A concept album about the 17th century witch trials of Essex? Yes please.
Ben Myers 2012
In these bleak economic times the concept of eccentricity seems just about the UK’s remaining viable export. But even in its natural habitat of the music world, the eccentric’s stocks are running low.
Today, the hungry public have to subsist on the stand-alone work of previous generational underdog heroes such as Mr Childish, Mr Cope and Mr Cocker, topped up by the occasional outlandish declaration from Mr Lydon or the Manc curmudgeon they call Mr Smith. Where are the future national treasures to inspire our children?
In an era when facial hair and tweed can pass for eccentric, Darren Hayman has been ploughing his own artistic furrow for over 15 years, first with Hefner and then with increasingly more conceptual solo projects. The Violence is the closing chapter of a triptych of works in which Essex is Hayman’s muse.
Tackling new towns and the rural wilds on Pram Town and Essex Arms respectively, Hayman now completes this impressive work by chronicling the violent persecution of women instigated by notorious Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins during the civil war of the 17th century.
Impossible Times suggests a breezy folk album is to unfold; yet as The Violence progresses Hayman successfully creates a sense of tension and fear that sets him worlds apart from the gap-year faux-skiffle soundtracking TV adverts.
For Hayman, the landscape is a foreboding place policed by the corrupt and the crackpot. His evocation of it on We Are Not Evil manages to recall Ivor Cutler, the dark pastoral of early 70s ‘wyrd folk’ exponents and British Sea Power, who similarly wander away from pop’s tried and tested B roads and into the dark hills and woodlands.
It in these shadowy corners of England, where secrets remain buried alongside the skeletons of the war’s fallen, that Hayman summons the elegiac sounds of songs such A Coffin for King Charles, a Crown for Cromwell and a Pit for the People and the sparse The She-Cavaliers.
Understated and thoughtful, The Violence is a true folk record that should rightfully see Hayman recognised as the national treasure that he clearly is.