15/03/2014 | O’Hooley & Tidow – The Stables, Milton Keynes

Lisa Ward

I have to admit I’ve recently felt a growing concern that folk music has lost sight of its roots, the social commentary which to me is the essence of the genre being absent in some of the emerging artist’s work. Thankfully O’Hooley and Tidow show no sign of losing the same sense of vision, instead delivering a set which takes us from Russia to Blackpool with a night of moral conscience and humour merged together as one.

Opening with the title track from their latest album, The Hum, they create an atmospheric sound which swells and grows throughout the night. Though O’Hooley’s piano playing is faultless, it’s the a cappella numbers like She Lives Beside The Anner and their cover of Massive Attack’s Teardrop which really stop the crowd in their tracks. Their voices and harmonies blend as one, at times making it impossible to tell who is singing which part.

Politically they take a look at adoption in Two Mothers, pay homage to Pussy Riot in Coil & Spring and suicide bombers in Peculiar Brood. You’d be forgiven then for assuming it’s a somber affair, but this is wrapped up in blanket of honest humour. With lighter songs such as Summat’s Brewin’ taking a look at the revolution of Real Ale and their “alternative love song” Shelter Me, they also offer relief from the doom and gloom. For me however it’s A Daytrip which effortlessly fuses the two. Detailing an elderly couples’ outing to the seaside it combines an element of nostalgia with witty lines, and an intricate piano melody that highlights their ability to encapsulate more everyday events and transform them into numbers with heart.

As they round off with the equally impressive anti-war song Like Horses, dedicated to the late Tony Benn, and the sombre Too Old To Dream, inspired by O’Hooley’s days as an entertainer in an old people’s home, it feels like the band have walked us through an evening of political activism through song. No subject left untouched, they’re able to explore pertinent issues with a sensitivity and musical dexterity which others would be hard pressed to replicate.

Images copyright © Jo Cox. All rights reserved.