The last two entries under the title The Genius of... have highlighted a particular song, however for this one, two songs sprang to mind.
Many many years a go a friend of mine introduced me to a London based band called Hefner. I was aware of a song on a compilation of theirs and I had seen them supporting Billy Bragg at Wolverhampton Civic, all of which I thought was OK, but that was it. Then the friend put a CD behind the counter for me at the Virgin Megastore where we worked and that was the start of a love affair that lasted quite some time with a bands music.
Flash forward some 10 years or more, I still listen occasionally to their music, but tend to keep a keen eye on the output of the former members of that band.
Hefner, were a London based band that released a number of albums on Too Pure. Albums that contained songs that build and grow and swoop in all the right places. Darren Hayman almost exclusively put images and stories into people heads, some were based on real people, some not so. Ably assisted by John Morrison, Antony Harding and Jack Hayter. Over the space of four studio albums they built up a name for themselves not just with listeners to John Peels radio show but in the live venues of Britain.
Releasing two straight forward, but altogether different, albums, that are regarded as modern classics even now in Breaking Gods Heart and The Fidelity Wars, they followed this up with the driving, brass soaked, We Love The City. They always were a London band, but with this, affirmed their love for it.
Their final album, Dead Media was an electronic album that although it was NOT what people were expecting, Hefner never really did what they expected. It still contained the song writing that separated them from their contemporaries and the not so contemporary. That’s what they did and they did it well.
Since then the former members went their own separate way, some into London never to be heard of again, some into Fatherhood, pausing irregularly to release the occasional single out of far flung European indie labels. Some dipped their toe in to folk and poetry and some carried on doing what they always did, crafting and releasing songs on their own terms.
Darren Hayman, through his solo efforts and with Hefner is responsible for two of the greatest songs ever written. I suspect Hayman to say, “Only two?” Two songs of beauty that have the power to upset in their own way, certainly the power to disturb the surface. From two very different periods, the first song appeared as a B-side during Hefner’s Dexy’s inspired period, and the second appeared as a track on an EP during the initial phases of Hayman’s solo career.
Everything’s Falling Apart, appeared as a B-side to The Greedy Ugly People. Potentially Hefner’s best selling single and certainly one of their most well known, it was multi formatted to within an inch of its life and on one of those formats, nestling next to a cover of David Soul’s Don’t Give Up On Us Baby was the melancholic, Everything’s Falling Apart.
A piano driven track that takes you somewhere towards the back end of a relationship, that views its partner through withering glances in a rear view mirror. Will she remember this in the morning? I sure as hell will! But maybe not that forceful, maybe with out that anger. Maybe this is a song of disappointment at the failure of a relationship.
The second track is Little Democracies, a song that appeared initially on Cortinaland, and is a song that chronicles the increasing disillusionment of a Labour government, the promise, the joy, the happiness that a time under the Tories was over. Don’t worry, this isn’t Billy Bragg, this is Darren Hayman doing it in the way that he knows, be it a reference to THAT D-Ream song or be it putting a rather sad tribute to adult star Crissy Moran on the same EP. Nothing is ever straight forward and none less straightforward than Darren Hayman. Another song that perhaps tells of a disappointment at the failure of a relationship.
Two songs that capture his very best, Two songs that are easy to over look. Two songs that aren’t the easiest to find, but do reward the finder.
Darren kindly agreed to answer a few questions that I had about the songs, and also provided us with exclusive downloads of Demos of the two tracks below.
PD:I think no two songs from your catalogue demonstrate better your ability to craft interesting, lyrically imaginative tales, than that of Everything’s Falling Apart and Little Democracies. Two songs that aren’t particularly joyous, that aren’t life affirming, but once they do permeate your mind, don’t really leave.
PD: Can I speak initially about Everything’s Falling Apart.
A bleak song, a very bleak song. but a beautifully bleak song. You conjure up this image of silent car rides home, incidents swept under the carpet and a relationship on its final legs. This is all backed with a beautiful melody, some distance from what you were putting out as A-sides during that period. What came first the tune, the lyrics or the premise?
DH: Firstly it has to be said that prior to this interview I had to find this song and play it to myself to remind myself of the words and the tune. If you had a held a gun to my head I wouldn't have been able to recite it previously.
The title came first. I distinctly remember writing a song called 'Everything's Falling Apart' between Breaking God's Heart and Fidelity Wars. I also remember, (though haven't thought of this in years), that 'Everything's Falling Apart' was a prospective title for 'Fidelity Wars'. This song however is very different to the song you speak of. I did demo it on my own and I have found it! And you can put it on your blog. I should state clearly though that this song was never deemed worthy of a b-side or an out take on 'Catfight'.
PD: Is the released version as you first heard it, or did it evolve, over time.
DH: To my ears the title is the only thing I took forward to the subsequent version was the title, which stuck with me and is also echoed in another song later on, 'Everything is Wrong All the Time'. It's a funny title but is also a truism that we all feel but don't often hear stated that bluntly. I would have been aware of the Dylan song 'Everything is Broken' as well.
