Event review: O’Hooley and Tidow play the Oval Tavern, Thursday 8th October

By - Tuesday 27th October, 2015

Catherine Pestano enjoys a melodious evening with two luscious lesbians and beer

Photo by Peter Redzinski, used with permission.

As I settled in for another fine evening’s music at the splendid Oval Tavern to listen to torch folk duo O’Hooley and Tidow, I was delighted to find an extra gem on the menu. No, not the fabulous halloumi salad (also enjoyed) but a delightfully voiced local seventeen year old called Beka who made her first public support act appearance with great poise and a lovely tone, sharing a mixture of her original songs and covers. Here’s her Soundcloud upload.

Yorkshire folk duo Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow have had a fabulous tour of thirty micro gigs relating to thirty micro breweries and real ale venues. Their groundbreaking album The Hum was one of Mojo’s top 10 folk albums of 2014 and Mojo regards them as ‘one of British folk’s mightiest combinations’. This show was a mixture of contemporary and traditional drinking songs, mainly featuring piano and their sublime harmonies. Telling the stories of the people, all kinds of people, was a deep theme running through the material, a soundtrack to our ordinary extraordinary lives.

A grand filmic feel, soaring with powerful elemental emotion

Their use of the instrumentation was integral to the feeling of the pieces rather than simple accompaniment, bringing great light and shade to the performances. This gave the music a grand filmic feel, at times soaring with powerful elemental emotion, and at other times shimmering with soft near silences, for example in their spacious treatment of ‘Down where the drunkards are’. They kept the overall mood light with the insertion of cheeky banter, some accordion accompaniment and some opportunities for hollering audience participation.

Photo by Peter Redzinski, used with permission.

An astonishing and beautiful song from their last album was ‘Two Mothers’ inspired by Loach’s film Oranges and Sunshine about child migration in the 20th century. ‘Lullaby for the Adopted’ washed us with waves of lush blended voices, lifting and stroking like the waves on the boats carrying the children away to new continents and new lives. I find it hard to choose favourites but I was rather taken with their whiskey-named song ‘Gentleman Jack, written about Anne Lister, a nineteenth century ‘gentleman’ lesbian, who wrote about her exploits in coded diaries.

Civil partners as well as performing ones, O’Hooley and Tidow brought an additional authentic passion to their rendition. Nick Coleman of the Independent on Sunday described their music as defiant, robust, political, northern, poetical folk music for the times we live in’It’s quite a challenge to make an old standard like ‘The Wild Rover’ sound fresh but they achieved this through a soft treatment and unexpected jazzy harmonies.

Celebrate the noise of industry – it means that people have jobs

Folk grandee Martin Simpson described them as ‘brave, beautiful and full of love’ and this showed in their thoughtful response to the hum from a factory near their home. It gave rise to a mesmerising piece and album called The Hum which reflected on the fact that people want these workers’ cottages but don’t want to be reminded about the reasons for the houses being there. They quoted a old neighbour who said the sound made her happy as it meant that people had jobs. With gentle poetry and gloriously crafted melodies, they bring fresh perspectives to the everyday.

The main set closed with their ravishing single ‘The Last Polar Bear’ from their 2011 album The Fragile. After sixteen songs from the stage, the evening closed with the pair leaving the stage and coming into the crowd, folk-singaround style, to give a wonderfully harmonised version of ‘The Parting Glass’, drawing on their Irish roots.

This was an intimate and uplifting evening of luscious music in a delightful local venue. My first time seeing O’Hooley and Tidow – definitely not my last.

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano grew up in Sutton (standing for Labour), went to school in Carshalton, and college in Croydon. She loves Croydon, her vibrant home town of 17 years, where she works as a Nordic walking instructor and co-ordinator of community arts for well-being. She has a nostalgic fondness for her Brownie and Girl Guide Handbooks and all things Scouting-related. Campfire singing a speciality!

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  • Anne Giles

    Bekah King hasn’t put anything on Soundcloud yet. We shall have to wait for that.