While not an obsessive fan (I have a greatest hits CD and a copy of Highway 61 Revisited in my collection but that’s all I’m afraid) Bob Dylan’s presence has loomed large in the history of many of the bands, such as Fairport Convention and The Byrds, that I am pretty obsessive about. Moreover, many of the music biographies I have read make frequent references to Dylan’s sundry visits to London in the early to mid-1960s – both in terms of the impact he had on London’s folk and nascent rock scenes and vice versa.
Given what a pivotal figure Dylan is then, the idea of having a proper contextual overview rather than relying on what I’ve pieced together through a series of fleeting appearances in other people’s biographies was therefore appealing.
‘Bob Dylan in London: Troubadour Tales’ begins with his first visit to London in the Winter of 1962. We start off in the King and Queen pub in Fitzrovia, where Dylan made his first live appearance in London, and take in iconic folk-scene venues such as the Pindar of Wakefield (now the Water Rats) in Kings Cross, home of Ewan MacColl’s Singers’ Club, and the Troubadour in Earls Court.
One might assume that the remaining chapters would take us on similarly meandering detours of the capital for each of Dylan’s subsequent visits. However, ‘Bob Dylan in London’ is as much guide-book as it is biography and the publication is generally arranged geographically rather than strictly chronologically and includes a 16-page colour sections with maps and illustrations.
Two long-time Dylan devotees, Jackie Lees and KG Miles, take us through several decades of Dylan in London, bringing to life the writer/performer’s presence in a series of locations through a mixture of contemporary concert reviews, anecdotes from fellow artists and recollections from audience members, with some of their own personal memories thrown in for good measure. At one point we even get to hear from a homeowner whose Crouch End property was on the market and Dylan’s early 80s visit as a prospective buyer is recalled.
The most fascinating parts of the book, however, are the ones where Dylan was at his creative and commercial peak in the 1960s. Insightful anecdotes from this period abound, including Donovan and Joan Baez in Dylan’s Savoy hotel room helping him write out the cue cards for the iconic trailer for ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, filmed in a nearby alleyway off The Strand called Savoy Steps.
The recollections do not always put Dylan in a favourable light. The treatment of Joan Baez on a 1965 tour leaves a particularly unpleasant taste. However, this short, concise book is highly readable, entertaining and informative. Anyone with an interest in London’s musical heritage and Dylan’s artistic legacy will find much to enjoy here.
Carbonhobo is the alias for Neil McCartney’s latest solo venture. McCartney (who confirms in the accompanying press release he is actually related to his far more famous name-sake – but only distantly so) will be known to many folk-rock fans as the fiddle player with Merry Hell. Just as we witnessed with the solo album from Merry Hell’s Virginia Kettle last summer, the album is something of a departure from the parent group’s signature sound. In place of amped-up, rousing folk rock anthems we go down a far mellower singer-songwriter road with Carbonhobo.
What is fascinating about the songs on this album is that unlike many musicians who used the enforced down-time during lockdown to put pen to paper and create a whole load of brand-new material, many of the songs on this album go back decades – or at least were started back then.
Described as a “twelve-track wander through over thirty years of songs, written and lived around the world” Memoirs From The Crooked Road include the wistful ‘Seagull’, based on a tune McCartney wrote in his teens in Wigan back in the 1980s, to the infectious ‘Fifteen Miles To Buy Tobacco’ written in a cottage in County Mayo in the early 90s and completed in present day Wigan.
Between his teen years in Wigan and settling down there again later on, McCartney has enjoyed an adventurous life with stints in London, Ireland, the US and Thailand, all of which leave their mark on this album and the songs therein.
McCartney is effortlessly comfortable with the material, has an expressive, emotive voice, is a great storyteller, a fine musician and has an ear for a catchy melody. He takes us on quite a journey with Memoirs From The Crooked Road but it’s well worth joining him.
When I came to review Called Back the latest album from Scottish singer-songwriter John Hinshelwood recently, on checking out his biog I was struck by the high regard he held for the Byrds and the influence that they were to have on his own music. Moreover, it went beyond mere musical influences. As well as sharing a stage with Roger McGuinn, he was involved in putting together a tribute to ex-Byrd and ex-Burrito, Gram Parsons, and actually came to record with former Byrd, Gene Parsons, who was with the band in its latter period, playing on five albums from Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde in 1969 to Farther Along in 1971.
