Folk queen Bella heads north

Bella Hardy
Bella Hardy
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Bella Hardy’s seventh solo album With The Dawn – and her first since being named BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year in 2014 – isn’t just the latest collection of songs from this prolific and ingenious artist,

who is set to appear in Lancashire at the end of this week writes TONY DEWHURST.

It is an account of one year of her life on the road.

Where previously Hardy has adapted and explored traditional ballads and fables to tell her contemporary folk tales, the stories that inspired these songs are her own personal experiences: good and bad, happy and sad.

“I’ve always kept a kind of creative diary; it is just thoughts and feelings jotteddown every day, often just poems, lyrics and musings,” said Hardy who makes her first visit to Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre on Friday (April 8)

“I do it more when I travel, as a way of trying to keep track, because touring can make you a bit ungrounded as it is so incredibly tiring.

“Trying to anchor myself to something when the world feels more unstable every day helps me make sense of it all.”

All the songs on the album were written on tour, or composed from notes from her diary at that time.

“I’ve always written like this, but usually blended my own scribblings and thoughts with my love of traditional music,” she adds.

“It makes With The Dawn a pretty direct link to how I was feeling at any time during that year and it became a microcosm of my life.

“The songs are full of that displacement, longing and contemplation, probably feelings that all musicians know. ”

With The Dawn is more intimate and reflective music than before.

The arrangements are more instinctive, vivid brass gives way to loansome piano; and banjos emerge out of beats and blips.

Elements of the demos, sometimes recorded on Hardy’s ‘phone as her thoughts spilled out, were stored away as raw material for her latest work.

Last year was a whirlwind – a summer of festival appearances saw a triumphant main stage appearance at folk’s Glastonbury, the Cambridge Folk Festival.

“It was totally unexpected to win the award (BBC2 Folk Singer of the year) at the Albert Hall.

“The next day I was on a flight to America and everything went crazy for a year.”

There was a time for a turning-30 Hardy, though, where nothing was stable.

“Documenting that flux meant that my life was completely out there in my music,” she added.

“But I’d never thought there was any truth in this idea that turning 30 would be any kind of big deal.

“You get the feeling that people think it’s something unmentionable that you should shy away from.

“So I decided to throw a 30 date tour of my favourite venues to let everyone know.

“In my experience it also feels like the further you age, the less you worry about people’s responses to what you have to say.”

She was always surrounded by music, her grandfather was a fiddle player while her father an accomplished folk singer.

“Folk music is like an old friend to me and it’s in great health at the moment.

“Folk isn’t what is was 30 years ago because there’s a new generation sampling and adding to the sound.

“It is certainly not about archiving the past, but taking inspiration from that great folk tradition.

“It’s interesting when you talk about Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons – regardless of how much you think they fit into the traditional folk industry, it’s great exposure for folk.”

Her debut show at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre on Friday, though, will be a rare opportunity to hear Hardy’s stunning compositions in a more intimate venue alongside her regular stage companion Anna Massie, from Blazin Fiddles, and Tom Gibbs.

• Bella Hardy, Clitheroe Grand Theatre, April 8. £14. 01200 421599. Stage 7.45. Box office 01200 421599.