Live Reviews

Merry Hell – Croston Old School House: Live Review

Merry Hell’s Winter tour hits the road after a stunningly successful summer. In the quaint village of Croston, they deliver a brilliant performance within the intimate surroundings of The Old School House.

What’s the difference between playing to 100 people in a tiny village school  hall in Lancashire and 20,000 festival goers in a field in Cropredy? Well to Merry Hell…none. If you could bottle whatever chemical is made to uplift a Merry Hell audience’s  spirits through music,  then on this performance alone you could fill a case of Jeraboam.

The audience didn’t take long to warm up. Three numbers in they were swaying (safely), clapping and singing along with much fervour. Especially as Ellie had briefly warmed us all up pre- show with the chorus of Bury Me Naked. Not only was she collecting tickets on the door but a cameo appearance at the beginning of the second set gave her a much envied microphone spot on stage.

Tucked away over a stone bridge crossing the tranquil Yarrow River (there’s a song there!), the charming 19th century school house built on the site of  its 17th century building stands close by the striking 900 year old church. There, you take a step back in time with  only the modern garb of the audience giving a clue to the actual date. This is the ideal setting to celebrate all that is good in bonnie Englande which many of Merry Hell’s songs strongly and rightly purvey. 

But most of all, Merry Hell is about fun as the lively show tonight shows during a brace of 1 hour sets. All the current favourites are included, which can all be found on their latest album Let The Music Speak For Itself. 

Amidst all the fun, Merry Hell’s tunes have a social conscience. Whether it be dedicated to Greta’s campaign with world wide politicians on global warming (Sister Atlas) or urban decay (Leave It In The Ground). Social tolerance (We Are Different We Are One) or the power of togetherness and collaboration (We Need Each Other Now) or being proud of our nation  (C’mom England) without the violence or prejudice. This message is not put across in a geeky  hollow manner but with the strength of  honest realism. If you like a bit of folk rock as well as anthemic singalongs you can do no better than Three Lions of Albion. A song to rival any which has been released by folk’s legendary folk rock giants.

Ralph McTell once wrote a song called When Maddie Dances, inspired by his love of watching Steeleye’s Maddy Prior dance on stage. If he saw Virginia’s delightful prancing on stage and up the aisles I am sure he would be similarly inspired! She is the life and soul of Merry Hell and you could tell the audience were itching to get to their feet at the onset, which they did eventually with great enthusiasm and joined by Virginia in Baker’s Daughter. The audience lapped up her passionate, sensitive and amusing rapport she has with them. Andrew, as usual, sings with much fervour; particularly when unaccompanied on the opening to Lean On Me…the hairs rose on the back of the neck. 

Simon Swarbrick was on form too. Although tucked away at the back, he came to the fore with his short jigs on electric violin; his playing  sometimes sweet sometimes wailing. Bob Kettle is also so much more than the stirring song writer with his neat mandolin solo on the jaunty Only Love.

Although without drummer on this acoustic gig, John on guitar, Colin Foster on bass and Lee Goulding on keyboards drive the band along and fill every corner of the sound-friendly hall.

Merry Hell’s infectious brand of music appeals to young and old and hopefully this makes their longevity on the folk scene ageless.

I understand everyone has varying musical tastes but Merry Hell music is one that can cross all borders and appeal to many.

You can catch Merry Hell locally at the Manchester Folk Festival in October and Wigan Old Courts in early December. All their other tour dates are here.

Merry Hell: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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