I mentioned all this in my review and said it was certainly recommendation enough for me that this was going to be an album worth exploring. After I published my review, John got in touch. This led to a more detailed chat about how the Byrds came to have such a profound effect on his career and how he came to record with Gene Parsons.
I have already talked about my own particular Byrds journey here. There was clearly a meeting of minds between John and myself and he very kindly sent me a copy of his album on which Gene Parsons appeared.
Titled Holler Til Dawn the album was released in 2002. Recorded in various locations, including Scotland, Tennessee and California the album features eleven Hinshelwood originals, plus three covers: Kathy Stewart’s ‘Your Secret Love’, Lowell George’s and Keith Godchaux’s ‘Six Feet of Snow’ and Gram Parsons’ and Chris Hillman’s ‘My Uncle.’
The album boasts an impressive line-up of guest musicians and singers including, Rab Noakes, Cathy Stewart, Colin Macfarlane and Cathryn Craig as well as the aforementioned Gene Parsons, who plays on two tracks.
So how did he go about getting Gene Parsons to play on his album? John fills me in on how the two came to connect:
“I got to know Gene through Chrissie Oakes in Bristol, who used to run the Byrds Appreciation Society. I have known her since the early 70s and have kept in touch with her right up to the present. She contacted me back in 1995 to ask if I would be interested in organising a gig for Gene in Glasgow as part of his UK tour. Despite never having promoted a gig before, I agreed, and indeed had him back again a few years later. On both gigs, we did support, and agreed that on his next tour we would do some stuff together. Unfortunately, that tour has never happened, but I still live in hope.”
Prior to going on to record with Gene Parson, John was also able to bag himself a support slot for none other than Byrd’s founder, Roger McGuinn:
“The McGuinn gig came about as part of a roots festival in Glasgow in the late 90s. I knew the promoter, the late Billy Kelly, who was a great and genuine guy. I was really chuffed when he asked me to do an opening spot, not least because a lot of much better-known folk were desperate to do it. He knew how much it would mean to me as a Byrds fan, and he kept his word and gave me the gig. I must admit that it was somewhat surreal to be sitting in the dressing room pre gig, and listening to McGuinn practising ‘Eight Miles High’ next door!”
Reflecting on Gene Parsons contributing to the Holler Til Dawn album, Johns notes:
“As is the case with lots of recording nowadays, I wasn’t actually present when Gene added his contributions to the two tracks on Holler Til Dawn. Things have even changed a lot since 2001 when ‘Holler’ was recorded. Today, it is done by emailing files back and forth, but then I had to send the tracks by post to California where Gene recorded his parts, then posted them back to me!”
“The first track we did was the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman song ‘My Uncle’ which appeared on the Flying Burrito Brothers debut album “The Gilded Palace of Sin” in 1969. The basic tracks of Alasdair Kennedy (mandolin), Tim Clarke (acoustic bass), and myself on acoustic guitar and lead vocal were done in Glasgow, then sent to California where Gene added two banjo tracks and two vocal harmonies.”
“The second track was one of my own songs “We’re all in this together” and has just myself and Gene on it. I play acoustic guitar and sing lead and harmony vocals, and Gene did banjo, acoustic guitar and harmony vocals. Again, I recorded in Glasgow and Gene in Albion, California.”
“Recording in this way requires a lot of trust, as I could not be present to direct and produce, but with Gene’s track record and wonderful musicianship, I was confident that all would work out well, and that did indeed prove to be the case.”
Our respective Byrds journeys
As a non-musician with no discernible musical ability whatsoever I can’t really claim anything so grand as ‘musical influences’. However, the Byrds were certainly had a big influence on me in terms of expanding my musical tastes and interests. I explained in my own post here about how listening to the Byrds as a teenager led me to start exploring the words of American folk-rock and English folk-rock and eventually English folk as well as Americana and country.
