The musical alias of Liverpool’s Stephen Dawson, this teams him with longtime Merry Hell friends John and Virginia Kettle as well as the band’s former fiddler, Neil McCartney, for Hoping For Purgatory a collection of infectious, melodic and punchy folk-rock that kicks off with the circling, ringing guitar notes of ‘Endlessly’ and its memories of first love (“I remember that long summer/When the air was still and warm/On a stage of grass and daisies/We used up all the light”) but also how it never lasts (“The dance of time is set and we must part/But in my dreams you’ll always be”).
There’s a more fingerpicked approach to the straightforward similarly themed ‘Girl You’re Sweet’, but still very much of a poppy persuasion before the arrival of the title track, a swayalong folk rock number with a more serious – but playful – narrative about regretting hurting a girl through an alcohol-fuelled lapse of judgement (“I was drunk in a gutter/I’d had a good night/Kissed a man’s girlfriend then won me a fight/I felt like a hero, like I couldn’t do wrong/But guilt came a calling/And sang me this song”).
The girl in question also anchors a further two numbers, reconnecting in the part rapped jaunty ‘When We Next Met’ where she holds no grudge and, handclaps laying down the rhythm, ‘Though It Rains’ where we gather she pretty much always looks on the bright side of life.
Virginia’s vocals lead the way into the cascading notes of the lurch along ‘Never Be With Me’ on which he laments failing to impress a woman he fancies at a folk gig (“You won’t get the chance/To dance with me, to try romance/You won’t ever be with me”), feeling out of place among the crowd “With my three piece suit and high groomed hair/And Adidas special on… Clean shaven and quite bare/Drinking my flirtini/For the real ale I won’t dare/I haven’t got a tattoo/Or a piercing anywhere”.
A meeting point between a jaunty Merry Hell tune and Pulp, ‘Coffee Please’ has him sitting in a café down by Camden Lock, reflecting on getting old and resigned to settling for second best, love a recurring subject on things like the jogalong folk rock ‘Need A Lot Of Lovin’’, the muted drums slightly progfolk ‘If Love Was Blood’ (“If love was blood we would not ever waste it/Would not recklessly let it flow across our skin/We’d never leave the wounds of love untreated …If love was blood we would not ever fake it/Would not leave it barren, no oxygen inside/We would breathe new life in through our lungs every single day”) and the fiddle-stroked infidelity (lyrically and subtly musically) Marvin Gaye referencing tale of ‘Someone Else’ (“He had heard it on the grapevine/She was seeing another man”).
More of a stomper with him flying his falsetto, ‘Inconsistent Sex’ reminds that successful relationships are built on more than tumbles between the sheets, the album ending on something of a downbeat note with the Irish-flavoured waltzer ‘Bars’, which puts a gender twist on the post-pub one-night stand as, having picked him up and taken him home(“I felt really used like a rug in a skip”), she tells him “I’ll love you till the bars re open”, which, the track building to a big finale, you can either see as male pride-denting female empowerment or a sad case of alcoholism and priorities.
Given an apparently non-existent online profile to hear samples, Hoping For Purgatory is going to have to rely heavily on hometown fans, networking around the Merry Hell circuit and word of mouth to find the audience it deserves, but it’s certainly worth sniffing out.
‘Hoping For Purgatory’: