One of a new breed of young fiddler/singers who emerged in Britain in the 2000s, Bella Hardy has an intense, heartfelt approach to singing that has drawn comparisons to June Tabor. In contrast to the fey-voiced singers who have become popular in recent years, her deeply emotional delivery of traditional ballads in particular sets her apart from most of her generation, getting to the heart of the song, while also revealing her as a talented writer of songs in a traditional style. From Edale, Derbyshire, one of England's most idyllic spots in the beautiful Peak District at the start of the Pennine Way, Bella Hardy was brought up in a small, relatively remote close-knit community that mirrored some of the rural folk environments where traditional song flourished in the old days.
As a child she roamed the valley singing the folk songs she'd heard from her father and she was largely unaffected by the consumer world of rock and pop, as there were few CDs in the house. She had violin lessons as a child and also attributes her headmaster, Peter Irwin, with instilling her with a love of performing music. She was 13 when, fueled by visits to nearby Stainsby Folk Festival where she was inspired by a little-known club singer called Theresa Tooley, she attended a Folkworks summer school in Durham. She had fiddle lessons from Peter Cooper and ended up singing and playing fiddle with the teenage band the Brat Pack, which emerged from the summer school and went on to play festival gigs as a 12-piece, abbreviating their name to the Pack.
Subsequent visits to the Folkworks summer school saw her fiddle playing developing further under the tutelage of Aidan O'Rourke (of LAU). She says the first song she ever wrote, "Three Black Feathers" (included on her debut solo album, Night Visiting), was originally conceived when her mind wandered during a GCSE math exam. She left Derbyshire to study English at university in York and joined the folk trio Ola (with Michael Jary and Helen Bell), who went on to record an album entitled The Animals Are in the West. She was in the last year of her English degree in 2004 when she reached the final of the BBC Young Folk Awards (losing out narrowly to her friend, Scottish fiddle player Lauren MacColl). After leaving the university she moved to London and took a job as an event organizer at the Savoy Hotel, but the lure of music proved impossible to resist -- so in 2006 she decided to embark on a career in music and, giving herself two years to make it work, went to Newcastle to get her master's degree in music.
It was there that she was hired as a singing tutor and began to get gigs as a solo fiddler/singer, impressing listeners with her maturity and conviction. In April, 2007 -- at age 23 -- she received funding from the Prince's Trust to make an album, and enlisted talented friends like Corrina Hewatt, Emily & Hazel Askew, Chris Sherburn, Joe Oliver, and Hannah James to help. Partly inspired by Charlotte Greig's Night Visiting Songs, Night Visiting featured "Three Black Feathers" and another Hardy original, "Alone, Jane?" (based on the Jane Eyre story), plus a song by Kristina Olsen from San Francisco. Otherwise mainly traditional, it received ecstatic reviews and marked Bella Hardy as one of the most talented artists of the new generation. ~ Colin Irwin