John chips in his own two-penneth:
“Your Byrds story is interesting, and I can relate to much of it. I also love Fairport and have seen them more times than any other band. The Byrds also got me listening to folk music, and a lot of our gigs are in folk clubs. It was also “Sweetheart of The Rodeo” that got me interested in country music which, like most ‘rock’ fans I thought I hated. I have, in fact, been in quite a few country and country rock bands over the years, including The City Sinners, which played the music of Gram Parsons.”
Holler Til Dawn is a fine album of first-rate Americana and picked up many favourable reviews at the time. Whether you’re a Gene Parsons fan specifically or a lover of Americana more generally it is well worth checking out.
L.A. Moore is a US-based singer-songwriter. Alongside two albums he’s recorded with folk rock influenced band Not Broken Yet, Late Bloomer is Moore’s first solo release.
Originally transferred to Florida from Canada for a job in corporate marketing, he found himself out of work in the economic collapse of 2008 and started attending open mic evenings in the Tampa/ St. Petersburg area. Over time L.A. hooked up with two other local musicians, John Stone and Paul Cataldo forming the folk rock band Not Broken Yet.
“When COVID came along the band slowed down its live schedule but I was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit in with The Joe Milligan Project and John Alan Carmack, both great songwriters in their own right”. “Of course the big challenge was to go out and play on my own. At that point you question whether you or the songs are good enough, but I thought, this is something I really want to do and I’m not getting any younger.”
I caught up with him recently to talk to him how he first got into performing, his inspirations and his musical influences, as well, of course, as his new album. Late Bloomer is an album of pithy, engaging, thoughtful original songs and some deft acoustic guitar-playing. I was keen to find out more.
Firstly, tell me a bit more about your musical background.
I was largely a” hobby” player, up until 2008. Guitar had always been a serious hobby and I did get out to play when I was living in Canada, but it was not until I was out of work in 2008 in Florida, that I really started to go out and perform. There is a significant and emerging music scene in the Tampa St. Petersburg area and there are wonderful opportunities to both play and interact with other local musicians. I ended up in a “Folk Rock” trio, Not Broken Yet, which has produced two original CD’s. (Not Broken Yet 2, being released as we speak). Sonically we are often compared to CSN and the Eagles.
And your main musical influences?
Being a child of the mid-sixties music scene, I was fortunate to be influenced by the great music of the time, Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Cream, Hendrix, with sprinklings of the other Brit Invasion bands. The first “album” I ever bought was the Butterfield Blues band, which of course lead me to The Blues Breakers, Mayall, Yardbirds etc. Motown was big too, so there is all of that.
‘Folk Music’ was still in its evolutionary phase coming out of the late 50’s, but as an acoustic guitar player I was influenced by Dylan, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and local hero Bruce Cockburn who often played at the college I attended.
As my tastes and interests matured, I discovered Pentangle, Jansch and Renbourn, and later, John Martyn and Nick Drake. As I looked to improve my acoustic chops I discovered Geoff Muldaur, who had a very strong influence on my current style. Geoff also influenced the type of guitar I play, that being 12 fret models, once I discovered the unique qualities of acoustic 12 frets, I started to play them exclusively.
What were the key inspirations for the songs on the album, and your song-writing generally?
Well, “Late Bloomer” is pretty self-explanatory. I got out of the gate pretty late with performing and songwriting, but now I am making up for lost time with an enthusiasm and confidence I did not have in my youth.
When I first started going out to play in the local Florida music scene, there was a great emphasis on original song writing. Several of the venues, which did not have ASCAP licenses at the time, did not allow cover songs, so you had to write. The first of those songs was Little Miss Hurricane, influenced by my first weekend in Florida sitting in an empty house, waiting for my furniture to arrive and watching Hurricane Jean, rip the screen lanai off the back of my newly purchased home! Welcome to Florida!!
Naturally other songs followed and the themes ranged from suicide of a friend (‘Reach Out’) to ‘Home’ – which begs the question, where is home? Where you are from? Where you live? Or somewhere in the mind?
‘Rum Punch’ is also clearly influenced by the southern lifestyle. I was never a fan of Jimmy Buffet, but he is a HUGE influence in Florida and my not-so-secret wish is to one day have a crowd of sun worshippers singing ‘Rum Punch’.
