivating voice inhabits her characters and spins her stories with an equal balance of strength and sensitivity. With fiddle in hand, she presents folk songs in the best tradition; not as antiquated museum pieces, but as relevant and very human artworks. Four time nominee at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, and winner of Best Original Song in 2012 for ‘The Herring Girl’, her own songs range in subject matter from fairytales to working class history, via childhood nostalgia, myth, murder and the human condition, touching on both the fantastical, storytelling elements of Kate Bush, and the lovelorn song-writing craft of Carole King. Her latest album Battleplan (2013) won universal critical acclaim, with The Sunday Times writing
“Stunning… there is an aura of sophistication that will win over listeners who never set foot in a folk club” (Clive Davis).
Battleplan is Bella Hardy’s latest studio album in which she gives new perspectives to some of her favourite traditional songs and has interwoven her own life stories with those of the heroines of folk songs past. Battleplan is Bella’s most musically expansive and lyrically personal album to date; produced by Mattie Foulds and recorded with her touring band The Midnight Watch.
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The Full Folking Low Down on Bella…
It’s been five years since Bella Hardy found herself nominated in the Best Original Song category at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for ‘Three Black Feathers’ – the first song she ever wrote. In 2012 she won that same award for her powerful and moving account of life as a 19th century Stornoway Herring Girl – taken from her third album, Songs Lost And Stolen which earned rave reviews, including four stars from The Guardian, while The Independent called the entirely self-composed collection: “beautifully crafted and conceived with poetic flair.” In those few short years, Bella has become one of the most creative, prolific and original voices on the flourishing UK folk scene.
Growing up in Edale in the Peak District, with a family who sang in the local choir, book loving Bella was drawn to the tales contained in old ballads. But her path to a career in traditional music began with visits to folk festivals, joining a school ceilidh band, and attending the Folkworks summer school in Durham where, aged 13, she joined the sprawling, teenage ensemble The Pack with whom she performed for 10 years – appearing on the main stages of such institutions as Sidmouth, Warwick and Cambridge festivals. In 2004 she entered the BBC Young Folk Award and reached the finals – for which she taught herself to fiddle-sing.
In 2007 Bella added to her BA in English Literature with a Masters degree in Music from Newcastle University; emerging from her studies with the traditional and original songs that formed her impressive debut album Night Visiting (including material sourced from Edale’s neighbouring valley Castleton).
Accompanied by former Last Night’s Fun box player Chris Sherburn, Bella trod the folk club and festivals circuit, all the while embarking on projects as diverse as they were daunting in scale and ambition. Be that singing the Scottish ballad ‘Annie Laurie’ on Radio 2’s Titanic: Minute by Minute programme (the song was said to have been heard on the SS Californian as it sailed by the doomed ship) or performing unaccompanied in the centre of a sold-out Royal Albert Hall during The Proms. More recently she co-wrote with former Beautiful South guitarist David Rotheray, for his concept album The Life of Birds, and composed the music for Radio 4’s The People’s Post – a documentary on the history of the Post Office.
Bella’s second album, In The Shadow Of The Mountains saw her writing songs of modern social history (in particular the 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak that devastated farming communities) and retellings of familiar folk tales in urban domestic settings (the highway-woman ‘Sovay’ became a disconsolate housewife.) English Dance and Song magazine described it as: “lyrical portraiture that brings to mind no less than Lennon and McCartney.”
A period of Prince-like prolificacy followed the release of 2011’s award-winning Songs Lost And Stolen, beginning with an album inspired by and adapted from The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire, published in 1867. The Dark Peak And The White, produced by Lau’s Kris Drever, confirmed her place as one of modern folk’s finest singers, with MOJO magazine writing “lovingly presented, her singing is glorious”, while The Guardian called her vocal performance on the record “as fine, cool and no-nonsense as ever”.
In that same year Bella recorded and released another album: Bright Morning Star. Intended simply as a souvenir of her seasonal tour, the record – which combined yuletide standards with traditional carols (and even found room for Shakin’ Stevens and a Barenaked Ladies number) – received a four star review from The Times who called the Christmas collection “a quiet, unassuming treasure trove.”
2012 also saw the fruition of a long-held plan to record an album with Brit folk trailblazer Eliza Carthy and friends Lucy Farrell and Kate Young. Initially just an idea in Northumbrian piping pioneer Kathryn Tickell’s head (according to Eliza she’d failed to notice they were all female singers and fiddle players), Carthy, Hardy, Farrell & Young released their debut album Laylam at the start of 2013.