fika - 6 November 2015
Darren Hayman returns with a beautifully delicate and touchingly honest album simply titled Florence after the city in which it was created. This is his very first purely solo album, featuring no other musicians. It was written and recorded between Christmas and New Year at the end of 2014 in the Firenze flat belonging to Elizabeth Morris (Allo Darlin’) and Ola Innset (Making Marks). Continuing his habit of making incisive, observational and beautiful albums, with Florence Hayman has taken a back-to-basics approach, eschewing his recent collaborative, conceptual approaches for a humble and modest solo effort, entirely recorded and performed in the Italian apparetemento of his hosts.
Best known as the singer-songwriter of the phenomenally successful and much-loved Hefner, Darren Hayman is now 15 years, and over 14 albums, into an increasingly idiosyncratic career path, where he has taken a singular and erratic route through England’s tired and heartbroken underbelly. Darren is also writing the best tunes of his career; increasingly complex and mature songs, he is a thoughtful, concise and detailed songwriter.
Hayman’s first two solo albums, Table For One (2006) and The Secondary Modern (2007), charmed the critics – with The Guardian opining that Hayman’s profoundly English songwriting was “the match of Ray Davies”. Mostly joined by his band The Secondary Modern – a loose, urban folk collective, underpinning Hayman’s concrete sorrow with rural violins and tired pianos – he has released a series of albums, largely focused on place. This allowed for the exploration of nuanced subjects in detail, with a trio of albums based in Essex (2009’s Pram Town and 2010’s Essex Arms) and culminating in 2012’s The Violence, a 20-song account of the 17th century Essex witch trials. From this he developed an album of English Civil War folk songs of the time (2013’s Bugbears) and stayed with the historical theme for this year’s Chants For Socialists, which saw him set William Morris’ words to music, creating an album of kindness and hope that brought Hayman’s most critical acclaim yet.
Florence is sparse and poignant. Tinged with melancholy and etched with heartache, revealing the very best of Hayman’s considerable songwriting verve, this collection of songs shows what you can achieve whilst on holiday at a friend’s house, taking refuge in the winter quiet during the festive season.
Chants for Socialists
wiaiwya - 2 February 2015
Darren Hayman is a thoughtful, concise and detailed songwriter. He eschews the big, the bright and the loud for the small, twisted and lost. For 15 years, and over 14 albums, Hayman has taken a singular and erratic route through England’s tired and heartbroken underbelly.
He returns with a powerful new collection of songs based based on William Morris's Chants for Socialists. The album is due for release on wiaiwya on 2 February and was recorded at three of Morris’s homes; The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow (with a choir of left-leaning locals), Kelmscott House in Hammersmith (where they used the Albion press used by Morris to handprint the record sleeves) and Kelmscott Manor in Gloucestershire, (where Hayman played Morris's own piano).
The result is a beautifully crafted album, lovingly produced with a team of enthusiastic helpers who lent their expertise and time, which will be made available to anyone who wants to listen, allowing people to pay what they can afford or what they think it’s worth. Chants for Socialists is an album of 19th century chants made relevant to the 21st century while staying true to many of William Morris’s ideals.
Darren explains the process below:
In 2012, I found a photocopied leaflet in the William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow, called ‘Chants for Socialists’. It struck me as a bold and divisive title. Not one you would be likely to find on a record or CD today.
There are very few of my contemporaries that sing political songs and I understand why. Today’s politics can be very nuanced and personal. The way we discuss today’s problems can be hard to reduce to a song or short poem. Political songs can be gauche and hectoring. I struggle myself, and can only really claim to have written a handful of overtly political songs over a 15-album career.
William Morris wrote these lyrics in the late 19th century; they were to be sung to the popular tunes of the times. In only two cases did he specify a particular melody. I saw these as ‘emergency’ protest songs, something to draw on in times of strife. I think we are in troubled times. I regard these as useful lyrics.
Morris grouped these songs under a banner of socialism and I class myself as a socialist, but these songs, to me, are more about simple kindness and hope. I acknowledge the naivety and rhetoric in these words. They offer few practical solutions for today, but I love their simplicity. They make me feel young again. They remind of the hope I had in the Red Wedge movement, and how politicised I was around the 1984 miner’s strike.
Adapting the lyrics was not easy. In places I have edited hard and tried to contemporise the syntax. Elsewhere, I have been more faithful to Morris’s elliptical and florid prose. Similarly with the music, I have tried to build a bridge between the 19th and 21st centuries. I have dressed the songs with a simple, urban folk sound. Warm, fuzzy guitar distortion sits alongside broken pianos and dented brass.
