Appalachian British Duo Folk Music Gig Political Protest Folk Urban

15th March 2024- Megson at Wesley Centre, Maltby

After having multiple plans since we first got into folk music; the stars aligned in the sky and we finally had the opportunity to see Megson live (here at The Wesley Centre in Maltby). Warm and inviting, and pretty much firing on all cylinders since we last visited around Covid times, Nick Wilson’s curation of artists is as solid as ever. In terms of the venue, everyone is welcome, the hall has great acoustics and sound setup (I have never heard any audio slip ups here, either major or minor), and it does exactly what it needs to. Before talking about the gig itself, we confirm that it is a great place to go, and a fun night. Supporting live music is important to us, so keep on top of what is happening through the Facebook page and check out if any of the upcoming artists pique your interest at: (

Megson are a pretty prolific folk-duo comprising of Stu and Debbie Hanna who have been making albums since 2004 (they have released 9 albums up to now). What makes Megson a cool folk prospect for the ears is their nature as chroniclers of the modern living experience through song that draws on a slightly wider instrumentation than a pure singer-songwriter. These songs are often a little retro in subject matter (appealing to us 40+ types) and largely punctuated by songs of family experiences but they can range from numbers about social media, the news, a family that all play in a band together, going on a caravan holiday and lots more. We would say it is “kitchen sink folk” in the way that you think of a Northern play, but kitchen sink implies dark and gritty; Megson is not this, they approach with a much more optimistic take on things. This is all underwritten with experience as Stu has worked with several folk artists producing their records, and it shows in their own work which is exceptionally sharp, clean and punchy. Debbie is classically trained and adds a great musicality.

Energetic and upbeat throughout, Megson are a duo that appear to have a lot of craft in their connective tissue. Among the set there was a satisfying mix of traditional, an Appalachian number, some mild pokery-satire and some political tracks (both new and reappraised numbers) that keep things moving. There is some cute banter throughout, I don’t think we’ve heard as much about plaid and air fryer chips at a gig before.

In terms of songs, there are some notable inclusions that certainly entertain like “The Longshot”, a parable of hope framing within a football match, “The Old Miner”, a musing on working life led with Debbie’s glass vocals, and a cover of Chris Rea’s “Road to Hell” which seems to address the anticipation the audience had for this as a desired encore song. In our sights there is, “Every Night When the Sun Goes In”. We love that the Appalachian track is in the set like a cottontail raising it’s head above the embankment on the first day of Spring. There is some stillness to be had here in a quiet, spiritual; perhaps like a prayer in between peeling the potatoes and carrots. A fellow listener commented on the delicateness of the guitar playing which we could not disagree with.

One aspect of Folk Music we have discovered in out time of listening is that we love conceptual albums with a strong basis in the environment, the psycho-geographical pull of the mountain, the brook, the stream. Here, the duo brought back an older track, “The River Never Dies”, in lieu of out current landscape where polluted bodies of water full of sewage discharge are high in the news cycle. Catchy and evoking the song pulls on those fears rooted and analogous to the what has happened to the North East, it’s history and industry. It is personal, a tight and urgent number, a bit of an anthem and not at all a James Bond movie.

A song truly fitting to the “anthem” moniker is “We are better than this”, a number from their latest album which seems squarely in protest territory. It is bright, it’s light a bunsen burner cooking with a full open eye, the songs lyrics talk about “lords” and “ladies”, “carriages”, raising “veils” and so forth. In arms with some Dylan and well known riddling songs from the past (i.e. American Pie) it asks for something more, which will butter a lot of people’s bread. We do like a song or two that spin a yarn about these power structures.

This is quite a deceptive set. Megson do excel at the personal, but when you go back and look and at what they have written and performed you realise that there are quite a few bases covered through their musical career. The set includes a wider remit then we were expecting, and variety is always welcome. As performers they are slick and rehearsed as a barista made hot beverage team; Stu is like an early morning espresso, Debbie is a spiced chai. Together they are premier recorders of lives from this time, and their folky undertones should not be under-estimated. You are expecting a folk jab, but watch out for that folk hook- it might be closer than you think.

For more information about Megson and their music, check out their website here.

Album/EP Reviews British Energetic Folk Music Folk Rock Modern Arrangement Political Protest Folk

Merry Hell – Emergency Lullabies (review)

Exuberant and rousing with a few inspired sentimental stops, Merry Hell still have a lot to say with their sixth album. 


What can we say of Merry Hell? They are a band often seen on the live circuit with an impressive turnaround of albums (this is their sixth studio outing); you could believe they are the folk world’s equivalent of oxen in a Renaissance painting with their ubiquity, whilst looking incredibly cheerful in their toils. Having listened to their latest offering “Emergency Lullabies” it is safe to say that Merry Hell continue to skillfully and happily pull the yoke of folk rock over our current fertile music scene and show us exactly how they continue to be seen and heard in all quarters.

Consisting of Virginia Kettle (vocals), John Kettle (guitar), Bob Kettle (mandolin), Andrew Kettle (vocals), Lee Goulding (keyboard), Nick Davies (bassist), Neil McCartney (fiddle) and Andy Jones (drummer); Merry Hell have forged a high path in the folk scene through their lack of pretentiousness, an iron-solid bit of songwriting and a kind of national concern and warm embrace contained in their music. The key to their success is surely that their albums are of very subjects that appeal across the political spectrum as, when all is said and done, they don’t try to score political points they just look for the good in people and society through hope, charity and joy. Once this is all mixed up with a well-developed Folk/Punk energy (from their time as the Tansads) we get a loveable, people-orientated band on a mission to cheer up and rally the populace. 

Their new album is an interesting beast as it seems to take a two-pronged approach to entertaining and pulling at the heart-strings. It feels like an album of two dates for your prom night. The first is a cheerful, self-assured protest marcher whose presence does not require added charm (or a megaphone), the other is a downright soppy guy arriving on your doorstep drenched from rain and clutching wild daffodils, slightly broken at the head of the stalk (but he knows how to woo in Latin). This duality, much like 1968’s film “The Odd Couple”, fills the album with charm and allows the magic to happen and spread across the album. This is all well, but what of the tracks?

“Go Down Fighting” has all the hallmarks of a classic Merry Hell Song that works by painting a sombre picture that of dark days to come which “we” can all bust with determination and grit , “bring in all your doubt and all your fears, bring the consternations of your years.” The track reminds of their previous work “We Need Each Other Now” and can be seen as the bread and butter pudding of Merry Hell’s vision and voice . Fighting their war with “peace and love”, their words spin on an active pacifism that has a feeling of a “warm glow” much like fluorescent coral of the sea. Backed with a bouncy, chopping electric guitar, thumping drum and a fine tonic of voices, it is a great opener to the disc.

