Merry Hell : Come on, England! EP1st August 2017 : Mondo Tunes (dist.)
I first heard Andrew Kettle sing in 1990 - he shyly came on stage alone at a small folk festival, said "I'm just going to try something on my own", and sang a stunning unaccompanied rendition of his older brother's folk song, Satisfied.
The Kettle brothers - the full trio is John, Andrew and Bob - were then all part of their former band The Tansads. In the 90s their career promisingly sparked, then sadly fizzled - after a long hiatus they eventually played a set of anniversary reunion dates in their hometown of Wigan in 2010.
The Tansads' potent folk-punk, full of humour (The Levellers and Billy Bragg fused, then reimagined through a high octane collaborative project between by LS Lowry and The Goodies), had not faded in its effect; the concerts were as triumphant as they were redemptive. Immediately after the reunion the band took the chance to start again as Merry Hell, with old and new cohorts marking out a purer folk rock sound and direction. They also were crucially joined by John Kettle's wife, folksinger Virginia Barrett. The band is currently a fully staffed and ebullient eight piece.
Whatever the name they perform under, they have stayed true to their roots. The most moving aspect of this four song collection is that the lyrical themes and values, so important to the band's whole existence, have hardly altered a jot in thirty years; not an ideology dismally preserved in amber, instead a faith in people and community kept alive - and always powerfully expressed. Merry Hell have now released four albums: Blink... and you miss it, Head Full of Magic, Shoes Full of Rain, There's a Ghost in Our House.., and 2016's Bloodlines; the continuity with what they did before is in the heart.
The first two songs of this set come from that last collection. Billed as an alternative national anthem, opener Come On, England! was written by Bob Kettle; rousing, it celebrates a country rooted in the tradition of the Diggers and dreamers - a hymn for an England of the many, not the few. The next two compositions keep that stirring mood - We Need Each Other Now is a song full of hope, as is the more personal Lean On Me, Love (a very promising excerpt from an acoustic album that will be released later in the year).
Despite the spirit and soul of these three, it is the last track - a fast, live version of The War Between Ourselves (from their debut album) - that holds the most poignant moment. The song was recorded in Spring 2015 at The Grand, Clitheroe, and is about violence in all forms - near the end Virginia makes a very simple heartfelt speech, ending:
"...it's time we made our voices heard; Merry Hell are proud to be anti-violence, anti-intolerance, anti-war!"
Then sings the closing 'Stop the War' refrain again and again, the words rolling back and forth emotively between Andrew Kettle and herself.
The edge in this music comes from its plain speaking; it is always well written, arranged and performed - ridiculously catchy folk rock, with the exceptional degree of craft that has always been there; but the real enchantment is that this is authentic, brilliant folk music by the people, for the people. This EP keeps a long tradition intact - another slice of Northern folk magic.
Come on, England! is available from the Amazon as a CD or DL. This Autumn Merry Hell play the Gorjys Secrets Music Festival (Sept 15-16), Ruthin All Styles Music Club (Nov 16) & Conwy Folk Club (Dec 11).
MERRY HELL I Come on, England!