O'Hooley & Tidow interview
Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow aren't your average lesbian folk duo
The words 'lesbian folk music' are enough to strike fear into the heart of many a gay man - and even some women. But then they probably haven't heard Huddersfield-based duo O'Hooley & Tidow. Their recently-released album, 'The Fragile', has received glowing reviews from The Guardian, Mojo, Uncut and Cerys Mathews.
And as a gay man who recently saw them perform live in Bradford, I can confirm that those reviews were richly deserved.
So who are Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow? And how did they meet?
Belinda 'O'Hooley & Tidow started after I spotted Heidi singing in our local music venue in Huddersfield. I was so impressed with her unique voice that I had to meet her. I was in another band at the time, but once I'd left in 2007, there was an obvious duo just waiting to happen. Luckily our voices blend well together.'
Heidi 'Yes, she offered me a fruit gum to do some backing vocals on her solo work. How can a girl resist such a proposition? Our first album as a duo was released in 2010, partly co-written, partly Belinda's back catalogue which we revamped together. We wrote and arranged all the material for our new album, “The Fragile”. together, which has so far been a lovely experience.'
The folk music scene is perceived as quite male and quite 'beardy'. Is this fair?
Heidi 'Whatever could you mean? I suppose there are quite a few bearded men on the folk scene, especially now that the “folk beard” seems to be the fashion for chaps these days.'
Belinda 'Traditionally women drew the short straw in folk song; getting murdered by jealous lovers, dying in childbirth are popular topics. Also there might have been an expectation for female performers to be overtly feminine, have long hair, wear little dresses and sing in a high, girly voice. That has been blown out of the water by big voiced gals such as Eliza Carthy and Lucy Ward. O'Hooley & Tidow challenge many a stereotype and have still found a welcoming bosom in the folk scene!'
What's the worst gig you've ever played?
Belinda 'Naming no names, a certain festival where we performed our acoustic set on one stage, whilst a really loud funk band were playing 100 yards away at the same time. Our music is lead by the lyrics, so if you can't hear the words…'
Heidi 'I agree, the gig Belinda mentioned was pretty rough. The thing is you still have to be really professional, even under really difficult circumstances. If you throw a strop, that's what you're remembered for, whether the organisers of the show are at fault or not.'
And the best?
Heidi 'There have been loads of wonderful gigs, for many different reasons, but the one that always sticks in my mind was the tiny Valley Folk Club in Pontardawe in Wales last September. We did it completely acoustic - no PA system - and we were made so welcome by the local people. They really embraced us and there was such a community atmosphere. It was around the time of the Gleision Colliery disaster there, and we sang a mining song for them,
it was a really moving and unique experience.'
Belinda 'Sometimes it's the little gigs and sometimes it's the big gigs. The Sage, Gateshead is an incredible venue for a performer and we were really lucky to play there on this tour. The hall is acoustically perfect, I played a Steinway Model D grand piano and the sound system makes everything sound gorgeous, even us!'
You've had some amazing reviews. Do you ever fixate on the odd bad one?
Heidi 'We've been overwhelmed by the response to “The Fragile” - four stars in The Guardian, Mojo, Uncut and Songlines. It doesn't get much better in my opinion. With the first album, we had some great reviews too, but when we occasionally got criticised, I did get a bit fixated on it to be honest. However, with this album, the minor critique we've had hasn't bothered me.'
Perhaps you start to develop more of a thick skin as you get older?
Belinda 'Well I must have the skin of a rhinoceros, then!'
Heidi 'No comment.'
There are certain stereotypes attached to lesbian folk singers. What would you say to people who think 'that's not for me'?
Belinda 'Really? Perhaps it conjures up a certain type of performer, I don't know. We would like to be known as songwriters first, who happen to be lesbians. Our audiences are a broad mix of people, and plenty of gay men and lesbians like what we do.'
Heidi 'Perhaps it's because many people haven't been exposed to folk music, and don't realise that the folk genre is quite broad. I can't comment on other folk singers who are also lesbians, but our music addresses many topics which I think gay men, or anyone for that matter, could relate to.'
The Fragile' is available from www.ohooleyandtidow.com.