Another song, similar in inspiring pride but vastly different in execution is “Three Little Lions” (track 3). Virginia Kettle takes the lead on vocals here, delivering a fable-like telling on what seems like England taking on a new identity in the world. Heavy in metaphor and spinning a story of the present and future through strong national iconography we get a spell-like song that calls to all the points on a compass. Complete with epic fantasy level chanting later in the track and some nice fiddle amongst that guitar, it is a song that is asking for fur suits of armour and/or the nations of the United Kingdom combining in a kind of Braveheart style fight against a shadowy opponent. For many listeners there will be some interesting themes to pick through this particular track.

The pinnacle of this particular  theme of national pride has to be attributed to track 7, “Beyond the Call”. A song for the NHS, doctors and nurses who stand “beyond the call” is a kind of celebratory prayer prepared with relatively delicate backing instruments whose rallying power culminates with the community voices added to the song from across the UK. Collected during the lockdown (a challenge to acquire and edit I am sure), it is a rather triumphant and powerful statement of support for our nationally funded health services and the workers therein. On point still at the time of writing (March 2021) it is a big thank you, and almost certainly the defining moment on this album for many. 

This lighter, supportive side of Merry Hell then turns into a kind of stylised classic sentimentalism at different points within the album which give it a wider appeal. Of course being a little sentimental does not make the subject of “Violet” a wallflower by any means,  but this “beautiful recluse” of a song is lined with clever small rhymes, and the track skips like a cheerful grasshopper moving from blade to blade, beat to beat. It is a song celebrating the outspoken, self-assured woman in a vaudeville turn you would expect instead to be about an eccentric gentleman with a penchant for colourful waistcoats, but is more the better for not being. As you listen through several gamboling and witty lyrics later, you feel like you’ve dropped off the suitcases to your room, arrived at the hotel pool bar with a cool mojito in hand and have the moment of peaceful bliss as you take in your surroundings. The yesteryear swagger and nostalgia combined with these combinations of words reveals another part of Merry Hell’s success; they know how to have a jolly laugh with themselves. 

Continuing on this theme we also get “Handsome Sally” and “Younger Than You Were”. We have to say, we are rather partial to these sweeter numbers on this album and are glad for their inclusion. “Handsome Sally” excels in that everything has been dialled back just a little bit. Slightly less flashy and big band,  slightly less bombastic it is the quiet, affecting advice from a lifelong friend to you in your time of need. The guitar leads with a sparser strum, a gentle violin and a drum hiding behind the curtain. It feels like the kind of song that would be shuffling around the top of the charts at Christmas time in the 90s, the familiar solidness of it all burns like a pleasing Boxing |Day turkey curry. Andrew Kettle draws on some fine inspiration beyond his singing in this track and it is a solid contender for track of the album. 

“Younger Than You Were” is more like the rhythmic, spark on a faster, more recognisable Merry Hell track but not any less touching for it.  Guaranteed to get people on the floor during a set, and possibly a place on a folkie’s wedding reception list or engagement party (is that a thing in normal times?) Sounding like a well-loved, well-considered couple who have known each other “since records began” it is celebratory, joyous and incredibly descriptive of the love that grows as the years go on. Many would say this in their relationship to Merry Hell’s music, and that is tricky to argue against.

So, all things considered, we get a strong mix of warmth both towards society and the individuals within from this sixth album by a modern staple of the folk scene. With an output that continues to “spark joy”, as they say, and the sense that there is a ton of ideas yet to come (in arguably “less creatively challenging times”) when the pandemic is a distant memory; we highly recommend the latest album by these rocksters. The whole package has been extremely well put together, sounding rich, deep and somehow (maybe alchemy) as if it was constructed in better circumstances outside of the pandemic. Like a swiss mechanical watch, these reliable, essential and high quality artists continue to shine and tick, providing a valuable, treasured service to many.

To buy the album, we recommend going direct to the artist on their shop here, though it is available in all good stockists.

No ownership of the images exhibited is implied. Please message and I will credit and label your work.

On the way to buying this album, also check out Merry Hell’s 1st January release “When We Meet Again”, another fine articulation of hope and reassurance for these difficult times,

Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Gentle Nature Folk Political Vitality World

Lizabett Russo- “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” (album review)

Russo’s album is a brighter, more focused affair that lets the positive rays of growth bring more optimism to her delightfully individual music.

To Be Released: Late November 2020

Gathering her ideas from the characterful stream of her mind and hewing a sound from the knotty avant-garde folk tree, Lizabett Russo continues a work very much her own with more integration of her core ideas around nature, personal anxiety and politics. With “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” it also feels that Russo is letting the background sing as much as her own interesting, searching voice.

“While I Sit and Watch This Tree” sees Russo (classical guitar, charango) joined by the musicianship of Graeme Stephen (electric guitar, loops/effects, piano), Oene van Geel (cello, viola, percussion), Udo Dermadt (various percussion, clay pot). Interestingly, the album itself is being released by not-for-proft charity, “Last Night from Glasgow” which strives to provide artists, “fair remuneration for their work” and is funded by patrons. They have some enticing options for supporters and if this piques the reader’s interest, is well worth a look at, (

Lizabett Russo is a Romanian-born (now Scotland-settled) artist with wide-ranging vocals that can swing around a point like a pencil in a metal compass, pleasantly drawing patterns only she can see. It has always seemed to us that Russo’s signature style could be how she musically captures the “meeting of her thoughts” within a song. The joy in this is when she begins with one idea there is often no certainty about where this will end up in terms of style, beat and genre. When these shifts happen her ideas clash in a great auditory drama and the song becomes something else altogether; jazz moves to folk, to expansive poetry and far beyond. Therefore, it is rare that Russo’s music is a steady-paced jog in the countryside, it is more akin to orienteering upon a craggy rock face with various dashing and walking speeds, the wonder of finding the puzzle, and wading through water while the sun bakes your muddy jersey.

“While I Sit and Watch This Tree” continues this stylistic motif in parts (and Russo’s great voice endures) but this time there feels more like a greater continuity to the tracks and it’s cognitive, political and natural folk music is layered around a vision which is more optimistic, and probably less mystifying than her previous works. What do we feel about the songs?

“Two Hands Together” is the musical fusion of a union rally call stretched across the drums of a shamanistic greeting. The song asks for the listener to  “get up and fight, get up and see what is there to see beyond the horizon” as it calls the “brother” and “sister” to action. The hands clap and the spirit of rebellion splashes up onto the jungle raft as it moves along. It is a song about the destruction of the rainforest in Ecuadar,and in character it feels much like the protest is coming from “within”the trees and the cultures of the area. Atmospheric and spiritual, it appeals to the senses with it’s peaceful yet pleading message.  

The track “I Was Young When I Left Home”, is as nostalgic and delicately skipping a track as you might find from the young artist. It’s a moody assortment of piano and jingly percussion which begins like the building bustle of an Alpaca textile stall in the morning. As it starts the track’s colours glow and Russo’s ideas firmly greet each other in a busy kind of joy. By the second half, it is a track that has ascended like red vapour from a heavenly candle, flickering for a moment in the mind. It seems to play like a contrast between her life now and from her past. Russo paints not an unhappy picture of her youth, but with the contrasting styles of the track you wonder if she considers her current creative life akin to spiritual enlightenment, as she has noted previously that music is not considered a profession in Romania and more a “hobby”. Whatever it’s intention, the song presents two distinct and interesting sides of Russo’s character.

