New band and album for The Unthanks' Belinda O'Hooley
A new band, a new album ... but the same piano. Belinda O’Hooley talks to SAM WONFOR about life and music after The Unthanks.
AS tough decisions go, this was a toughy. Belinda O’Hooley was an integral part of a band which was tunefully travelling down the highway of commercial success, critical acclaim and international recognition at speed.
But something wasn’t right... and after a lot of deep soul searching, she left.
That band was the Northumberland-bred Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, and Belinda was the lady in charge of the distinctive keyboards which featured on – among other things – the band’s Mercury Music Prize-nominated album, The Bairns.
“It was a difficult time, and a very, very difficult decision,” says Belinda.
“It took me quite a while to decide to move on. There were lots of triggers. As we were getting more and more successful, there were some brilliant things happening and it was all very exciting, but at the same time, I felt a bit straitjacketed.
“I couldn’t develop my own songwriting and other styles of music and just felt like I needed to make that break. It was a relief when I made the decision. But it wasn’t an easy one to make.” That was back in January 2008, just a few months before The Bairns’ Mercury nomination did what Mercury nominations do.
At that time, Belinda was spending some time, simply getting her life in Huddersfield – where the Leeds-born singer had gone to university and subsequently met Rachel and Becky Unthank – back to normal.
“Having come out of the band, I had a lot more time, and I didn’t actually do anything for about six months.
“But starting to write songs and writing music, together with meeting Heidi (Tidow a fellow singer/songwriter), made me realise there was still all of this creativity in me.
“I wasn’t sure which direction to take it, but it was almost like it was organised for me. I was getting asked by lots of people in the folk world when I was going to do an album and start performing again. That gave me the nudge to say ‘right, I’m gonna do it’.”
And do it she – or should I say they – have. Under the monika O’Hooley and Tidow, Belinda and Heidi, who are partners in life as well as work, released their debut album, Silent June, to a raft of reviews that glow, in February.
“We got all these festival slots last year, without even having an album... and all these people were wanting to buy something from us, and we hadn’t recorded anything to sell to them,” says Belinda.
“So we saved up all the money and recorded the album at home. We bought all the equipment and used the piano which was used in The Bairns.”
It was an instrument Belinda couldn’t get away from – in more ways than one.