Inversions – Belinda O’Hooley

'Inversions' by Belinda O'Hooley is a piece of almost-entirely instrumental Celtic folk with a contemporary feel drawing on the influence of Irish family.

You may not have heard of Belinda O’Hooley before but she’s one half of O’Hooley and Tidow with her wife Heidi Tidow. Together, they are described by The Guardian as “exceptional songwriters” and their song ‘Gentleman Jack’ is the closing theme tune for Sally Wainwright’s latest BBC/HBO drama series of the same name. O’Hooley has accompanied Rufus Wainwright along with other folk luminaries such as Mercury Prize-nominated Rachel Unthank and The Winterset.

‘Inversions’ is a solo release by O’Hooley but was produced and recorded by Tidow at MOMA Wales where the mountains, valleys, and backdrop of Snowdonia inspire the couple’s deep love for nature and wildlife.

‘Inversions’ is something completely different and I loved it. Topped and tailed with two powerful spoken word pieces – ‘Inside a Soul’ and ‘My Father’s Reel’ – in between are ten outstanding instrumentals.

Only one piece features O’Hooley’s beautiful, pure voice, ‘Hawkward’, a reflection on grief, loss, liberation, and freedom with its gentle melody and soaring chorus.

Three instrumentals are Tidow’s compositions; ‘Cadair Idris’, ‘Felingerrig’ and the utterly exquisite ‘Aran Fawddwy’ – celebrating the stunning Welsh landscapes in which they were steeped for the duration. Yet O’Hooley’s Irish links are woven throughout. The Celtic sensitivity to music, song, nature, the past and its impact on the present feature in what is a uniquely crafted, carefully thought through and considered compilation.

Belinda O’Hooley

O’Hooley began playing the piano aged seven and is clearly an exceptionally gifted pianist, singer, songwriter, composer, and poet. Ireland is in her blood, and it’s clear to hear why and how many of these pieces have been inspired by the songs and tunes her father inherited from a long line of male musicians from Monalea in the Ox Mountains of Sligo.

With the passing of her father in 2017, Belinda is the first woman to be handed the tradition, and found the freedom to express the music of her ancestors in her own, unconventional way, evolving and migrating into something you could describe as an inversion: a reversal of the norm’ – hence the album’s title – Inversions.

For example, ‘The Swallow’s Tail’ was her father’s signature reel. Here, she transforms it and makes it her own rebellious form of the original. ‘Dilin O’Deamhas’ is a traditional Irish nursery rhyme covered by John Spillane in the past. O’Hooley converts her version from one originally learned from renowned musician Colm O’Donnell. The tune ‘Skibbereen’ has also been covered many times in the past. Featuring Uilleann pipe lament and whistle accompaniment by Michael McGoldrick, ‘Skibbereen’ – which means Little Boat Harbour – was badly hit by the famine with many thousand buried in mass graves, or to survive, it was from here they parted from their loved one to take the so-called “coffin boats” to America.

‘The Applecross Inn’ takes us in to the realms of a traditional Irish pub, reminding us of the root and branch of these melodies, before gracing in to a twisting, reflective instrumental – the hills of greenmore, pipistrelles at 6pm and the bonny boy – the tune O’Hooley played at her father’s funeral. It was from this point forward, that she began the reworkings of her father’s musical legacy, and hence, ‘Inversions’ was born.

The spoken word pieces that start and end the album are powerful, reflective, sensitive, explorations of patriarchy and the financial, social and hierarchical struggles within a typical Irish family of past times.

I am somewhat in love with this album. O’Hooley and Tidow have a new fan and no doubt, their song’s inclusion on Gentleman Jack will bring fresh recognition and outcomes.

An ‘Inversions’ tour takes place across England and Wales in September. You can find out more at ‘Inversions’ is released on 28th June 2019 on the No Masters label.