“Depending” is a song like an anagogic spray of glitter and lights crackling in the heavy, damp air. It starts brimming with Russo’s echoing vocals portraying a contented inner voice with some solid, earthy strings backing this up. Much like Heraclitis’ famous wisdom, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Russo explores virtue and time within one of her more simply structured songs on the disc. With a clear message and voice that sounds like it hovers over swarms of heady springtime bees. It is a nice entry among many.

Photograph by: Vicki Rose Evans.

Russo’s cover (her only one here) of “The Water is Wide” is also a welcome addition. Russo takes on a folkier track than usual and the results are a song of easy listening that sings lightly of transformation and joy. Voice and lyrics are still front and centre, but unlike other versions (such as Karla Bonoff’s) it has both a stronger world feel, and both instrumentation (particularly the charango) and composition are more wedded to the elements of Nu-Folk. Russo gives us two co-existing ideas; one is her future character singing with a care-free confidence of a dilettante as she looks back at her migration. The second is the content of the song which hints at past Russo’s worries about impending travel and starting a new life. It is a cheerful affair though and a worthwhile cover.

So with the latest offering from Lizabett Russo we get a sunny, idea-filled exploration of Russo’s own beliefs and history. Her music reminds of the art of Scott Maismithi with it’s sharp, bright colours showing the natural landscape like a musician’s heart and soul in bloom. Moreso, it shows that Russo has much more to say about her life as well as ways to say it.

As the fourth album of Russo’s catalogue, it is possibly the most joyfully introspective but also a perfect starting place for those new to her works so we recommend that you check it out.

For details of purchasing her album, have a look at Lizabett’s website here,

Here is a preview of the album on Youtube:

Russo’s live stream of her album launch is taking place on YouTube on 27th November, check it out here

Album/EP Reviews European Folk Music Political

Will Pound- A Day Will Come (album review)

Breathlessly broad yet uniting; Pound’s love letter to the European idea and its people touches the soul.

Released 8th May (Will Pound Lulubug Records).

Will Pound’s Art’s Council funded work is an unbridled joy filled with light and cheers from every corner of your favourite continental bar. Much like our favourite A L’Imaige Nostre-Dame in Brussels, it is classic in its appeal and with grace contains a strong selection of beers (sets) to warrant it’s reputation amongst those that stop to admire the decor.   

More like The World’s Fair then your local continental market, Pound et al. make the call which brings all the winds of the Continent here and somewhere in its veins it carries a regal (but not austere) character that sets the mind racing. It is unashamedly a political album in the sense that the intention of the artist seems to be to showcase the strength of unity of the EU and the commonality of the musical identities throughout Europe. It accomplishes this by not just highlighting Pound’s own harmonica and melodeon skills (which are considerable) but several other talents are taking part such as Zhivko Zhelev (Dobrudja State Folk Ensemble), Dame Evelyn Glennie, Patsy Reid and Jenn Butterworth amongst many others.  It is up to the listener if they wish to bring politics into reviews, but it seems a disservice to brush over Pound’s vision as just a collection of technical sets that have sprung up independent of each other. In the booklet there is a written ode to our European brethren who came to our shores and the contribution they have given, the values and peculiarities they have adopted and Pound sees their value alongside the Countries he reveals in their musical mastery. 

Pound takes the styles and tunes of 27 EU member states he has researched and weaves them into a fine tapestry (like those 15th Century Netherland wonders) that starts from the sense of familiarity and builds on this until the tunes become etched in your ears. There is a lot we like here. One of our favourite sets on the album is Kaap’ren Varen/El Candil (Netherlands/Spain). The first sounds like a wild boar frolicking in the undergrowth of a national park, it twists and turns and occasionally puts his head above the roots to watch you with his dark eyes. Used as a children’s song it has a melodic hook which doesn’t so much grab as clasps you with both hands in welcome. As we get to the second part of the set, things get a little brighter, a bit like stepping on a folk revolving platform the tune  reflects light all round like a European disco ball. Jenn Butterworth’s guitar chases like a surreptitious, impromptu dance in the amongst the Spanish trees. A great number.

Bohdan Piasecki

We also recommend Krakowiak/Ellin Polkka (Poland/Finland) as a spinning show of grandeur. Intensive harmonica combines with crisp guitars and sporadic, sweet violin. Linking to the Finland track with a tale of migration the tune becomes more bombastic like a bevy of white swans just beginning to take flight. Characterful and suave it chases you whilst dressed in one fine tuxedo. The second half is in particular a toe-tapping smile and shuffle that would not be out of place in the late moments of the folk festival tent as your family whirls around you in tired happiness. Full of hammering instruments and the bullet-speed spoken word (from Polish poet, Bohdan Piasecki) it pleases, and in it’s urgency it seems to captivates from all angles. The Malta/Estonia track is no less intricate, especially with mind boggling notation on the accordion. Starting as something slower and more familiar it morphs into a free-reed bonanza as it progresses onward and upward.  The Greece/Cyprus track is similarly note heavy and a technical joy in a fascinating set which is somehow both positive and somewhat despondent in the same breath, however you want to open your ears to it.

Credit: Philipp Rathmer

Like a man running from a duel down the back alleys of Bucharest, Romania/Bulgaria is a percussion-led, clattering, happy little romp that then explodes into a historical fantasy with a longboat’s crew moving in time as the drums get louder and the oars pull. In the moment of the track the exquisite, adroit percussion of Eveleyn Glennie seems unmatched in the cosmos. Pound’s harmonica dances alongside in a way that is both light and intricate, a fine addition to the tracks within.

There is plenty here as well; 14 sets of two tunes is generosity, joy and warmth that continues to be memorable long when after the CD laser has stopped. We got swept up in the purpose and the celebration, maybe not everyone will; but we cannot think of anyone in their right mind who could not at the smallest absolute least, appreciate the very fine production and mixing that has been done here (Andie Thompson), each instrument really is an actor in the play at the Vienna State Opera.

In case you couldn’t tell, we were keen on this album. The year is still relatively young, but for us, this is most likely the best album we have heard so far. Pound’s own performance is stellar, his guests are so fresh and green they are positively hacking bamboo shoots in the China wetlands, and the breadth of songs is fantastic. Importantly, the depth and clarity from the sound engineering make everything sound exactly as it should, bravo.

Will Pound’s tour is on hiatus due to the Coronavirus epidemic, we recommend keeping an eye on his website at

Will Pound’s album can be purchased from a number of stockists, we recommend to purchase from Bandcamp here

If your interest is piqued then check out the sample video below:

NOTE: We do not claim or imply ownership over the photos used in this article. If we have been unable to credit you, then please contact us in order to reference you properly at .

