Darren Hayman has always trod an unpredictable path, continually finding links from one unique project to the next. A trilogy of Essex themed albums took him from new town Harlow to the witch trials of the 17th century vividly chronicled in last year’s The Violence. This logically enough leads to Bugbears, an album of 17th century songs he researched whilst making that album. His interpretations balance a respect for the original music with an understanding of what makes a great pop song in the 21st century.
The modern and traditional blend seamlessly in Hayman’s versions. “Old England Grown New” sounds like Hefner as a band of minstrels and the addition of synths to the folky “Impossibilities” comes off surprisingly well. “The Contented”, a tirade against would-be rulers, is given a contemporary accompaniment of tender electric guitar and piano.
Our preoccupations have changed little over the centuries. There are songs about drinking, love, politics and the state of modern society. Hayman uses these perennial themes to hook in the modern listener, re-crafting lengthy ballads with simple tunes into concise, melodic pop songs.
No criticism is necessary for such sweeping changes. There is a long tradition of songs shifting and evolving as they’re handed down from generation to generation and the original versions are lost in the mists of time.
Hayman’s unique take on these ancient songs gives them a new lease of life. Opener “Martin Said” is often performed as a raucous drinking song. Hayman gives a melancholy rendition voicing a protagonist so drunk he can no longer keep a grip on the world. The title track is performed in Hayman’s typical whimsical style. The lyrics are lifted from a poem with an unusually humanistic outlook for the time and the opening lines, “Who would believe what strange bugbears mankind creates itself or fears?” ring true today. It’s hard to imagine “I Live Not Where I Love” has ever sounded more beautiful than in this heart-melting rendition with stirring vocal and instrumental accompaniment from The Short Parliament - his band for this project.
Bugbears is distinctive album and an intriguing companion to The Violence. Hayman has reached back into the past and picked up a handful of gems.
Release: 15th July 2013, Fika Recordings