Live : Merry Hell Acoustic12th December 2019 : Hungry Horse Folk Club, Ellesmere Port
Merry Hell tag themselves as ‘joyful folk-rock’ - on this performance they can be sure there will be no claims made against them under the Trade Description Act. This was a ridiculously warm and uplifting show; ninety minutes of scintillating music and honesty.
The setting helped. If there are any limits in the design of the 1970s function room the Hungry Horse Folk Club hold their larger events in, they are more than offset by a deeply found convivial atmosphere.
Over two sets Merry Hell romped, rolled and rhymed through their greatest hits. As if lined up for a six-aside game, Nick Davies (bass) and fiddle player Neil McCartney hung back on a small stage behind a front row of John, Andrew, Virginia and Bob Kettle. The formation proved irrelevant - this was all out attack from the first whistle.
After a decade together Merry Hell undoubtedly have a quality back catalogue, dense with folksongs of rare distinction.
Two Bob Kettle compositions (Come On England and the majestically empathetic Coming Home), a waltzing, poignant Emerald Green, and an unamplified solo reading of her own song Violet by Virginia Kettle offered the highlights here.
A rich thread of modern but music hall rooted comedy punctuated the evening - with the two singers' repartee always as sharp and quick as a scythed chariot.
It wasn’t all jokes - there was a balance of mirth and meaning; not least when the general election exit poll was released, with a score of audience-members simultaneously and surreptitiously checking their phones to the apt soundtrack of the band’s angry post-crash anthem, The Crooked Man.
There is a lot of love in the room when Merry Hell play. Despite (for some members) thirty years of performing there is still no separation between the band and their audience; the spirit expressed in the music seems to grow out of a desire to communicate the enduring human and community values they might commonly live by.
No bittersweet symphony, this was another electrifying, hope-filled celebration for the Wigan folk pioneers and a rapt crowd. More of a shared communion than a concert - a never more necessary experience and, as everyone present sang, we (surely) need each other now.