O’Hooley and Tidow, Astor Theatre, Deal – Live Review

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From the West of Yorkshire to the South-East of Kent, O’Hooley and Tidow once again journeyed to bring their particular blend of characterful folk to the people of Deal. In the century old Astor Theatre, the Huddersfield duo of Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow took to the community theatre stage in the town with a rich connection to, and arguably Kent’s epicentre of, folk music. 

O'Hooley and Tidow

On a night that showcased the very best of O’Hooley & Tidow’s great back catalogue, the affable and extremely amiable couple delighted a captivated audience with their unique mix of wryly observed and passionately charged songs. Belinda and Heidi chose not to have a support act and instead split the evening into two acts. 

In front of a very well-behaved crowd, arranged neatly in ‘cabaret style’ seating, O’Hooley & Tidow opened the show with the title track of their 2014 album ‘Hum’, but not before Heidi had given us the amusing, first-hand back-story. The tale of blissfully unaware house buyers (Jennifer and Wayne), well-intentioned but interfering neighbours and the dulcet tones of the local factory at the bottom of their road was a great introduction to the night. The brooding story of the factory’s fifty week a year thrum gave way to the rather more lively ‘Colne Valley Hearts’.

From the outset it was clear that the duo were on fine form. The interaction with the crowd, the harmonisation and symbiotic nature of their performance and the quality of the vocals was perfectly suited to the intimate surroundings of the theatre once frequented by Noel Coward. On the Koichi Kawai grand piano, that had been tuned earlier that day, Belinda played effortlessly and exquisitely all evening. Only twice during the performance did she leave her piano stool. Once, after a touching song about sanctuary elephants (‘Blanket’), to perform the slightly altered (‘It’s frowned upon in folk circles, but they don’t care’) version of ‘All For Me Grog’, where she played the accordion for all its worth, and then later on when she sang a beautiful a cappella un-mic’d duet ‘She Lived Beside The Anner’. The completely stripped back, unenhanced and wholly natural delivery was a goosebump moment as the pair sang out pitch perfect vocals in unison.  

There was not a song in the setlist that didn’t merit its inclusion but there were a few that stood out as highlights during the very entertaining evening. On a night where inspirational women not only took to the stage but also gave rise to many of the songs they performed, it became evident just how good the song-writing and story-telling of O’Hooley and Tidow is. The first half closer about the Yorkshire-born record-breaking cyclist Beryl Burton OBE was outstanding. There was hint of Victoria Wood about the composition and delivery as Belinda and Heidi sang out in celebration of the world-beating peddler. The upbeat and rhythmic tune was a joyful tribute: “You might think that she was born on two wheels, Mam and Dad behind her and the stars on her heels, never lookin’ back I’m going to make me mark.”

A similarly fitting homage came as the duo called out the cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova as inspiration for their song ‘Woman In Space’. Heidi introduced the song by saying “If you give women space they can do anything”. She then told us of the previous night’s concert where someone had quipped, “apart from Brexit!”. “For anyone who voted to leave” they played out the politically charged and impassioned, ‘Made In England’ and to champion the restorative health benefits of collective dance, they played tribute to Daisy Daking with ‘The Pixie’.

Belinda announced during the night that “if you hadn’t already guessed, Heidi is pregnant. It’s OK, it was planned.” This gave rise to news of a solo project, ‘Inversions’, that is due from Belinda and a quite stunning piano performance of one of the tracks from it. As the night drew to a close, the couple played out a fabulous, emotive and stirring version of ‘Like Horses’ and then a quite brilliant take on ‘Gentleman Jack’; a track soon to be used during the credits of the BBC TV drama of the same name starring Suranne Jones and Sally Wainwright. 2010’s ‘Too Old To Dream’ served as a fitting encore before Belinda and Heidi took the applause of the enthusiastic audience. 

On the South-East coast O’Hooley And Tidow treated the people of Deal to an evening of fabulous folk music. Their vocal harmonies were beautiful and beguiling, the piano playing faultless, and the songs just delightful.