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.
The singer and songwriter Judy Dyble, who sang lead vocals on Fairport Convention’s very first album, sadly died at the weekend. Although never as celebrated in British folk rock history as her replacement, Sandy Denny, Judy’s beautifully clear, distinctive vocals nevertheless remain an essential part of the early Fairport sound.
After her time with Fairport, Judy was involved in a handful of other projects in the late 60s and early 70s before quitting the music business altogether, spending time bringing up her family and working as a librarian. Her musical story doesn’t quite end there, however, as the early 2000s saw Judy begin writing, recording and performing once more. Albums like the gently captivating ‘Talking With Strangers’ from 2009 and the gorgeous ‘Flow and Change’ from 2013 were extremely well received but her career renaissance continued to grow and grow with her more recent albums picking up a slew of top-notch reviews and frequent appearances in the music press.
Judy’s 2016 autobiography ‘An Accidental Musician’ is a beautiful read. Obviously, I’ve read my fair share of sex and drugs and rock and roll confessionals over the years and, perhaps unsurprisingly, this takes a very different tack. Obviously, it’s a fascinating read in terms of music history but there is so much in there that really any of us can relate to: bereavement, the lack of confidence that can come from not doing something for a long time, the fear and then the buzz of taking on new challenges – it all served to give the book a very, very human angle. When I posted comments along these lines on social media at the time, in typically engaging fashion Judy came back straight away:
“I am so glad you appreciated it, I kind of worry that it isn’t what people expect it to be – a typical race through the 60’s with lots of name droppings… Thank you.”
Other than being part of the communal sing-along for ‘Meet On The Ledge’ Judy was not called upon to play a major part in her former band’s forty-fifth anniversary celebrations which I know was a source of some frustration to her. I emailed Fairport’s Simon Nicol at the time expressing my disappointment that she had not been asked to play a bigger contribution. He did get back saying the band hoped to do more with Judy in the future. They certainly made up for it at the band’s fiftieth anniversary celebration at Cropredy in 2017 where, as well as a solo slot for Judy that weekend, all of the original line-up (sans deceased drummer Martin Lamble) reconvened. Magically we were transported back to 1967 with all of the surviving members from the first Fairport album reconvening on stage for a stunning recreation of the first track on the first album ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’, followed by ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ and ‘Reno, Nevada’. It completely captured the magic of that first album and was really special seeing Judy, Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson and Iain Matthews sharing a stage together.
An essential part of the early Fairport sound, an unexpected and most wonderful artistic renaissance in later life and one of the loveliest, most sincere, most humble and least showbizzy people you could ever wish to meet, Judy Dyble will be greatly, greatly missed.
Me with Judy at the signing tent at Cropredy in 2017
Released on Monday 29th June, ‘Emergency Lullaby’ is the third part of the Hourglass Trilogy series of climate-themed singles released by folk rockers Merry Hell.
It will also provide the title for the next full Merry Hell album which will be called ‘Emergency Lullabies’ and is currently nearing completion.
Written by mandolin/bouzouki player Bob Kettle, he says of the song:
“The song ‘Emergency Lullaby’ developed from a melody I’d written on the piano. I was quite pleased with the tune – it had a soft, sleepy quality that reminded me of a lullaby – but, for a long time, I couldn’t come up with any appropriate words to go with it… In the meantime, I was to thinking about climate change and the devastating impact it will have on our lives and environment if it continues unchecked. I’d read about rising global sea-levels, fires in the arctic circle and deforestation in the Amazon. I was also dismayed by the nonchalant denials of the part played by human activity in this looming crisis – for example, Trump and Bolsonaro’s casual rejection of scientific consensus and willingness to sacrifice our planet’s wellbeing and the futures of generations to come for short-term political and financial gain.
