MERRY HELL – Bloodlines (Merry Hell Music MHMCD 0116)

bloodlinesI was always a fan of The Tansads back in the 90s and the reunion of three Kettle brothers, singer Andrew, guitarist John and mandolin player Bob, along with John’s wife Virginia, in 2010 under their present name has done nothing to change my mind. Bloodlines is their fourth full-length album since then, the first to feature the voices of all eight members (the others being keyboardist Lee Goulding, Neil McCartney on fiddle with bassist Nick Davies and drummer Andy Jones comprising the rhythm section) and not only continues to see their political veined folk flourish, but also takes both that and the songs of personal relationships up a few notches.

It opens with ‘We Need Each Other Now’, John’s stirring anthemic cry for unity in a world divided over a martial beat and ringing guitars, a theme further explored on Bob’s swaying folk rock ‘Come On, England!’, here, again featuring the band’s massed voices, focusing at the divisions at home, a call for arms in a show of the nation’s tradition of tolerance and defence of people’s rights in the face of the troubling rise nationalism and racism in the name of the red, white and blue.

Sandwiched between is the title track, penned and sung by Virginia, a song that, presumably inspired by the current trend to trace family trees, again celebrates connections, this time within the family and generations, scraping fiddle and tumbling drums providing the song’s spine. ‘Coming Home Song’ is another from Bob, a heartfelt call for peace born of the refugee crisis sung a capella by himself, Andre, Virginia, Neil and Nick, while, again raising the anthemic flag and setting a martial beat, ‘All The Bright Blossoms’, on which he’s joined by Goulding on writing duties, addresses mortality and how love lives on in memory.

Virgina provides two in a row, echoing the theme of ageing on the acoustic slow guitar and fiddle waltzing ‘When We Are Old’, which she also sings, and striking political notes with ‘Stand Down’, a defiant message from those seeking freedom, mercy and justice to those who seek to oppress and exploit. Co-penned by John and Bob, the weary ‘Sailing Too Close To The Wind’ is another call to action, and not sing lullabies to our demons and simply “lie there and wait for the end to come.”

‘Chasing A Bluebird’ is something new from the band, the first to be written by McCartney, a country tinged waltzer duet between Andrew and Virginia about an inconstant restless lover leaving broken hearts behind, carried along, as you might guess, on a fiddle tide.

The final four numbers are all from Virginia. The traditional coloured ‘Over The Wall’ a rousing tale of a now or never prison escape by men locked up for striking for better pay and this, in turn, leads into the dreamy ‘Under The Overkill’, pizzicato fiddle and snare introducing a tumbling celebration of a love affair and its “wonderful moments in glorious technicolour”, Andrew providing the chorus refrain to her verses.

She shares credits with Bob and Goulding, who also wrote the music, for the penultimate ‘Man of Few Words’, another tender love song – a la ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ – about being unable to express what you want feel, before bringing things to a close with ‘Sweet Oblivion’, a playfully frisky, mandolin and fiddle driven hoedown, each member taking a bow on their respective instruments, about seizing love and life (“kiss me like it was the last night on earth”) and not going grimly into the dark night. If I was planning a party for the apocalypse, this lot would be top of the list for the house band.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.merryhell.co.uk

‘Come On, England!’ – live at the Citadel, St Helens:

MERRY HELL PREMIERE NEW ‘LOVING THE SKIN YOU’RE IN’ VIDEO

Merry Hell feb14Merry Hell have released a new video and download single to tie in with their forthcoming spring tour.

‘Loving The Skin You’re In’ is taken from the folk-rock outfit’s critically-acclaimed second album ‘Head Full Of Magic, Shoes Full Of Rain’ (Mrs Casey Records) which saw them land a series of high-profile festival dates in 2013.

Filmed in part at Flecky’s Tattoos in Wigan and Standish Unity Club, the video takes a light-hearted approach to emphasising the powerful message of the song’s lyrics: ‘be yourself, no matter what’.

Singer/songwriter Virginia Kettle, who oversaw the concept, explains: “So much has happened to the band since we made the last video. Our musical journey has taken us into a second album, live festival appearances down the length and across the breadth of the country; little gigs, big gigs, radio interviews, friendships forged with legends such as Dave Swarbrick, Gordon Giltrap and Mike Harding.

“Everywhere we’ve been, however grand or humble the venue, we have met such inspiring people, from amazingly talented musicians to those who make incredibly weird and wonderful things: real ale, jewellery, wines, breads, cheeses, ice cream! People of all ages, sizes, class and creed, all with their stories written on their faces, in their eyes, in their deep love of music.”

The video features friends the band have made during their current career and in their previous incarnation as The Tansads.

Virginia adds: “We all agreed that we wanted it to try and create a ‘festival of diversity’ so we invited some of our most colourful and unique friends to help us. From the moment they all turned up, we knew they were going to be just brilliant.

“It’s a mixed group of people with a shared intention: to let the commercial world know that the air-brushed puppet with the perfect mannequin smile doesn’t really do it for us anymore.”

Finally, Merry Hell have also announced the recruitment of two new members, multi-instrumentalist Neil McCartney and bass player Nick Davies.

Neil, best known as a fiddle player, is a long term associate of several Merry Hell members and has lived and made music in London, Galway, Dublin, New York and Thailand. He formed Big Geraniums, who enjoyed success on the global festival circuit, playing alongside the likes of The Wailers, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.

Nick, formerly of Sound Marshals and Jesus In India, replaces outgoing bassist Andrew Dawson, who has left with the band’s love and best wishes due to external factors.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist Website: www.merryhell.co.uk.