Gig review: Withered Hand/ballboy/Darren Hayman

Withered Hand/ballboy/Darren Hayman

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, August 4.

Over ten years of living in Edinburgh has convinced me that the place with the best programming (particularly for leftfield music) has got to be The Queen’s Hall. That period has seen me see some great acts here (Tindersticks, King Creosote, Low, Sons & Daughters, Yo La Tengo, The Delgados, Mogwai, Divine Comedy, Echo and the Bunnymen, Daniel Johnston, Idlewild, Broken Records, Elbow…those are just the ones I can think of, off the top of my head), and tonight is no exception.

It’s a triple bill that has pulled together three excellent acts, and is compered by Josie Long, who is hysterically funny and a reminder that whilst the fringe goes on outside, there are plenty of great acts in amongst the dross. First on is Darren Hayman, whose prolific output is all the more impressive given how high in quality it is. He begins at the piano for three songs, including the absolutely beautiful ‘Ship’s Piano.’ There’s no outing for tracks off his forthcoming Lido, but we do get an insight into yet another project he has on the go, all about the Essex Witch Trials. He told me afterwards that it has all been written -so I think we can safely expect to see this in about six months.

The first time I saw ballboy was at this very same venue -supporting The Delgados. That night he blew our minds with a reworking of ‘Born In The USA.’ Tonight, he gives us several new songs ‘Slip Into The Ocean Slip into The Sea’ and ‘The Parade.’ His dry sense of humour makes us laugh when he introduces ‘I Gave Up My Eyes To A Man Who Was Blind’ by telling us that someone once asked him -apparently in all seriousness -if it was a true story. Gordon McIntyre is a lyrical genius, and it’s clear why the late, great John Peel (and many others) have and continue to hold him so high.

Now, Dan Willson AKA Withered Hand started recording after Peel died -but I’d be willing to bet that he would have had as many entries on the hallowed Festive Fifty as the two other guests of the night. Dan arrives on stage solo, and the version of ‘Cornflake’ he gives us is brilliant. He’s joined by a number of guests, the first one of which is Neil Pennycook from Meursault, who joins him for a new song ‘Love Over Desire.’ Malcolm Benzie from eagleowl contributes violin and mandolin to much of the evening’s proceedings, including ‘Gethsemane’ from this year’s Heart Heart EP and another fine new song ‘Jubilee.’

THe first time I saw Dan live was third on the bill at the much smaller Cabaret Voltaire at the end of 2009. He’s come a long way in profile since then, but he still seems genuinely humbled to be headlining the Queen’s Hall. Yet there’s so many people here, so thrilled for him to have got here. He dedicates ‘New Dawn’ to the BBC’s Vic Galloway thanking him for his support (Galloway is one of many from the Scottish music scene in the hall tonight). It’s now been three years since his debut LP Good News, and I’m itching for the follow-up, when he’s ready to give it to us. There’s a new 10″ that he’s been teasing us with on his web page.

THe highlight though is the expanded Withered Hand line-up bolstered by the Second Hand Marching Band for ‘Religious Songs.’ On vinyl, this is a joy -but I hope someone recorded tonight’s version, because with the crowd singing along to every word, the effect is brilliant, and I don’t know whether to cry or scream for joy.

Three very talented songwriters, all who have given us so much already-and who, hopefully, have far more left for us to hear.

Darren Hayman…he’s still working at a fantastic rate!


It seems that – six months at the most- I am frequently writing about yet another new release from Darren Hayman.

I certainly don’t begrudge it -he’s a genius and he’s prolific as anything, with an amazingly high standard of quality control. And some very quirky ideas for projects.

His latest album is entitled Lido (also the debut album by the criminally underrated Clearlake, all those years ago) is all about open air Swimming Pools. Many of these have now closed in the UK, but retain more than a slight air of beauty about them, particularly from people who love the art deco style. Oh, and the album’s completely instrumental.

This is the tracklisting for the album:

1. London Fields
2. Black Rock Baths
3. Brockwell Park
4. Parliament Hill
5. Saltdean
6. The Knap
7. Super Swimming Stadium
8. Brentwood
9. Tinside
11.Kings Meadow
12.The Jubilee Pool
13.Purley Way
14.Tooting Bec

This is ‘Jubilee Pool’

This is the video:

…and there is also another video, this time for ‘Super Swimming Stadium’

Super Swimming Stadium by Darren Hayman from Darren Hayman on Vimeo.

Also, if you are in the London area in September, Darren has an exhibition of all the artwork from the album from 3rd – 16th September at Rough Trade East Record shop. This can be found at: Dray Walk, Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL

The album can be pre-ordered from the bandcamp for the vinyl version.

Finally, this Saturday (August 4) Darren is one of the guests at Withered Hand’s show at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh.

EP review – Darren Hayman


Darren Hayman -‘Christmas In Howarth.’ (Fika)

As I think I have probably commented before, Darren Hayman is a man whose recorded output has been so prolific over the past fifteen years that he makes The Fall seem like The Blue Nile by comparison. Only Will Oldham in his Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy guise seems to be able to match him.

