Belinda O’Hooley and her wife Heidi Tidow have been performing together since 2009, with their blend of folk – rooted in Irish folk but growing far beyond that – gaining them critical acclaim and a clutch of awards including best duo at the BBC Radio 2 folk awards. We caught up with Belinda ahead of their show at local folk hero Grace Petrie’s Fire In Your Heart Folk Club at Duffy’s this January.
“We have always been passionate about nature, offering a voice to the vulnerable in our society and to bring women into the spotlight”
The duo straddle the worlds of folk and popular music effortlessly – appealing to fans within the often somewhat cliquey folk scene and more mainstream audiences – but that was never a conscious effort. “I had been in Rachel Unthank & the Winterset, so I was already known on the folk scene, which welcomed both of us to its collective bosom” explains Belinda. “That year, we supported Chumbawamba on a big tour, and that opened up a different, more political scene to us. We’re both massive indie music fans too, so you can’t really leave that at home can you?”
Their latest record, Shadows, was a two year labour of love recorded entirely ‘in-house’ by O’Hooley and Tidow. It’s a thread which continues from their previous releases. “We like the freedom of self recording. We do it at home and on location if we find somewhere there might be a fabulous piano or a good acoustic”.
“we recorded Grace Petrie and Lady Maisery in a hotel room in Hitchin”
Consequently the record was recorded all over the UK in spaces that range from the spectacular to the comparatively mundane. “Once the songs were written and we were happy with them, we recorded piano and some vocals in Machynlleth in The Museum of Modern Art, Wales. Other vocals and electronica were recorded at home and we recorded Grace Petrie and Lady Maisery in a hotel room in Hitchin. We travelled to London to record Michele Stodart (Magic Numbers) and were also sent other people’s recordings digitally, which we fitted together to create the final versions of the songs”. With all these elements finally in hand the album was mixed by Neil Ferguson of Chumbawamba – the in-house engineer at No Masters, their co-operative record label – and was released to astonishing acclaim in July 2016.
It’s clear from their songs and their approach in general that there’s a sincere thread of social and political awareness at play. “We’ve always been passionate about nature, offering a voice to the vulnerable in our society and to bring women into the spotlight, especially some of the incredible women out there that never made the history books” Explains Belinda “but recently, since new Labour and then the Tory government, it has been impossible to ignore the rise in hatred, and how the vulnerable are being blamed for the collapse in the economy, and lack of jobs etc. As songwriters, we can offer an alternative viewpoint to this hateful rhetoric.”
That awareness is particularly stark on Shadows album track Made in England. Though recorded before 2016’s referendum, with hindsight it’s lyrics seem somewhat prescient. “A couple of years ago we were receiving leaflets every other week from the BNP, mainly about the rise in immigration and the need to close the borders. Those distributing the leaflets were then heading down to our local curry house for a biryani, washed down with European lager, and we couldn’t believe the hypocrisy. We wrote Made in England, never thinking that it would be so pertinent today”.
O’Hooley & Tidow Return to Leicester to play Fire In Your Heart Folk Club at Duffy’s on Thursday 12th January.