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Merry Hell

Venue: Library Theatre
Town: Darwen
Date: 16/2/18

On the cusp of the release of their new single Merry Hell took Darwen by storm, enthusiastic, exciting and entertaining, the full eight piece band brought their own brand of polished Folk Rock to the Lancashire town.

From the opening track "Loving The Skin You're In" with its message of "be yourself no matter what" it was immediately clear to those present that these well honed songs are speaking of our times in a way that everyday folk can relate to.

And if "Music by the people for the people" is the definition of folk, then this Wigan based outfit have it off pat. After all are there any of us who would find it difficult to argue with the phrase "Let's not have a morning after, until we've had a night before"?

Light-hearted fun perhaps, danceable and toe tapping certainly. A direct contrast to "Stand Down" an invitation for those who represent us to listen to what we want or effectively sling their hook. It's delivered with power and feeling by Virginia Kettle on vocals, who also wrote the song.

Yet if we, as individuals cannot affect those higher up then our sense of community and togetherness can show the way. A theme taken up in John Kettle's stirring "We Need Each Other Now".

"Bury Me Naked", the new single (released 26/02/18) gets an outing, updated from the original on the second album (Head Full Of Magic, Shoes Full Of Rain) to reflect the influence fiddle player Neil McCartney had made since joining the group. "Bury me" is a sing along, sway along favourite. The between song banter from Andrew Kettle carries a tongue in cheek Health & Safety warning as he explains the danger of swaying and falling from your seats for those at the end of rows together with the possible effects of counter swaying. It raises a chuckle, as indeed does the continuing double act of both lead singers whose partnership on stage at times almost reaches Laurel and Hardy status with Andrew being the shy put upon one.

Love, yearning and having a shoulder to cry on are covered by "Lean on me Love" and "Hope you don't mind (if I fall in love with you)" from the pens of John & Virginia Kettle respectively.

The other main songwriter in the group, Bob Kettle implores us all to be good to each other and turn away from hatred and xenophobic acts, "So stand up - come on, England! Live up to your history! Your heart can't be held in a flag or a crown. Raise your teacups and glasses, you bold lads and lasses, and drink to the spirit which will never lie down!" Fatea recently gave "Come On England" the accolade of their "Single Of The Year" and hearing it live it takes on an extra poignancy as the those present join in.

The epic opus and title track from the latest album "Bloodlines" showcases the whole band at their very best. Musically it's complex, shape shifting, it starts with an almost marching drumbeat, a guitar adds to the rhythm before the fiddle gives a traditional folk feeling. A middle section that rocks, cumulating in a wailing vocal that gives way to a whisper. It's a contrast that works before we are all bound together with the bloodlines refrain. It is undoubtedly the most expressive and varied track the band have recorded over their four album, eight year life span.

"Summer Is A-Comin" is a forward looking shift from adversity, and it's clear that the band are having as much fun as the audience. We watch, as on acoustic guitar, on the edge of the stage, John Kettle offers his impression of a visual virtual powerhouse as he strums energetically away and leaps up and down like a post punk pogoer belaying the years. You can't help but share his enthusiasm for the music.

Drummer Andy Jones drives the anthemic "Drunken Serenade" on, late night revellers, high on alcohol, "and just as sure as I am born, I'll sing my heart out in the storm, in a drunken serenade, drunken serenade, drunken serenade in the rain". Evocative memories for those of us who recall our teenage years or even later.

The accapella "Coming Home Song" hushes the audience and sobers us up as each member of the band take a verse each except for Andy and John in a song about displacement and finding a home.

A home that holds two opposites, the subject of the "Butcher & The Vegan", is a lovely carefree, happy bright, cheerful ditty based in Burnham-On-Sea from the first album "Blinkā€¦ And You Miss It" is followed by Lee Golding's touching tribute to his grandad in"Gentleman".

"Over The Wall", a breakout song, sees the addition of striped convict hats with individuals names on. Four boiling Kettles on the front line with a steaming support behind from Nick Davies on bass, and the aforementioned Golding (Keyboards), Jones (drums) and McCartney (fiddle).

Audience participation comes in the form of the "Baker's Daughter" as over 250 present are invited to mime kneading bread and early rising.

"One More Day (without you)" a jaunty song that has to my mind the best ever lyric written about being apart in "I miss you like a World Cup Penalty, a disappointed crowd staring back at me, I'm feeling kinda hollow and I find it hard to swallow when I open my eyes and see, one more day without you".

A dramatic Eastern influenced fiddle solo precedes the final song, "Let The Music Speak For Itself", which expresses the view that music can transcend boundaries and unify the listeners.

Finally, a rousing set was concluded with the encores of "War Between Ourselves" and the Theatrical "Sweet Oblivion" which has a humorous Victoria Wood style feel.

By the end of the seated gig in the perfectly formed Library Theatre the audience were dancing in the aisles. Good music can do that. And Merry Hell at Darwen were very, very good.

Support on the night came from Jenny Colquitt, a young woman with electric guitar. Possessed of a hauntingly beautiful deep voice Jenny tackled a series of covers such as "Fields Of Gold", "Hallelujah" and tracks by Fleetwood Mac and the perhaps lesser known Swedish Folk Duo First Aid Kit (Emmylou). However what really stood out was her original songs "Lifeboat" and "Tornado" which were relationship based and deserve a far wider audience.

Ian Cripps - Words & Mike Jones - Picture

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Bury Me Naked

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