Thursday, April 28, 2011

O'Hooley and Tidow

Bristol Folk House March 11

I have been reading a book called Electric Eden. Apparently, Bristol Folk House was implicated in the abortive 1922 scheme to stage a series of Arthurian operas and establish Glastonbury as a sort of English Bayreuth. This isn't especially relevant to anything, but it gives me a sort of warm feeling of continuity.

Tonight's show takes place in the bar, rather than the main hall. Belinda "used to be in the unthanks" O'Hooley sits at the piano; Heidi Tidow stands and sings. They're both wearing masculine suits. (The BBC informs me that O'Hooley is a "lesbian icon".) They keep up a self-deprecating banter throughout the show. There's a man in the audience in a kilt, who seems to think everyone came to see him. You could easily feel that you'd blundered into a rather camp cabaret.

And they start singing. They run through the darkest and most depressing set I think I've ever heard. Oh, there are some bright moments. They open the second half with What Shall I Do If I Married A Tinker, lovingly ripped off from the Silly Sisters. (If you are going to imitate, imitate the best, as I always say.) But really. This is the sort of evening where a song about about child-victims of concentration camps ("they were like you in the same year/ but you grew up, they were scarcely even here") leads into one about the execution of Edith Cavel, and then into Whitethorn, a song in which an ancestor of the singer mourns the seventeen babies she gave birth to, not one of which survived. Things don't cheer up noticeably when we get to the duo's contribution to the the "Christmas single" genre. "She is the flower that I trod on when I went to post this card...She is the plastic I wrapped up for a child to undress She is the the shadow in the darkness, the object of my distress." God bless us every one.

O'Hooley has a highly expressive, sometimes almost violent style on the piano, and Tidow's declamatory, monolithic, by still highly emotive delivery put me slightly in mind of June Tabor. The encore is based around Belinda's day job, working in an old folks home. There is some banter about memory loss and wet seat covers, before going into a mercilessly bleak piece about old age and love and regret. ("She walks with the aid of a zimmer / to the chair on temporary loan / But then, she was a dancer / The quick step, the cha-cha...")

Truly, this was the kind of evening that might make you want to go home and slit your wrists, or at the very least, have several large whiskeys to cheer yourself up. I enjoyed it very much indeed.