As I moved forward with the songwriting I went back to some of those early acoustic influences and started to explore the great sonic opportunities of open tunings. Several of the songs on Late Bloomer are played in open D tuning.
And tell us a bit about the accompanying musicians you assembled?
Late Bloomer has a small “who’s who” of local talent. Largely produced and engineered by Stephen Paul Connolly at his Zen Studios here in St. Petersburg Florida, Stephen is a local guitar hero who toured as the lead guitar player for Roger McGuinn, when he pursued his solo career. “Steve” is highly respected for his production skills and draws the best local songwriters to his recording studio. He plays guitar, pedal steel and keys on several of the tracks.
Douglas Lichterman is a local guitar teacher and member of the Joe Milligan Project band. I have had the pleasure of playing with Douglas on several occasions and was honoured to have him play on Late Bloomer. TJ Weger is a local legend, playing guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, dobro etc. TJ was fundamental in bringing the “Americana” vibe to many of the songs. Sam Farmer is a very talented local drummer and solo musician. John Stone plays bass with me in Not Broken Yet and John Alan Carmack who sings backup on ‘Rum Punch’ is the hardest working musician in Tampa/St. Petersburg with his own exceptional CD Kentucky Motel.
Late Bloomer can be obtained via lamooremusic.com on CD and most digital platforms
After Comes The Dark – the long-awaited fourth album from Kent-based folk rock band Green Diesel is set for release on 16th July. The album was recorded during 2020 at Squarehead Studios in Sittingbourne and is the first to feature the band’s new five-person line-up. The album also marks the debut of drummer, Paul Dadswell, from Kentish acid-folk band Galley Beggar.
The current formulation of the band has enabled Green Diesel to explore new sounds and new directions. A noteworthy feature, and a distinct departure from previous albums, is that every single band member has written at least one song on the album. The result is an album of stunning folk rock with an inventive twist and innovative use of their studio surroundings.
Guitarist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Greg Ireland, comments:
“After Comes The Dark is a kind of ‘folk in technicolor’. We used the studio to experiment with different sound textures and extra layers of vocal harmonies and you can hear that we’ve been inspired by more psychedelic sounds, too. There are plenty of prog rock and ‘Canterbury Sound’ bands influences in there.”
“The record is still very definitely a ‘folk’ album though. The major themes we explore are cycles, rebirth, the natural world and folklore. As each of us in the band grow older, the concept of the passing of time is apparent through many of the songs.”
As the band were preparing and arranging the songs, bands like Caravan and Genesis proved major influences – allowing Green Diesel to take a more experimental approach compared to past albums, exploring different time signatures and different musical structures. The twelve-string guitar features prominently on the album with suitably breath-taking results. The band were able to make full use of the fantastic array of keyboards available to them at Squarehead Studios.
After Comes The Dark was produced by Rob Wilkes whose previous work has included Smoke Fairies (as producer), along with Foals and Lianne La Havas (as engineer).
Hailing from Faversham in Kent, Green Diesel first emerged back in 2009, taking their inspiration from the depths of English folk lore and legend, and the classic folk-rock sound of their predecessors: Fairport Convention and The Albion Band. Blending violin, mandolin and dulcimer with electric guitars and drums, Green Diesel’s sound is born from a love of traditional English music and a desire to bring it to a modern audience. Green Diesel’s three previous albums: Now Is The Time (2012), Wayfarers All (2014) and The Hangman’s Fee (2016) have all won praise from critics and fans alike for the quality of song-writing and musicianship and the band have been a popular draw at festivals, from Broadstairs Folk Week to Beverley Folk Festival.
After Comes The Dark – track by track
‘Follow The River’ has been a Green Diesel live favourite for some time now and showcases the band’s rich vocal harmonies. Written by Greg while on a retreat to the Isle of Skye, the song was inspired by the power of water and the idea of simply surrendering to the current and being swept out to sea and to freedom. It also invokes childhood memories for Greg: “I have a vivid memory of staring at the water at Lydia Bridge in Devon for hours while on walks with my parents.”