“On the other hand, I’m painfully aware of just how little I’m doing, personally, to alleviate these dangers. I ride in cars and draw energy from a grid fed by fossil-fuels. I’ve been negligent with recycling and, because I’m lucky enough to live a first world lifestyle, I’m generally oblivious to the impacts my actions have in other parts of the world. I’m part of a great sleepwalk into destruction – so, in short, I’m no one to judge anybody else’s behaviour. I wanted to emphasise that, if the climate crisis has a human cause it also has a human solution. We can save our planet if we act immediately. Time is short; the longer the delay, the sooner the devastation. We need to hold on to hope because, if we lose it, we’re lost. I’m encouraged by the awareness and organisation shown by young people. If the older generation follow the young and support them in collective action, we have every chance of securing a cleaner, fairer world that can be sustained into the future.
“So, I coupled the soft, sleepy melody with lyrics about the climate crisis – to express the contradictory aspects of the problem: we need urgent action but we’re mired in apathy. That’s how I came up with the title ‘Emergency Lullaby’. I’d love to sing it in a spirit of understanding, hope and togetherness.”
Emergency Lullaby (Wasting Time)
The water is rising, The Arctic’s ablaze, The Amazon’s burning But I spend my days Feeding flood and fire in so many ways Sitting here wasting my time.
There are clowns in high places Trading on lies, A cult of denial to cover our eyes But if we give up hope then we give up our lives Willingly wasting our time.
We will die of doubt Time is running out…
The hourglass counts down An avoidable fate: The next generation pays for our mistakes. Act now, act together and it’s not too late Or we’re wasting the world and our time.
So, get down to Earth, Let the young lead the old, All hands to the ark! Unfurl the rainbow! Our life’s in our hands, We’ll reap what we sow
The single is available to download and stream from all the usual digital platforms.
On these bright warm sunny days is there anything more perfect than those classic laid-back 70s west coast sounds? Sunny and upbeat with a hint of sadness and a touch of drama, you know the score. The Eagles knew it. Fleetwood Mac knew it in spades. So how lovely, therefore, on just one of those very days, to get the latest Fred’s House EP dropping through my letterbox.
Cambridge-based Fred’s House celebrate their tenth anniversary with this brand new four-track EP Walls and Ceilings.
Following a slight re-jig in the line-up the band is now entirely female-fronted, with newcomer Prue Ward on fiddle and vocals joining Vikki Gavin on vocals and keyboards, Gafyn Jameson on bass and backing vocals, Lachlan Golder on guitar and backing vocals and Paul Richards on drums.
Truly conjuring up the spirit of Rumours-era interpersonal intrigue (although hopefully not the cocaine bill) ‘Only The Sun’ is about former frontman (and Vikki Gavin’s ex-partner) Griff saying his farewells and moving on. The other tracks also cover familiar themes of relationship angst, unrequited lust and new beginnings.
Harmonies, hooks, gorgeous melodies and exquisite production Walls and Ceilings is a work of beauty from start to finish.
Following their recently-released single ‘Leave It In The Ground‘ Merry Hell have released the second single of their climate-themed trilogy. Titled ‘Sister Atlas’ it pays tribute to Greta Thunberg and the commitment of many young people like her taking up the call in demanding action on climate change.
Merry Hell explain:
“In the second song in our #HourglassTrilogy, written by Virginia Kettle, our lead female singer, Sister Atlas celebrates the strength and commitment of our young people in calling for a halt to the current climate destruction and to search for ways in which the damage can be reversed. This can either be focused on the example and inspiration of one young girl, or the wider actions of an increasing number of our children who wish for more than to have their future sacrificed to ignorance and greed. A salute to Greta Thunberg and more power to those who have taken up the challenge. Please feel free to spread the music and the love!“
The release of the single and accompanying video comes just a few days after the band were delighted to be announced as winners of the Folking Award for Best Live Act, joining winners in other categories such as Oysterband, Eliza Carthy, Ralph McTell and Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman.
The single is available to download and stream from all the usual digital platforms.
