Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson
Belinda O’Hooley is to Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, what Garth Hudson is to The Band; a musical maestro, teacher, guru and all round musical backbone of the band. But more than this, she is the refreshing wit and humour of the band and her personality finds no difficulty in rubbing off on you. Tonight Belinda showed the audience at The Sal two more distinct sides to her musical prowess, as the front person of her own band, consisting of bass, drums and backing vocals (Josh, Isaac and Heidi respectively), and also as a fine solo performer of some of the most exquisite songs you’re likely to hear. Performing several songs from her album Music is My Silence, Belinda divided her performance into two sets, the first one solo, accompanying herself on piano and the second set with the full band. “Moon Over Water” was a good starter to get the audience on her side, an accomplished song with a melody that Sarah McLachlan would probably be proud of. As a solo performer, Belinda has a command over her audience that solicits respect. She talks of almost giving up songwriting after hearing Joni Mitchell and granted there is only one Joni, but there’s definitely more than enough room for a Belinda as well. Sandwiched between delicate songs Belinda can also handle whimsy remarkably well. Her take on Abba’s “Money Money Money” with a Bonnie Tyler coda brought out a smile or two ad some fully expected “Dancing Queen” next. Apparently, the song was inspired by Richard Thompson, who is now doing Abba songs as well as the greatest hits of Brittney Spears. Could this be a parallel universe we’ve accidentally strayed into? “With Her”, a song Belinda claims to be about her mother, could quite easily be seen as a song about gay love and probably would be if not for Belinda’s amusing preamble. Rubbing salt into open wounds, one member of her family suggested that she change the title to “With HIM”. Belinda handles nonsensical bigotry in a pleasant and almost endearing way. “Drown me in the judging tide, ‘til I’m cold and stiff” is a painfully polite way of seeing off her critics. Her wit is, and I bet you a tenner that she’s sick of this comparison, reminiscent of Jo Brands’ dry sense of humour. Seemingly at ease with her audience, she brushes aside sentimentality and tells it as it is. I love “With Her” as a love song and as poetry alike and, I hasten to add, if it were indeed a lesbian anthem, I would be there to hold up my ciggy lighter with the rest. Having shown favouritism for the stripped down set, I must stress that the bands’ arrangements in the second set were delightfully complex, verging on progressive rock as Belinda quite rightly pointed out. “Chinese Whispers” probably wouldn’t be lost in a King Crimson set and neither too would “All That Remains”. Sometimes complex rhythms and arrangements can cave into chaotic mess but the band I saw tonight kept it very much on an even keel and it was obvious that good old fashioned hard work had been applied in preparation for this gig. Some of the songs jumped right out at you and laid their cards square on the table, and some were more ambiguous. I always thought “The Golden Age of Friendship” was about steamy sex with all the puffing and panting but now I’m relieved to know it’s just about tennis! Joking aside, I can only imagine the amount of pleasure both Belinda and Heidi get out of performing this song. The subject of “Izuko, No More” pulls at the heartstrings sure enough, but I was too busy pondering on why I could still hear the Miles Davis-esque muted trumpet solo, as featured on the album version, when there wasn’t a sign of any brass on stage. I guess that’s the importance of a good imagination, when something’s missing, you simply put it there yourself. Belinda (and band) did a grand job tonight, providing me with plenty to go on with until the next time, which will be in her usual position, seated at the piano with the wonderful Winterset in York in a couple of weeks time.