- Darren Hayman / 20 Years of Breaking God’s Heart (with footnotes).
Live at The Cluny 2, Newcastle.
Just prior to playing, the hardest working man in DIY/indie pop (Darren Hayman, obviously) is shuffling around the low, black stage of the Cluny 2 (the Cluny’s better, badder, sister) in Ouseburn, Newcastle.
The lights are dim & the lights are red. The walls are matt-black paint. The bar is built of plyboard. He rubs his chin & ruffles his hair. He cups his hips. He shuffles some more. I guess he gathers his thoughts as he surveys the things at his feet: His red Tele is tethered to a leash, to a pedal, to a vintage VOX. There is an SM58 waiting on the micstand.
He wonders. He wanders.
We wait, patient & polite, like proper indie kids: drinks are sipped & chats are chatted. It all looks good to me; it feels right. But something’s clearly nagging Darren – the perfect bedsit party host – he wants it to be right, for him, for us.
Something is nagging…
But, what the heck & how the hell! It’s been twenty years of Breaking God’s Heart!
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 the support act. 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’?”
“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 earlier, nagging thoughts was. It’s that vintage VOX! It’s humming!
“Is that OK?” He points at the amplifier. “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. And, actually, I think, I quite like it! It sounds like surface noise on vinyl. It sounds suitably lo-fi. But Darren, hostess with the mostest, is bothered. He isn’t having it.
“Nick,” he says to the soundman, hidden somewhere in the darkness (but gawd knows where, the Cluny 2 is the size of a shoe) “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. The evening is a treat.
As he finishes Hymn For The Postal Service, Darren realises what the other thing is that’s been nagging him.
“Oh, yeah,” he says. “That’s it! I’ve forgotten my setlist!”
He turns to someone stood at the front, 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, as ever, a delight.
“Oh. So, what was that like? Any good?”
“Very good actually,” I’ll say when they ask.
He ain’t lost it. Funny fucker!
photo/words ©nickreeves 2018
Heartbreak Hotel, Paradise Avenue, Quepos, Costa Rica – ‘everybody knows where business gets done!’ – declares the brochure!
He sat, later, in the hotel bar & talked it all through with a new friend & listened to an Englishman picking at a guitar beneath the rain.
I came across the Mark William Gullick album, Paradise Avenue, through a recommendation. I can’t remember who mentioned it &, honestly, that scrap of paper with a web address directing me toward it probably waited in my notebook for some months. But I’m glad to have looked it up. So, thanks to whoever it was that pointed me in his direction!
There is little information here to tell anyone about the identity of Gullick. A pleasing, well composed/unposed black & white photograph shows a moustachioed man sat at a well-stocked bar. He is tuning a guitar with a well-practiced ear leaned toward it (This, though, is only a guess – but the look on his face suggests it is so). There is a woman at his side, just out of sight. She is hidden beyond the frosty glass of a door, but she is given away by a handbag laid out on the jump. One of her legs dangles in the frame. Behind him (he looks, I see now, something like Ian Kilmister. Hmmm?) bottles & glasses. A barmaid, her back to him, busies herself with something. A fan, a bell, a face in a mirror at the back of the bar reveals the photographer.
There is the name.
There is a pop-up of the tracklist. It suggests one dollar for either each track or the album in its entirety.
This is all there is to show and, maybe, it says a lot. Being the only information for the listener to hang on to, it tells, as the album unfolds, a story. It’s a great photo. It’s a great album.
Paradise Avenue is understated & well measured. Ten tracks of literate, lo-fi Samba: a heartbreak, slow dance, storytelling album. It is ‘home’ recorded, and all for the better for it; allowing an uncluttered, worn-in feel – one guitar, some organic percussion (a shaker, finger taps & clicks, some found sound), a single voice (occasionally backing itself). That’s it. The writing is a joy. It would make a cool novel.
Gullick has an easy turn of phrase & some lovely, delicate twists to his lyrics (Never the bride/never the less) without ever coming across as forced or false. The feel, to these ears, is Central American in sound & yet both English/North American in its vocal delivery. At times he comes over all Costello. At others he is Jason Isbell. There is definitely a trans Atlantic cross-over vibe here. Speaking of which – remember that film, Dead Calm (Neill, Kidman, Zane)? It’s a late 80s love story – thriller about a psycho on a luxury yacht. Well, Paradise Avenue is nothing like that – but, there is a scene where Billy Zane’s murderous character tries to woo Kidman with a tape of his own album. He dances barefoot on the deck, in & out of the rigging & round & round the cassette player. “Ah, low production garage music”, he coos. Paradise Avenue has a similar feel.
Paradise Avenue by Mark William Gullick can be found at the above address. Look it up.