Wigan folk-rockers Merry Hell – recent winners of the Best Live Band title from folking.com – are one of the hardest working bands in the business. Based around the core of the Kettle family they’re not letting anything get in the way of their music-making. Following 2019’s A Year In The Life film documentary, they’ve just set the 2020 ball rolling with a trio of single releases. That’s just a teaser for a new album due later this year.
In the first of a series of Merry Hell link ups, mandolin player and the man who brings the top hat into fashion, Bob Kettle tells us why he loves Leonard Cohen
I first heard Leonard Cohen when I was about fourteen years old. I’d taken a trip to Wigan Library and borrowed The Best Of… album that bore his name. The image on the cover – a somewhat dishevelled man, critically regarding his own reflection in a mirror – had intrigued me.
I remember putting the disc on the turntable and hearing the words and melodies emerge. I’d never experienced such exquisite lyrics before. They dealt unashamedly with feelings of love and loss, joy and desolation – and seemed to point to a vast, unexplored world outside my callow acquaintance: “she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China… and the sun pours down like honey on Our Lady of the Harbour.” It filled me to overflowing with tears and smiles.
My introduction was from a compilation album, of course, representing only the period from 1967 to 1974. I was nevertheless drawn into a silken storm of imagery; of light and shadow, passion and despair – the start of a lifelong adoration of an artist from which I’ve never quite recovered.
He can take me from the pits of depression to the highest peaks of elation; from sorrow to heartfelt laughter and good humour: “I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice…”. He taught me the mighty, magical power of language as a force for expression and transformation: “there’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard, the holy or the broken hallelujah.”
I’ve delighted in his music and message from that youthful introduction in my hometown to his final letter of conciliation to his estranged muse Marianne, written shortly before their deaths in 2016.
As a wise and worldly guide through the conflicts and complexities of life, I couldn’t have had a better source of encouragement for my own efforts as a writer. He has been an angel of inspiration and a demon of protestation; a friend by my side, helping me reply to the disdainful.
Above all, Leonard makes me feel better – and, if you haven’t already heard his songs, please take it on my recommendation that he may well make you feel better too.
Our thanks to Bob for his eloquent thoughts on a genuine musical icon.