Bob Kettle plays mandolin and bouzouki with Northern Folk/Rock band Merry Hell. They will be bringing their brand of folk-rock mayhem to Leiston Film Theatre on Friday October 28th. They are then back again in Suffolk on Sunday December 4th when they will play an acoustic set at Folk at the Froize. Tony Bell had a chat with Bob ahead of their Suffolk shows.
It has been quite a while since we’ve been in that part of the world; I think that the last gigs that we played were Abbeyfest in Bury St Edmunds and Cromer Folk Festival back in 2013 if I’m not mistaken. When we’ve been down there we have always had good audiences and a good response to our music. As always it is the audience that makes the gig.
In case there are some people in Suffolk who have never heard of Merry Hell, how would you describe your music?
I would describe it as energised folk-rock. We use all the best elements of the folk tradition which is really about connecting with audiences, giving them something to join in with. But with the full band we use electric instruments but you won’t be seeing them at the acoustic gig.
It is hard to believe that as a band you have only been together for four years, but your roots go back much further than that?
Yes, many of the members of the band were part of a previous band called The Tansads which played the festival scene and university circuit in the early 90s. Between about 1990 and 1995 we cut our teeth with that, playing what was generally called folk-punk at the time.
I have often heard punk described as urban folk – would you agree?
Indeed, yes. If you listen to bands like The Clash its nothing other than folk music in the city really.
Would it be fair to describe the band as a working class band?
I would say so but personally I identify as working class but I would like that term to be thought of in the broadest possible sense in that, yes I think of myself as working class but I would also say that anybody who has to work for a living is working class too.
Indeed, ‘working class’ can sometimes be viewed as a derogatory term which is not how I meant it. The lyrics of your songs are very much about normal everyday people aren’t they?
Yes, exactly. I think that is probably the best way to put it, normal everyday people, music that most people can identify with and is about their experiences.
Which brings us to a song from the new album, an album hopefully out in time for the Leiston gig – “We Need Each Other Now” is a powerful song.
Yes. Yes! At the moment in the UK we are living in a very divided society, I think that an example of that is the division that has been caused by the Brexit vote and also different attitudes to visitors to this country, immigrants and so forth. My brother John wrote the song in that context and what it is asking for is that the UK plays to its greatest strengths which are tolerance and welcome. Every part of society & culture is dependent on every other part.
Indeed, I hope to be standing up and belting out the chorus of that number when you play it at Leiston.
That’s exactly what we need!
Bloodlines is the new album, hopefully it may be available in time for Leiston, tell us how you feel about it.
Every album is different; you start with a completely blank canvas. During the period of the album’s recording I have been delighted of the quality of the song writing that has come out of the band. I can say with absolute belief and confidence that this is the our very best and most mature work.
Northern folk is sometime described as gritty and to the point, does that imply that other region’s folk is soft?
No! I would say that different regions of the UK, the characteristics of the people are of course influenced by the history of the those places. We come from the North West, we come from a region that has been influenced by industry which in very many cases isn’t there anymore. Nevertheless we carry the characteristics of miners and steelworkers even though those industries are not with us anymore. Whereas in Suffolk you may carry the characteristics of agriculturural workers. I wouldn’t dream of saying that the folk music of the south is any less forceful or valid, it just simply tends to represent a somewhat different history.
Indeed, we are all different, life is about accepting those differences.
This is exactly what John is trying to say in his song “We Need Each Other Now” – why can’t we celebrate those differences instead of putting each other down?
We Need Each Other Now