Bella Hardy, with Chris Sherburn |
at The Forge,
(20 June 2008)
"Apparently, that was a song about sex," quipped Chris Sherburn of Last Night's Fun, Bella Hardy's bandmate and comedian for the night, pointing out the obvious to the most obtuse audience member. There's something about the way she holds out certain notes just so, pausing at the right place for effect, that not only makes the meaning of "The Bird in the Bush" crystal clear to listeners, but also turns it into a lesson on how to make a traditional song your own without going over the top.
Hardy doesn't go over the top when she sings, but perhaps her brand new fiddle seems a bit over the top to her. She admits she spent six years saving for it, and it certainly seems worth it. Actually fiddling as she sings, Hardy holds her fiddle almost straight out in front of her; she doesn't necessarily rest her chin on it, turning it to her side only when she's not singing. Her rhythmic voice works well with her fiddling and with Sherburn's concertina, whether she's singing about deaths in "Edward in the Lowlands Low" ("two deaths in this one," she warned us ahead of time) or "The Ballad of Molly Vaughn" ("only one death, but there's a ghost as well," she promised).
Traditional ballads were the focus of the night. Although Hardy seems young chronologically (she was a finalist for the BBC Young Folk Award merely four years ago), she is well versed in tradition, performing even more traditional pieces during the evening, including "Collier Lads," "Dog & Gun" (in which she assured us nobody was shot) and "The Sprig of Thyme." However, she demonstrated that she can adapt traditional material with a slightly modernized version of "Searching for Lambs," and her vocal delivery style managed to make Kristina Olson's "Heart Hill" sound traditional, despite its references to the RAF.
However, it's not just Hardy's voice and fiddle that made the show. She herself said she gets "very achy cheeks after gigs" because she laughs so much at Sherburn's jokes. The two of them were almost a comedy act on stage, with Sherburn's wry, droll wit making comments at just the right moment. At times he seemed to put her down, commenting before the interval he thought Bella was being optimistic by bringing five CDs to sell, but the twinkle in his eyes revealed it was all good-natured ribbing. Both she and the audience laughed, particularly as his humour turned self-deprecating regarding his Yorkshire upbringing, and his concertina playing, particularly on "Searching for Lambs," clearly added to the night's authenticity.
Hardy picked up some of Sherburn's matter-of-fact sense of humour toward the end of the gig, explaining "this is your last one before we go off, you clap and we come back." That last number actually was two tunes, one Irish, one Scottish. Their encore was "Down in Yon Forest." The instrumentals sounded almost spooky, but she picked up the pace with the last verse. Whilst her voice can seem fragile, it's the fragile made strong, with marvelous crescendos.
Every Christmas Eve, Hardy said she returns to Derbyshire to sing traditional carols with local singers. I have a feeling that the road to Derbyshire may become more and more crowded this December.
by Ellen Rawson