12 Sep 2012
Modern folk musicians Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow are the duo behind the critically acclaimed album The Fragile, and were recently named the best act of the Cambridge folk festival by The Guardian.
Their beautifully unusual songs touch on everything from dark folk tales, ecology and cross-dressing historical figures through to the invisibility of the elderly, rumour-mongering and the global economy.
Currently touring their album, one of their most popular songs 'Gentleman Jack' is an amusing ditty about Anne Lister, the 'first modern lesbian', who lived and loved (and wrote raunchy diaries detailing her many affairs) in the early 1800s.
The duo will be releasing a double single of 'Gentleman Jack' and the stunningly beautiful 'The Last Polar Bear' in November (check out the videos for both below).
We caught up with Belinda and Heidi and asked them more about their music, their influences, their lives and their loves.
What inspired you to write a song about Anne Lister? Have you read her diaries?
Watching the documentary presented by Sue Perkins about Anne Lister definitely put the idea of writing a song about her into our heads. What a woman! Also, our friend Viviana told us about Anne’s nickname; Gentleman Jack, which seemed such a great name for a song. Heidi has read the book by Helena Whitbread about Anne Lister’s diaries, but it’s still on my ‘to read’ pile. The song is actually a jig, and a lot of people love it without realising what the song is about. So it’s a bit subversive, like Anne Lister.
Part of your lyrics for the song says “Nobody likes a Jack the lass”. Is that a term that was used to describe lesbians at the time?
No, we coined that phrase ourselves as a play on ‘Jack the lad’. It seems really appropriate to describe Anne as a Jack the lass as she certainly was ‘a bit of a one’. The more serious side to this is it seems that men are given kudos for being jack the lads, but women are just seen as slags.
How did you meet?
I met Heidi on the Huddersfield music scene – it’s a small world. Her voice and songwriting are totally unique and stood out from the crowd. I offered her a fruit gum to do some harmonies on my songs, and it all went downhill from there. We’ve hardly spent a day apart since!
Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?
Abba and Bach – a potent combination.
Your new album 'The Fragile' has had rave reviews from The Guardian, Uncut, MOJO, Rock n Reel, Songlines and Roots.
Tell us a bit about the making of the album, and the inspiration for the tracks.
We wanted to write an album of songs that looked at people/animals on the fringes of society. Many of the stories behind the songs we collected from people that we have met along the way. Some are personal – ‘Mein Deern’ is a song relating to Heidi’s German grandmother and ‘Madgie in the Summerlands’ is about our dearly departed black moggy called Madge. Some of the songs are handed down from my dad who is Irish and has a wealth of songs, stories and poems from his childhood. We also wanted to look at the global economy and how theft is viewed from 2 completely opposite angles in ‘The Tallest Tree’. The album is personal and political.
You are both activists for the LGBT community, and were recently nominated for the ‘Positive LGBT Role Model’ Award in the 2012 National Diversity Awards. What sort of LGBT work do you do?
We both write a monthly article for LGBT newspaper ‘Shout!’ and we are members of our local LGBT community network. We see our music and our live performances as activism, promoting visibility and positive lives for LGBT people. This was why we were nominated for the ‘Positive LGBT Role Model’ award. We were also involved in The L Project’s charity single ‘It Does Get Better’ which has raised a lot of money and awareness to campaign against homophobic bullying in schools.
A nosy question for curious fans - are you single, or have you got girlfriends?!
We are both married. To each other!
What are your plans for O’Hooley and Tidow for the future?
We are releasing ‘Gentleman Jack’ and ‘The Last Polar Bear’ as a double single on 1st November, so look out for that. And we are currently embarking on an autumn/winter tour taking us to loads of places across the UK including Scotland for the first time. Plus, our spring tour is almost completely booked up for next year, so catch us at a venue near you!
O'HOOLEY & TIDOW : THE FRAGILE TOUR
13 NEWPORT Folk Club
14 SWANSEA The Chattery
05 WHITBY MusicPort Festival
07 HEBDEN BRIDGE Trades Club
13 NEWBURY New Greenham Arts
14 LONDON Walthamstow Folk Club
17 BURY Ramsbottom Folk Club
27 HUDDERSFIELD Lawrence Batley Theatre
28 GRIMSBY Folk Club
02 ISLE OF MAN Three Legs Festival
05 SKIPTON Folk Club
09 TORRINGTON Plough Arts Centre
10 ST AUSTELL Eden Project Cafe
15 LEICESTER Musician
19 CAMBRIDGE Junction
04 MONTROSE Folk Club
06 FALKIRK Folk Club
07 EDINBURGH 42 Royal Park Terrace
For more details visit www.ohooleyandtidow.com