Recipe for "An Antidote to Our Current Woes and Ills"
An abundance of top-quality songs
Lashings of humanity
An unlimited quantity of energy
Huge, healthy dollops of humour
An over-supply of hope in unity
Several smidgens of collective arms waving
Much more than a morsel of humility
An over-indulgence of passion
At least a gallon of honesty
A wodge of sartorial elegance
A dash of collective swaying
A Sunday matinée show at the Half Moon, Putney is no longer a novelty for Merry Hell, as they made a welcome return for another packed appearance at this iconic venue. And what a triumphant return it was. Research, (i.e. talking to folk), suggests that there were many Merry Hell "virgins" in the audience, including some from the USA, drawn by the band's reputation which seems to be growing exponentially following another highly successful set of summer festival appearances, radio plays and the recent release of a highly acclaimed documentary DVD "A Year in the Life of Merry Hell". (The premiere of which is reviewed here in FATEA).
As is unfailingly the case when enjoying the musical version of the Wigan Warriors, it really was an afternoon of powerful music and messages. With songs drawn from the group's four full-length releases, BLINK...and you miss it (2011), Head Full Of Magic, Shoes Full Of Rain (2013), The Ghost In Our House And Other Stories ... (2015) and Bloodlines (2016), 5 obviously if you include the latest Anthems To The Wind collection, the enthusiastic, capacity audience were regally entertained by a group who certainly don't short-change the paying audience in terms of length of the set.
Choosing a set list must be problematic for the group, given the plethora of audience favourites that quite obviously exist. Thus staples such as regular opener Loving The Skin You're In followed by Let's Not Have A Morning After and Stand Down preceded the anthemic We Need Each Other Now. One of the features, however, of a live Merry Hell performance is their ability to create contrasts in mood and tempo. Thus as a counterpoint to the raucous and rousing elements in the set, they can switch to songs such as the emotive a cappella performance of Bob Kettle's poignant Coming Home Song, referencing the plight of refugees fleeing war in search of a settled life of peace.
The Crooked Man and Fear Of Falling made, for me, a welcome return, and Virginia's Violet continues to delight. Earlier in the year, I had the privilege to be present at a show when Don't Wanna Be Cool was given its first live airing. I wrote at the time "I'm not a gambling man, but if I were, I would lay a pound to a penny on this becoming another crowd pleaser and staple of live shows.", in hindsight maybe I should have laid the bet, the terrace-like response from the audience today confirms that the song will feature regularly.
This was another superb performance. With Merry Hell, sincerity, humanity, honesty, passion and humility sit well with musicianship and song writing of the highest order. We are currently blessed with artists who, through their music and actions, show compassion. Merry Hell are in the vanguard of such, championing the cause of, to quote from a track from Raw, the latest release by their good friend Reg Meuross, "... the innocents the dispossessed the weak. For those who cannot fight and those who cannot speak"
Today's show confirms that Merry Hell are, unequivocally, the finest folk-rock band of the moment.
A mention must be made of the specially invited support act. BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award Nominee, West Midlands based Sunjay, delivered a set of acousic guitar-based music that moved between folk, blues, country and more, (Vin Garbutt once described his syle as "jazz folk".) Centred around his most recent, already highly acclaimed release Devil Came Calling (reviewed in FATEA here) the quality of his own compositions is so good that it is difficult to distinguish them from "traditional classics". With an assured and mature stage presence, a wicked, often self-deprecating sense of humour, his guitar picking ranged from the sublime to the blisteringly outrageous. His live shows, and indeed album, come highly recommended.
Merry Hell Set List
Loving The Skin You're In
Let's Not Have A Morning After
We Need Each Other Now
Bury Me Naked
Lean On Me
There's A Ghost In Our House
Come On England
My Finest Hour
The Crooked Man
Coming Home Song
Fear Of Falling
Don't Want To Be Cool
The Baker's Daughter
The War Between Ourselves
One More Day Without You
Let The Music Speak For Itself
David Pratt Words, Tony Birch pics
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