Setting off from the relatively balmy warmth of the North West it was quite some surprise to arrive in a snowy, albeit a slightly damp and sludgy greyish coating, North Yorkshire village of Settle. Not a bad welcoming sight in any case for Ange Hardy's first trip to Yorkshire, showing off the Dales landscape at its finest, and Settle's Victoria Hall - a grand venue with a cared for auditorium, comfortable balcony and well curated and competitively priced range of bottled beers and ales.
And not just a double but triple bill on offer, walking in on Mike Harding and his small band of regulars sat at the front of the stage playing acoustically in a community singalong - an archetypal folk music tableau and getting back to what the essence of folk music is all about. Despite his marvellous contribution to the folk world as musician and particularly as a broadcaster, he always brings to mind (my mind anyway) the Rochdale Cowboy ("people laugh, when I ride past, on our Alsatian dog") - a clear case if ever there were one of first impressions making lasting impressions.
Mike was also one of the early supporters of Ange Hardy, currently getting further north on her very Peter Gabriel sounding 'up and right' tour. A high ornate stage, an introduction by a national broadcaster and acting as warm up for a well established folk duo didn't phase her at all. Opening with the unaccompanied traditional 'She Moves Through The Fair' as she had in the relatively more intimate confines of Blackshaw's Café a couple of nights earlier, her half hour slot combined the old and the new and the hot off the press. Prompting a (hopefully) tongue in cheek comment that they "wouldn't be booking her again" showed the impression she'd made on the evening's headliners.
In the words of Mike Harding mentioned, they need very little If any introduction, bringing them onstage as old friends 'Belinda and Heidi' rather than what sounds like a traditional firm of Yorkshire solicitors or even crime fighting duo of O'Hooley & Tidow (and why not - we've had Starky & Hutch and Scott & Bailey). Whatever, it must be all the fitness classes at the local leisure centre that has the pair of the looking fighting fit. Either that or their work as one of the hardest working duos on the gigging circuit with 'The Hum' tour showing no sign of letting up for the next few months at least - and then there's the 'brewery tour' to come later in the year……
Equipped with just the keyboard - no accordion tonight nor Heidi's bells for 'Pass It On', there were a few friendly jibes about Ange's loop pedals yet no mention of capes (and the falling over of them). All that despite Belinda's interval admission to being a bit of a closet prog rock fan from her youth and a repeat run through of her fleet fingered (almost Wakeman like) ivory tickling solo during 'Summat's Brewing' and hence the review's subtitle. In fact, taking a ride on the O'Hooley & Tidow express - or more likely a rustic steam engine (with a real ale bar in the buffet car naturally) - turns out to be quite some journey. The range of songs is as diverse as you could get, moving from Massive Attack's 'Teardrop' to their animal themed songs - 'Kitsune' and the anti war Tont Benn dedicated 'Like Horses' - and on to beguiling tales of old folks and real ale. The heartbreaking and 'Oranges And Sunshine' movie inspired 'Two Mothers' makes the ride complete, but O'Hooley & Tidow could be pretty much summed up in the two songs strategically placed either side of the interval - 'The Last Polar Bear' and 'The Robin' showcasing Belinda's underrated piano playing (not quite Wakeman but in the same ballpark) and the way their voices combine and interweave to create the brew which makes them so original. Of course there's the banter and the fact that I always seem to spend the next few days after seeing one of their gigs with the sleeves of my T shirt rolled up?
The maturity of 'The Hum' seems to have been a breakthrough album and the folk community will be watching and waiting to see what comes next - suffice to say it may well involve pubs, ale, animals and something quite unexpected.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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