‘Northern Frisk’, written by Ellen, is a song built around a tune, rather than a tune fitted into a song. Ellen: “I learnt the tune from the Pete Cooper book when I was looking for English 3/2 hornpipes. I knew from the start I wanted it to be about dancing and liveliness (frisk meaning to skip or leap playfully). The undead spirits emerged from the slightly darker undertones of the tune. I really like the layered crescendo as the tune builds up and imagine more and more dancers joining a whirring frenzy.”
‘Dusty Fairies’ is the band’s customary instrumental on the album. It comprises three tunes – ‘King of The Fairies’ and a couple of 3/2 hornpipes learnt from Pete Cooper’s English Fiddle Tunes book, namely ‘Dusty Miller’ and ‘Rusty Gulley’. Ellen’s dad, Chris, guests on concertina and helps create a mood that is in equal parts homage to a folk festival main-stage and tunes in the back garden with a glass of (homemade) cider.
‘Sea Song’ sees Greg returning to one of his favourite subject matters – the sea. Lyrically it plays with traditional folk ballad forms around heartbreak and loneliness. Musically, it has some medieval touches in places. Beautifully sung by Ellen, it is one of several slower songs on the album which sees the band broadening their musical palette with a contrasting array of styles.
‘I Wish My Love’ is a traditional song sung by Greg, based on Lisa Knapp’s reading of ‘The Pitman’s Love Song’. “Lots of time signatures on this one!” says Greg. “And an electric guitar solo that may not have been what A.L. Lloyd had in mind when he wrote about the song…”
‘The White Hart’ is bass-player Ben Holliday’s writing debut for the band. Ben plays guitar on this track and Greg plays bass. It is one of the more psychedelic tracks on the album, with an outro inspired by the likes of Espers and Mellow Candle. Ben: “The White Hart is a song inspired by a good friend of mine, who sadly lost her battle with a serious illness. It tells the story of resilience and grace when facing inconceivable adversity.”
‘Underworld’ was released in May as a single. Written by new drummer, Paul Dadswell: “The music was originally inspired by Philip Glass’s celebrated soundtrack to the 1982 experimental film Koyaanisqatsi, which got me playing about with an arpeggiator. I already had some lyrics about a moment of limbo when you have to choose between fantasy and reality, being born, or growing up, or moving past addiction. The moment of choice between living in the past and embracing the future. Feeling endlessly suspended between the familiar and the unknown. Or just getting out of bed in the morning…”
‘Katy Cruel’ is a traditional song, learnt from vocal trio Lady Maisery. Ellen: “There are various versions of this song, some that emphasise the plight of Katy but we wanted to make our version one that emphasises her defiance. She’ll take her own path!” The instrumental section is a 3/2 tune often known as ‘The Key To The Cellar’ and perhaps best known to folk rock fans as the tune for Steeleye Span’s ‘Cam Ye O’er Fae France’
‘Never Reach The Dawn’ is another song written by Greg, a dream-like song where the narrator is visited by the ghost of someone from the past. Lyrically, it was inspired by the canon of night visitor songs. Greg: “This is one of the tracks that helps define what the band aim to do – the inspiration and ‘launchpad’ is very traditional but we take that and bring in musical influences from outside the genre to create something completely new.”
‘Storm’ is written and sung by Matt in his customary enigmatic style! Matt: ‘Storm is an allegory for despair when met with insurmountable odds. A lament against scapegoating, denial and historic recurrence, but also a celebration of resilience and hedonism in the face of adversity.”
‘After Comes The Dark’ the album’s title track and closing song is another written by Greg. It uses the studio to create an unsettling texture – rural psychedelia meets folk horror. The song sums up the album’s themes of death, rebirth and the power of the natural world. Greg: “It doesn’t matter how many jewels and trophies you accrue – we all end up in the same place.”
Green Diesel – what they say:
“Green Diesel has skyrocketed into my top few bands” – FATEA
“Folk-rock in the grand manner” – R2 Magazine
“A band with roots deep in the native soil, playing their own electric interpretations of ancient English music” – Shindig!
“An established band simply getting better” – FolkWords
‘Underworld’ is the new single from Kent-based folk-rock band Green Diesel. It’s released on 14th May ahead of a long-awaited new album scheduled for release this summer.