Whereas my main recollection of last winter is my then very pregnant wife and I struggling to get about through a very snowy Scotland, Darren and his loved one took a different approach. Fed up with what sounds like a series of hideous family Christmases with his Mum crying over Monopoloy (this never happens in my home: my wife refuses to play as I am too competitive, apparently), they went off to Howarth in Yorkshire. Where, as Darren writes, Christmas looks like Christmas and four of the six songs on this 10″ EP were recorded.

Opener ‘The Christmas Wars’ is perhaps the finest track on offer here, but once again, there are six excellent new additions to his already impressive body of work, including two instrumentals. Limited to 300 copies, this EP is nevertheless, worth seeking out.


Christmas in Howarth is out now. Act quickly.

You may also find the Advent Calendar with lots of free downloads available here of interest…

…and the comments are now switched on.

The return of Darren Hayman

Darren Hayman, one of the hardest working people in the music business, returns with yet another new album, Essex Arms.

This track is not going to be a single, but it’s got a cool video and it’s called ‘Two Tree Island’, so just…enjoy!

Album Review: Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern


Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern -‘Pram Town.’ (Track and Field)

As I’ve noted before, Darren Hayman is so prolific a songwriter that he makes Mark E. Smith look like the Blue Nile. After a very busy 2008, here comes his long-promised ‘Folk Opera.’ It’s a treat and a half, one of those records that you want to play again and again (I only iPoded my review copy two days ago and according to my iTunes account this is now the fifth time I’ve played it).

Hayman is an Essex man…er, stop stereotyping, and just listen, alright? This is not an album about XR3is or people sneering at them (hello, Morrissey). Rather, it’s a reflection on the post-war new towns, like Pram Town itself, Harlow, from a man, Hayman, who grew up in a nearby town, Brentwood. In his own words, he loves and hates these towns. It deals with two characters who live there.

So is it a concept album? I guess (I just keep thinking of the worst excesses of prog whenever someone uses that phrase, and it’s more than thrity years since punk came to wash it away). Is it a folksy, rootsy album? Again, sort of…not like last year’s bluegrass album, this is a folksy and pastoral album. There’s moments of loveliness that have just a whiff of Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. In terms of its’ reflection on life in England, perhaps it’s reference points might be the Kinks’ Villlage Green Preservation Society, in terms of escape the first three Suede albums, and for on the heart English honesty, The Streets’ Original Pirate Material. Though it sounds like none of those records. Maybe a slight nod to some of the stuff that Richard Thompson and Saint Etienne have produced…damn it, I’m clucthing at straws and similes here.

But it is Hayman firing on all cylinders. Whilst last year’s compilation of his Holiday EPs felt like a compilation of sketches, this is a fully realised beautiful piece of work, and not just the cover which evokes a beauty out of the aesthetic of town planning. This is an album which rates as one of the best I’ve heard this year, and confirms Hayman as a treasure.


Darren Hayman -‘Pram Town

These mp3s are linked to his site. Darren says these are low quality mp3s, but i guess if you like them you’ll go and buy the album, won’t you?

Darren Hayman -‘Losing my glue.’ mp3

Darren Hayman -‘Rachel and Amy.’ mp3

Darren Hayman -‘Big Fish.’ mp3

Darren Hayman’s website/Darren Hayman’s myspace

Album Review: Darren Hayman

Darren Hayman -‘Great British Holiday EPs’ (Belka Records)

There are some people out there who have a funny habit of making you feel like you’re not working hard enough. Darren Hayman is one of those people. So far in 2008, as well as lots of live gigs with many projects (look, check hefnet alright, ‘cos there are only so many hours in the day), he has this year re-issued Hefner’s second album Fidelity Wars, issued the second album as Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern, entitled Pram Town, played bass as part of the east London bluegrass band that is Hayman, Watkins, Trout and Lee and their self-titled debut, and has now released this.

Hell, the man even works on holiday – and that’s what this release is about. Between 2005 and 2007 he released four very limited blnk-or-you’ll-miss’em EPs which detail his British holidays. So this re-issue ties together the 16 songs that were released across the Caravan Songs EP, Songs From the North Devon Coast EP, Eastbourne Lights EP and the Minehead EP, as well as three bonus tracks of holiday related covers, a previously unreleased song, and a bonus DVD.

It is perhaps best to approach this album in four parts, because it is sequenced chronologically in order of release and not as an album. Frustratingly, I find that I like the three covers best (‘Margate’ by Chas and Dave, V.A.C.A.T.I.O.N. by Connie Francis and Lyndsey Buckingham’s ‘Holiday Road.’) and the final EP, Minehead. The EPs are very much vignettes, sketches, call them what you will, but I find them extremely sketchy. Not as much as say, Damon Albarn’s Democrazy, but still rather undeveloped. Of course I wasn’t expecting something with the polish of, say, The Neptunes, but this feels like a sidetrack, rather than a soundtrack.

Don’t get me wrong, in the ten years since I first heard Hefner’s brilliant debut LP Breaking God’s Heart, I’ve rated Darren Hayman as a songwriter and lyricist, and that won’t change; I’ll always want to know what he’s up to. But this album is very much one for the completists.


Darren Hayman -‘Holiday Road.’ mp3

Darren Hayman -‘Victim Song.’ mp3

There is a mini-site devoted to this release over here, which is part of
Hefner and Darren Hayman’s official website. More mp3s and videos over here.

Great British Holiday EPs is rleased by Belka Records via Cargo on August 4.