I offer these songs as political, historical curiosities and as something to comfort aging lefties like myself. They are uplifting, songs to be sung in communities.
A communal approach was taken in the recording of this album. The group vocals were recorded at two of Morris’ss former homes: the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow and Kelmscott House in Hammersmith. Singers were invited indiscriminately from the local area. Morris’s own ‘Kelmscott’ letterpress was used to hand print the limited vinyl edition of the record, and I also travelled to another of Morris’s homes, Kelmscott Manor, to record his piano.
The record is being released in a number of ways. There is a CD version and hand letter-pressed vinyl edition as well as a deluxe version with an extra ‘dub’ version of the album.
Most importantly to us, however, the digital version will be free or ‘pay what you feel’; the idea being that people should only contribute that which is within their means. Hopefully this is a just means of exchange to match my wildly naïve, utopian dreams.
You can track the album’s progress via this blog: http://chantsforsocialists.blogspot.co.uk
Learn more about Darren Hayman here: www.hefnet.com
Praise for Chants for Socialists
"Morris' passionate words, devoid of modern irony and free of the fear of sounding trite, combine with Hayman's subtle but contemporary melodies to deliver songs of coiled, sincere power." Uncut 8/10
"this delightful album ponders the role of protest song in contemporary music." The List 4*s
"Hayman has created a warm and beautiful album of comforting agitation." Morning Star 4/5
Praise for Bugbears
“Pretty, poignant and educational, too.” Uncut
“Fete-rock; the movement starts here.” NME
“Bugbears is a rich and warming curio, and there’s something quietly noble about Hayman dragging the thoughts of these long-dead writers back into the light.” Mojo
“The freeness of the reinterpretations animates the source material all the more effectively.” The Financial Times
Praise for The Violence
"bold and unique record." The Sunday Times
"His is a personal, emotive take and it proves very effective." Uncut 8/10
"Floating like recovered memories through warm, intimate arrangements, Hayman's fragile delivery gives voice to the paranoid and persecuted of the past whilst drawing subtle, eerie parallels with modern times. A major work." Mojo 4*s
"The Violence is ambitious in Hayman's homemade, almost hesitant way, but his vision goes far beyond any other current independent artist and is a true treasure." Q
"The remarkable 20-track record contrasts woozy, folkish pop with dark historical sketches of the accused, and those around them." Stool Pigeon 4*s
Praise for The Ship’s Piano
“uniquely intimate and very satisfying” - BBC
“It's galling that Hayman can churn out such high quality so often” - Q
“Hayman has hit a creative purple patch… a treat”. Mojo
Thankful Villages Volume 1
Darren Hayman will release his enthralling and ambitious new album Thankful Villages via Rivertones on 3 June.
A is a village in Britain where every soldier returned alive from World War I. The writer, journalist and educator Arthur Mee coined the term ‘Thankful Village’ in his series of guidebooks, The King’s England in the 1930s. Darren Hayman visited each of the 54 Thankful Villages and, focussing on village life, made a piece of music and a short film for every one. Some take the form of instrumentals inspired by the location, some are interviews with village residents set to music, others are new songs with lyrics or found local traditional songs.
This is the first (of three) volume of the project and contains the first 18 villages that Darren visited during 2014/15. The pieces do not necessarily refer to the Great War, rather they portray the village and it’s communities at many points in history. In “Stocklinch” Ros tells a story of a painting of the old church changing hands through the village, whilst in “Strethall” Darren sings a story of infidelity from the parish records from 1607 and in “St Michael, South Elmham” Dolly tells the story of her melodeon playing father and his adventures in Salonika.
One of the most catchy songs on the album is the final track, “Bradbourne”. Written at a low point for Darren, the song is nonetheless an uplifting collage of vocal harmonies about how, despite not being religious, the churches in the Thankful Villages acted as a refuge from life’s troubles.
Many pieces are instrumental, with Darren sitting on a blanket in a graveyard, teasing out melodies on old wooden instruments amongst bird song and the soft braying of cattle. Lyrics also appear with Darren writing on old church organs and weaving the local congregations into his songs.
Thankful Villages is a collage of Britain’s hidden places. Rich in history and community, Thankful Villages is a further chapter in Darren’s journey through the country underbelly. Recent records include laments for lost Lidos, re-imagined 19th Century political chants and a tale of terror set in during the English Civil Wars.
Please join Darren for a beautiful walk through Britain’s Thankful Villages.
LP/CD/DL - Rivertones - 3 June
"Aisholt" video premiered via The Quietus