Written by new drummer, Paul Dadswell, ‘Underworld’ builds on the band’s signature trad folk sound. Showcasing the band’s vocal harmonies, the new single gives a flavour of what fans can expect from Green Diesel’s forthcoming album: all changing time signatures and lots of twelve-string guitars – inspired by spending far too long listening to early 1970s Genesis records, the band confess!
The song itself is inspired by Philip Glass’s celebrated soundtrack to the 1982 experimental film Koyaanisqatsi.
Reflecting on ‘Underworld’ the song’s writer Paul Dadswell comments:“When you have to choose between fantasy and reality, being born, or growing up, or moving past addiction. The moment of choice between living in the past and embracing the future. Endlessly suspended between the familiar and the unknown.”
Hailing from Faversham in Kent, Green Diesel first emerged back in 2009, taking their inspiration from the depths of English folk lore and legend, and the classic folk-rock sound of their predecessors: Fairport Convention and The Albion Band. Blending violin, mandolin, dulcimer and accordion with electric guitars and drums, Green Diesel’s sound is born from a love of traditional English music and a desire to bring it to a modern audience.
Green Diesel’s three albums to date: Now Is The Time (2012), Wayfarers All (2014) and The Hangman’s Fee (2016) have all won praise from critics and fans alike for the quality of song-writing and musicianship and the band have been a popular draw at festivals, from Broadstairs Folk Week to Beverley Folk Festival.
Like many bands who have had to schedule and reschedule tour dates a number of times over recent months, folk rock legends Lindisfarne have announced that they hope to have their live shows up and running again from August onwards.
Founder member, Rod Clements, comments: “While the earlier dates we had for 2021 are now looking unlikely to happen due to the protraction of the pandemic we are hoping to reinstate our concerts for August onwards.”
The band expect to play Shrewsbury, Milton Keynes, Shoreham, Bradford, Kinross, Carlisle amongst other key UK towns including their popular Christmas show in home city Newcastle-upon-Tyne in December.
“We’re really hoping that the country will be in a better place by August to enable concerts and festivals to happen,” says Clements. “We all need to blow away the cobwebs!”
You can read my interview with Rod Clements ahead of the band’s sadly aborted 2020 Spring tour – where he discusses the current line-up, what fans can expect on stage and how they originally came up with the name – here
Meanwhile, the Lindisfarne legacy continues to appeal to emerging artists with outstanding covers of the band’s best known songs by emerging talents Sam Fender (“Winter Song”) and Elizabeth Liddle (“Meet Me On The Corner”) – catch Liddle’s rendition here:
Rod Clements’s solo back catalogue dating back to the 1980s has also been re-released by Singsong Music. The releases complement the band’s extensive catalogue with takes on classics as well as new compositions and blues covers.
That early January post-seasonal lull can be a bit of a downer at the best of times. With a Covid second wave biting hard and restrictions on normal life set to continue for the foreseeable people could be forgiven for not feeling too optimistic. However, folk rockers Merry Hell always seem to have that knack of turning out a suitably uplifting anthem when the occasion requires it. And just as many of us are taking the decorations down, preparing for a return to work and wondering what these next few months are going to be like up pop Merry Hell with a brand new anthem.
‘When We Meet Again’ is the latest single from Merry Hell and the lead track on a newly released three-track EP.
“When We Meet Again is a song of hope for 2021 and beyond. Written by John and Bob during the second lockdown period of 2020, it is born of our strange and difficult times but looks forward to the pleasures of being with the people whose company we enjoy, whether it be spending time with friends and family, or simply getting back to gigs and festivals and sharing our music and joy with audiences.”
“In addition to the band, the song reflects its theme of togetherness by featuring the combined voices of our 300 strong Social Isolation Choir. All the members recorded their parts individually and submitted them remotely to the band. Our production maestro John Kettle, assembled everyone into a harmonious whole. The single also includes two tracks from our album Emergency Lullabies – both also featuring the choir.”
Both rousing and poignant ‘When We Meet Again’ is a celebration of optimism and hope and togetherness and recording it remotely has clearly not diminished the band’s ability to come together to deliver another of their memorable anthems. You can bet that when the opportunity does finally come to start performing it live it’s going to be one hell of a crowd sing-along.