Knowing me the song probably went through several re-writes between 'Fidelity Wars' and 'We Love the City'. It has the car theme in it which also crops up in 'Greater London Radio' and 'Jubilee' so I would say it was definitely intended for the 'We Love the City' pile at one point.
PD: You dealt with relationships quite well in the earlier part of your career, be it lust, sex or the throes of romance, so this was a bit of a departure, documenting an end, as opposed to the happier times. John Peel said it was always about sex with Hefner, was it a subconscious, or indeed conscious thought to try a little tenderness?
DH: Crikey. Well every creative decision I make is both subconscious and conscious. Themes tend to reveal themselves through an automatic style of writing and those themes are revised through re-writes and then start to be themes that an album can be based around. These days I guess I more consciously choose directions and album themes but then it would have been more about what spilled out.
Although I disagree that this song displays a new degree of tenderness. There's 'Fat Kelly's Teeth', 'Grandmother Dies' and 'Tactile' that are earlier and similar. This would be a song that documents the end of the relationship that fractures in 'Fidelity Wars'. Despite being re-written for 'We Love the City' it's sentiment belongs with the earlier album which is why it was probably placed on a b-side.
PD: You recently re-released the expanded version of the album, We Love The City, Everything’s Falling Apart was the B-side to The Greedy Ugly People from that album but doesn’t appear on the expanded version. Why was this?
DH: The recording was made at the BBC for the Peel show. Too expensive to license for the re-issues though I do intend to do a BBC or Peel sessions album to tidy all of this up at some point.
PD: I always felt that the song was always out of place with the rest of the music released during the We Love The City period, a period that was resolutely up beat, but also a period that celebrated London and the city. Not in a Blur way but in a way that said “London?? Nah its not that bad” Everything’s Falling Apart didn’t fit in with that, it wasn’t about the city, not that I could tell and it certainly wasn’t upbeat. Was it a case of you just needing to get the song heard?
DH: Well yes, I guess. It sounds to me like we got it right, not to take anything away from what you think of the song. It sounds like it wouldn't fit on the album and perhaps not quite good enough for Fidelity Wars.
I do understand it has a certain uniqueness to it that might make it a favourite for some. The language is very simple and direct and I like that.
PD: You play live quite regularly, and I know you fill your live set with a broad cross section of new material, older solo material and Hefner material. To my knowledge, Everything’s Falling Apart is not a song that you play live, and it wasn’t a song that you played live during the period it was released. Why is that? Do you think it doesn’t have broad appeal?
DH: Once again, I wouldn't want this interview to detract from what you think of the song and you are of course entitled to think it's the best thing I've done, but I guess I don't. All the parts just don't seem to quite fit together (which is apt) to me it doesn't flow as a song. I wouldn't rule it out though. I feel I have the rest of my life to play all of my catalogue and I'm also aware that I will probably always have to play Hefner songs, so I rotate them regularly.
We might have played this live once or twice. We often did with songs before taking them into a Peel session.
PD: Little Democracies, a track that appeared on your second solo EP, tucked away on Cortinaland, not the most easy of songs, certainly one of the most sparse of your career, but one that I know fans love. Did it surprise you the response to something like this, something that isn’t as in your face as something like Bad Policewoman?
DH: I have got it wrong a few times with putting better songs on b-sides then were found on albums, but I like this when I find it with other artists, it doesn't pain me. Bad Policewoman is perhaps one of the few instances when I've tried to write something that people would like, trying to write something 'Hello Kitten' - ish. 'Trouble Kid' would be another occasion of this. It's disgraceful behaviour and I'm proud that the punters don't fall for it.
I must say having just listened to this song again for the first time in a few years that it is extra-ordinary, I like it very much. I screwed up, this should have been on Table for One.
PD: The song chronicles a disillusionment with the labour party whilst holding onto socialism, seeing initial joy turn into a realisation that we have been sold down the river. Was there a catalyst for this song?
DH: Yes, have I told this story before? It's long, sit back.
The 1st of May 1997 is one of those rare days where I can remember almost everything that happened hour for hour. I got up, voted in the general election. I went for my first meeting with Too Pure where they said they wanted me to sign with them. I went to see Vertigo at the cinema and then went to a private view with my friend Brian. I then went to Helen's house (now my wife, not then my girlfriend) where a group of us watched the election through the night. As dawn broke there was a feeling of euphoria and elation and everyone decided to go down to the South Bank centre where the Labour Party was celebrating. A feeling of let's be part of history or something.
I wasn't having it. I was glad to see the end of the Tories but I couldn't see this as a Nelson Mandela moment or what ever. I was cautious about New Labour and said I didn't want to go down with them. People were saying 'You're missing out.' but I feel quite vindicated by what happened after and I enjoyed the 'told you so' element that I can say to my, now, wife.
Me and Helen ended up voting differently in subsequent elections but we always held the same belief in socialism. I just extended the motif in the song. A relationship being torn apart in tandem with old school labour.
To finish the story of the day I then, on the morning of the 3rd, had to pick my parents up and drive them to Heathrow. On my return I feel asleep at the wheel on the motorway, and only just regained control of the car.
PD: It’s a rather sad song, and at odds with your another of your out and out political songs, The Day That Thatcher Dies, for Blair and New Labour, they don’t get venom and bile, more really a case of “I’m not
angry, I am just disappointed”. Was it a case of “we trusted you” that made this song get written?
DH: Yep, hard to add to the answer that lies in your question. With Blair and New Labour it was always despondency not anger, although the Iraq war eventually galvanized me into action. I felt betrayed but do feel I was suspicious of Blair earlier than some.
Helen says my politics are too pure and I expect too much from people. I think she's right. I'm not very good at discussing a working, practical politics.
The funny thing is I can no longer remember the exact policy decision that made me stop voting Labour. It's so overshadowed by what happened subsequently.
PD: Talking of the instrumentation now, I know that as soon as you put you in a compartment, you do something utterly different and unexpected, be it analogue synths, a blue grass album, or away from music, your blog. How did you come up with the instrumentation for Little Democracies? Do you regret that sound now as I suspect it would be a bugger to play live? My personal take is that any other way of doing it, well it would sound wrong.
DH: The Secondary Modern did have a very brief look at it earlier this year. Sometimes songs are attached to their sonic properties but I don't write too many of these. Most of my songs, especially the French ones, stand up to re-interpretation. I don't know about this one though. It is very wrapped up in it's sound.
There's something very loose about the time signature. I think what might be happening here is that I'm making an electronic track with no drum tracking or midi clock template. Most of my songs, including the backing have a definite rhythmic scaffold so I believe that's what makes this unusual and hard to reproduce.
A lot of the sounds are produced by a modular synthesizer (including what, to my ears sounds like a convincing saxophone) made by Analogue Systems and also a Casio SK-1 a bizarre sampling toy keyboard that appears a lot through the Table for One songs.
PD: You put Cowgirl as a separate download from Hefnet.com as you said it didn’t fit in with the sound of the rest of Cortinaland, I personally think that Cortinaland is by far your most diverse piece of work, nothing sounds like the song that comes before it. It doesn’t appear to have a theme, if anything Little Democracies is the tracks that didn’t fit in with the rest of the EP. Do you labour over what goes in, and what doesn’t go in to a release?
DH: No not really, which is why I sometimes get it wrong. Recently with 'Pram Town' and 'Essex Arms', the albums have been written as albums so I always knew what was going on. Before I'd pick the best of say 25 songs, and sometimes make mistakes.
However in music, getting it wrong is sometimes getting it right. If Cortinaland is odd and doesn't quite fit together then it draws in people like yourself, er, no offence intended.
I was shocked recently to discover how painstakingly long the Wave Pictures took over song selection and order. I just haven't got it in me.
PD: You have always been adept at writing stories, and tales and making them real. Its something that has been put to you since your earliest interviews. Do you think its only a matter of time before you put out a novel?
DH: I had an idea, for a story this year, I told a couple of people. It's surprisingly plotty. I can't imagine writing it though.
I get very confused, I'm incredibly forgetful, I lose songs and ideas all the time. It takes a lot for me to focus on finishing a song sometimes and organizing an album is also difficult. I'm just not sure I have the mental discipline to bring a novel together.
PD: Moving away from Everything’s Falling Apart and Little Democracies, you are prolific, to say the least, currently you have out your latest album and the most critically acclaimed of your solo career, Pram Town. Also your efforts to reissue expanded versions of Hefner albums continues apace with We Love The City now available. All of this plus recording with Antony Harding and contributing to a Bruce Springsteen tribute album. I suspect this isn’t all that you are up to at the moment. What release plans do you have in 2010?
DH: It gets me down to be honest. I've been reading the recent Paddy Macaloon interviews and recognizing something. I have piles of songs here, absolutely piles. I'm not being boastful, it gets increasingly hard to organize and know what's what. However, we seem to be settling on a song order and selection for Essex Arms and we have a label for it, so maybe June or something? Dead Media I guess. Next thing is another one off single. I also have a piano led album called 'The Ship's Piano' half completed and an album about the English Civil War and the Essex Witch Trials.
Thank you Darren
A radically different version of Everything’s Falling Apart is available below along with the final version that was released. Lyrically it is only the tone that matches, I reccommend listening to the released version as well.
Everything's Falling Apart Released Version
Everything's Falling Apart Demo
Here is the released version of Little Democracies but also a song called Little Democracies that Darren recorded as The French, the band that Darren formed with former Hefner bassist John Morrison. Like Everything's Falling Apart this is a radically different version, both are more the genesis of what they became. Enough to say along with the released versions they do make for great listening.
Little Democracies The French Version
Little Democracies Released Version
Darren Hayman has a website over at Hefnet.com, its extremely informative and an excellent read. You can also find links there to his entire online life, particularly his blog, keeping with the civil war theme, The Grand Remonstrance, as well as be able to buy his music. He is about to embark on a short tour with his band, The Secondary Modern, dates online at Hefnet.com.