It might be called The Fragile, but the second album from folk duo O’Hooley and Tidow has been garnering nothing but solid, sturdy reviews since its release in February.
“I know you’re not s’posed to read your own reviews, but we were astonished by the reaction, they just blew us away!” confesses Heidi Tidow of their unbroken run of 4-star reviews. Many are displayed on their website, though there is one that has yet to make it online, winning pride of place in the duo’s north of England home.
“We do have one on our fridge which our neighbour Steve wrote,” Heidi adds with a smile. “He came around and bought a copy of the album, and five hours later, we found a review pushed through our front door – he gave us five Yorkshire puddings out of five!”
The musical partnership was formed after multi-instrumentalist Belinda O’Hooley left The Unthanks two albums into their career. As O’Hooley And Tidlow, their own debut album, Silent June, found its way onto several ‘best of 2010’ charts, opening the door for an improved and more cohesive second collection, a raft of sell-out shows, and great reviews – including a recent rave from The Guardian who heralded them the best act of Cambridge Folk Festival 2012!
“I don’t know if I agree with that,” stutters Belinda, clearly embarrassed (yet equally chuffed) at being ranked better than John Prine, Billy Bragg, Roy Harper, Lau, Clannad, and The Unthanks.
So who was the best?
“Who was the best?” she ponders. “Oh! I am a bit biased, but the Nic Jones gig was something special and our gig did go very well. I was so excited I could have stage dived! But Anais Mitchell was brilliant. Me and Heidi cried. We supported her in the recent past so got to know her songs well. That was a show that we won’t forget….”The return of ‘70s folk star Nic Jones has indeed been ‘something special.’ Retired and arguably forgotten since a tragic 1982 car accident, his rediscovery and reappearance over the last six years has been both swift and surprising. Few expected to see him back on stage, yet this year has seen a highly selective run of festival dates backed by son Joe and Belinda, which concludes on Saturday 25 August 2012 with a hugely anticipated appearance at Towersey Festival in Oxfordshire.
Looking back to how she became involved with Nic, Belinda recalls a 2006 York show with Rachel Unthank and the Winterset in which her musicianship was praised by two members of the audience who turned out to be Nic and wife Julia.
“I hadn’t heard of Nic Jones at that point, but Jackie Oates was there and said, ‘Oh! Wow!’”
In 2010, Sidmouth Folk Festival’s In Search On Nic Jones project saw Belinda and Jackie perform Annarchie Gordon, a pairing revived for 2011’s London South Bank Centre show.
“Then out of the blue I had a call from Julia – would I like to accompany Nic on a song? By then I’d fallen in love with his arrangements and agreed to accompany him on Thanksgiving. I met Joe, Nic’s son, on the night and he asked if I’d play on Fake Plastic Trees, the Radiohead song.”
Belinda laughs: “I could not remember the song, how it went, and it was only five minutes before the end of my soundcheck! But we ran through it … and it came together well. I certainly enjoyed the show, and I think Nic and Joe did.
“Well, they must have as more recently I got a random text saying ‘are you up for more gigs with Nic?’ That came as a complete surprise. So he must have got the bug back after that show. Of course I said ‘yes, great!’”
Folk pundits had the South Bank show down as Nic swansong, but rehearsals for four folk festival appearances – Warwick, Cambridge, Cornwall and finally Towersey – began in May at Belinda and Heidi’s home.
“Very quickly we realised it was going to be good. We all got on well too, all of us,” Belinda recalls, adding they’ve been bowled over by the response so far.
“The reception from the audience has been incredible, so lovely, so warm, they’ve been people standing up, crying. Nic’s as daft as a brush on stage, so funny too. It’s been a real pleasure for me,” she says. “He’s very unpredictable, he always was. He sings a song exactly as he feels, he always did, so we have to watch him like a hawk as it’s never the same…”
With the exception of a sold out … And Friends event at Cecil Sharp House in September, Towersey Festival – which also features appearances from Bellowhead, Kathryn Tickell, Martin Simpson and others – could be the last chance to see Nic performing on stage.
“I’d love it if we did more shows,” says Belinda. “I’m sad already that things are coming to a close. For Nic, I appreciate it must be very tiring for him as it’s been a whirlwind. People want to speak to him all the time, which he’s happy to do, he really is, but you can see he gets tired. It’s a tiring business, so it would be completely understandable if he said, ‘it’s been great – let’s leave it here…’.”
However, Nic’s legacy will continue as O’Hooley and Tidow, who has been providing the Jones’ trio with vital support, head out for their autumn/winter dates with a new cover version in their set-list.
“It’s all Nic’ fault,” smiles Belinda. “We’ve been listening to his songs and becoming ever more obsessed with music – so we’re covering Ruins By The Shore.
“There’s been a film crew following Nic to Warwick and to our house for a documentary that’ll be on BBC Four. They’ve had lots of different folkies doing Nic’s songs or songs he’s arranged and we did Ruins By The Shore for the documentary. We’ve tipped it on its’ head. Nic hasn’t heard it yet, so I’m a bit nervous, but he keeps telling me he doesn’t like to hear people just copying, he likes to hear things flipped on their heads.”
Interview by: Dave Freak
Towersey Folk Festival, Thursday 23 to Monday 27 August 2012
O’Hooley and Tidow, and Nic Jones, with Joe Jones and Belinda O’Hooley appear on Saturday 25 August.
For tickets and more information, see: towerseyfestival.com
For more information on O’Hooley and Tidow, including forthcoming tour dates, see: www.ohooleyandtidow.com