Saturday, 25 April 2015

Bella Hardy - MAC Birmingham Friday 24th April 2015

The talents of Bella Hardy are well known within the folk world, so maybe it’s worth just opening this piece with a complementary word about her band which does an incredible job bringing the songs to life. Obviously it helps when you have the most gorgeous of voices to project the lyrics, but the subtle way in which two keys, piano, percussion, guitar, banjo and lap top melted into the songs was a highly impressive listening experience. Yes the word lap top is correct as Ben Seal added a digital touch to what is in essence a roots infused sound. When you factor in Bella’s fiddle playing to the mix of Ben (keys, lap top) Anna Massie (guitar, banjo), Tom Gibbs (piano, keys) and Tim Lane (percussion), the setting was perfect for an abundance of outstanding songs and tunes to flourish.

Bella was returning to the MAC in Birmingham just under a year since her last visit to the venue as part of the 30 shows project to celebrate her 30th birthday. This time the tour had the purpose of promoting the latest album, WITH THE DAWN, and in the week that Bella metaphorically handed over the BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year crown to Nancy Kerr, she was in a buoyant mood to share the treasures from this excellent new record. Like all potentially great albums, the tracks require some intense initial listening, but gradually the enormity of their worth unravels in good time. Bella introduced ten of the eleven tracks to an audience enthusiastic in their appreciation and generous in their response to the album's availability at the merch table.

The album’s two opening tracks, ‘The Only Thing to Do’ and ‘First Light of the Morning’, also played a similar a role in this evening’s event which rolled out in the usual format of a pair of sets, with the second lasting a little longer than the opening 45 minute one. Having been fortunate to access a pre-release copy, it was wonderful to get a live confirmation that ‘Oh! My God! I Miss You’ is just as good in a theatre setting as it is on record. As per usual one track increased its level of appreciation with a live airing and on this occasion ‘Gifts’ came on leaps and bounds.

Of course the stories behind the songs are an integral part of any folk gig and Bella is as engaging as you could wish for. From the new album, we learned of her Canadian experience and a liaison with Cara Luft when introducing ‘Time Wanders On’. Maybe the most enlightening tale from WITH THE DAWN was the characters that painted a picture of The Great War from a female perspective in ‘Jolly Good Luck to the Girl That Loves a Soldier’. Listening to a raft of songs from this record live vastly raised its appreciation level and in time it is likely to rival her other widely acclaimed releases.

Herring Girl’ is one of Bella’s most popular older songs and, like herself, a previous award winner. Tonight’s performance was complete with the background story plus extra contributions from Anna and Tom. Other older songs to feature were the requested ‘Three Pieces of My Heart’, Bella’s offering to the Elizabethan Sessions project ‘Hatfield’ and the absolutely fantastic ‘Walk it With You’. This last song showcases her production versatility in a positive glow as it almost comes across with mature pop sensibilities. By the time Bella returned to her fiddle to play the specially written encore tune ‘Foolish Trouble Farewell’, everybody in the building had been given a stark reminder of why Bella is such a highly rated performer.

The thirties decade is likely to be just as productive for Bella Hardy as was her twenties. No doubt many collaborations, projects and traditional song gatherings will emerge to complement her natural talent for penning an original song. Continued work with Ben and her fellow players will further advance the appeal that will always centre round her beautiful vocal acumen. A significant majority of this Birmingham audience will testify to such a sentiment.

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