“It feels like fresh air, it feels like I can fly and be myself”


Pianist, composer and singer-songwriter Belinda O’Hooley – aka, one half of Yorkshire gentlewoman folk duo, O’Hooley & Tidow – is about to release her latest solo album, Inversions.

But how did the album come to be? And how, as a collection of songs that were traditionally passed from Irish father to son, did Belinda navigate re-carving those songs for herself? DIVA spoke to Belinda to learn the story behind this (really rather beautiful) solo album.

DIVA: Tell us about your new solo album, Inversions.

BELINDA O’HOOLEY: It came to be after my dad died, 18 months ago. These tunes and songs that he used to sing have always been there. I’ve absorbed them, but they were never meant for me. My dad comes from an Irish family and in their family they pass the music down from father to son. I was on the sideline a little, delegated to where women are in Irish families which is as the people who do the cooking and the cleaning and the looking after. It wasn’t until he died that I felt like I had the freedom to explore those tunes. I felt myself going to the piano a lot and playing them, but in a different way – an inverted way. 

And how did that call to the piano become an album?

It was Heidi [Tidow, Belinda’s wife]. I know it’s a solo album, but it’s very much got Heidi’s encouragement and nurturing all the way through it. It was her that said, “You should recarve them, Belinda.” And she produced the album and recorded it for me. It’s been a really lovely collaboration, really.

It’s very much been a DIY process then?

Yeah, when we were down in Wales at MOMA, there’s such a beautiful piano and I wanted to capture on film some of what goes on behind the scenes when we record an album because, unless you’re actually in the business, you might not know how the recording process can take shape. Especially when you’re DIY, perhaps it gives a bit of inspiration for people who want to try and do music. To know that you don’t need a massive record company and don’t need all these people, you can learn to do it yourself.

Was using these inherited songs ever something you ever spoke to your father about?

I didn’t discuss it with him. My dad was quite a judgmental person and I think that he was always very, very opinionated about music and very opinionated about what he thought I should be doing, and how I should be doing it. It took him a long time to accept my sexuality. The way he would have liked me to have done this album is not how I would want to do it, and I think it’s really his death that’s given me the freedom to make my own decisions.

The only vocal song on the album, Hawkward – is that story in there?

It is, yeah. The album has a story running through it and, by My Father’s Reel at the end of the album, you know what I’m doing and why. Hawkward is the central point of the album. It’s really about anybody who has been in an oppressive relationship with someone; that could be a partner, a friend, a parent. Anybody you feel very much oppressed by. And I think I felt very oppressed both by some of my father’s judgmental beliefs, and also Catholicism. We were bathed in catholicism as children. This song is about the freedom between the end of him and everything else – which feels like fresh air, and it feels like I can fly and be myself.

Is there a song on the album which sums up that feeling of liberation?

It’s actually one that Heidi wrote – Aran Fawddwy. That one is about climbing a mountain and getting to the top and the feeling you get when you’re liberated. It’s such a challenge and, certainly in queer culture, we have had to fight so hard to be seen and to be visible and to be ourselves. I mean, in a heteronormative world, heterosexual people can just take their sexuality as accepted, it’s seen as the norm. We’ve had to fight to be visible. I really hope that the album shows that the struggle is worth it. 

Themes of family, heritage, death, love and liberation abound – has becoming parents-to-be also left its mark?

Definitely, absolutely. Because when we recorded the album, we’d made our decision that we wanted to start having IVF but we hadn’t actually started the process until the January of this year. But we feel that as much as the album is about liberation from oppression and being able to be yourself, it’s also about starting a new life and the other ways that that takes shape. It could be you coming out as a person, your true self, but also giving birth. That and the first one song, Inside A Soul, is also about accepting your child and being open to their dreams and ambitions and giving them encouragement rather than letting your fear stop them from being themselves.

Looking back on your first solo album (Music Is My Silence, 2005), do the two feel like bookends? Is there any connection?

That’s a really good question… I don’t see them as book ends, I see them as very different. There’s a similarity, because when I did my first album it was after my mum died, so there is that connection in terms of losing a parent, but I feel like I’ve evolved a lot since then – that and me and Heidi have been playing for such a long time together. I feel like now is just the beginning because I know that we’ve both got lots of ideas for the future and I do think that having our baby is going to make a real difference to what we’re tuned into and what we’re thinking about.

Exciting stuff – and of course, there’s been Gentleman Jack which has opened up lots of different avenues for you both.

Yeah, absolutely. Our song being used as the theme for Gentleman Jack has introduced us to a lot of people in the industry and that’s an exciting thing to be part of…

And finally, once the baby’s here, will you be O’Hooley & Tidow & Baby?

I’ll tell you what, baby is going be involved in everything! We’re really excited and incredibly looking forward to being parents and hope that we can bring him to our little folk festival and give him lots of great experiences, as I’m sure he will give us.

Inversions is out September 2019. Belinda’s solo tour kicks off on 17 September at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, for tickets and full gig listings visit ohooleyandtidow.com/gigs

Only reading DIVA online? You’re missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It’s pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.

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