Musical Guests ~ Merry Hell

For those of you who do not know, which could be many of you, Merry Hell is an 8-piece folk-rock band, based in the UK’s North-West and currently having a fabulous time traveling around the country, enjoying the company of each other and people we meet as we go. My role in the ongoing shenanigans is as band manager or senior cat-herder, depending on your point of view.

Summer is a busy time, as we combine festival dates with normal gigs and so I am hoping to give you a little flavour of this via the medium of our most recent weekend, along with a smaller look forward to what is to come!

Friday: Finish day jobs at 5pm and head to a supermarket for
essential supplies, these being wine and beer, with an over-nighter at a hotel looming. The fuel tank is filled before picking up fiddle player, Neil, before a quick motorway jaunt to our rendezvous point, meet with other members and mix and match personnel and gear before heading south. 200 miles of good chat and classic music singalongs pass with Neil, bassist Nick, plus special guest Carole King, before we pull into a service area, surprisingly meeting singer, Virginia, and guitarist, John, who had traveled with the main load of gear via a different route. My task is to remember and secure 10 different coffees and to part with cash for the order.

Suitably refreshed, we travel on to our hotel – a budget Travelodge
of course, whereupon a serious satnav malfunction takes us sailing past, adding an extra 20-mile round trip.

Those with an appetite for (self) destruction congregate in keyboard maestro, Lee, and drummer, Andy’s room. Drink is taken, antics documented for ritual humiliation on Facebook, stories told, reflections made and gradually people drift off in anticipation of a ridiculously early start.

Saturday: 9AM, all 10 of the travelling party (8 band, myself and
Denise, wife of Andrew, our male lead singer) head into Chippenham, the nearest town, where we breakfast together – a tradition that we all enjoy – particularly our mandolin player Bob and Neil, both blessed with prodigious appetites and an annoying aversion to weight gain. Neil’s plate is noteworthy, especially with the addition of extra eggs from a vegan band member!

A 75-mile journey takes nearly 3 hours, due to traffic and thoroughly justifies our decision to travel most of the way the night before. We finally arrive in beautiful Sidmouth and all promptly get badly lost. Sidmouth Festival is huge, spread throughout the town, has a venerable history of more than 50 years and this is the first time we have been invited, excusing our lack of directional acumen.

The evening’s venue is a large marquee atop a hill on the outskirts of town. Once reunited, the band load gear in and soundcheck, from which I am excused, so I take the chance to sit in the sun with my laptop and catch up on chores. Helped by an unusually strong 4G signal, I’m able to book hotels for the next 3 gig weekends, confirm 2 bookings for 2020 and order a roll of red carpet for our upcoming Film Premiere – of which more later!

The technical proceedings are over quickly – the crew are ultra-efficient - we now have 4 hours to fill before showtime. Small groups assemble, change and reassemble as we chat between ourselves plus crew members, who ply us with hospitality. The break also sees the arrival of Julie and Michael, who operate the merchandising stall at gigs and have conveniently arranged a holiday 30-miles away!

As time passes, thoughts turn to the gig. As a first-time appearance nearly 300 miles from home, we wonder how many will turn up and nerves jangle slightly as the performance space is huge. At this point pangs of hunger interrupt. Vegans and veggies enjoy the provision of The Big Kebabski, a Dude themed, plant-based menu and omnivores head for the exotic burger truck, occupying 2 tables to avoid cross contamination!

On our return, with stomachs replete, hearts sink as, with an hour to showtime, there are but 8 people in an enormous space. Having been buoyed recently by ever increasing crowds, we face with a slap in the face and a degree of humiliation. The mood backstage is sombre. However, as we hear the audience respond to the support artist, we detect a swell in volume and organisers are at pains to tell us this is a regular phenomenon. 

It still feels edgy and the camp is strangely quiet. As the band
emerge from backstage, thankfully, the crowd has assembled, with buses having arrived from town, along with campers emerging after evening meals. The gig is a fabulous shared experience, the re-energised band are on great form and so is the audience, who dance, swing, sway and wave their hands in the air with both vim and vigour and at all the right times.

Besides the performances, another delight of festivals is the time
allowed to meet friends, discover new music, such as singer-songwriter Jon Wilks, who provided astonishingly good support, as well as bumping into other musicians and chatting about the state of the universe. Tonight it was Simon Care, who many of you may know through his membership of The Albion Christmas Band, Edward II and the Red Hot Polkas and the project that had brought him to Sidmouth, current outfit Banter –also appearing at a multitude of venues!

After clearing the stage, thanking all involved, we head to our hotel, a 20 minute drive away, just enough time for some to work up a thirst and others to decide the exertions of the day and especially the evening, warrant early retirement.

