Merry Hell don’t often get to play at places where the bouncers, sorry ushers, wear DJs but they’d never played Snape Maltings before. This is a classical concert hall with spectacular acoustics in which Virginia Kettle absolutely revelled – singing scales between songs just for the joy of hearing her voice resonate around the space. Of course, they needed a big space to accommodate the choir, so let’s start with them.
The Rabble Chorus are an amalgamation of four community choirs under the musical direction of Kirsty Logan who teaches all of them the same repertoire – clever, eh? There were three hundred of them of stage and that’s quite a sound, believe me. They opened their support set with ‘Drunken Sailor’ which was rousing but I’d hoped for something more. That came with ‘Emerald Green’, a song from Merry Hell (used with permission, I hasten to add) and Nancy Kerr’s ‘Poison Apples’ which established their right-on credentials. Then came a song in Czech which sounded wonderful but turned out to be totally inconsequential.
A small group of the men sang ‘Sweetest Kick’ from the Spooky Men’s Chorale and a similar group of the women sang two songs from the Borders and Orkney. Sadly, I didn’t get the name of the leader of ‘Cattle Call’ but she has one hell of a voice. I liked their setting of ‘Crossing The Bar’ and they closed with a visit to South Africa via Paul Simon’s ‘Under African Skies’ and ‘Nkosi Sikelel ‘iafrica’.
Merry Hell began with a couple of their crowd-pleasing anthems; ‘Loving The Skin You’re In’ and ‘Let’s Not Have A Morning After Until We’ve Had The Night Before’. The choir had remained on stage but were keeping their powder dry for a while. ‘Stand Down’ and ‘Bloodlines’ followed and then we hit the first peak with The Rabble Chorus joining in on ‘We Need Each Other Now’ and ‘Bury Me Naked’ – songs that really benefit from massed voices.
There are always some fixed points in the set: ‘Lean On Me Love’ and ‘Drunken Serenade’ are essentials and ‘The Butcher And The Vegan’ and ‘The Baker’s Daughter’ add lightness as does ‘Finest Hour’ while Virginia’s solo, ‘Violet’, from her eagerly anticipated solo album was a delight. Bob Kettle’s top hat creates a shadow for him to hide in but I managed to get some photographs this time and I still marvel at how Neil McCartney makes his violin sound like a trumpet. I do think that Merry Hell should try working with a brass band.
The first encore of ‘Coming Home Song’, sung a capella with the choir, was a joy – I only wish they could transfer that sound to the sweaty intensity of The Old Courts or The Citadel. Perhaps the only miss-step was following that with ‘Let The Music Speak For Itself’ instead of perhaps leaving the final thought that “we will fly away” hanging in that wonderful space.
Finally, and I don’t usually do this, I’d like to thank the Maltings staff. They have a strict no photographs policy but after some cajoling and consultation and probably sworn affidavits from Merry Hell, I was awarded the red sash that made me an honorary usher and allowed no, positively encouraged, to take pictures. They have style in Snape.
Venue website: https://snapemaltings.co.uk/
‘The Butcher And The Vegan’ – live: