O’Hooley and Tidow

I  heard O’Hooley and Tidow for the first time a couple of weeks ago on The Folk Show. They brought local pies and real ales for Mark Radcliffe, and played three magnificent live songs from their new album ‘The Hum’. I got their 3 albums and I’ve listened to nothing much else since. I think I’ve bored my studio comrades senseless going on about how great they are.

So…Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow are a couple from near Huddersfield who sing and write together.  Their songs often take a little observation of life in the first verse and take it onto something universal as the song progresses. The title song from their new album ‘The Hum’ begins with the true story of some snobby twits who pull out of buying a house because they don’t like the sound of the hum of a nearby factory.  It ends defiantly with layered vocals movingly celebrating the magnificent hum of life- of factories, playgrounds, schools, and choirs. It’s a love song for the whole sound and vibration of human life.

I think this is one of the things that make lots of their songs so great- they write convincing love songs to existence itself. These songs have an undercurrent of loss and fear that makes the beauty being celebrated feel all the more valuable. ‘The Last Polar Bear’ is a heartbreakingly  melodic example from their previous album ‘The Fragile’. The lonely icy imagery, the strings, piano, and voices combine to create something exquisite. Its subtle emotional complexity haunts my imagination- there’s  love, wonder,  icy emptiness, intimate warmth and elemental loneliness. I’m left with  a kind of  terribly sad wonder at the possibility of non-existence. It’s beautiful.

They sing  in their own voices and love vowels, because vowels have feelings and deserve the love of a good singer.  ‘Shelter Me’ from album 1 ‘Silent June’ is full of wonder at the miracle of finding someone who’ll protect you from the world. It’s great because it has a lovely tune and words but also because they give words like ‘bird’, ‘cloud’, ‘umbrella’ and ‘kindness’ such affection when they sing them. Tidow’s voice is like the glowing embers of a fire, O’Hooleys is usually higher and brighter. It’s a very lovely combination, especially when it sounds like Tidow is singing as low  as she can- like on ‘Two Mothers’. This is another huge emotional song that had me overwhelmed on the train to London the other day. The melody is based on a traditional Scottish tune with words from the perspective of a mother who was sent away for adoption in a foreign country as a baby. It moves my heart before my head catches up-  the tiny vulnerable bundle of baby on that boat crossing the huge sea, the mothers in the song who make me think of my own mum…my wife. Songs should be this serious, ambitious and subtle.

There is a magnificent Christmas song on the first album- ‘One More Xmas’. It’s a big, angry,  sad song about the distance between people, hurt, cruelty and loss. It has a driving tune behind the poetry that sounds a bit like The Blue Nile sped up.  I don’t know how not to cry when I hear those fabulous chords and the words ‘I just want to be little and have Christmas with my mum’. In the last brilliantly written final verse ‘little’ takes on a tragic meaning that makes me want to go out and change the world.  I well up just thinking about it.

Don’t think they’re maudlin or grey just because they write about serious things and there’s anger and complaint. ‘Summat’s Brewing’ from The Hum is pure joy. It’s a proud, uplifting celebration of small scale initiative, local pride and pubs. As such it’s as serious as ‘One More Xmas’ or ‘The Hum’ but it does its work by making you smile and jump about and swear to never, ever buy another shite cheap lager .

All kids should study songmaking at school- after all songs are a bigger part of lots of children’s lives than books.  And  they should study O’Hooley and Tidow to find out how to do it really well.


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3 Comments on “O’Hooley and Tidow”

  1. Daien Says:

    Ed, many thanks for this astonishingly exquisite recommendation. Your prose is as poetry, a perfect lead into a sonic world of enchantment, just like your own work.

  2. G Sam Samociuk Says:

    Fabulous, a beautifully considered review of the music of O Hooley and Tidow whom I have loved and enjoyed since a magical night in a small venue in Otley listening to their emotional and evocative songs a couple of years ago. Looking forward to seeing them yet again at Cambridge Folk Festival, if they are touring near to you, grab a ticket, you only need to like music to love them.

  3. Tanya Says:

    Absolutely spot on, Ed. Beautiful summary of an excellent body of work. I enjoy their earthy realness, which is such a counter to the mass produced carbon copy X Factor fodder. There is a butterfly fragility, yet, by turns, hawk-headed power about their songs. I have enjoyed discovering and seeing O’Hooley and Tidow’s work over the last year. I loved seeing O’Hooley perform with Jackie Oates at Musicport, and seeing them perform songs from The Hum at City Varieties in Leeds. They have a very special ability to create intimacy with an audience; to make you feel like you’re in a front room hearing them sing in your ear.

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