Merry Hell Acoustic
Photograph by Damian Liptrot

It’s not often that I begin a live review by waxing lyrical about the support band but Fleetwood Cave impressed me greatly and made a lot of new friends with their set. Furthermore, I have Marion Fleetwood’s permission to say that I think that they are better live. We both agreed that on stage they have the “oomph” that a studio recording can never capture.

They started with ‘Valentine’ and followed that with one of the highlights of People Like Us, ‘Gypsy Queen’, Marion playing a ukulele part on the fiddle and Greg Cave adding electric guitar highlights. It sounds a bit odd when you see it written down but it works. They followed that the album’s opener, ‘The 18th Day Of May’, the instrumental ‘Lazarus’ and ‘The Mare And The Foal’, TRADArr’s reworking of an old, satirical song brought up to date. Staying with their parent band the played the best version of ‘The Rose Of Allandale’ I’ve ever heard. This is a song I usually go out of my way to avoid as it frequently becomes a dirge, a maudlin piece of Victorian doggerel. Marion and Greg pick up the pace and it makes sense. They finished with a cover of Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ which always gets a crowd singing.

Like many musicians Fleetwood Cave have been out of the limelight for a while but if you do get a chance to hear them live now that the world is opening up again, I urge you to take it.

I’m coming round to the view that I actually prefer the acoustic line-up of Merry Hell. This is no criticism of Allan Jones but an appreciation of the fact that they approach things differently in the acoustic framework. They don’t just play the same way but without drums. Lee Goulding’s keyboards and Neil McCartney’s fiddle get more space to work and play a more important role in the live sound.

There is more scope for light and shade. The “big” songs can be scaled down and they started this set with ‘Ghost In Our House’, ‘We Are Different We Are One’ and ‘Three Little Lions’ with no loss of power or authority. ‘Bury Me Naked’ would sound good in a pub singaround and there would be questions in parliament if they didn’t play it and ‘Lean On Me Love’ has a bit of a “you’re my best mate, you are” vibe that works anywhere.

By now we have had two songs from Emergency Lullabies but there are many more to be aired yet. ‘Sister Atlas’ and ‘Leave It In The Ground’ are two key songs in the ecological theme of the album. Old and new songs meld seamlessly: ‘Moonlight Parade’, ‘We Need Each Other Now’, ‘Summer Is A-Comin’’, ‘Handsome Sally’ and ‘Come On England’ make up the main course of the repast.

They can’t scale up the “small” songs for the big band so Virginia’s a cappella solo ‘Spy In A Previous Life’ really only fits in here as does the lovely ‘Rosanna’s Song’ which you will find on her solo album, The Quiet Bridge. Having lowered the temperature, ‘Coming Home Song’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Be Cool’ slot in here perfectly. We’re heading for the finish line now and Marion Fleetwood joins the band for ‘The Baker’s Daughter’ and helps Neil kick up the sawdust. Officially they finish with ‘One More Day Without You’ but there have to be encores: ‘Let The Music Speak For Itself’ and ‘We Will Meet Again’ which I suspect will become their ‘Meet On The Ledge’ for many years to come.

I can’t over-emphasise the enthusiasm and energy that Merry Hell put into their live shows. After the excesses of the previous night’s big band show they were still raring to go. In fact, talking before the show, John Kettle had more pep than I did. What else? Bob Kettle has a new top hat (perhaps we shouldn’t ask) and the band has a new bass player, Colin Foster. I hope to be talking to him soon to introduce him properly to the nation. Do I need to say that we all had a reet gud do? No.

Dai Jeffries

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‘We Need Each Other Now’ – Wigan Community Choir live: