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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Evolving out of an ad-hoc reunion of 90s folk-punk band, the Tansads, Wigan-based folk rockers, Merry Hell, have been making a decisive impact on the UK’s folk and festival scene over the past nine years. With several albums under their belt they now come at us with a DVD. Titled ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’ it’s a documentary that follows the band between February 2018 and February 2019 – and when we say documentary it is very much a carefully-crafted film worthy of the name rather than a video of concert footage with a few dressing room interviews tacked on to the end.
Made by the band themselves and produced, directed, filmed and edited by Merry Hell fiddle player, Neil McCartney, it’s a fascinating insight into this tightly-knit band of close family members and long-term friends.
We see the band on the road – at festivals and backstage at various venues – but we also see individual members at home, in pubs or visiting some of their favourite places. We get to hear about musical influences (punk, Susan Vega, Nick Drake and hymn melodies…) but we also get to hear about literary influences, too. Orwell looms large, and not just for Wigan Pier, either.
Engaging, funny, moving, and highly personal, as band documentaries go ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’ stands head and shoulders above many films about far, far more famous musicians. In fact, I’d go so far as saying that even if you’d never heard of Merry Hell and you had zero interest in folk rock, this documentary would still be compulsive viewing for the warm and very human portrayal of its subject matter.
Merry Hell and their rousing brand of folk rock have been around since 2010 now, rising from the ashes of 90s folk punk band The Tansads. Rather than another album of electrified folk the Wigan-based band take a more pastoral approach this time, with the all-acoustic Anthems To The Wind offering reworkings of established favourites alongside some newer songs.
“… although the band has grown in many ways, we have wanted to continue performing in the more intimate venues where the full electric 8-piece would neither fit nor be suitable. The atmospheric hush of the folk clubs inspired a stripping back of many of our arrangements to get to the very heart of our music’s message,” the sleeve-notes tell us.
Much of the album is recorded live: at Bunbury Village Hall in Cheshire and the Lion Salt Works in Northwich, alongside the Music Projects in Wigan.
It opens with a reworking of Drunken Serenade from the band’s first album. Indeed, a memorable line from these lyrics gives this new album its title. It’s clear that songs like this and The War Between Ourselves lose none of their power through the acoustic treatment and, if anything, become yet more anthemic.
The album also proves an excellent showcase for some of the more poignantly reflective songwriting of the band’s Virginia Kettle, and her lovely vocals, on tracks like No Place Like Tomorrow.
Anthems To The Wind shows Merry Hell continuing to innovate and inspire. A fine album that lives up to its name.
If I was to try and sum up the band Merry Hell I’d ask people to imagine if Fairport Convention had come from Wigan. That is not in any way intended as an insult. Being from Lancashire and being a long-time fan of Fairport Convention it is definitely 100% meant as a compliment.
Merry Hell’s lyrical themes tend to be somewhat edgier, politically, compared to Fairport but not in an over-earnest ranty way. Bitter-sweet reflectiveness and wry good humour tend to be the band’s hallmarks. And so it is with ‘Bury Me Naked’ – the band’s new single. Written and sung by the band’s female lead, Virginia Kettle, it’s a great mid-tempo sing-along with an ecological theme and a friendly rebuke about filling our lives with too much junk and clutter. Originally appearing on the band’s second album this track is a re-recording featuring some fiddle wizardry from incoming band member, Neil McCartney.
The second track ‘Sailing Too Close To The Wind’ is a slower-paced ballad that’s lifted from Merry Hell’s most recent album Bloodlines. Going back to my initial analogy, this track would not have been at all out of place alongside some of the memorable songs that the likes of Ralph McTell gifted to Fairport Convention after they got back in business as a touring and recording unit. Two additional songs ‘Drunken Serenade feat. The Banshee Reel’ and ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’ also showcase the band’s song-writing and musical abilities.
Musically, lyrically and, indeed, politically there is a much-needed place for a band Merry Hell in today’s Britain and it’s good to see them going from strength to strength.
This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here
“An alternative national anthem” is what Wigan-based folk-rockers, Merry Hell, bill the title track of their new EP, Come On England! It is not difficult to see where they are coming from: in a country that’s been riven by inequality and division, they aim to present a hopeful vision for the future.
There is passion, defiance, warmth and optimism in the lyrics: “On the streets I have seen those with greed and hate in their eyes; and those with their hearts and their hands open wide.”
The socio-political theme continues in We Need Each Other Now which, like the title track, also appears on the band’s current Bloodlines album. Again, this is an anthemic sing-along with heartfelt lyrics that one can imagine resonating really well with audiences on the live folk scene.
Lean On Me, Love is more personal and more reflective, a gentle acoustic track, yet with Andrew Kettle’s powerful, distinctive vocals still delivered with that same air of sincerity and determination.
The final track is a live version of The War Between Ourselves, a bouncy Levellers-esque slice of indie-folk that has been a mainstay of the band’s live performances since Merry Hell first formed in 2010.
An alternative national anthem? That might be a tad ambitious but this EP certainly contains some rousing anthems for troubled times and it is highly likely that Come On England! will be a firm live favourite in the band’s set list for years to come.