Merry Hell – Folk at the Barlow – 18th November 2022
Merry Hell made no secret that they had been wanting to play The Barlow, Edgworth for some time and first-timers to the venue [like me] could quickly see why. Nestled in the heart of Edgworth, this amazing community space led by a volunteer-based charitable organisation, boasts a fantastic Edwardian main hall, library, snooker room, coffee shop and bar, as well as outdoor sports and recreational amenities. In addition to the cracking venue, was the benefit of the evening being run by the resident folk club; Folk at the Barlow [formerly Bromley Cross Folk Club], this meant that there was the obligatory raffle and parish notices were duly read, ensuring that the types of inconsiderate behaviour that blights many a live music event was unlikely to rear its ugly head on this occasion.
Richard Moss [guitar, mandolin] and Rebecca Clare Douglas [fiddle] supported Merry Hell with a beautifully crafted set, that started off gently with some tunes from Clare’s songbook. Clare’s soothing tunes put me in mind of warmer days, sat outside in the sunshine with a gentle breeze across your face – as opposed to the slightly more chilling fog that actually accompanied me on my journey over the West Pennine moors. The second half of their set picked up the pace with ‘The Clapham Witch’, another very fine tune written by Clare about our Clapham – not the other one. Their set concludes with a misbehaving mandolin [for sale, contact Richard if interested] and the cracking chorus song ‘Tyrants of England’ which the audience added their voices to with great gusto.
Following a brief re-set, the all conquering powerhouse that is Merry Hell took to the stage in acoustic+ format, with their regular six piece, acoustic variant supplemented with ivory tinkler Lee Goulding. This was also the first time that many will have seen the band without Neil McCartney who is pursuing the good life in Thailand. Simon Swarbrick has more than ably taken over fiddle duties from Neil; had clearly read the memo and was sporting a newsboy cap, adding to Merry Hell’s rather excellent millinery traditions
The first half of Merry Hell’s set opened with We Are Different We Are One and offered a very early opportunity for some audience participation, before swiftly moving on to Ghost In Our House and the notoriously dangerous ‘Bury me naked’.
Lean On Me followed and it seems almost implausible that this fine tune was released in 2011 as a track on ‘Blink…And You’ll Miss It – the lyrics seem to have been crafted for life in a pandemic lockdown and give the listener a big old bear hug of support, with its themes of universal kinship and solidarity.
We move on and pick up the pace with ‘Leave it in the ground’ a tribute to our industrial past whilst being mindful of how we need to change in order to protect future generations. Continuing the theme of climate change, the band pay tribute to the actions, tenacity and activism of Greta Thunberg and salute her young shoulders with a belting tune and some very big actions.
Merry Hell had certainly made a very favourable impression, with more than one audience member commenting on just how much they were enjoying the performance, thus came the perfect point in proceedings to play Bob Kettles’s masterpiece C’mon England! – which actually has very little to do with the Rugby League World Cup or the forthcoming Football World Cup – but instead celebrates the virtues of charity, solidarity and compassion.
The first half draws to a close with a new song from Virginia; Kiss on the wind, which provides the opportunity for Simon Swarbrick to come out of the shadows and provide a sublime, interweaving accompaniment to Virginia’s guitar and vocal. This new song demonstrates once again what a consummate singer/songwriter Virginia is, she seems incapable of writing a bad tune and all her lyrics are heartfelt, sincere and often gilded with a good dose of humour. Simon then nips off to join the rest of the gentleman leaving Virginia to close the first half with an off-mic, very much in-audience rendition of ‘Violet’ – a tribute to ladies everywhere who possess exceptionally loud voices.
Band suitably relieved and refreshed, we kick off for the second half and are treated to ‘Lovin’ the skin you’re in’ and the epic ‘Three little Lions’ before we witness the fourth performance of ‘Join hands’ and when I say ‘fourth’ what I really mean is ‘fourth run through’ – the tune being so new that Andrew is forced to don his reading glasses and use a crib sheet, but without their confession and crib sheet the audience would have been none the wiser, they might as well have been playing it for the hundredth time for all we would have known.
Anyone who has seen Merry Hell before will know that their gigs are a collaboration between band and audience, I’ve sometimes seen them described as a ‘party band’ but for me, this description is too glib as it fails to do justice to their skills as songwriters, musicians, singers and performers. They are also frequently tackle serious subjects and use their position to remind us all that we’re all stuck on this rock together and that our strengths come from our diversity and compassion and not some arbitrary line drawn on a map.
But never fear, despite their forays into serious subject matters, I can pretty much guarantee that if you go to a Merry Hell gig [acoustic or full band version, it doesn’t matter] you will feel like you’ve been to a party, you may need to through a little caution to the wind and ditch a few inhibitions, but trust me, it’ll be worth it.
Catch Merry Hell at a venue near you soon.
Categories: Live Reviews