It’s been two years since Merrym’n last released an album and although he’s produced a number of singles and EP’s in the meantime, the full length record is the thing we’ve all been secretly craving. Well, I know I have.
So it’s lucky then that after home recording, layering, editing, mixing and mastering and then painfully redoing each track, as you tend to do when you’re a do-it-yourself-sort-of-musician, that Merrym’n has finally delivered unto us an eleven track album of musical greatness – and that’s not even an exaggeration.
‘Life, on VHS’ is a local masterpiece, penned by Stoke-on-Trent based musician and life observer Bob Moston. Opening with ‘Ay Up, Ow At, Orate?’, the lead single from the album, ‘Life, on VHS’ starts as it means to go on. ‘Ay Up, Ow At, Orate?’ is a local anthem, full of local dialect, local places and accompanied by a video jam-packed with local people. It’s a song that speaks for a city that has long been the butt of many jokes, a city that is defined not by its past, but by the people, places and opportunities that are alive and well within it.
‘The Rag n’ Bone Man’ would have been well placed on Merrym’n’s previous album ‘Black Over Bill’s Mother’s’, through the return of Moston’s trusty harmonica and signature emotive lyrics. Moston adds a romantic storytelling twist to a character who is viewed by many to be just a scrap collector, ensuring that you never look at your local rag and bone man in the same way ever again.
If ever there was a musician who’d write a song about the A500, a topic of many heated conversations, it would have to be Merrym’n. ‘A500 Everyday’ is that very song, breaking up the album after the upbeat introduction, with a sombre moving piece about one of the busiest roads in Staffordshire. It’s the sort of song you’ve come to expect from Bob Moston, as is ‘North Wales Expressway’, although only in the lyrical sense. ‘North Wales Expressway’ is the sort of song you’d find in an indie film, with a football stadium filling finale complete with brass accompaniment, giving the song a rather grand fade out.
‘The Old Vic’ is a fine slice of nostalgia, taking football fans everywhere back to the days of the previous home of Stoke City football club, The Victoria Ground. Although demolished in the late 90’s, Moston manages to take you back through the power of his lyrics and the genius inclusion of vintage football commentary sampling. The melodic plodding of this track makes it hard not to feel emotional, as it seems that ‘The Old Vic’ is more about the disappearance of the things we once loved so much, rather than just a reflection on a demolished football ground.
At halfway through the album you’re struck by ’14 Thatcham Green’, a jazzy swinging number that could easily be mistaken for an unused Bugsy Malone track, thanks to the twanging piano and plodding bass line. Moston paints a picture of simpler times gone by, turning the relatively normal estate into something of a dream world. As does ‘Cable Cars In Festival Park’, a song that does exactly what it says on the tin. As you look back through rose-tinted glasses, soundtracked by the beautiful simplicity of the track, you see all of the things that have long since been forgotten. The combination of the locally renowned Trent Vale Poet, a collaboration that has been patiently waiting to happen for some time, as well as Moston’s stripped back accompaniment, makes for a rather fitting piece of musical excellence and poetic genius and is one of my favourite tracks of the album.
‘Onwards and Upwards’ is the only track that is sung from Moston’s point of view, rather than a narration of someone else’s life. Whether it’s a personal track or not is up for debate, but one thing that is sure is that ‘Onwards and Upwards’ is one of the finest examples of the detailed lyrical brilliance that Merrym’n has become so well-known for.
Both humoring and heartbreaking, ‘He Built A Cinema’ is yet another of my favourite pieces of Merrym’n’s work. Based on a true story of a man who fulfilled his life long ambition, of building a replica ABC cinema (in his back garden), ‘He Built A Cinema’ demonstrates the love and determination of the people, as they desperately cling on to the things they love, refusing to accept their demise. ‘My Kingdom For A Horse’ is a further example of Merrym’n’s adventurous side. Breaking away from the musical themes that encompass his music, Moston has produced a song that would be perfect for a long drive in the country. It’s a track that will have you foot-stomping and hand-clapping the moment the beat kicks in and maybe even air guitaring too – something you’d never expect to be doing on a Merrym’n song.
Bringing the album to a close is ‘2021’, a track that is guaranteed to pull on the heartstrings of anyone who listens to it. Moston questions the future of towns and cities such as Stoke-on-Trent, as he notes the closing of shops, demolishing of towns and the sad end of British pubs. He makes a bold statement as he paints a very grey image of what’s to come, adding to the running album theme of nostalgia coupled with a slither of sadness in the things we no longer have. Ending his album in this way could be seen as bleak, but it’s a wake up call and it ensures that you go away thinking long and hard about your life.
‘Life, on VHS’ is, as every Merrym’n record always has been, a trip down memory lane. It’ll have you laughing and crying in equal amounts, tapping your foot, nodding your head and bringing out the photo albums of times gone by. Merrym’n is to the local music scene, what oatcakes are to Stoke – traditional, iconic and treasured by the local folk.