The hardest working man in indie lo-fi pop (Darren Hayman, obviously) is shuffling around on the low, black stage of the Cluny 2 (the Cluny’s better, badder, sister venue) in Ouseburn, Newcastle, just prior to playing. The lights are dim, the lights are red. The walls are matt-black. The bar is plyboard. He rubs his chin, he ruffles his hair. He cups his hips. He looks around himself, he wonders, what the heck & how the hell. A red telecaster is tethered to a leash, to a pedal, to a vintage VOX amp. A crowd waits, patient & polite. Drinks are sipped & chats are chatted. It all looks good, but something is nagging Darren – the perfect bedsit party host – he wants it to be right, for him, for his guests. Something is nagging…
Darren Hayman, songwriter & leader of Hefner (but, also popping up over the years as The French, The The Long Parliament, The Short Parliament, The Secondary Modern, The Hayman-Kupa Band, Hayman-Watkins-Trout & Lee, Brute Love, Papernut Cambridge & other bits & bobs; side projects, artwork & whatnot: jeepers, he must live 8 days a week!), is touring the 20th anniversary of Breaking God’s Heart. It’s a birthday party, I suppose… with footnotes.
Footnotes?! He’s still a funny fucker; humorous, I mean (how a proper popstar should be); he ain’t lost it; chameleon, comedian, Corinthian, caricature. ‘Footnotes’, it soon transpires, ain’t a support band. They are just what they claim to be – margin work; asides, ancillaries & additionals. Darren’s revisiting this old work & having a chat about songwriting, too (he loves a project!). He picks up the red guitar, says hello, cracks a joke about ‘checking his Facebook’ (ie, tweaks the foot pedal or something) & begins with a funny monologue worthy of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads…
“So, what, he was just playing his songs? On his own? No band or nothin’? Aha. Oh. So, what was that like? Any good? – Yeah, it was alright. He’s put some weight on though! Oh, has he?” As I say, funny, like.
Side one, track one – Something Lies Within. As the song ends he realises what one of those nagging thoughts is. It’s that vintage VOX. It’s humming. “Is that OK?” he asks us. “It’s a bit annoying, innit?” It’s true, now he mentions it. There is a hum, an electric crackle. No one seems too bothered though. I quite like it, actually. It sounds like surface noise on vinyl. But Darren, hostess with the mostest, is bothered. He isn’t having it. “Nick,” he says to a soundman somewhere in the darkness. “I’m going to go through the D.I. box instead. So, you know, just make me sound good, or something, please.” And, bless Nick (& Darren), the sound is better.
The album unfolds (with footnotes). The gig is part anecdotal – songwriting memories & whatnot- he couches it in a ‘writerly’ way – he says good things; serious & fun things about “writing fiction” & “character” – and, of course, the songs, still wonderful, speak for themselves, but the devil, for me, is in the detail. It is a treat.
As he finishes Hymn For The Postal Service, Darren realises what it is that has been nagging him. “Oh, yeah,” he says. “That’s it! I’ve forgotten my setlist!” He turns to someone near him in the dark. “You couldn’t pass me one of my albums from the merch stall, could ya?!” Of course they could! An album is duly handed over. He studies it. “What a funny font,” he says. “Very difficult to read!” And on we go. What a lovely party! What a perfect host! He’s always a delight.
“Oh. So, what was that like? Any good?”
Very good actually!
He ain’t lost it. Funny fucker!
photo/words ©nickreeves 2018