Merry Hell : A Year in the Life

Merry Hell : A Year in the Life DVD

This DVD, as its title prosaically says, presents a year in the life of English folk band Merry Hell.

It is a warm-hearted documentary; exceptionally well put together, mostly by band member Neil McCartney. Whilst it may fall just short of the full production values of The Living Planet, by the closing credits you have seen Merry Hell in detail as they rove around their natural habitat of venues, cafés and service stations on a never ending tour.

A rolling collage of short informal interviews, concert and fly-on-the-wall footage, the film maps out where the individual band members (and the 'band' clearly extends beyond those who play an instrument) have come from, their key influences and what they hope to achieve through music.

What you learn is not revelatory. Virginia Kettle is as sharp-witted and benevolent in life as when performing, John as reflective as you'd imagine. Andrew Kettle has grown from the energised, tense punk who prowled the stage with the Tansads in the early nineties into wry humour and wisdom in middle age. But as the clips flow by there is a growing sense that this is a band that matters, one with something important to say.

That message is simple, and it is written most indelibly in the effect they have when they play live.

Midway through the film there is a long scene where the band is on stage in Snape Maltings with a 210 piece choir. You can feel the love, joy and togetherness in that room - a moment created by music that might rekindle the light in any human heart.

How they draw out that magic from themselves and the audience is rooted in what fundamentally propels them, as this documentary also makes clear. From every band member filmed you get the impression that Merry Hell's shared ethos is its driving force; an enduring, collective, resolutely working class set of values the Rochdale Pioneers would have riotously applauded.

As Rob Kettle, in contemplation near the DVD's end, phrases it, "The idea that there is insufficient violence, aggression and selfishness in the world has become very powerful - in that case, being less selfish, more kind and more compassionate becomes an act of resistance."

Watch this film, and join the underground - but if you don't want to fall for the dreams of a contemporary folk band, avoid it at all costs.


MERRY HELL I Come on, England!