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Hebden Bridge Folk and Roots Festival 2018 – What you missed

Hi I hope everyone’s good and enjoying the sun!

So it’s been a few weeks since the Hebden Bridge Folk and Roots Festival, where the sun started to emerge and the musicians came out to entertain. We had quite a few highlights from the festival with (for us) an array of new talent and artists to share with the world.

Stay with us a while and have a read and listen to some of the acts that you missed!


The weather was as fine as could be, so a little outdoor song and dance always goes down well.
Near the bridge in the Town Centre we came across a motley group of Landlubbers (we wonder if they hate the sea or they were the tailend of an insult and the name stuck). However their name came to be they were as briny a crew or shanty singers as you could want. We thoroughly enjoyed their singing so much it made us wonder if their boat was on the river behind. A good crowd, and a great part of the festival.

There was some Morris Dancing as well! You can’t have a Folk Festival without a bit of Morris (knowing my luck I won’t have to  sit too long at my computer desk and await a festival without Morris to get in touch!) It was good to see an all-woman Morris Dance, and here they all are.. I presume as washerwomen. That reminds me, I have some shirts to dry! Heres a video to whet your dancing needs.

Ok.. we know that Chuck Berry did it long before it featured heavily in that 80s sci-fi comedy classic, but I’m a relatively young guy.. it’s the first thing that comes to mind. I have to sadly regret that I did not get these guys’ names as we were just passing, but we seriously felt that it was a great energetic aside to the day.



On Sunday we got to see a few artists in the excellent Trades Club where the beer flowed liberally. It was also a fine place to be eating a bit of Thai food that was on the go as well. One relatively new artist was Trixxi Corish a singer-songwriter covering a number of different genres including folk and country, but intriguingly she brought some spoken word as well. Despite a disclaimer at the beginning of the set that she had a bad throat, she went on to sing a number of traditional tunes as well as an excellent cover of “Fields of Gold.” Her monologue about a Southern Irish woman managing with anxiety and depression was really thoughtful and natural; she has strengths in song and in word. A great up-and-coming artist and spoken word performer, we saw some magic there, and we raise our glass to her future successes (especially if this was not her running at 100% !).


There were many fine artists to be seen amongst the picturesque surroundings and the old cobbled paths, it is a mammoth task narrowing it down. But as the mind’s eye roves back over the festival the clear breakout from the festival for us was Logan and Manley. As soulful as a spicy tea and a demonstration of a charging elephant into the music scene, Logan & Manley were something else indeed. Breaking the civility of Folk Gigs and getting people dancing to their sultry, emotional beat they kicked serious ass. As we said on Twitter:

“The most interesting duo we have seen live in recent memory. Exceptional presence and burning talent. Logan & Manley stole the show in many ways at Hebden Folk Roots Festival. Soulful and energetic they work it with unfettered talent.”

Their simple pairing of vocals and guitar with added flourishes of percussion and a good use of looping vocals brought the house down. Some favourites of what they performed included the “Tell Him (Her)” a cover of Lauryn Hill, the warm rush of frothy milk on expensive coffee of “Meteor Shower” (the opener), and “Wait a While”, a jazz/funk backing which should do plenty to cement the pair as icons.

Forward in style and approach, a ferociously dynamic presence, and great musicianship could be enough to convert this website to “Soul Phenomena.” Do not miss under any circumstances.


As the day turned to night, Henry Priestman et al. reminded us that in a rather jolly fashion that in  that transitional stage of life akin to being a teenager, things can stop making a lot of sense. In fairness, it wasn’t a set that dwelt on the twilight years experience as there were plenty of politics (Goodbye Common Sense, Not In My Name), folk (Ghost of a Thousand Fishermen), and fatherhood (He Ain’t Good Enough For You, We Used to Be You). With songs that are always something different and a good connection with the audience you are always on to a winner.

From what we saw from the festival of a whole, Priestman and band were of the most energetic and delightfully irreverent in all the best ways. Accessible, catchy and pop-infused it was supported by songwriting not unlike strong, thick treated timber cladding. If the music garden of your mind requires something extra, these guys are the shed you have been looking for.



For the cheery, dream-like “in between” time from the early morning entertainment and the build up to the evening showstoppers we had the pleasure of listening to the trio known as “The Harmony Jar.” Rather melancholic but also soothing and touching, The Harmony Jar excel as Americana, perhaps how you imagine the killer knots on a barbed wire of a fence. Singing about love, the prickling apologies of loss and leaving a husband (How We Part), angst through ukulele (Before You Are Through) and a more than serviceable cover of “The Way it Goes”, The Harmony Jar bit off a lot, but it wasn’t more than they could chew on. One of our favourites, we look forward to hearing from them in the future.


At one point during the festival it felt necessary to go rustic.

In terms of American Folk, you can’t get much more old-timey than some Woody Guthrie, who was as much a symbol of protest and liberty as a singer. This is definitely something we can say we like from our folk from time-to-time and Will Kaufman did not disappoint. As his page declares he is, “widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on Woody Guthrie” but it wasn’t just his academic credentials or his musicianship that impressed. He’s a thoroughly nice, extremely knowledgeable guy who told tales of Trump of old (Trump’s father) who was a less than stellar property landlord (with the song, “I ain’t got no home”), Mexicans and about a remarkable individual “Stetson Kennedy” a folklorist who infiltrated the KKK and gave away their secrets and codes to the radio.

There is something incredibly apt about an expert on a pioneer of folk following in his footsteps through both word and song.. Will Kaufman does that and does not disappoint.

And Many More..

There were many, many more great acts too.

Off the top of our heads: Reg Meuross (one of our perennial favourites) was playing his heartfelt, socially conscious brand of acoustic song to great effect, Steve Tilston brought the backbone of folk to the stage, and his daughter Molly Tilston performed a great dark folk set which much, much promise. The Roger Davies Band was one of the most confident and slick on stage and the Jon Palmer Band pretty much cleaned up with their jaunty songs that at times explored the best part of folk-pop. Here are some final clips to get you in the mood.

All-in-all Hebden Bridge was a good time, a great slice of local talent and a testament to West Yorkshire.

This year we liked the central location and how close the venues were to one another meaning it is very difficult to miss the acts you have been dying to see! Great shopping, great food and atmosphere, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what went down at the weekend beneath the warming sun but we hope this brings you a bit of a flavour.

We raise our glasses and hope to see you there next year! Keep your eyes peeled on the website

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Martin Carthy at Village Folk, Chellaston, Derbyshire – April 2017

Village Folk –

In my past posts about Village Folk I have alluded to the venue (The Lawns Hotel) in Chellaston being very much like a fortress.

On reconsideration, it may in fact be more like a castle. Whatever your mythological leanings and interests one thing for certain is that within English music Martin Carthy is a wizard. Not a pinball wizard, not quite Gandalf or Merlin, but certainly a folk wizard of some sorts who lives and breathes the music he plays. You could also call him a bard as he is also an example of a widely touring artist often on the road, and at many fine establishments.

