My Albums of 2012 – No. 8: Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament ‘The Violence’

darren hayman

Like the historical novel, the concept record is almost always an exercise in either badly researched, badly written rubbish, or clever, but ultimately dry and dull music, lacking in emotional resonance. In the past couple of years, Hilary Mantel has written two “historical novels” of an unparalleled brilliance, they defied that narrow categorisation and showcased Mantel as one of the greatest writers of her generation. She did this, not just with the power of her prose, which is lyrical yet precise, but with her ability to connect 21st century readers with well-known, but ultimately unknowable historical figures. There are no heavy-handed touches or needless showcasing of her historical knowledge. There is no overwrought ye olde dialogue, as all her characters speak with a modern-day turn of phrase. Above all there is a sense of humour and a sense of humanity, for better or worse, that underpins the whole.

The concept behind Darren Hayman’s record was to focus on the Essex Witch trials during the English Civil War. The allegorical implications of the concept were fairly obvious, but what wasn’t obvious was that it was possible to write a record about historical events with such heart. Like Mantel in Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, Hayman is able to connect the listener to his characters.

The opening track lays out in unerringly plain language the brutal violence of the era (“The wood splits and gives you splinters, bark tears the tissue/The bones crack, crumble and fracture over and over again/The veins burst and turn your skin purple, blue and yellow”) but the music has a bucolic feel, which underpins the lugubrious imploring from the narrator in the chorus: “When you’re scared, when you’re bruised, when you’re broken, when you’re used up and spent/Hide from the violence, the knives on the hill/Pretend that you’re dead, lie perfectly still.”

Hayman gets right to the humanity of even the worst situation, where those caught up in the violence and recriminations are no longer bloodthirsty, but merely tired and hungry. Nothing is black and white in Hayman’s world. Hayman gives everyone a voice, from the witches, to the witch-finders and the mob a voice (in the brilliant and chilling ‘We Are Not Evil’). Even King Charles gets a voice, as he narrates ‘Henrietta Maria’, in which he eulogises about her, whilst wondering just how far his love for her has pushed him and his country.

However, it’s not all heartbreak and doom. Hayman finds a hope and a warmth in even the darkest situations, as he sings that “we are alive in impossible times”, with a glorious alacrity. This is a brilliant album, full of melody, wit (at one point he uses the sound of someone hanging from a rope as percussion), imagination and dolorous beauty.

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