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The Coven

Slaithwaite Civic Hall
Saturday 5 March 2016

My first journey to Slaithwaite (pronounced Sla' Wit) was an interesting one. Lots of very serious gradients, both up and down, before eventually reaching the town which is situated in the Colne Valley, West Yorkshire. There was running water on the roads and the temperature was just above freezing. I don't actually pray but was fervently hoping it didn't freeze during the show as getting home again might be somewhat difficult. This show, the third of ten,  was inspired by International Women's Day and the artists had decided that the would stretch one day to 10 and do a short tour. Those involved in order of appearance were Grace Petrie, locals Belinda O'Hooley with partner Heidi Tidow and finally Hannah James, Rowan Rheingans and Hazel Askew otherwise known as Lady Maisery.

The first thing to note was that no act was the headliner, this was a show of equals. Grace opened, followed by Belinda and Heidi and then Lady Maisery. Second set saw a reverse running order. Of course there were some collaborations along the way. All came on stage at the same time and stayed there throughout. Hannah James looked to be enjoying herself so much I think she would have been happy to pay for the privilege. The Nook Brewery from Holmfirth had played their part by brewing a special ale called Coven Beer. Belinda quipped they had all contributed a lock of hair for the brew. More on that later.

Grace introduced herself as a Left Wing Protest Singer, think young female Billy Bragg with far more attitude and possibly more humour. She performed three songs solo on guitar, one angry, I Do Not Have The Power To Cause a Flood, her one and only happy Ivy and one sad, Iago. Ivy told the story of hurriedly leaving Glastonbury in 2014 to be present for the birth of her niece Ivy. A heartfelt "Thanks for not coming during Dolly Parton" was a memorable line. Grace then introduced Belinda and Heidi who opened with The Hum from the album of the same name. This was inspired by a house purchase which fell through when the prospective buyers realised there was a constant hum of industry. Nice modulating harmonies employed throughout. Another song from the same album followed Two Mothers, inspired by Jim Loach's film Oranges and Sunshine concerning enforced Child Migration. It also features on the very excellent album BALLADS OF CHILD MIGRATION. A very new fast paced song called Tour de Force inspired by Maxine Peake's play about legendary local champion cyclist Beryl Burton. This also featured the first collaboration with  everyone joining in, backing vocalists aptly titled The Berylettes for the evening.

So from Grace's solo voice to  two voices and now onto three as Lady Maisery started with Katy Cruel from MAYDAY. Hannah commented how excited she was which prompted a quip from Belinda about having a restraining order on Hannah. Throughout the show there was much humour , at times everyone on and off stage was laughing. I wish all shows had such obvious enjoyment from both on and off stage. Those who have seen Belinda before will know her sometimes dry, humorous asides but tonight she was in exquisitely good form. Her humour contrasting with Grace's more direct style. Lady Maisery play various instruments, Hannah on Accordion, Rowan on Fiddles and Hazel on Harp and Leg-Bells with outstanding three part harmonies. They use an old style of singing called Diddling or Tune singing, not found so much in Britain these days but still used in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Following Katy Cruel was Honest Work, about Sweatshops, thought to be a Todd Rundgren song. The harmonies on this were just sublime. A couple of Diddling tunes followed, Bagpipers and Sheila's 70, the complex vocals and Accordion made this a quite joyous sound which brought more than a few appreciative yells from the audience. The first real collaboration of the evening brought the set to a close. Inspired by a female textile workers strike a pizzicato intro led into Rowan leading on Bread and Roses. The, at times, six-part harmonies on this were just delightful . The line "As We Go Marching" building to a crescendo before switching back to Rowans solo vocals.

The humour continued into the second set with Rowan commenting that she could taste Belinda's fringe in the beer, Belinda quipping back that she had just found a nit. Lady Maisery sang Sing For The Morning to open the music. Followed by Leon Rosselson's very powerful Palaces of Gold, a song inspired by the Aberfan disaster . A very tragic tale told with beautiful acapella harmonies. A very different version of Kate Bush's This Woman's Work followed, "Is she here?", quipped Rowan, "No , she lives in Linthwaite ", a local joke,  Belinda replied. Next up was Grace who chatted about her continuing failure to sing at Whitby Folk Festival before launching into A Revolutionary In The Wrong Time which has the great line "I tried selling out but nobody bought". I think the biggest laugh of the night came when Grace simulating a hot flush, undid her shirt to reveal a Jeremy Corbyn T Shirt in Superman colours and style. Possibly one of the few times that  Jeremy has been made a sex symbol as Grace joked about questioning her sexuality. When the laughter had died down Grace changed mood and sang the anthemic Farewell To Welfare, written in 2010 but sadly just as relevant now. Some great lines in this song eg "What's the use when they are all cut from the same Eton silk?". Resounding applause in Slaithwaite for this song. If There's A Fire In Your Heart finished off Grace's mini set, this time joined by everyone on stage, the six-part harmonies nicely working with Grace's more strident style, especially at the end. Belinda and Heidi sang the very dark, atmospheric and eerily beautiful Between The Bars, led by Belinda's subdued Piano and laced with soaring and powerful reverb and echo effects from Belinda as Heidi took lead. An anti war song dedicated to the late, great Tony Benn, Like Horses, followed before a collaboration from everyone on Coil And Spring, a co-write with Boff Whalley being a tribute to Pussy Riot. Two encore songs brought the show to an end. The first Quitting Time by The Roches and then a possibly impromptu Never Turning Back performed acapella, off mike at the edge of the stage.

One of those increasingly very rare events where it was truly obvious to all that the artists on stage enjoyed themselves just as much as the audience. Would that the Brewery or someone could have bottled this show, it would be a real tonic . A really great night , made all the better by there being no ice on the hills for the journey back home

Keith Belcher
Northern Sky