So many thanks to Celtic Connections for giving me another opportunity to see a full Hamell On Trial show. I wont be making that mistake again.
The Happiest Man in the World, a song from that show's successor (currently a work-in-progress) is an early highlight of this set – a conventional gig, in as much as Hamell does conventional. His recipe for happiness is simple: "When you aint got nothing/You aint got nothing they can take away."
With his "potty mouth and anarchistic politics" (his own description), Hamell, pictured, matches his machine-gun guitar technique (on an instrument decades older than himself) with breath-taking vocal velocity, whether speaking or singing. Few of his jokes and stories are repeatable in a family newspaper, but then none of us could match the telling of them anyway. His mock-advertisement for fictitious US fast food chain The Trough could scarcely be more pertinent, and neither, sadly, the first of his "songs about the economy", Jennifer's Stripping Again.
Fiction, though, is not really his trade. Ballads of encounters with the rich and famous or figures from his own youth are followed by the cry of " All true!", as if we ever doubted him. Even the songs from his Runyon-esque Choochtown album of 2000, unearthed in response to requests, have the shine of real-life experience. So too do the tenderer moments when Hamell reveals himself to be the go-to guy for the older person's love lyric.