In April we see ourselves back at Village Folk to see Martin Carthy for what can only be described as the most recognisable act they’ve had to date. I don’t know anyone (outside of indie folk, anyway) who would not know who Martin Carthy is and his part within the jigsaw of acoustic music and history really. With 50 years of performance under his belt in a number of high-profile lineups and a Radio 2 Lifetime Award he is not really a guy who flies under the radar, but on the other hand he is as much a man as any other with an air graciousness and a down-to-earth personality. He fits well with the warm reception that Village Folk brings and it seems that the audience agree. Seats are packed closely, the venue sells out quickly and the action begins.

Taking the stage for the latest, big-name show (joining some excellent previous acts such as Sam Kelly, Harp and a Monkey too) tonight it seems especially the case that there is an understanding and a knowing nod that Martin Carthy is as big as an act as you can get; everyone is incredibly excited. He is a leading figure in the folk tradition; if the country had a hall of folk heroes with statues and everything (it might do, I don’t know), Carthy would be there in Marble, tall and proud with his head turned as he tunes his acoustic guitar for the next beguiling rendition. On a personal level Martin Carthy always interests too. The joy I get from stories;how they are told, collected and adapted is a hallmark of Carthy’s talent, and I take great interest in how he collects and interprets what he hears. He is a stellar example of reproducing and adding to folk songs but also adapting and taking great pleasure from what he does. As far beyond the hobbyist as you can imagine, he is fully aware of his efforts to change the meaning, context and life of a song  and put his indomitable spin on it. A wizard he truly is as he resides in a world of tales, half-truths, history and lore that through history are whispered from mother to son and father to daughter. You cannot help but be dragged in by the atmosphere and wonder. What does Martin Carthy play?

He specialises in older songs, ones with a bit of legs to it that have been in our oral tradition for a long time. Nothing is quite as old-time and brimming with powerful energy as the deliberate and honoring “John Barleycorn”. It could be a very old song indeed, it could be much more recent than you think; opinion differs just as it does about the theme of the song. It could be a song about the death and resurrection of the Corn King or maybe just about brewing. Either way Carthy’s take has the sound of a song from history and quite unlike the modern age. His fingers strumming an ancient tone, his voice is like the village elder who keeps the law and keeps the community safe; all eyes point to the stage as Carthy explains the song a little. Even more intricate guitar work is seen in the militant, cyclic rhythms of “Downfall of Paris” another song from antiquity, but perhaps easier to confirm as a historical piece as it was played in the battlefield of Napolean’s armies. Carthy continues to tirelessly hold up these traditions and keep their fires alive and burning through the the arteries of the country. It is thankful he stopped a while in the centre, as some consider the Midlands where the heart is. Quite hypnotic and a sound to behold, his music is something else.

I am especially pleased to hear Carthy’s version of “My Son John” which was performed under the “Imagined Village” super-group a few years back. One of the first takes of a folk song I ever heard, Carthy’s quiet emotion and spinning, melodic fingers coupled with the sharp political lyrics of the time is for me a distinct political and personal memory that is awakened. As a reimagining and contemporary take on the aforementioned John” who loses his legs at war into the (relatively) modern soldier who steps on a min in Afghanistan, it still has a punch that is only enhanced by a richer, more varied and extended set of lyrics. Another favourite of mine that he performs is “A Stitch in Time” (Mike Waterson’s song). Explaining it’s origins in Hull and the Daily Mail he interests and stokes the curiosity by telling us it is not the “urban legend” we may think it is, and is very much real. In short, the wife of a not too pleasant man gets her revenge on his physical manner by stitching him to his bed while he sleeps.. the kind of thought of that could wake you with a cold sweat in the middle of the night. I’ve heard Lucy Ward’s cover which slows things down a little and adds the malice to proceedings; it is especially good to hear Martin Carthy sing it as the dry narrator, gently mocking the man and celebrating this folk-horror retribution with his expressive voice.

There were these and many, many more songs too such as traditional “Green Broom” and “Long John” too (who is especially tall and disliked by the King) with a number of narrative avenues that are visited throughout the course of the set. Telling stories as he re-tunes his guitar between songs (no rack of guitars in sight) and glows under the pale lights of one of Derbyshire’s most intimate venues, and the crowd loves him. A man with much to share and with a love for the genre that is rarely equalled he continues to cast a spell on the folk world.


Martin Carthy is indeed continuing to tour the UK both at larger venues and Folk Clubs, see details here.

Album/EP Reviews Americana Political Traditional

Geoff Lakeman – After All The Years – A Review

Observational and considered, Lakeman collects a squad of influencing folk artists that bring his rich imagination and celebratory character to life

Released 3rd February 2017

Geoff Lakeman, in a rather circular and interesting path has recorded his debut solo entitled “After All These Years.”

What I mean of course is that Geoff is known to many being a renowned journalist for several users and also being father to Seth, Sean and Sam Lakeman; all musicians, all well known and father-in-law to equally renowned Kathyrn Roberts and Cara Dillon he has influenced some great musical talent, but he himself as never done a solo recording. I’m sure there is some saying about Salmon returning to where it was born or something about rivers and the ocean (I am not sure myself what I mean) but this personal wish to have have a disc made is a big one, and a timely one of that.

In a world where politics are more than ever discussed and the issues of truth and honesty are being debated; there is something refreshingly simple yet powerful about the contents of “After All these Years.” After all, Geoff was a veteran observer and recorder by profession (in journalism), it seems that however the world has turned Geoff would have seen and heard all and he is presenting what he knows to the listener. As a result we get an album that feels like it honours the songs within that he covers as well as the working man; it speaks from a wise, considered approach to the fundamental traditions of folk and has a pretty humble quality to it. Another way of putting it is that there are few “airs and graces” to be had here, the album is a listener and thinker not the debutante who wants to be seen and heard at all costs (and more the better for it). As a listener, Geoff puts on a quiet celebration.

Indeed, the album is characterised by it’s celebration of the past and in order to do so Geoff is joined by a multitude of artists. Not only is there family as Sean(producer an guitars), Seth (violin, viola), Sam (piano) and Kathryn and Cara (vocals) but also the well received Jim Causley (vocals, accordion), Jamie Francis (banjo), Ben Nicholls (bass, harmonium, jaw harp), Dan Crimp (whistle) and Gill Redmond (cello) also along for the ride. This crew of forces are to be reckoned with, but then they are topped off by legendary guitarist Nic Jones who sings some backing vocals on “England Green, England Grey.” It all builds a picture of an album intimately assembled with it’s supportive and close roster of characters. How are the songs?

