Bella Hardy in party mood as she reaches 30
- Credit: Archant
Amid the artificial twangs of electro-pop and ground-shattering beats of drum and base, folk music is enjoying a steady revival, with artists such as Laura Marling, Ed Sheeran and Mumford and Sons scooping up Brit Awards.
One more traditional heroine of the genre, Bella Hardy, is the most recent recipient of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year Award and the winner of Best Original Song in 2012, for The Herring Girl.
A softly-spoken, plain-talking performer, she re-imagines centuries-old stories, and writes her own compositions.
Hardy now lives in Edinburgh, but grew up in the Derbyshire Peak District.
When she was a teenager, she learnt to play her grandfather’s fiddle and joined the school Céilidh band.
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“The only way to afford to go to festivals was to get free tickets – so we formed bands to go to festivals and have parties – and that’s how I became a performer. And I just loved any music which had a bit of a story element to it.”
To mark her 30th birthday, Hardy and her band, The Midnight Watch, are making a pilgrimage across the country in a whistle-stop tour of 30 venues including Cecil Sharp House, Regent’s Park Road, Primrose Hill, home to the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
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Folk music traditionally is about oral history; passing anecdotes down the generations, preserving a way of life. It was sung in mines, and in factories, weaving songs laced with politics, but Hardy also brings her perspective to the mix.
One song from Battleplan, her latest release, is based on the Raggle-Taggle Gypsies’ story.
In The Good Man’s Wife, Hardy finds herself “telling a new version of it from the woman’s perspective – because she’s the main character in the ballad – but she doesn’t really have a say in it”.
“I write in a way that hopefully highlights all sorts of stuff, because everything is political.”
In Hardy’s songs, the historical merges with the personal.
“I started off by hiding my own lyrics and putting my own feelings and emotions into songs about other people – hiding myself in stories about other people.
“By the time you’ve reached 30, you’ve been through a certain amount of human emotion – I really wanted to connect to people more directly. [Battleplan] is definitely more biographical.”
The singer has a prolific work ethic and usually has “about three notebooks on me – just jotting down ideas.”
The story behind the name, Battleplan, comes from the song, Sleeping Beauty, which includes the lyrics, “...wars they are lost before they’re begun, for battles they never go to plan”.
Aspiring songwriters and artists should take heart if things do not always seem to be going their way.
Hardy says: “The songs were quite often about plans and thoughts and things – but things not actually going to plan.”
This is apt in folk music as a whole – stories change and evolve as they pass through different voices, but narratives rarely play out accordingly.
Bella Hardy plays Cecil Sharp House tonight. Tickets are £12. Visit bellahardy.com.