Tuesday, 6 December 2016

MERRY HELL

CD Review

Bloodlines


Merry Hell are part of the modern tradition which was arguably started by Fairport Convention in that amalgamation of acoustic and electric folk to produce the bigger than life sound which was carried along by bands such as the now defuncted Bellowhead.

Lee Goulding, Neil McCartney, Bob Kettle, John Kettle, Andrew Kettle,
Virginia Kettle, Andy Jones and  Nick Davies who are Merry Hell
This fourth album shows the full-on sound the band can produce but so much more. One of the first things you notice is that occasionally just how much they sound like Show of Hands both in their sound and in their ability to compose relevant and politically motivated modern folk songs.
John Kettle provides the first of the offerings with We Need Each Other Now, himself sounding not unlike Richard Thompson. The rousing song, one of a few on the album, is a clarion call to let people know that if they want to change things then it's down to each of us to play a part for each other. If you hadn't noticed the mess that has ensued by leaving our lives in the hands of bankers, politicians and captains of industry then this song should be a wake up call.
This is followed by the more traditional sounding title track from the pen of Virginia Kettle. The song opens with what could be thought of as war drums from Andy Jones and there are some fascinating lyrics in this such as "sit awhile in the branches of your family tree" and "You're woven like a tapestry, all bound together". V Kettle's strong and clear voice lets the listener know they are part of and shaped by history both as a nation and as individuals. Neil McCartney makes his presence felt on the fiddle adding real character to the strong song.
Bob is the next Kettle to get in on the act with his tub-thumping offering which is a valiant effort to big-up England and lays out, a slightly skewed view the country's past. The band propose it as an alternative to the National Anthem, which let's face it is as boring as waiting for WD40 to loosen a rusty nut. You can see it being a massive rabblerouser live as they bang out their antidote to the naysayers and fascists which seem to be coming out of the woodwork since the Brexit vote.
Coming Home Song is another from B Kettle and is very effectively sung almost a Capella bringing with it a sound reminiscent of the brilliant Fisherman's Friends. The song switches between individual members singing the solos and then fills out with the whole band adding a great deal of character on the refrains. All the Bright Blossoms although penned by B Kettle and Lee Goulding could just as easily have come from Phil Beer and Steve Knightley the sound both groups produce is remarkably similar, and none more so than on this occasion. It is a catchy tune with thoughtful lyrics open to interpretation and could easily fit into the vein of Where Have All The Flowers Gone.
V Kettle provides a gently ballad in When We Are Old, with her voice softened for this musing about lasting love and the passing of time we must all endure. Once again McCartney provides a lovely, gentle undertone on the fiddle.
It goes back to the rousing song with Stand Down which whether you are patriotic or not, the jingoistic and tribal-style drumming will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It's an optimistic song which puts its faith in the positive side of human nature while sending out a warning to the world's leaders.
The band again shows its more thoughtful side with the wonderfully gentle and emotional ballad, Sailing Too Close To The Wind. McCartney's offering Chasing A Bluebird brings a country strand to the album with its cryptic use of avian analogies to create a story of separation and longing.
The band go back to the sound which has made them stand out with Over The Wall. Once again the rabblerousing nature of the song talks about people with nothing to lose set in the narration of deportees realising by working together they can taste the sweet air of freedom again. There are hints of The Polyphonic Spree with Under The Overkill.
The song dances lightly thanks to V Kettle's clear voice, which along with the refrain, gives it a Sixties-style undertone.
The new album
The penultimate track A Man Of Few Words is a very poetic and likeable tune from Goulding and it has the structure of a tune which will be picked up by other bands, it has a cadence which is easy to get to grips with.
The band leave the best to last and see the group go out with a real blast of fun.
There is a great tradition in folk music of bawdiness and ribaldry and Sweet Oblivion is loaded with so many sexual euphemisms that it makes the Carry On films look like Songs of Praise.
V Kettle lashes out this lusty ballad of a couple going at it hammer and tongs which is just a great way to end an album.
Bloodlines shows, perhaps more so than their previous albums, the band's range, versatility and creativity in producing incredibly likeable and thoughtful tunes which can still carry a political edge without being preachy, patronising or full of self importance. If there is a void left in the folk world for a slightly out of control band which can produce a blistering sound then perhaps Merry Hell should stand up.

Bloodlines is out now on Merry Hell Music and available from the band's website

Merry Hell will be touring in the New Year and you can catch them on January 13 at the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room where they will be showing the acoustic version of the band. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £13 and there is a 7.5% booking fee if buying tickets online or over the phone. The following night they play the Rock 'n' Blues Venue, Barnsley. Doors open 6.30pm and the show starts 7.30pm. Tickets are £11 for Over-18s and £5.50 for U-18s. Then on January 27 they play Darwin Library Theatre where doors open 7pm and tickets are £8 in advance and £10 on the night. The to round January off they play The Turnpike Gallery, Leigh. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £11.