Tuesday, 17 June 2014


Live Review

MAC Birmingham

Derbyshire lass Bella Hardy was a little over half way through her 30 for 30 tour, covering 30 venues to mark her 30th birthday, when she played for the first time at the MAC theatre in Birmingham.

Bella Hardy
As Hardy opened with Good Man's Wife she was backed by Anna Massie on guitar and vocals, Angus Lyon on keyboards and accordion and James Lindsay on double bass and vocals, collectively The Midnight Watch.
She opened with a couple of songs from her last album, Battleplan,  released just over a year ago starting with the pizzicato sound of her fiddle before going into the much lustier and traditional Whisky You're The Devil.
There is something very engaging and likeable about Hardy, her friendly and laid back personality seems to shine through from the moment she steps on to the stage.
But what stands out more than anything is her clear and versatile voice which never strains and takes every challenge of her songs with consummate ease. Something which obviously helped her win the Radio2 Folk Singer of 2014 award.
It wasn't until after her second song that she acknowledged the audience giving a little explanation of the giant silver 3 and 0 shaped balloons bobbing slightly in the background.
She went to the other end of her recording career for the next track with Three Black Feathers from her 2007 debut album Night Visiting.
This ballad of the traditional doomed love, gave Hardy a chance to let out the more soulful side of her voice and yet again without effort she produced every note as clear as someone flicking a crystal goblet.
Going back even further she pulled out Jenny Wren, a ballad she wrote while still a schoolgirl while on one of her lengthy bus rides in the Derbyshire Dales.
The song was more upbeat than the previous and you could almost feel the rhythm of the bus going up and down and winding round the narrow lanes of the Dales. It's a simple tune and all the better for it with Hardy adding colour to the words with her fiddle.
Things became much darker with another from her latest album, Three Pieces of My Heart, which is almost a torch song and Hardy's deeper rendition being carried along by Lyon on the keyboard which he had set to the funky sound of the organ which gave it a retro feel.
Anna Massie
Breaking with the tradition of folk singers she introduced what she called her happy song but not wanting to leave it behind fully she called it the Darkening of the Day.
It is however, a jauntier tune and really allowed Hardy to show how easy she makes it look to swing her voice from either end of her range and hit every note in between with the precision of a military sharpshooter. It was given a European flavour with Lyon switching to the keyboard on his accordion.
Full Moon Over Amsterdam from her 2011 album Songs Lost & Stolen is a lovely gentle ballad which reminded of the style of singer and storyteller Anne Lister. It was inspired by Hardy's long haul flight to Japan some years ago and when she had to wait for her plane in the Danish capital.
Before the break in proceedings she left the appreciative audience with a murder ballad called The Seventh Girl based on another traditional song, the much-covered Outlandish Knight.
Taking the first half out on a high, Hardy kept the traditional and hearty feel and sound of the song as in her version the narrative tells of the knight's comeuppance.
She opened the second half with another from Battleplan with just herself and Lyon on the keyboard with the ballad Yellow Handkerchief.
With the full complement back, Hardy then provided a slightly more upbeat version of Good Friday than that which she put down on her Songs Lost... album. Lyon provided a funky melody on the keyboard which again gave it a 60/70s retro feel.
This gave way to Sleeping Beauty which more than any other of the set showed off how rich and gorgeous Hardy's tones are. Hardy must have something of the frustrated guitarist in her as this was another one of a few where she played her fiddle pizzicato holding it as though it was as ukulele. However, her plucking accented her rich tones beautifully.
Tilley's inspiration
Massie's guitar picking skills opened and provided the rhythm for Sylvie Sovay which built up to where Hardy showed her theatre musical voice with the MAC venue barely being able to contain the powerful sound she was letting loose.
Her backing band left the stage for the next offering as she moved into a song commissioned for a forthcoming compilation album. With many other artists she has been asked to produce a track inspired by a personal story from World War One.
Hardy admitted to really struggling to write a song which was fitting and she was eventually inspired by the sound of Worcestershire lass Vesta Tilley.
Tilley wrote a song called Jolly Good Luck To A Girl Who Loves A Soldier which Hardy has taken as the title of her version but which has a much less jingoistic approach than the original.
Once again it started with her using the fiddle like a ukulele and is a solid ballad which had more than a feel of Eva Cassidy's Tall Trees in Georgia.
If they ever capture on disc the clarity of Hardy's voice as she sang this track they will do well and the end refrain sends shivers down your spine before she closed it gently with just the plucking of the fiddle strings.
Rejoined by her band, she sang one another traditional song, Herring Girl, which as the title suggests is inspired by the fishing industry.
The song is strong narrative ballad about the hardships families, especially women, faced as they tried to survive and earn a living while being exploited by the captains of industry among others.
While touring Canada with Cara Luft, Hardy was fortunate enough to witness the Northern Lights and her next offering Time Wanders On was inspired by this.
The skipping ballad has a sound big enough to do justice to the experience of such an inspiring sight with the Midnight Watch filling out the venue with a fantastic sound reminiscent of ceilidhs and hoe downs. The only downside being it's quite a short song and it would have been nice to enjoy it for much longer.
The final song of the set was Walking With You which is a tribute to Hardy's sisters and is a slow ballad which has much more of a country feel about it.
This was leg 17 of her tour and while it may have been Hardy's first visit to the MAC the odds are it won't be her last.