Merry Hell’s Helloween: St Helens – live review

Merry Hell’s Helloween
The Citadel, St Helens
27 October 2012

Live review

Folk-rock outfit Merry Hell made a triumphant return to the Citadel, St.Helens, scene of their launch gig eighteen months previously during which time they have established themselves as one of the best must-see live acts on the country wide circuit.

With a confidence in an identity now forged separately from previous incarnation The Tansads Merry Hell storm through a set that delight this sold out Halloween themed crowd. Rich in warmth, humour and a night of songs that genuinely doesn’t have a dud amongst them, it’s easy to understand how they have established a following that has remained loyal and strong.

Old favourite Horses, more recently reserved for encores, starts the set and cleverly establishes momentum immediately. Drunken Serenade, the song that continues to bridge the old to the new is ever vibrant, with its refrains to celebration from isolation – ‘in my darkest hours of doubt, your songs have carried me’ – that could well be the defining theme of the band. ‘Over The Border’ Bob Kettle’s mandolin driven account of part conversations from the reflections of a love gone wrong, soars beautifully, carried along by the complimenting clarity of Andrew Kettle’s rasping vocals.

Pendle Hill, Lean On Me Love and Roseanna’s Song showcase this bands ability to write melodies that are memorable, emotive and truly second to no-one, whilst cutting lyrical wit is ever abundant on songs such as The Crooked Man and Virginia Kettles Bury Me Naked, the title track of next year’s album release. Even a touch of halloween hilarity is provided by Andrew’s rendition of Jack Thackray’s ‘The Jolly Captain’.

As Merry Hells reputation continues to build, anticipation will be high for their follow up album to be released in early spring, a tantalising glimpse of which was given tonight with Morning After, the recorded version featuring ex-Fairport Conventions Dave Swarbrick on fiddle, a stamp of approval that surely won’t go unheeded by those with more purist folk sensibilities.

The Tansads past continues to be skilfully integrated into each Merry Hell set, and Fear of Falling, G-Man, English Rover, Cobbly Backyard and Up The Revolution threaten to bring down the house, raucously delivered and received. Virginia and Andrew Kettle reach out to their audience better now than ever, revelling in the intimacy of the home venue after a year finding their festival feet.

The house curfew is gleefully broken on Satisfied, the house lights raised then dipped again to avoid a potential riot. As luminous balloons descended through the closing Let The Music Speak For Itself, Merry Hell bring to an end a set lasting a touch under two hours with a song title that basically says it all.

All words by Paul Ariss. You can read more from Paul on LTW here. 

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Sketch contributor on BBC Radio 2 and 4 comedy shows. Shadow Writer on Series 7 and 8 of Channel 4’s Shameless, and contributor to its online platform.


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