Bella Hardy and the Midnight Watch

Bella Hardy is one of those performers whose warmth and affability immediately put you at ease. She takes her music seriously and this show has the kind of professional polish and slick structure that you might expect of an artist in the peak of her career. The fact that Hardy is still so young bodes very well for the future of folk. The set tonight combines self-penned material and traditional folk songs - many revolve around the theme of women brought low by the love of a bad man. Indeed, at one point she jokes that the message of the show should be that if you’re female, don’t go anywhere near the water with a man. There is some lovely, gentle banter between Hardy and her band members, whom she introduces throughout the set. So, we have Anna Massie on guitar and banjo, Angus Lyon on keyboard and grand piano, Mattie Foulds on drums, and James Lindsay on double bass. Funny, charming, articulate, down to earth, and gracious, Hardy is a terrific host. I’m also impressed by her glam outfit – a white, sparkly little number, that suggests she’s treating the night as something that little bit special.

Singer, band, sound man - everything was in harmony tonight. Delightful stuff.

Opening with the first track from ‘Battleplan’, (her latest album) ‘Good Man’s Wife’ is a song that swells beautifully and contains some of the many arresting lyrics of the evening: ‘I've been loving you like a soldier in the peacetime, waiting for the war.’ On to ‘Whiskey, You’re The Devil’, an old folkie foot-stomper. A song about syphilis, ‘True Hearted Girl’, finds Lyon on accordion. Hardy sings with just piano accompaniment for Pheobe Smith’s warning song, ‘The Yellow Handkerchief’. ‘Three Pieces of My Heart’ sees the band back on stage to create a full, lush sound and then there’s an amusing back-story and song about swimming in a tropical Firth of Forth in ‘Sleeping Beauty’. At times Hardy plays her violin like a guitar, but on ‘Through Lonesome Woods’ – another warning song, this one rockier – it’s back under her chin, as the spotlight catches her bow strings snapping and flying in the air. The tribulations of women are highlighted again in ‘The Herring Girl’, brilliantly introduced by Anna Massie, whose own ancestors travelled with the catches to clean and gut fish. Though an original this track, both in sound and story, feels like it could have been written a couple of hundred years ago.

Hardy introduces ‘The Seventh Girl’ as ‘more cheerful’, with only seven deaths! She also explains it is inspired by the ballad, ‘The Outlandish Knight’. As an English Literature graduate, Hardy wears her literary credentials on her sleeve; ‘Jenny Wren’ is a song about the little disabled doll’s dressmaker from ‘Our Mutual Friend’. This song alone is reason enough for me to get excited. Other tracks include ‘Drifting Away’, inspired by the sky after a firework display; sea shanty ‘One More Day’; ‘Labyrinth’, based on Theseus feeding the Minotaur - causing more broken bow strings. Finally we have ‘Walk It With You’, a slow number, featuring a lovely keyboard solo.

Of course, being the perfect host, Hardy doesn’t forget to thank and chat to the final band member, her sound man. Singer, band, sound man - everything was in harmony tonight. Delightful stuff.

Reviews by Ella Moran-Jones

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The Blurb

One of the most creative, prolific and original voices on the flourishing UK folk scene, winning Best Original Track at BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2012, showcasing material from latest album Battleplan.