Shadows, the new album from Belinda O’Hooley & Heidi Tidow, is the follow up to the duo’s 2014 album The Hum, which earned them numerous folk music awards and an invite to perform at Glastonbury from Billy Bragg.
The duo also took time out to self-record and produce Summat’s Brewin’, a celebration of the ‘spirit of the small’ whilst exploring the nation’s fascination with alcohol, released on their own micro label Hum Records.
Following the release of Shadows, the pair will be out on the road again to support the album, taking in Bristol’s Folkhouse on September 9. Andy Howells recently put questions to them about their latest release.
O Hooley and Tidow are back with a new album Shadows, can you tell us about it?
Yes, the title of the album comes from a quote by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung who said; ‘Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.’
Within the album we have explored our own shadows and also people whose lives have been lived within the shadows. For example there is a song about Beryl Burton the world champion cyclist from Leeds that hardly anyone has heard about. Maxine Peake who wrote a play about Beryl refers to her as one of the ‘criminally ignored’. We wanted to bring her out of the shadows so that people could hear about this tremendous woman and her remarkable achievements. Another song ‘Reapers’ is about the crimes committed behind the curtain of religion. It is based on an old children’s hymn which we’ve subverted to include verses about the abuse of children by priests and how instead of being put in prison for their crimes, many priests were just moved to a different parish by their Bishop.
You were also busy touring a few months back, as well as releasing Summat’s Brewin’, so when did you get time to work on the album?
We started writing the songs for Shadows before we recorded Summat’s Brewin’. We realised that Shadows was going to be an album that needed lots of time, care and attention and we didn’t want to record it too quickly, even though our usual schedule meant we needed to be getting on with it. We decided to take a breather and indulge our love of real ale by organising a 30 date tour of micro-breweries and small venues with real ale instead. Heidi then suggested we might as well make an album to go with the tour. So Summat’s Brewin’ the album was made, and on top of all that, we started up our own record label ‘hum’ to put it out on. The album and tour were very successful which meant we could take a bit of time off to reflect, walk and really get in touch with the songs and music for Shadows. We’re so glad we waited as during that time we met the incredibly talented Michele Stodart from The Magic Numbers who plays guitar on the album and has added so much to the atmosphere of the songs.
It’s been a while since you produced The Hum, how do you feel your style and sound have progressed between albums?
The wonderful producer and multi-instrumentalist Gerry Diver produced our album The Hum, and it was very well received by the press and radio, so we knew that our next studio album needed to be as good if not better. We learnt a lot from Gerry about how an album sounds, and his fearlessness when it comes to experimental sounds and programming. Making the next album Summat’s Brewin’ confirmed for us that we’d like to produce Shadows ourselves but we knew that we couldn’t reproduce the weird and wonderful sounds and loops that Gerry had created on The Hum. So we found ourselves some incredible musicians to play on the album instead. Pete Flood from Bellowhead plays drums and also bicycle parts on the album, Michele Stodart’s warm and atmospheric guitar features extensively, and also the gorgeous trumpet of Jude Abbott from Chumbawamba and Rowan Rheingan’s orchestral violin parts. From the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve had from people who’ve received their pre-order of Shadows, it’s looking like it was a good decision to make this album ourselves.
You feature the use of a Steinway Grand Piano from Machynlleth’s Museum of Modern Art on the album, how do two artists from the North of England come to source an instrument in Mid-Wales?
Good question! Many years ago, I played a solo show at Y Tabernacle at the Museum of Modern Art in Machynlleth and I remembered how beautiful the venue and piano were when we were booking our UK tour for The Hum. It was at that concert that we asked Raymond Jones who runs the venue whether he would be open to the idea of us recording the piano at some point. Ray has been incredibly accommodating and made sure the Steinway grand piano was tuned the day before our recording began and let everyone in the building know that we required total silence whilst we were recording. It was a pleasure making the album there and our Welsh album launch is there on Saturday 10th September.
What can we expect from your forthcoming Bristol show?
The Folk House in Bristol is one of our favourite venues and Richard the sound engineer knows us and our sound very well. On the night, we’ll perform two sets including songs from Shadows, plus plenty from our back catalogue. For anyone who hasn’t seen us before, expect close harmonies, expressive piano, foot percussion and songs about the weird, the wonderful and everything in between!
You both have a strong association with Wales, do you enjoy your visits and will you be playing here again soon?
We love Wales and will probably end up living in Mid-Wales at some point. The people of Wales have clutched us to their collective bosom so bringing our music on tour there is always a pleasure. We both love walking, mountains and the great outdoors too which are in plentiful supply. Plus, Welsh audiences always sing along so heartily! We have two Welsh dates coming up… Sat 10th Sept at Machynellth Museum of Modern Art and Sun 11th Sept at Menai Bridge Victoria Hotel.