The Wessex Folk Festival is pleased to announce the popular Merry Hell as the Headliners for the 2023 Festival on Saturday 3rd June.
Merry Hell are an eight-piece folk-rock band with a reputation that has spread far and wide from their base in Wigan, Lancashire. In their own words: “Merry Hell is a band founded on the ever-evolving Folk tradition – music made by the people and shared by the people. Though our hearts and souls are tuned to the songs which came before us, we bring you new words and music forged from our own experiences, from the lows and the loves of our lives. Our art is energy and our hope is unity. Our pleasure is to please: let the audience be the acid test and let the music speak for itself . . .”
The band emerged in 2011 from the remnants of ’90s folk/punk band The Tansads as brothers John, Bob and Andrew Kettle, keyboard player Lee Goulding and drummer Andy Jones were joined by John’s wife, Virginia, who was persuaded to trade in her past as a solo singer-songwriter for a future in the band. Virginia’s songs are at the heart of the band but Bob, John and Lee have also been consistent contributors of new material. With the addition of bassist Nick Davies and fiddle player Neil McCartney, Merry Hell soon became a favourite at folk festivals, as well as playing an increasing number of gigs around the folk clubs and arts centres of the North of England. As their reputation for playing energetic, crowd-pleasing sets grew, the band found themselves increasingly in demand and in 2022 they played more than 50 gigs, fanning out from Lancashire as far as Cornwall, Norfolk and London. They also developed a Dorset connection when Weymouth’s Simon Swarbrick joined to replace Neil McCartney on violin.
Merry Hell’s latest album, Emergency Lullabies, has received enthusiastic reviews and demonstrates the musical range of the band as well as their commitment to fighting against injustice and working for the future of the planet.
Award-winning Reg Meuross was introduced onto the stage of the Albert Hall by Mike Harding as ‘one of the finest singer-songwriters this country has produced’. With 14 solo albums to his name, Reg is a true modern troubadour, representing contemporary English folk writing at its best while captivating audiences with his beautiful tenor voice and a breadth and depth of material that is unparalleled in contemporary folk.
Accompanying himself on his ‘44 Martin six-string guitar, harmonica, tenor guitar, banjo and dulcimer, Reg produces music that has an unrivalled power to reach and move the listener. His songs tell stories that need to be told, relating struggles that need to be known, injustice that needs to be uncovered and social conscience that needs to be celebrated.
In April this year, Somerset-based Reg releases a new song cycle, Stolen From God, focusing on the transatlantic slave trade and uncovering its hidden history from a South West England perspective. Also due for release later this year is Fire & Dust, a song cycle that delves into the life story of Woody Guthrie.
Reg will be performing on the festival’s main stage on Saturday and Sunday and will also be leading a songwriting workshop.
The Trials of Cato
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners, The Trials of Cato, make their Wessex Folk Festival debut this year. The Welsh/English folk trio won Best Album for their debut release, Hide and Hair, in 2018 and are back in the Folk Album Charts in 2023 with their second album, Gog Magog. The trio are Tomos Williams and Robin Jones, who play a range of banjos, bouzoukis and guitars, and mandolin player and vocalist Polly Bolton.
Welshmen Tomos Williams and Robin Jones formed The Trials of Cato, along with Yorkshire’s Will Addison, while working as English teachers in Lebanon. Returning home in 2016 they focused on building the band’s reputation, culminating in the award for their début album. When they emerged from lockdown it was without Will Addison, whose replacement, Polly Bolton, kept up Yorkshire’s representation.
Their music has been described as “trail-blazing” and the Spirit Earth website reported that their debut album “served up adventurous new takes on the traditional folk repertoire whilst throwing down the gauntlet with their own arresting, genre-hopping self-penned tracks”. The BBC’s Mark Radcliffe has hailed the band as “one of the real discoveries on the folk circuit in recent times”.
The Trials of Cato are promoting their new album in America with 12 dates in March and April after which they’ll hit the road in the UK , reaching Weymouth in June.
Nine Dead Mice
Brighton based Nine Dead Mice describe themselves as a “foot-stomping English and Celtic folk trio for the 21st century”.
Generating momentum with raucous, foot-stomping energy one minute, then slowing down for a gentle ballad or two the next, they offer a deep dive into the trad-folk repertoire, surfacing now and again with unexpected arrangements, traditional and well-loved tunes, and energetic performances.
Combining violin, cello, guitar and vocal harmonies into a rattling, rolling folky omnibus, they are comfortable leading ceilidhs, barn dances and folk dances as well as offering bagpipe interludes, acapella numbers and multi-instrumental switches, so you’re never quite sure what to expect next.