INTERVIEW: BELLA HARDY
At just 25 years old, traditional singer and fiddle player Bella Hardy is already a firm favourite on the folk circuit, renowned for her rich and true voice. Her latest album Songs Lost & Stolen received a coveted No. 2 spot in MOJO magazine’s Folk Albums of the Year, and her song The Herring Girl has been nominated in the Best Original Song category of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. On Thursday she brings her festive tour, Bright Morning Star, to the Tolbooth. She will be joined by guitarist Anna Massie, who also tours with Blazin’ Fiddles and The Unusual Suspects, and concertina genius Chris Sherburn of Last Night’s Fun.
What can we expect from the Bright Morning Star Tour?
Christmas songs, Christmas songs, Christmas songs! A whole gig of them! It’s a mix of traditional songs such as The Coventry Carol, and the oldest tune I know to The Holly & The Ivy, with lots of modern songs that everyone knows, like Rocking Around The Christmas Tree! There’s a fantastic caroling tradition in the North of Derbyshire where I’m from, and I sing a selection of carols from Castleton which is the village next to my Edale home. You can also expect fairy lights, tinsel, baubles, and bad cracker jokes… the full works!
Growing up did you ever feel slightly intimidated being involved in a genre that is dominated by older individuals?
I really wasn’t involved in the folk scene growing up, I was only aware of traditional songs, so I was pretty unaware of the folk greats! My family were more about communal music, singing in the church choir and just making music round the house. My dad grew up in Hull and loved the Watersons and a few other folk singers, but it was the songs that he brought home which we all sang, rather than knowledge of the singers. We had a few cassette tapes too - I remember hearing Steeleye Span, but I’d never seen them live so apart from being great sing-along songs, the names didn’t really mean anything to me. It was only when I started attending festivals as a teenager that I became aware of the actual folk scene, rather than just the traditional music. That led to a teenage - and continued - love of the fantastic singers that there are in folk music. I only really knew about the English singers at first, and then I started hearing the great Scottish voices, and went to Cullerlie’s traditional song weekend back in 2007. That was a real education!
Latest album Songs Lost & Stolen is Mojo Magazine’s No. 2 Folk album of the year. How does that feel?
Awesome. Completely incredible. You put so much into an album and it’s a fantastic feeling to know people like it.
You have said that your music is fueled by literature and fairytales. Are there any particular stories that have inspired your sound?
I love the writing of Angela Carter. Her collection The Bloody Chamber uses fairy stories as a starting point to write new works that are stark and adult and very dark, and I’m always inspired by them. ‘Rosabel’ from Songs Lost & Stolen was written after rereading ‘The Courtship of Mr. Lyon’ from that collection.
You have two degrees in English Lit and Music – does a career in academia beckon or are you fully committed to your music career?
I like studying, but only in retrospect. While I’m doing it I’m generally cursing all the essays that need writing! I would gladly study English Literature some more because I’m a happy person when I’m buried in books. But I’m enjoying singing for my supper just now.
Do you have a certain procedure for writing your songs?
No, they come to me in all forms, all shapes and sizes. Sometimes I have a tune stuck in my head and it’s the job of finding the story that goes with it. Usually I sit down with my scrapbook of notes (pages torn from years and years worth of notepads) and find links between lines and ideas. And sometimes, though much more rarely, I just sit down and write a song start to finish. But it’s making the time to sit and not have anything else going on, just to focus on writing without distraction, that’s the important bit.
The past few years have been exciting for you. What are your aims for 2012?
I’m currently writing a set of songs from my Peak District home. It’s the national park between Sheffield and Manchester. The local traditional songs and stories have almost died out, so I’m writing new tunes to them, and retelling some of the myths that never made it into song. It’s lovely to be doing a project about an area I love and know so well. And hopefully I’ll be releasing an album next summer. But this month, it’s all about the Christmas songs for me!
Finally, what would be on your perfect playlist?
- James Taylor & Carole King - Close your Eyes
- Billie Holiday - More Than You Know
- Sufjan Stevens - For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless in Ypsilanti
- Ella Fitzgerald - Sugar Blues
- Joni Mitchell - Blue
- Kate Bush - Hello Earth
- Mike Waterson - The Ballad of Tam Lyn
- Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott - Walk Beside Me
- Tom Waits - You Can Never Hold Back Spring
- The Cardigans - Live and Learn
Interview by Rachel Cunningham.