There are some great Geoff Lakeman original works here. “Tie ‘Em Up” is one example of many on the disc where Lakeman is holding his principles dear, standing up for the fisherman with their imposed quotas and livelihoods that are being toyed with by officials, “We’ve risked our lives, left our wives. Missed our children growing up. Now we are high and dry upon the shore. On the dole – won’t fish no more.” A bouncy type of shanty and a sideways jab at authority like the latter original track “Doggie Song” (that we will see later), it would not be out of place in a musical on the stage with professional dancers in yellow fishing macs juggling buckets of fish. It oozes character as a squid oozes ink, the vocal harmony injects an infectious energy throughout and the concertina, as you would expect, is faultless. This all comes together in an even grander way for the “Rule and Bant”, a song about two Cornish miners who were trapped underground in the latter part of  1800s and the events that unfold as air was pumped down to keep them alive. It booms as Lakeman weaves the story around with harmonies that plunge deep like the obsidian earth itself and promising doom. A clear favourite that incorporates some nice touches with history.

But also there are covers that showcases Lakeman’s ear for a good tune and history in the folk scene. For example, Geoff’s version of Buddy and Jullie Miller’s sun-scorched “Wide Wide River to Cross” gives several of previous renditions a run for their money. His voice is warm with crystal clear enunciation, a beautiful trill of a vocal harmony and performed with a truly emotive mix of instruments it really gets into the corners of Americana’s dusty barn. If old folk songs were cowboys, this would a sheriff. The concertina bites delightfully across the track like the wind of a dustbowl’s cold evening nights, it is all very enjoyable and another favourite on this disc. Whilst historical in nature as it touches on other times and places, Geoff’s recording of Reg Meuross’ “England Green and England Grey” is very much of now, a political powerhouse and a commentary of the state things. It might be somewhat topical with its distrust of the “BBC” and “the NHS, our England jewel, is bartered by Westminster’s fool” but it really could be any time, especially as  it recognises our British empire past. Managing to be both celebratory and critical of the state of things it perhaps places what it is to be British beyond all these events and ends with a collective call. Singing with Nic Jones shows a lovely contrast on this track, they work really well together and bring a several sided look at strength, fragility, morals and tradition to mind. Wonderful stuff.

Most importantly though, the cd never takes itself too seriously. Indeed if serious “down-the-line” folk is a bus then at a couple of points on the disc Geoff makes a stop to find a real ale tavern leading to some excellent diversions. It is hard to pinpoint the parts where he particularly relishes the fun side of “folk” but “When the Taters Are All Dug” and “Doggie Song” are pretty good candidates. The former is Lakeman at his fullest rural peak, as I picture him drinking milk with a straw hat while agricultural machinery is strategically placed in the background. Lovingly committed to the song throughout, the charm emanates all round be it the distinct twang within, the high caliber squeeze box or Lakeman’s own voice that rises and turns to the challenge. You can almost picture his smile through whatever audio equipment you are using. In all the best ways possible, you can imagine “Doggie Song” as being part of a vaudeville act. Gently lamenting on there being nowhere where his dog can go for some much needed relief it playfully paintings beach inspectors as some kind of organised cabal of fun haters and the South of England gets painted jokingly as no place for a dog. As an original track it is an interesting glimpse into the Geoff’s mind and it makes you wonder what else he has yet to reveal. It’s chorus will certainly linger in the mind, “you can’t bring your doggie down ‘ere.”

What can I say? The album is like a film with Lakeman being the ethical director, the heart and soul that shapes the performances around him. There are many other gems to be found here which I haven’t mentioned, so I heartily recommend. The production is crisp and captures a fine balance of instruments, the duet concertina is very much a star but not at the expense of the other fine performers and instruments here. He leads in an admirable way on the disc, being fearless of reprisals and confident of the dignities and rights of people. When such a moral attitude is combined with some of the most recognised performers of the day, you expect magic to happen; and it does in spades.

Check out Geoff’s site here for details of purchasing the album and for more information.

Acoustic Gigs Political

Merrymaker at Village Folk, Chellaston 28th January 2017

During a brief  hiatus to the excessively cold weather last month,  I had the pleasure of heading down to Chellaston in Derbyshire for a gig at the Lawns Hotel to see Merrymaker.

High over the street like a small fortress on top of a rocky outcrop; the Lawns Hotel is indeed a hotel (and pub) that has a partnership with a rather pioneering and friendly organisation called Village Folk. Village Folk is a family (not just in saying, there are family working together here) who host an evening a month with a band or folk artist to bring a little entertainment and heart to the local area. I came across both the band (Merrymaker) and organisers (Village Folk) last year at Derby Folk Festival and situated within the Clubrooms they did a great job continuing the tour de force of Derby known as Winter:Wilson (see their site here). Introducing some newer and lesser known groups and giving them a chance to shine they were a great companion to the main acts in the square and more than the added bonus of being out of the heavy rain that weekend.


Relatively new to the organisation of live music, Village Folk are doing exceptionally well. They are getting good attendance and in a time of uncertainty around the viability of live music they are also attracting some recognisable and influential names to their midst (e.g. Sam Kelly soon and Martin Carthy in a couple of months), but it would not work if they were not lovely people with some serious love of the events that they are showcasing. Not a huge venue and also not a folk club; it manages to combine the good running and sound quality of the former with the intimacy of the latter, and it does it well. I certainly have my fingers crossed that they will have an involvement in Derby Folk Festival this coming year! What about the gig?

The great urban sprawl of my my younger years always comes racing back when I hear the dulcet tones of Dan Sealey (vocals, guitar) and Adam Barry (keyboard and others) with their West Midlands swagger, a series of sights and sounds never really seen or heard in my now native Yorkshire (much to it’s loss). They were joined by Nikki Petherick (whose accent is a direct contrast, perhaps sounding like an Inspector Morse extra) and Hannah (whose surname they could not decide upon) who brought additional guitar and violin respectively. In terms of a general sound, Merrymaker are a kind of entertaining scattering of folk with large elements of acoustic rock, which proves a good foundation for an interesting night out and it makes sense as Dan heralds from 90s rock outfit, Ocean Colour Scene. They have a boyish charm too on stage which is offset to some degree by Nikki giving as good as she gets in retaliation to the guys banter. The recent addition of violin is a boon too as Hannah’s classical training brings an extra dimension to Merrymaker’s more guitar heavy numbers whilst also having the potential to bring back the urban rock sound of the 90’s if needed. How would I describe Merrymaker’s songs?

Their songs are much like their stage presence in that they often come with a high dose of humour and/or self-deprecation (Adam spent a large amount of the gig concerned with his “fresh from the laundy-but-not-yet-dry trousers” that he apologised for wafting into the audience). This all creates a good environment for their slightly political angle as they performed songs with a focus on Donald Trump (which they played a rather 60’s pop “Coming Up Trumps” that they described as “a stupidly stupid song for a stupid person”) and another about the Syrian Refugee crisis which they curated from comments on Twitter “Nobody Here Wants a War.” With videos of these song posted online they show a versatility in form to their songwriting. The Trump song is indeed “a stupidly stupid song” but it is so good at being it, “Nobody here Wants a War” is more solemn but really well worked from the source material. Merrymaker’s music as a result has a bit of a bite, but rather than the deeper laceration from a jackal it is more like a nip from a well-meaning Brittany spaniel. And while the present world is too much for some, the band also delved into some nostalgia which was to be had from the Ocean Colour Scene days with a slower paced version of “The Riverboat Song” (admittedly not my favourite re-envisioning), and the Stranglers’ “Duchess” (quite good indeed).

