When fiddle player Bella Hardy was asked if she wanted to join forces with three other formidable folk musicians and form a group, she didn’t think twice.
The artists in question just happened to be among the best of the new crop of artists and, more importantly, they sounded amazing together. What neither she, nor the musician Kathryn Tickell whose idea it was, had realised, however, was that they had a lot more in common than simply a love of folk music. For a start they were all women, they all played the fiddle and all sang.
What was initially intended to be just a pair of concerts has proved enduring. Now she and her bandmates: double Mercury Prize-nominee Eliza Carthy; haunting singer-songwriter Lucy Farrell and Scottish folk pioneer Kate Young; have bonded as probably the hottest-sounding girl band you’ll hear all year.
“We are called the Fiddle Girls, for obvious reasons,” laughs Bella, speaking from the wilds of Cumbria, where she has been recording.
“We were commissioned as just a random bunch of folk girls; but what they didn’t realise was we were also all fiddle players and singers. None of us had played together before, though. “We ended up doing 10 songs together; stuff we’d never done before. “Until we got into a room and played together we didn’t know how much fun it would be. We knew it would be a shame not to do more and we thought it would be daft not to record a record.”
Arwen Arabella Hardy sums up all that is exciting about the folk scene right now. An acclaimed multi-instrumentalist she is immersed in the rich communal singing tradition of her native Derbyshire Peak District; the same musical culture which nurtured that other great Pennine folk star, South Yorkshire’s Kate Rusby.
A finalist in the BBC Young Folk Awards in 2004, Bella’s debut solo album Night Visiting again pricked up the ears of folkies three years later. Her subtle blend of traditional and original music has seen her nominated four times in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – and winning the Best Original Song Award in 2012 for The Herring Girl. But while she may be a talented a solo performer, it is the prospect of playing with her three bandmates – and the forthcoming release of the Fiddle Girls’ debut album Laylam, which is making her most excited. And for good reason. “We are all so miserable and as boring as hell, she says mischievously, adding: “Not really... but we are slightly eccentric ladies; we are an absolute hoot!”
So with all that talent in one band, is there pressure to outperform each other? “Not at all,” says Bella, who describes herself as being in her early 20s. “We have nothing to hide. As a musician you have to learn early on that you can’t compare yourselves to other people otherwise you’d go mad. So none of us do; we are not in competition.
“We are all quite different people but when we are together there’s a whole cacophony of ideas that come together – and that is more interesting than being on our own.
“This is a whole different take on what I would normally do and it’s so good for everybody to have the audience respond to songs so enthusiastically. We are not preaching to the converted. Something I think is important is we do the music we want to do and enjoy it. “And if other people want to explore folk music with us, that’s fine.
“One of the interesting things is we all go for it. It’s easy to whip up some chemistry and have a bit of a laugh – and we certainly enjoy ourselves. We are having a fantastic time having so much fun in the back of our van.”
A tour to accompany the release of Laylam sees the girls play shows in Chipping Norton and Didcot.
And while Bella is thrilled by both dates, it is the first which has signif- icance. “I lived in Charlbury for the first six months of my life,” she says. Her father Joe, a former Charlbury Morris man, looked after the town’s youth hostel, before moving to Edale.
“This will be like a homecoming,” she laughs. “I really can’t wait.”
Certainly folk seems to be in a healthy state, if Bella and the rest of the Fiddle Girls’ success is anything to go by. Bella agrees. “Folk seems to be thriving and there’s a huge wealth of great music – and it’s wonderful to be part of that.”
Cathy, Hardy, Farrell and Young – The Fiddle Girls - play Chipping Norton Theatre on Sunday, January 27, at 7.45pm. Tickets are sold-out.
They also play The Cornerstone, Didcot, on Thursday, January 31. Call 01235 515144 or visit cornerstone-arts.org