The other two tracks on the EP are ‘We Are Different, We Are One’ and ‘Beyond The Call’ – both taken from the excellent Emergency Lullabies album released last November.
Never a band afraid of speaking its mind, committing pen to paper and pulling out some rousing anthems, for their latest album Emergency Lullabies Lancashire folk-rockers Merry Hell turn their attention to the climate crisis, lockdown and the NHS.
The climate-themed songs ‘Leave It In the Ground’, ‘Sister Atlas’ and Emergency Lullaby’ were originally released earlier in the year as singles. Having spent three decades active in the green movement there are few issues as close to my heart as this one and I was delighted to hear the band were taking on the climate mantle. With subject matter such as this, however, there is sometimes a danger that the songs either end up a bit twee and preachy on the one hand or that they are so ethereal and other-worldly that they fail to really communicate the scale and terrifying urgency of the task in hand on the other. However, with these three songs Merry Hell pull it off magnificently. They don’t tamper with their formula: it’s classic Merry Hell, sung with that same mix of fiery passion and down to earth humility that rings out from all of their best recordings.
Emergency Lullabies is Merry Hell’s sixth album. Not only did they overcome the challenges of completing Emergency it during lockdown but the extraordinary events of 2020 would, of course, provide no shortage of inspiration. If ever a band were going to rise to the challenge of celebrating togetherness and mutual support during tough times as well as paying tribute to our key workers going the extra mile it was going to be Merry Hell. ‘Beyond The Call’ was written the night the UK went into lockdown in celebration of the NHS. ‘The Green Hill of Home’ and ‘We Are Different, We Are One’ meanwhile are typically anthemic sing-alongs on the theme of solidarity and community.
‘Violet’ takes a somewhat different approach, adopting that lighter, tongue in cheek, slightly music hall, slightly Victoria Wood-esque tone that can be found on Virginia Kettle’s recent solo album.
My absolute favourite track on the album though is another Victoria Kettle song, ‘Three Little Lions’, an epic, brooding, slice of folk rock that really put me in mind of classic period Steeleye Span. Just an absolute joy to listen to.
From poignant ballads to rousing anthems Merry Hell are just tailor-made for times like these and the musicianship remains as top-notch as ever.
Virginia Kettle’s vocals have been a key element of of Merry Hell’s sound since the band’s inception a decade ago. Before joining her husband John, brothers-in-law Bob and Andrew, and sundry others in the eight-piece folk-rock outfit, however, she’d established herself as a singer-songwriter in her own right. As Virginia Barrett, she released two solo albums: ‘The Quiet Bridge’ and ‘Sense of Human’ prior to joining the band. No Place Like Tomorrow is her first solo album since Merry Hell began, however.
It’s a more intimate affair than a typical Merry Hell album, both in terms of personnel and in terms of subject matter. The songs have far less of an obvious political tone than many Merry Hell songs and here Kettle tends to touch on more personal matters: love, relationships, family life. ‘Union Jack House’ is the most political song on the album but is structured and delivered in a way that has surprising echoes of Victoria Wood (with a little bit of Are You Being Served thrown in!)
Fans of Merry Hell will already be familiar with the title track, given it appeared on their 2015 album The Ghost in Our House and Other Stories, sung by Andrew, was reworked for their 2018 album Anthems to the Wind, sung by Virginia, and is now reworked once again. A beautifully tender, less anthemic and more delicate rendering than before, this is now the definitive version in my view.
Although Kettle is not backed by the full band she is, at various points, supported by the Hell’s fiddle-player Neil McCartney, bass-player Nick Davies and her guitarist husband John Kettle. Indeed, on a couple of tracks the stripped-back, more intimate feel of the solo album really allows McCartney’s elegant fiddle-playing to take centre-stage: the title track and ‘Valentine’s Waltz’. For me, that tailor-made combination of Kettle’s vocals and McCartney’s fiddle make these two of the real stand-out tracks on the album.
A mellower and more personal offering than a Merry Hell release No Place Like Tomorrow is a charming album that showcases Virginia Kettle’s obvious talents as a singer-songwriter.