However they go about things, there is always some sunshine and comedy too. “Midst of Summertime” is a song from their time as the band Merrymouth and it is played in earnest with a really a cheerful, leaping in the rays kind of quality. Once again the violin in it’s live state lifted the track even higher; making it a heather-tinged song that leads to quite a smile. Some might say it makes one exceedingly “merry”. The biggest laughs come from a song about a man having to do chores on a Sunday (because he doesn’t mind what he and his wife does all day, when the amber glow of ale is at the back of his mind) which goes down really well the audience alongside “This is England”, a comedic song with some sober thoughts within. A song about the attitudes of their local pub regular, Roy, who at 88 is miserable and bemused in equal measure by the changes that have happened in society it paints a hilarious but empathic picture of a person that everybody knows.

The band unapologetically have fun throughout and this helped by their setlist that combines their political leanings and observations, but also the everyday without a Poe-face to be seen.

A great venue, a caring and passionate organisation and a fun, relatable band amount to a good night out. Check out Village Folk’s website for some great upcoming artists here, and for more information about Merrymaker, click here.


Acoustic Album/EP Reviews British Political

Steve Pledger’s – “Somewhere Between” Album Review

A self-assured album from Pledger, whose writing has clearly grown in skill. The lyrics are pleasingly concise, yet emotive and manage to capture other people’s viewpoints very well. It always persuades, but sometimes astonishes.


Introduction to Album

Steve Pledger is back with “Somewhere Between” his second acoustic-offering that continues to move across the themes he established quite convincingly in his album “Striking Matches in the Wind.” It is an album that continues to convey society and Steve’s particular viewpoint on politics that is somewhat left of centre. This in mind, it seems that a lot of folk fans will be drawn to the disc regardless of political alignment as it is observant in a forthright but considered way which should garner respect from all corners. The issues at the heart of his album are understandable no matter the political alignment of the listener.

For example, on the album cover there is an image of white and red paint on the side of a boat. The paintwork is somewhat incomplete, there is a lack of certainty about the finished product. Like many folk musicians hearkening to human fears and worries, the image of sailing and travel is likened to uncertainty; here it would not be a stretch to consider that Pledger is thinking of the future of the UK. For the final track on the disc, “At he Last”, he touches on this sentiment explicitly and leading up to this point throughout the album he considers some more specific issues, notably marginalisation (“Other”), free speech (“The Right to be Wrong”), and the personal effect of mining (“The Louisa Miner”). The music is all held  together by Pledger’s attitude; if you have not heard Steve Pledger his sound is like a milky porridge mix. It is a staple, light and energy filled with fairly concise, relatively simple arrangements but also rustically sweet. I say his voice is porridge because there might be ways of making a mix of oats and milk at a Michelin-starred restaurant that would leave it unrecognisable as a working breakfast, but in doing so the factory-man’s blend becomes something less. One could not begrudge Pledger for taking some new inspiration in times to come, but while he is making political, acoustic work his direct, concise manner of delivery suits the genre, and will be recognisable to audiences.




It is therefore a cohesive sound that runs throughout. “To Change the World” is Pledger starting his album with a lightly mocking dig at consumerism. Exceedingly airy and wandering it shows the singer at his most aware self, the one that is fused with his political self. The singer positions himself at odds with established ideology, slightly agitating and poking fun at some of the hypocrisies of the left, or maybe those on the right that proclaim they are interested in politics but are slipping as much in the machinations of the system as much as anyone. It doesn’t really matter, he covers both bases and namedropping “Banksy” and “Che Guevara” does give the song some memorable comedy as well, we all know someone who is singing about. The musical arrangement comes together almost like a faux reggae inspired number which is quite self aware too. Whether in construction or incidental the track lampoons a lot of targets on it’s way to your ear and serves the purpose that Steve seems to be saying throughout his work, that he is not above seeing the funny side to life. A good opening track whichever way you look at it.

“Lefty, wait your turn!” is a light touch song that contrasts by pulling some heavyweight names from elsewhere on the political spectrum (e.g. Rosa Parks and Luther King”). There is a call for change, perhaps Pledger is pointing to actions being louder than words, “the more we push the harder this boat rocks”, and that the system itself will not bring about the change, “you don’t get much change out of the bottom of a ballot box.” The piano/organ is quite chirpy when it appears and Luka’s Drinkwater’s double bass brings a nice extra layer to the overall sound too. It all keeps pace, like a kick around with your mates in the back-yard or the familiar pub discussions you know you will have when you see your colleagues at the bar. The track is what you expect it to be which is no bad thing.



A couple of tracks that bring some poignancy are “The Louisa Miner” and “Other”. Simplicity and conciseness in explanation are elements of Steve’s work that appeal the most, though Steve’s music is quite characterful with it. “The Louisa Miner” explores the risks of this way of life, the people that are taken from us, and the families that are undoubtedly drawn into the dangerous work in a different way. It’s strength is that it provides a voice for the miner, exposing the necessity of what they are doing to themselves but also the need to provide for the family, “And if you want a home, Kids and a wife, Bread on the table, a little jam on your knife”. There is a considered purity of language here. When considered alongside “To Change the World” we see that Pledger has clearly grown in his music writing style since the last album. He is taking on different points of views, different modes of speaking, and has now written in the voices of the subjects he is singing about. Pledger captures the sadness and the complexities quite beautifully here and this is a particular strength from this album.

“Other” is more of a blank canvas that waits for the audience to paint upon. It is a quietly reflective song with an (even) starker arrangement of instruments. As it plays it is somewhat like a cold, quiet thought or an amble down a misty glen. Tanya Allen’s fiddle takes pleasure in it’s restless unhappiness in the central character as the song explores identity, and whilst it does seemingly reference skin colour, “my soul would choose a body fair”, the writer has intentionally created a stage here for different people to identify within and play their own parts. In truth it does not seem to seek to address any particular issue, e.g. race, sexuality, age, gender identity, and leaves this matter for the listener to make their own minds and personal links. It feels a bit different to many of the tracks on the album and is one of the best on here.

I am also particularly fond of “I spat fire.” The lyrics are clever “illuminated beauty/vitriolic duty”, the song is almost pop in it’s catchiness, and the imagery within is a thing of inspiration, “the seasons, Lazarus, and darkness.” It could be about a time in a tent, it could also be a creation myth. There is something rather smoky, quite engulfing about the track and I don’t think it’s just the Ledaig I have made a start on. Evocative and interesting it slightly mixes the practical memory with an almost transcendental subtext. The album finishes with “At the last” which (as mentioned) uses the familiar and comforting metaphor of the boat on a choppy sea to describe Pledger’s feelings of uncertainty. It is uncertain about British society, people that kind of thing, “We chart our course, beyond the bow there lies, every fall and every rise we must withstand” but it also exhibits Pledger’s hope that runs throughout the album like a vein of gold in earthy rock.


