Monday, December 03, 2012


If it hadn’t been for the labyrinthine Wakefield one-way system I probably would have made the whole of the opening set from Jamie Lockhart of Mi Mye. As it was, for this my first visit to The Hop, I had to settle for just the second half of the set: alt-folk tunes played first on plucked fiddle then acoustic guitar, which were as quirkily appealing as his between song banter was winningly witty. Such convivial patter would become one of the hallmarks of this excellent evening.

Last time I caught Dan Willson aka Withered Hand (“[the name] it just is... you don’t think about these things at the time”) he was fighting off a bad cold which would eventually become a chest infection which would lead to the postponement of the remainder of the tour. Tonight he was hale and hearty, and after his recent visit to Finland, expounding the virtues of saunas “but you have them here right?” he asked hopefully staring through the stage lights to the packed crowd. As well as in fine health, he was also in good spirits: adding in anecdotes from his travels (USA and Australia as well as Finland) that included teenage ministry, ACDC and travel pussy (don’t ask apparently). But the songs, oh the songs. The quietly attentive audience, the intimate pub venue, and the aforementioned good health/spirits, allowed you to get caught up in mini bio-pic dramas of grey hair, study trips and second-hand suits. ‘Religious Songs’ and a re-started ‘New Dawn’ were particularly strong tonight in a 12 song set but stand-outs for me were new song ‘Long Over Desire’ and the final, impassioned ‘A Wonderful Life’ which added some raw, extra anguish to finish with.

Withered Hand Set List

Cornflake / Life Of Doubt / New Dawn / I Am Nothing / Providence / Love In The Time Of Ecstasy / Love And Desire / Religious Songs / No Cigarettes / Takeaway Food / Inbetweens / (It's A) Wonderful Lie

Darren Hayman has borrowed Jamie Lockhart’s guitar for his joint headlining solo set: “I’m telling you that not as an excuse... I think it’s good to try unfamiliar instruments. And you’ll probably get a better show for it”. After “song for any occasion” ‘I Taught You To Dance’ and ‘I Know I Fucked Up’ from “January Songs”, he then concentrated on a ‘condensed’ set of songs from his latest release "The Violence", a double album about the English Civil War-era Essex witch trials. If it sounds obtuse or heavy-going (“the last thing I want to do is lecture you”), nothing could be further from the truth. These songs were immediate, accessible and often deeply moving in their precise unpicking of the feelings of those caught up in the fear and violence of the times. Each song was delicately played out on that borrowed guitar with Hayman rocking from foot to foot often peering over his glasses to focus on the microphone given the intense brightness of the stage lights. And ‘Vinegar Tom’ is the most spell-binding love song to her dog from a one-legged, eighty year woman on the gallows you will ever hear. And I don’t mean that facetiously – it was truly spell-binding. There were only six out of twenty songs from ‘The Violence’ but as Hayman later said: keep them wanting more. Saying this would be a final song, he was offered time to do three, and as a compromise we got two: ‘Big Fish’ from “Pram Town” and the Hefner classic ‘The Sad Witch’.

I later overheard a debate in the Gents toilets as to whether he should have played the latter, suggesting it overshadowed or undercut his new material. I think I know what this person was getting at. But to me it was only one song. And the material from his solo career is strong enough to withstand any backward glances. It seems putting a concept to this album, the final of his Essex trilogy, has given the songwriter a set of rules, a restrictive framework, much like the discipline of “January Songs” in 2011 (write and record a song a day for every day of the first month of the year). And rising to such challenges, Darren Hayman is writing some of the best material of his substantial career, here beautifully delivered. I think he was right about that guitar.

Darren Hayman Set List

I Taught You How To Dance / I Know I Fucked Up / Impossible Times / Vinegar Tom / Henrietta Maria / I Will Hide Away / Rebecca West / Desire Lines / Out Of My League / Big Fish / The Sad Witch

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