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on 13 February 2012
It's become almost customary, when discussing O'Hooley and Tidow's albums, for reviewers to mention Belinda O'Hooley's previous work with The Unthanks. But that's understandable, because not only did Belinda's piano style contribute a great deal to the sound and mood of the award-winning `The Bairns', but her later work with Heidi Tidow is fully worthy to stand beside The Unthanks' refreshing brand of English folk music. O'Hooley and Tidow are less traditional than the other group, though, and both this and their first album `Silent June' consist almost entirely of memorable, self-penned songs - each album paying homage to its roots with a beautiful, lone and melancholic song by Ms or Mr Trad.

On the whole a jauntier album than its predecessor, `The Fragile' shares with it an underlying sense of melancholy and tenderness, and a preoccupation with `outsiders' and with people and animals who are so often ignored, unseen or victims of prejudice in our (it seems to me) increasingly cold and pitiless society. The tender compassion that permeates the album is far from hidden by the singalong tunes of some of its songs; `The Last Polar Bear', which was a recent online Christmas single, has a tune that lodges itself in your head, until it's immediately replaced by the irrepressibly catchy `Gentleman Jack', about a 19th Century gentlewoman whose serial seductions enraged countless boyfriends and husbands. Throughout these songs the arrangements are sparse but subtle and at times punchy, driven along by O'Hooley's piano while their voices float above. None more so than `Little Boy Blue', which creates some haunting sounds with no more than a prepared piano and the duo's exquisite voices. `Teardrop', meanwhile, showcases acappella harmonies that rival The Unthanks and once again reveal O'Hooley and Tidow's traditional roots.

Elderly people feature twice on this album. I remember Paul Heaton of The Beautiful South lamenting the ageism of pop music's usual subject matter, and the two on here are both beautiful and subtle tributes to another of society's almost invisible groups of human beings. `A Daytrip' is a jaunty but touching song about Vera and Albert's trip to the seaside, while `Mein Deern' (my personal favourite; it has a truly gorgeous melody) immortalises the last words to Heidi Tidow of her German grandmother. `She Lived Beside the Anner' is a haunting rendition of a traditional song, and prefaces the album's quiet climax, `Ronnie's Song', about an aging, homeless homosexual man, who was taken under the wing of an actress at a Huddersfield theatre. Her attitude - "a person is a person; it makes no odds to me", becomes the refrain of the song, and when the words are taken up by the London Diversity Choir at the end it takes on a wonderful, universal quality, without ever becoming embarrassingly overblown. The refrain has been in my head many times since, and for me it feels like an anthem to all victims of prejudice, for whatever reason, everywhere.

After this `big', yet always understated song, the album closes with a brief but touching tribute to a much-loved cat (animals and the environment being another `fragile' theme). There's a subtlety, softness and humour about O'Hooley and Tidow's music which (together with the catchy tunes) allows the listener to be completely free of any sense that they're being hit over the head with a political hammer. And yet, Belinda and Heidi's political sympathies are at times devastatingly clear, and nowhere more so than in the opening song, `The Tallest Tree', where a robin looks down on the world it sees below:

The second night her sleep disturbed by visions of a street
Where crows in pinstriped uniform gather to repeat
The systematic ruin of the commoner's nest egg
To feast upon their bonuses, then freely fly onwards

With its witty, touching lyrics, stick-in-your-brain tunes, gorgeous singing and wonderfully subtle arrangements, `The Fragile' deserves to win not only folk awards but the Mercury Music Prize as well. It's garnered many excellent reviews, and fully deserves them. Let's hope that like The Unthanks, who have to some extent transcended their folk / roots classification, it's not only in the folk world that O'Hooley and Tidow become popular.
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on 19 February 2012
I first heard Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow, when they may or may not have been introduced as O'Hooley & Tidow, as a support act 5-ish years ago. I'd never heard anyone play a piano, or keyboard as it was that night, quite like Belinda, and their songs had layers of meaning that left me thinking about the issues raised through-out the main act's set.

Having listened to a number of live performances as well as EPs and 2010's album "Silent June", "The Fragile" was eagerly awaited. Their harmonies are the tightest I've heard them, Heidi's voice is more assured (taking the full vocal on the haunting "Calling Me") and there are guest musicians and vocalists expanding the sound of a number of tracks. As ever, the majority of the album is self-penned by O'Hooley & Tidow and the songs range freely between those you'd expect to hear in a folk club, a music hall and on a commercial radio station.

"The Fragile" evokes new images and reveals more magic with every play. The catchy "Gentleman Jack" inspired by the diaries of Anne Lister (with guests from the recently disbanded "Uiscedwr" and newly launched "Bad Anna") stands out straight away. "Little Boy Blue", a 19th Century poem about the death of a child put to music by O'Hooley and Tidow, has a chorus of angels which when heard in stereo brought tears to my eyes; this track remains my favourite. "Ronnie's Song" is based on a true story about a theatre-loving homosexual man shunned by his family, homeless and alone, being taken in by an actress at a Huddersfield theatre; with additional strings and the London Diversity Choir on this track, it would be at home on the stage. A big song for the big difference made in one man's life.