Steve Pledger takes the strengths of the acoustic genre and sharpens his political scalpel with it. I say scalpel rather than cleaver because there is a sense of care of what is being put in; the songs are not a mindless attack. You can tell that these things matter to him, it truly comes across in the song but there is an aura, a vapour of Pledger’s open-mindedness, and he is self-aware as he clearly treads with humour and good nature. It feels like there is more variety here than “Striking Matches in the Wind.” Even if there are probably fewer instances of recognisable chants (I am looking at you, “This Land is Poundland”), it doesn’t really matter. Grounded in the world, speaking for people it’s succinct and powerful manner gives it acoustic heart, heart that is unashamedly moved by a changing UK landscape. Fans of political folk will be sold, fans of the acoustic should also give this a gander. Steve Pledger is growing in power.

“Something Between” was launched on 7 Nov 2016. The best place to buy the album is on Steve’s website here, priced £12.

The tour is still continuing too, check out details of where Steve will be playing here.

Check out a video of “Other” below!

I do not hold, or claim copyright for the pictures/links in the above post, they belong to their respective owners.

British Political Protest Folk

Merry Hell’s Bloodlines – Album Review

Release Date – 1 November 2016

Merry Hell are certainly putting their hours in. There are a working band with new disc “Bloodlines” coming out within two years since their last album, “The Ghost in Our House” (2015). They are in the middle of an exceptionally busy looking tour schedule too (with dates being filled up to next August).


Consisting of brothers Andrew (vocals), John (guitar) and Bob (mandolin, bouzouki) with Virginia Kettle (vocals), Nick Davies (bass), Lee Goulding (keyboards), Neil McCartney (fiddle), and Andy Jones (drums) they continue their musical odyssey. This time they rally around the artery of politics, a blood system that courses throughout their folk-rock sound both in name and attitude. On previous musical dashes of theirs you can find tracks such as “No Money”, “Old Soldier” and “Pillar Of Society” that do this already by considering politics in one form or another, but unlike previous albums “Bloodlines” particularly feels like it has been conceived as an outlet for collective unrest in British society.

I say “outlet” rather than spear because there is a certain amount of melodic encouragement and lighter relief to Merry Hell’s sound that cushions this jagged edge of direct protest. It is not a folk album widely influenced by the punk tradition after all though much of the feel depends on the songwriter of each song in question. The male Kettles’ songs are slightly brasher with mental images of steel and industry and farm materials, a direct blow to society’s alloy. Virginia’s lyrics seem instead more like a forest canopy with meanings that dance beneath it’s surface. When combined the overall property of gentle defiance emerges as the intermediate. Whether a song fits into one of these, or to the other band-members songwriting credits; the delivery of the lyrics is generally bouncy, accompanied by a toasty warm bass and a grassy lawn fiddle. Despite the material being split into either being heavily action or contemplation, there is an overarching feel of conciliation and trust in others that forms the shale base.


Track List

1. We Need Each Other Now

2. Bloodlines

3. Come On, England!

4. Coming Home Song

5. All the Bright Blossoms

6. When We Are Old

7. Stand Down

8. Sailing Too Close to the Wind

9. Chasing a Bluebird

10. Over the Wall

11. Under the Overkill

12. Man of Few Words

13. Sweet Oblivion



In the opening track, “We need each other now” there is an unambiguous call to action in it’s words, “as borders crumble land and sea, bored with ideology, the skinhead and the refugee, you need each other now.” Along with “Come on England!” it looks to society to act together through the lens of change in response to the barriers of modernity. For the most part it settles on describing political structures and how they affect our personal liberties. If the album had been written later on this year (especially with the US election results) I do wonder if it’s fruit would be less sweet given what feels like a further shift in the political landscape, but these thoughts are largely academic.

“Come on England!” is a great track and does it while talking about “bluebells”, “teacups”, and “dandelions” which in fairness works well to balance with the other darker lyrics about “robbers” and “racists.” Those with a streak of patriotism will really like this song; in the engine that is  “Bloodlines”, “Come on England!” is the protest fuel that burns at the highest grade. This musical direction is a hallmark of Merry Hell’s work and in a way reminds of Show of Hands musical explorations. Merry Hell is more playful and optimistic though, “Bloodlines” is not a savage hound going for the throat, it is a St Bernard taking aid to the parched explorer.


“When we are old” is a delightfully fervent turn from Virginia Kettle taking the reins of main vocals. Swaying like a treasured swing it is a song of commitment and love, possibly a love letter to her husband; it certainly seems likely. Though it might feel that “Bloodlines” has fewer tracks of this type then Merry Hell might ordinarily go for (I do slightly lament the omission of tracks more like “The Baker’s Daughter”) it makes sense that they do not want to dilute their message too much. The album makes up for this with it’s consistent, considered, poetic lyrics such as, “the days empty and wide, we can watch all the seasons unfold, when we are old.” Deeply personal, carefully written and with some nice backing strings it does what it sets out to do. In result it becomes a possible wedding number for a folk fan (not for me, though I’d like to I suspect my other half would prefer the Human League).

“Over the Wall” is a very good song indeed. Full of fun it doesn’t just tell a story, it practically acts it out with props and stage notes. It starts as a serious, pondering reflection (how you might imagine a musical “Man in the Iron Mask”) surrounded by snippets of goth and new romantic influences  as it describes the “festering darkness” of the prison cell. It then gleefully sprints as the rhythm changes and McCartney’s fiddle begins to dance like the eight legs of Sleipnir. Andrew Kettle goes for range with his voice (and succeeds as he has demonstrated many times), the drums rattle and all the elements come together including Virginia Kettle’s urgent dissent in vocal harmony. Like a novel it turns, gathers speed and slows in sadness a dizzying number of times. It is an example of fearless delivery, brave timing choices and a wonderful historical setting making this the stand out track on the album without dispute.

Some other tracks to listen to intently include “Sailing too close to the wind” (whose intro brings salty memory of “The Tide is High”), “Stand Down” (a slight bouzouki blizzard), and the wide-reaching title track of “Bloodlines”, which like much of the band’s music is affecting and dulcet. The track  I did not feel much for was “Chasing the Bluebird.” Though nice in arrangement, and fragile in delivery it struggles to hold my attention with it’s lyrics. A minor niggle on an album that largely delivers with fun and heart (especially on the last track, “Sweet Oblivion”).

In a Few Words..


Quite political it is a human album that will speak to fans and newcomers alike being well produced and as full of anthems as ever.
Generous in spirit Merry Hell deliver an energetic set of tracks with an optimistic view on people and collective power.
If you love politics, a good melody and a thoughtful lyric or two, this album is for you.

If you would like to purchase the album, please go here in the first instance (£12 including postage).