January is a drag. It’s a post-hangover half-light world of debt and drudgery in which very little happens or is achieved. Unless you’re Darren Hayman that is. Whilst most of us were clock-watching, awaiting the arrival of Spring, Hayman set out to write and record 31 songs one for each day of the month. And a video to accompany each song plus a daily video diary too, publishing all this to Tumblr and posting songs to Soundcloud.
However neither the time of the year nor the logistics and daily workload is what is impressive about this project. It’s the consistent quality of the songs – no knocked off bedroom demos by one man and an acoustic guitar here. Hayman marshalled an impressive supporting cast to help out on individual songs including Gordon McIntyre from Ballboy, Allo Darlin’, The Wave Pictures, Pete Astor, Terry Edwards, the Spanish band Litoral and old Hefner band-mates Antony Harding and Jack Hayter. Different vocalists and some slight stylistic deviations along the route add to the variety of the music but all are recognisably Hayman songs. “January Songs” is a kaleidoscopic sequence of human frailties, foibles and yearnings, all delivered with tender sympathy, that sits beautifully alongside his recent records.
It was fascinating to follow the project in all its online guises – hearing who would be guesting that day, tracking the logistical hiccups and technological failings to be overcome against the clock and watching as the beats per minute settings for ‘Bad Technology’ or character name for ‘My Bedroom’ was suggested by those following on Twitter.
The video diaries and documentary sketches are still on Tumblr but the final output of the project that will really stand the test of time is the songs. All 31 are now available via Bandcamp as a digital bundle (plus 17 hidden extra tracks of demos and voice notes) for the bargain price of £15. Most musicians attempting to write and record 31 songs could be expected to fill a whole year – rather than starting with a blank canvas on day one and ending the month with a fully-furnished gallery. And most musical projects of this volume could be a chore for the listener to plough through – “January Songs” on the other hand is a delight. And it also turned the worst month of the year into a daily adventure. Same time next January please Darren?