The rest of the album covers issues such as inequality ("The Tallest Tree"), global warming ("The Last Polar Bear"), old age and death ("Mein Deern" and the traditional "She Lived Beside The Anner"). Many could also be interpreted in other ways depending upon mood of the listener, and how much they've been concentrating on the lyrics. Heidi's vocals on "Calling Me" give me goose-bumps without fail, although the song means completely different things to me each time I hear it. "A Daytrip" defies you not to sing along; "Teardrop" is an a cappella cover where I've heard the words of this Massive Attack song for the first time; "Pass It On" is a re-working of Belinda's earlier song, reminiscent of a folk club singaround; "Madgie in the Summerlands" (featuring Jackie Oates) is a trance-like short honouring their much-loved cat.

Whether you've heard O'Hooley & Tidow before or not, I urge you to listen to "The Fragile" and see what it means to you. It'll be interesting to see how these songs are reworked for live performance too. I feel the overall theme running through it is love in all its forms and I really do love this album!
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on 2 May 2012
Having seen o'Hooley and Tidow live at the Bristol Folk Club earlier this year, I was as keen as mustard to get hold of their latest album The Fragile. The majority of The Fragile was performed that night and I couldn't help but wonder if it were possible for such a memorable and mesmerizing evening to translate in a fixed body of work. I am glad to say that it certainly did, because The Fragile is an album that demands to be listened to and not simply acquiesce into the "white noise" of the increasingly overcrowded folk scene. That is not to say that there aren't many credible and talented musicians out there that don't deserve praise, but so much of the music drifts into a blur of vaguely forgetable pleasantry.

And here's the big difference; every song on O'Hooley and Tidow's The Fragile is distinctive and memorable. It is folk in every flavour and genre. With a mixture of classical and folk arrangements, traditional irish, and, to what sounds like, to my untrained ear, eastern european folk on the track "Mein Deern", parisian style accordian on "Pass it on"; this album has something for everyone. Yet in all the diversity there is a beautiful underpinning that holds it all together, the distinctive and harmonising voices of Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow themselves. Not to mention O'Hooley's beautiful piano work. The songs mainly written exclusively by O'Hooley and Tidow, are full of tenderness and joy, light and darkness, beauty and thought provoking narrative.

This is an extraordinary album, a real music lovers album, and a lesson in how execute the "difficult second album". I am already looking forward to the next one!
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on 14 February 2012
I thank the Gods for this timeless collection of well written; well produced and well crafted songs. I love the spaciousness of the arrangements the melodies weave like water. Refreshing songwriting and upholding and reinvigorating UK folk tradition. Gorgeous harmonies. Warm, melodic, interesting, it's already a Sunday afternoon favourite in my house, with each listening a new flavour or colour. Simply wonderful.
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on 14 April 2012
The stories behind the songs are, as ever with folk, one of the nicest elements of this genre, and O'Hooley and Tidow manage with an air of ease about them to create a great atmosphere, with well chosen words. Every song has a unique sound, and is powerful in its own way. These songs are ones that you will return to again, they are full of fantastically matched voice and instrumental moments, and do tend to stick in the head. They have a beautiful sound and a great contrast of songs, with some reflective or questioning (such as 'The Last Polar Bear', some mournful and affecting (such as 'Ronnie's song') and some full of fun and great lyrics (Such as 'Gentleman Jack'). A great album with something for everyone, and one to put on you iPod and relax with and enjoy many times.
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on 13 February 2012
I first saw O'Hooley and Tidow in Huddersfield, in the basement hall at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. I was spellbound then, and nothing has changed- the artistes are down to earth, talented and are basically lovely people!

O'Hooley and Tidow have a gift - they make you listen to their songs and actually become part of story that each song tells. Stirring lyrics and haunting music, before you know it, you'll be tapping your feet (if not jigging along) to the music.

Each song is different, each song is good, and the end of the album leaves you wanting more of the same. Their last album was excellent, this one is superb. It is well worth buying. Go and see them live if you can, you will not be disappointed with these fabulous songsters!
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on 13 February 2012
I should have learnt from 'Silent June' that you should never listen to O'Hooley and Tidow whilst driving. The songs are the sort that you really have to listen to with wonderful melodies and arrangements and thought-provoking lyrics. So they are way too much of a distraction from the open road or even the Tesco car park! 'The Fragile' is no different and I found myself wanting to listen, really listen, to every aspect of the music. It has a gentle sound with a serious message delivered with beautiful harmonies and lovely piano. These are songs that truly make you stop whatever you are doing because you just want to listen. Not a bad thing in this day and age!
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on 29 December 2013
I heard O'Hooley & Tidow for the first time on a programme about Nic Jones, and, after searching for them on YouTube, bought this CD. I love the music and the lyrics and will certainly listen to more
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on 8 April 2014
Came across this folk duo almost by chance and tried them out on Spotify before deciding I had to buy this CD. Hauntingly lyrical with great settings and arrangements. Enjoy!
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on 7 September 2014
This is a great album. I love these two so much! They are going to be HUGE. Bought for a friend as got mine at the gig. Arrived promptly and well packaged
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