In spite of the title and the very period-looking cover from the band’s mid -70s heyday ‘All Around My Hat’ is a very thoroughly researched, if somewhat concise, history of folk rock legends Steeleye Span that covers the band’s entire history from its formation at the tail-end of the 60s to the present day. Timed to coincide with Steeleye Span’s fiftieth anniversary it charts the story of the band through its many line-up fluctuations, extensive touring and recording history and the numerous challenges and opportunities that were thrown at its members along the way .
Although key stages of the band’s history were already pretty familiar to me (the band’s formative years and heyday period are covered extensively in Rob Young’s excellent ‘Electric Eden’, for example) there are other eras that I knew far less about. I definitely learnt a good deal about the band, particularly around the years when Gay Woods (who appeared with her husband Terry on the very first album) returned in the mid 90s and the subsequent intra-band tensions that arose and ultimately led to Maddy Prior’s departure, albeit a temporary one. There were even a couple of gigs where neither Woods nor Prior were with the band and remaining members Peter Knight and Tim Harries had to cast around for a temporary lead singer and temporary drummer to fulfil existing tour commitments.
And the title? Named after the band’s bestselling single John Van Der Kiste’s book very much demonstrates that rather than Top 20 hits and going on Top of The Pops being a weird fluke, getting folk music out of tiny folk clubs and on to big stages was always very much a driving vision for founder member Tim Hart. Even in the early days of his career, as one half of a duo with Maddy Prior, he felt the folk scene needed a shot of glamour, publicity and marketing.
Some of the key players past and present (Maddy Prior, Peter Knight, Martin Carthy et al) are interviewed for the book but other insights are taken from pre-existing interviews previously published elsewhere (including, for that matter an interview I did with Julian Littman for the Get Ready To Rock website).
Intelligent, well-researched and well-written, even though a good deal of the material comes from secondary sources Van Der Kiste does a fine job in pulling the various threads together and producing this timely history of a ground-breaking and much-loved band.
With an ecological theme ‘Leave It In The Ground’ is the brand new single from folk rockers Merry Hell, the first in a trilogy of digital singles to be released at three-weekly intervals.
“Leave It In The Ground was written by our fiddle player, Neil McCartney. Coming from a family with mining connections and growing up in an area with a long but declining mining tradition, he is well aware of both the human and environmental impacts of extracting fossil fuels. His song looks at the use of cleaner and safer energy as both a way forward and a means of honouring the sacrifices of the past.
Neil does have form as a songwriter, being responsible for ‘Home Again’ a top 3 hit for his old band – The Big Geraniums – in their native Ireland.
As is true of our previous releases, we are neither strident nor condemnatory. We do not preach,we seek to ask questions of ourselves and encourage others to do the same.
The new songs are strong and the messages are united. Let us look at our own behaviours and how we can make positive changes for the benefit of all, whilst we hold up the mirror of truth to those who place profits and gain above the common good. We have decided to release the songs as The Hourglass Trilogy, reflecting the widely held belief that the time for action is now, hopefully before it is too late.
The series will also serve as a taster for our next album Emergency Lullabies, currently approaching completion.
There will also be a video accompanying each of the singles. The tracks and videos will be released individually, 3 weeks apart, as downloads or to stream because we felt that pressing a CD of only 3 songs would be counter to the ideas represented by this project.
We are not eco-warriors, we are not perfect, most of us have cars and we are all still learning how to be more thoughtful about our behaviour. However, whilst we recognise both our own actions and shortcomings, we applaud and salute those individuals and groups who, by their actions and words, inspire us to individual and collective action. Their bravery in the face of political and indeed physical threat on an industrial scale is an example to us all. We all know who they are, let us support them the best we can.
Finally, we applaud our own children, who are, in many cases, far more aware, active and engaged than we are and should have been.
Enjoy the music. Listen to the words, make up your own minds and let us all take the actions we believe to be right.”