From the North - An Appreciation of O'Hooley and Tidow
Updated: Sep 17, 2021
I first heard of O’Hooley and Tidow when I was researching who people thought I sounded like - a friend included them in her list and said that she had seen them at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival. I checked out their music and was impressed by what I heard. A few months later I was watching them on YouTube and my husband Steve said he thought one of their songs reminded him of my song “Buying the bank” (there’s a link to it in my first blog post).
Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow are from West Yorkshire – Heidi hails from Huddersfield with a German mother and an Irish background on her father’s side; Belinda was born in Leeds to an Irish family, and went to Huddersfield University where she studied behavioural sciences. They met in 2005 when Heidi saw Belinda perform with Rachel Unthank and the Winterset – Heidi was so impressed that she persuaded Belinda to come and see her perform. And Belinda was equally moved by Heidi’s performance.
They started performing and writing together in 2009, releasing their first album Silent June in 2010, which was included in MOJO magazine's top 10 folk albums in 2010 and won the FATEA Innovation Award that year. Their following album The Fragile included the single “Gentleman Jack” which was later used in the closing credits of the BBC One/HBO TV series of the same name. Three more studio albums followed, and a video of a song commissioned by Billy Bragg and 14-18 NOW titled “The Pixie” which commemorated the First World War at Glastonbury Festival. They have recently released a new live album Live at St George’s, which captured a performance in Bristol from their Gentleman Jack tour.
I found and listened to their music on Spotify and iTunes, being drawn in to their strong melodies and close harmonies. It's easy to hear why they won the FATEA Innovation Award, which recognises music that is believed to broaden the appeal of roots-based music. They use piano as accompaniment rather than guitar, played by Belinda who has a unique progressive style, and their melodies and harmonies sometimes go to unexpected places, challenging the listener. Their lyrics paint vivid pictures of the subjects and characters that they sing about. Listening to an O'Hooley and Tidow album is like going on a journey - sometimes the landscape is familiar but there are unexpected turnings onto undiscovered paths.
My favourite song so far is “Colne Valley hearts” - I have been known to put it on repeat! It opens the 2016 album Shadows, with a pulsing piano intro from Belinda accompanied by bass guitar, then picks up the pace at the beginning of the second verse adding guitar and a drum beat. Full drums come in on the second chorus, and after an unexpected key change there is a pause before the final chorus. The vocals are marked by contrasting solo and harmony sections, with the chorus sung in unison until the hook “Lighting up the cut tonight” reintroduces the harmony. The earthy lyrics are equally powerful, being inspired by the valley where they live.
I have not yet had the opportunity to see them live - the closest I’ve come was watching them perform at Holmfirth Festival of Folk Online 2021, which was their first performance for eighteen months. They had put their waistcoats on for the occasion! I’ve been to Holmfirth Festival of Folk a number of times as my dad lives in the town, so maybe next year they’ll repeat the performance...
You can find more about the duo and their music at https://ohooleyandtidow.com/