Intimate, melodic, tender, at times dramatic, this is an album that is distinctive, inventive and exceptional.
Yorkshire duo Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow have been writing and recording together since 2009. Between 2010 and 2016 they released five albums in six years, a period during which they were also nominated for Best Duo at the 2013 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, but ‘Cloudheads’ is actually their first full studio album in seven years.
It is a tremendous return, containing incredibly interesting and thoughtful songs, beautifully written and performed, that build upon and develop their long-established strengths of sharing personal experiences, observations of life and story telling set to predominantly piano-led arrangements but also featuring a wide range of highly skilled supporting musicians.
Recording began in September 2022 when O’Hooley and Tidow met up with actress Suranne Jones at Dean Street Studios in Soho. Having written and recorded the title song for the BBC series Gentleman Jack back in 2012, they followed this up with their tribute to the two main characters, Anne Lister and Ann Walker- ‘The Ballad Of Anne and Ann’– with Jones’ pure voice shining through the song. It is a real highlight of ‘Cloudheads’. Their interest in writing about particular characters is prevalent in other songs on the album; ‘Polly’ is all about Jack The Ripper’s first victim, whilst ‘Matthew And Ted’ tells of the last days of the touching relationship between their neighbour and his beloved Alsatian.
From Soho, recording continued at Peel House, a barn in Halifax, where Annie Lennox’s studio piano from her early Eurythmics days was used, an instrument with an amazing sound that O’Hooley and Tidow loved. Quite possibly, it is this piano, and their ability to write contemplative songs about themselves, that really take this album to another level.
‘Chimneys, Moors And Me’ is about the pride they have in the heritage and history of their beloved Yorkshire. “Water, grit, blood and dirt, We’re the proudest folk on earth, Pennines pulsing through our veins, Bringing us home again”. ‘Worn Out And Full Of Wonder’ is focused upon the joys of parenthood after they became parents to their son Flynn in September 2019- “One, two, three, Waltzing so easily, Three, two, one, Two mothers under one son, Worn out and full of wonder”– and title track ‘Cloudheads’ is deeply personal and reflective; both O’Hooley and Tidow were diagnosed as autistic in November 2020. “Too loud, too bright, Just not quite right, Everybody’s talking in riddles and rhymes, I need more time, To process and find.”
Tidow’s voice and O’Hooley’s piano playing are wonderful throughout, and with the addition of highly talented guitarist Katie Spencer, Michelle Stodart’s unique and sensitive bass playing, Anna Esslemont’s string arrangements and playing, Miriam Skinner’s beautiful cello, Jude Abbott’s Flugelhorn, Jack McNeill’s clarinet and Hannah James’ accordion and feet percussion, ‘Cloudheads’ is a musical delight. Intimate, melodic, tender, at times dramatic, this is an album that is distinctive, inventive and exceptional.