There’s a lovely story at the heart of the title track of the new O’Hooley & Tidow album. It seems the sale of a nearby house in their native Huddersfield fell through when the prospective buyers were put off by the humming noise of the local factory. When their neighbour learnt of the sale falling through she passed the story on adding, “The sound of the factory gives me comfort, as it’s the sound of people working.” It neatly turns the episode on its head and you can imagine much to the delight of the duo lit a creative spark with O’Hooley & Tidow.
Along with a veritable barrage of praise and a Folk Award nomination, their last album The Fragile and the live shows around its release earned then the tag of, “Delightfully unconventional.” From that standpoint it’s easy to see how turning preconceptions on their heads has its obvious appeal. But while a neighbours chance remark may have been a gift, the new record, The Hum, promises to take things further, looking at the positive stories and searching out the determination, optimism, grit and mettle of migrating people and those who find themselves oppressed or disenfranchised. It’s the human spirit and the hum of life being lived.
Economic migration in particular is a very big factor in modern life. Although I haven’t gone far by many people’s standards, I am one myself. Both Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, share an Irish immigrant background, although the latter can trace roots back to Germany which explains her name. The Irish heritage is also shared by the album’s producer Gerry Driver, who brings his considerable multi-instrumental skills to add to Belinda’s piano and accordion and the duo’s harmonic vocal prowess.
Three more names leap from the press release, but are really only as part of the back story of this record. Lal Waterson has posthumously and very recently gained some welcome attention for the book and CD set put together by her daughter Marry that we made an Album Of The Month. Just A Note was learnt from her singing and encapsulates that economic migrant theme, giving a glimpse into the lives of the Irish navvies who built the M1. The song of course comes from the pen of Ewan MacColl. Finally, Belinda has forged a connection with Nic Jones playing piano in his new trio, which results in Nic’s Ruins By The Shore making a welcome appearance.
Another recurring theme through their work is nature and The Hum encapsulates the background noise of our lives, whether the buzzing of the bees or the different kind of thrum emanating from the workers manning the plant behind the factory gates. Both are in the balance of fragile ecological and economic systems that can so easily be tipped out of balance. Peculiar Brood draws on bird imagery to illustrate a mother’s perspective on suicide bombing, while Like Horses, wishes for humans to share the gentleness and strength of our beasts of burden. The album’s climax, Kitsune, weaves a mystical tale of a fox who becomes a women with notions of forbidden love and once more with those on the fringes of society, including the fox itself
Boff Whalley of Chumbawamba grabs a co-write credit for a Coil & Spring, which looks the scandalous treatment of Pussy Riot and the aftermath of their protest. Another song, Two Mothers, was partly inspired by the Jim Loach film Oranges And Sunshine and was originally composed for Jackie Oates Lullabies tour. There’s even a song about one of my favourite subjects, beer! Summat’s Brewin’ isn’t merely a celebration of the good stuff. It’s also a lesson in what can be achieved when people stand together. The members of CAMRA may well be viewed as stereotypical anoraks, but fighting the corporate neglect that has ripped the local pub from the heart of many a community and actually providing a flavoursome alternative to the homogenous dish water, or sugar- rush alco-pops that maximise profits above the consequences of their consumption, is worth celebrating – and they do so joyously.
The album will be released in the UK on 17.2.2014 and will be accompanied by a UK tour starting with Cheltenham Folk Festival on 14th of February. We’ll have a full write up and interview closer to the release, so check back for further updates.