O’Hooley and Tidow are at the forefront of the contemporary folk music scene, whether recording and touring extensively in their duo, leading refugee and migrant musicians in their recent Arts Council England commission; The Passerine or inviting other political and feminist musicians to join them in their trailblazing super group, Coven.
Having the originality and skill to invite comparison with the most celebrated harmony duos, from early Simon and Garfunkel to the iconic Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Belinda and Heidi’s powerful, deeply moving, and soulful performances are infused with an honesty and empathy that will disarm the hardest of hearts.
Their new album WinterFolk reflects on some of the darker hued aspects of Yuletide, considering the season in an alternative, real way, from the absence or loss of children, to domestic violence at Christmas, from global warming to poverty, religion, displacement, migration and loneliness.
Together with an invitation to indulge in some of the gorgeousness of winter, by the fireside, a favourite record playing, glass in hand; it could also be described as The Introvert’s Guide to Christmas.
“We wanted to write something that celebrated winter and Christmas in a slightly different way from what you’re usually packaged,” says Belinda.
“It’s usually all about presents and the consumerist aspect but we wanted to look at the other side of things. We like writing about uncomfortable subjects and these come up at Christmas don’t they?”
On WinterFolk, Belinda and wife Heidi have recomposed some of their own winter songs from early albums Silent June and The Fragile, into mature, poignant and considered interpretations, as well as writing their very own carol.
“We went to our local pub for inspiration,” laughs Heidi. “It’s one of those places where people from all backgrounds meet and it’s a very accepting place. Being around people from different circumstances and different nationalities made us really think what it would be like for these people at Christmas.
“We write a lot of ideas down first and then hone it over a few pints until we get the final version. We make up the melody afterwards!”
As well as including a German version of Silent Night and other festive evergreens, such as the Coventry Carol and Wexford Lullaby, WinterFolk also includes the duo’s version of The Pogues’ classic, Fairytale of New York.
“When you cover something so loved you are a bit nervous,” adds Hayley.
“People clutch that song to their bosoms. We’d had a go at it live and we do a very different version which highlights the lyrics.
“Because of Shane MacGowan’s performance sometimes it’s not easy to follow the story and we really wanted to bring that out. People were asking us when we were going to record it but it’s seven minutes long on the album, so we got a bit carried away!”
l O’Hooley and Tidow play Chester St Mary’s Creative Space on Friday, December 1, at 7.30pm. Tickets £12 from www.wegottickets.com
See full story in the Chester Leader