Sunday: Back up and out at 9am. We say goodbye to 2 members of the band, Andy and Lee are heading home as today’s gig features the slimmed-down 6-piece acoustic band playing a seated venue as the organisers felt it more appropriate. The gig has a 4.30 stage time but as we are the headline act for the session, then we must soundcheck first. It’s a first-world band problem and we can cope.

Of course there is the ritual breakfast and we drive back to
Sidmouth, overcome the not inconsiderable problem of finding parking and select our café. The choice is right, the breakfast is good and spirits are high as we saunter to the venue through streets thronged with morris-dancing sides and buskers, along with other festival revellers. We (or more truthfully the band) are spotted by both friends and people who had seen last night’s gig and had come down to see the different show today – always happy to make new friends!

A quick look at the venue reveals it to be a rather large marquee,
seating over 1000 people, which is encouraging and daunting in equal prospect. We have a quick tour, including the merchandising facilities that will prove important later, before a quick load-in and easy soundcheck thanks to another great crew. This leaves 3 hours to tour the town, find the best coffee and cakes available, meet up in a pub for a quick drink, chat, decide on songs to include in the set and share bowls of chips, before strolling quickly back to the venue. Once again we bump into artists for the evening session, Steve Knightley from the mighty Show of Hands is the evening headliner, playing with the Sidmouth Town Brass band, as well as Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, now known as Edgelarks, with whom we share a joke about following each other round and that we will see each other again soon at Shrewsbury Festival.

Once the band takes the stage, the atmosphere in the room is so
positive, the gig couldn’t be anything other than marvelous. We are told that there was both laughter and tears amongst the audience and the response suggests that they were in all the right places, with the audience singing lustily to the second song, Stand Down, crowd favourite, Bury Me Naked, resulted in massed swaying with arms aloft and is usually the case, I had nipped round to the back of the audience to capture some of this as photos. 

Merry Hell Courtesy of YouTube

Despite only being allocated an hour, the stage manager and compere agreed to an encore, meaning we were quite rushed to clear the stage so that the evening headliners could start setting up whilst the band walked round to meet audience members who had stayed to meet, chat and get CDs signed. A nice surprise was to be accosted by 2 radio DJs who were attending the festival and had thoroughly enjoyed the show, as well as organisers of folk clubs and festival who were keen to talk about potential bookings for 2020.

Finally the marquee crew encouraged people to leave as soundchecks were due and so we had the excellent entertainment of hearing Mr Knightley and the Town Band as we packed our gear away, headed off to claim something to eat and drink before bidding our fond farewells, along with thanks to the crew and heading off for the near 6-hour drive home.

A great weekend and one that will hopefully be repeated several times before the end of festival season. As I write, we are currently getting ready for 2 very different gigs – firstly we headline Wigan Pride, a hometown gig where our song ‘Loving The Skin You’re In’ has been adopted as their anthem and then to Oxfordshire to play the Cropredy Fringe Festival that accompanies the main Fairport Convention event.

If you have vaguely enjoyed this blog, then I shall return to the
theme of the red carpet. Our fiddle player Neil obtained a new video camera a year ago and started bringing it to gigs. This developed into a project where he filmed the band over a full year. He captured some brilliant events, such as us singing with the backing of a 210 piece choir, backstage and off guard scenes around the country and even beyond as we flew to Portugal for the wonderful Costa del Folk Festival. The aim of the resulting documentary is to give friends of the band a better insight into who we are, what we do and what life is like being Merry Hell. We are holding a premiere viewing on September 1st in our hometown of Wigan and you can’t have a premiere without a red carpet now can you?

All best wishes,
Damian for Merry Hell

My Finest Hour by Merry Hell from their acoustic album
Anthems to the Wind

If you'd like to reach out to Merry Hell, please do so by clicking below.

AWARD WINNERS:
Folking.com: Best Live Act 2018
Folking.com: Best Band 2018
FATEA Award: Best Group/Duo 2015
FolkWords Award: Best Album 2016: 'Bloodlines'
FATEA Award: Best Single/EP 2017:
'Come On, England!

All photos unless otherwise noted are property of Merry Hell and may not be used without permission.


4 comments:

  1. It sounds like quite the day! I hope to one day see you perform in person. Honored to host you on the blog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It was great to see you again at Cropredy with a slimmed down band, no drums or keyboards. Despite the torrential rain it was still, as always, a pleasure. See you again soon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fabulous insight of a Merry Hell weekend. Having seen you guys a few times now, you never disappoint. I have ordered the video and hope you will continue with the blog Sir.

    ReplyDelete

Co-authoring ~ by Manning Wolfe

The initial idea… About ten years ago, my work required that I frequently go back and forth to L.A. from Austin, four hours of travel on a ...