Following on from the release of its three eco-based singles, the fossil-fuel themed ‘Leave It In The Ground’, Greta Thunberg tribute ‘Sister Atlas’ and climate change alarum ‘Emergency Lullaby (Wasting Time)’, now comes the associated album, Emergency Lullabies, the band’s sixth and one which, after the previous acoustic Anthems To The Wind, sees them in their full 8-piece glory. Initially begun in a Wigan studio, lockdown meant band members recording their individual parts to be stitched together by producer John Kettle. He’s done a great job and you most certainly can’t see the seams.
Featuring material from all five writers, it opens in signature ringing and rousing anthemic form with John’s ‘Go Down Fighting’, a characteristic all stand together number that guarantees singing along to the refrain while pumping fists into the air. The second of the previously unheard numbers comes from Virginia, ‘Three Little Lions’, which, featuring Neil’s fiddle and anchored by Andy’s steady drum beat, is a folksier, fingerpicked fable that calls for the nation to unite rather than stand divided, the line “call to the North and the North will come” a little touch of regional pride.
Taking the pace and the dynamic down a notch or two, John’s ‘Handsome Sally’ is a straightforward reflective love song, plaintively sung by Andrew to a walking beat and emotive fiddle. Written by Bob, ‘Sailor’ is something of a stylistic rarity in the Merry Hell canon being an unabashed shanty in memory of Bob ‘Buck’ Taylor, a former Tyneside Royal Navy stoker buried at sea in 2018, that plays out with Virginia’s wave-washed unaccompanied ‘Rolling Home’ coda.
It’s back then to anthems, albeit on a more subdued note, with ‘Beyond The Call’, John’s tribute and blessing to the NHS and those “whose occupation is to hold our trembling hand”, featuring a fiddle solo from Neil. That’s followed by another of Virginia’s playful storytelling with ‘Violet’, a jaunty vaudeville-shaded number directed at men who expect their women to be seen and not heard, and a rejoinder that she’s certainly not one to shrink into the mould. Another by Virginia, but in musical contrast and sung by Andrew, is the Celtic-flavoured stomping ‘Younger Than You Were’, another love song about constancy in the rollercoaster of life and getting older.
A co-write between Bob and keyboards/banjo player Lee Goulding, the slow waltzing ‘The Green Hills Of Home’ is pretty much summed up by the title and then there’s another dose of barbed playfulness from Virginia with the handclaps-backed ‘I Don’t Want To Be Cool’ featuring Simon Care on melodeon, a number about the way the media and advertising try to shape who we are as she sings about ignoring “miss frosty knickers” staring down from the billboards and how it’s okay to be a bit old-fashioned and behind the times.
Appositely, it’s followed by a Bob and John arms-linked stirring Celtic-coloured anthem co-write, the swayalong ‘We Are Different, We Are One’, a kindred soul to ‘We Need Each Other Now’ and one of three to feature the massed voices of The Key Workers Chorus and Social Isolation Choir everyone coming together for the massed voice chorus.
Emergency Lullabies ends with the simple piano waltz climate change title track single but before that comes, the leisurely sway of ‘Moonlight Parade’, a song Neil had been working on for 30 years and finally completed with Bob, a song that, his fiddle providing the bridge, looks both back over a life lived and dreams dreamed as time slips through our fingers, about letting go of a past can’t be changed and learning the wisdom of the years as the last farewell approaches. In the troubled times we as a society, a nation, a planet live, Merry Hell are a band we need more than ever. Can I be the first to declare them a national treasure?
Artists’ website: www.merryhell.co.uk
‘Leave It In The Ground’ – official video: