It is said that a watched kettle never boils, but we just watched Virginia Kettle and she was smokin’.

Virginia, of course, is a significant member of the renowned folk rock band Merry Hell. As such, she shares the vocals with brother-in-law Andrew, and shares the song-writing with her other brother-in-law, Bob. But during her visit to Ruthin AllStyles this week, the night belonged to Virginia.

The first of her forty-five minute spots saw Virginia alone in the spotlight. Whilst not technically unplugged, she was as good as. One voice, one guitar, both sounding beautiful.

Her opening song “Love is a Game” is a song that features on Merry Hell’s Ghost in Our House album, made all the more special for being stripped back to its acoustic beginnings.  “Not Only Birds Have wings” was followed by the song she wrote for, and became the title track for, the band’s latest album “Bloodlines”.

And so the scene was set for this exquisite first-half performance; a tapestry of new songs intertwined with songs that are so very familiar to Merry Hell fans, but presented in a style that was very much Virginia Kettle, and harking back to her roots as a solo artist.

Amid the interesting banter between songs. we were reminded that her first appearance at Ruthin AllStyles was way back during the club’s early days at The White Horse, and before her time with Merry Hell when, as Virginia Barrett, she opened for none other than Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton of the The Urban Folk Quartet.

We were also treated to one of Virginia’s most recent songs, “Growing, Growing, Gone”, written after her eldest son left home to attend university, and her acoustic solo set ended with a lovely cover of the Waterboys hit “The Whole of the Moon”.

As always on our Guest Nights, Intimate Concerts, Showcase Sessions, call them what you will, the support was in the form of floor spots by our regulars. Tonight we had a fine collection of songs from Glyn, Chris, Tom & Lynda, Joe, Richard, Penni and Pete & Di.

Virginia and The Dreamkeepers

For Virginia’s second spot she was joined by The Dreamkeepers: Husband John on guitar, Neil McCartney on fiddle and Nick Davies on bass.

The fuller sound from the four-piece was conducive to more up-beat songs, grounded by Nick’s steady bass line and with a stomp box much in evidence. Much was made too, of Neil McCartney’s sweet and sympathetic violin accompaniment.

The first four or five songs included “Little Warm” and “Steady as a Rock” and were testament to Virginia’s diverse and varied song-writing skills. The overall sound was more akin to the lively Merry Hell style, especially when they broke into the Dreamkeepers’ version of “Build a Mansion”.

More followed: An old favourite, “Bury Me Naked” saw our own Tom Degney briefly join the line-up with his little red Ukulele; the tale of “The Butcher and the Vegan” and their encore song “One More Day Without You”.

What a lovely evening’s entertainment Mrs and Mrs Kettle put on for us, with the help of messers Davies and McCartney. Especially nice in the way that Virginia played her first set solo and acoustic, which always helps strike an affinity with the singer songwriter and opens ones mind to a songs back story.

It was almost like having two acts for the price of one.

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