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Darren Hayman and the Short Parliament - Bugbears

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 15 / 7 / 2013

Darren Hayman and the Short Parliament - Bugbears
Label: Fika Recordings
Format: CD


Evocative and stunningly presented latest album from Darren Hayman, which updates a collection of seventeenth century folk songs for contemporary times

Having completed his ambitious (and potentially disastrous) project of a concept album about the 17th century witch trials in Essex and East Anglia, and duly enjoyed some of the most glowing praise of his career, Darren Hayman now offers a sister album – 13 folk songs from the period, learned at the English Folk Song and Dance society in order to immerse himself in the period and write his own. The research involved in the witch trials project appears to have lit a spark in Hayman, as he digs even deeper here into seventeenth century England. So we get royalist drinking songs and satirical takes on puritanism, alongside apocalyptic visions and an excerpt from an 11,000 word epic poem. As a songwriter, Hayman has always had an eye for digging below the surface of a story to see what unusual motivations lie beneath – a very natural eye for what makes people tick. Previously, that has led to songs about astronauts and porn stars, Peter Gabriel and the Wu Tang Clan. But, if you really want to understand why the world is as it is, history is the place. Is Hayman, perhaps, regretting not having dipped his toes into the past a little earlier in his career? It is no criticism of the music on 'Bugbears' to say that the sleeve art is one of its main selling point. Fika, a small label that Hayman previously worked with on his 'Christmas In Haworth' EP in 2011, have done the contents justice with thick, grainy paper and authentic typeset. Having been responsible for the artwork on every album and single for more than a decade, Hayman has recently taken to recruiting friends to offer their own take on his music for the sleeves. On ‘Bugbears’, each song is accompanied by an illustration from a different artist – some attempting to recreate the style of the period, others opting for a more modern flavour. Those contributing drawings include Frances Castle (who illustrated Hayman's instrumental album, 'Lido' last year), Jonny Helm (drummer with the Wave Pictures), Ant Harding (Hayman's Hefner bandmate), Robert Rotifer and Pam Berry. Though the CD packaging is more than adequate, you might want to get hold of the vinyl. Alongside the images, Hayman writes short sleeve notes on each song. On some, he has his own interpretation – often finding common themes that resonate into the modern age. On others, he is honest enough to admit that further research showed him his initial reaction to the words had been wrong. Hayman has taken occasional liberties with the words – inserting imagery he is more comfortable with on occasion and deleting purely expositional passages, but that's okay. These songs were sung in the days before society decided that the original version was best – each performer no doubt put their own stamp on the song. It is an album that emphasises continuity as much as change. Though the religious superstition that riddled England at this time has not survived, the sense of humans struggling to cope as political trauma unfolds around them has obvious echoes for today. As he writes, “macabre imagery aside, this song could be sung in any age and talks of how, even though everything changes, actually everything new is old and has been seen before”. The arrangements of the songs reflect that approach, with Hayman's band opting to infuse folk with blues and rock. He is joined by Dan Mayfield, Dave Watkins and David Tattersall – all veterans of Hayman's shortlived bluegrass project – along with Bill Botting and Johny Lamb. A much smaller band than on 'The Violence' – and in contrast to the clipped and careful arrangements on that album, this album feels looser and more instinctive. In fact, this album could be as much a companion to Hayman's ‘Essex Arms’ album – with the protagonists in both seeking to cope in uncomfortable circumstances. There are a couple of real standout moments. 'Bugbears', the title track, pours scorn on the superstition and mania of the time. It could have been interpreted as an aggressive, Richard Dawkins rant. Hayman, however, opts for a resigned and weary reading of the song, which actually captures the sadness at its heart rather well. Delicate guitar playing from (I assume) Tattersall complements the melody perfectly. 'Old England Grown New' looks at the radical change of the times and asks, “Was all that really worth it?” If I knew my folk history better, I'd recognise the tune – but (though Hayman sensibly resist this here) it is the sort of song you imagine a choir of revellers singing along as an encore. It is simple and effective. Ever since his early days with Hefner, Hayman has always described his music as folk – while accepting that almost everyone else thinks of it as indie. This time, however, he has unearthed a fascinating treasure trove of folk songs and turned them in to a lovingly performed, effortlessly enjoyable collection of songs. Surely a BBC Radio 2 folk awards nomination isn't too much to ask for now, is it?

Track Listing:-
1 Martin Said
2 Bugbears
3 Sir Thomas Fairfax March
4 Seven Months Married
5 Hey Then up We Go
6 The Owl
7 The Contented
8 Impossibilities
9 Babylon Has Fallen
10 I Live Not Where I Love
11 Bold Astrologer
12 Old England Grown New
13 When the King Enjoys His Own Again
14 Lamenting Lady's Last Farewell to the World

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