Darren Hayman: The Trial Separation

What do you expect when you go to see your favourite band play? Their biggest hits, replayed perfectly? Those nuggets from the back catalogue that no-one else remembers but you? Or a set of entirely new songs from an as-yet unreleased album? The latter is what greeted the audience at Darren Hayman’s latest Occupation show.

Now in its fourth month, Occupation is a year-long residency at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, east London. It’s been a retrospective affair up until now, with shows focusing on Hayman’s last four or so albums.

So, we’ve had an evening of songs from or set in the 17th century (‘Witches and Bugbears’), British holidays and open-air swimming pools (‘Sun, Sea and Lidos’), and ruminative ballads (‘Piano Ballads, with trumpets and trombones’).

There has been the odd new song or two, but this is the first time the set list is wholly new.  On stage, Hayman seems, if not nervous, slightly wary of what he’s doing. Earlier in the day he’d shared the set list on Twitter, as if sweetening the pill of too many unheard tunes.  During the course of the gig he thanks the audience for indulging him.

It helps that the new songs are terrific; witty, acerbic, poignant and tender. The live versions flesh out with Hayman’s trademark spiny guitar lines with violin, piano and rhythm section, courtesy of his regular bunch of collaborators.  Dan Mayfield’s violin is particularly effective, marking out elegant, folky melodic lines.

“Corn Dolly” and “Kissing Soft as well as Hard” are  twin delights, the band in full swing. “I called her pet names, like crooked tooth, Batgirl and Kangaroo” Hayman sings on the latter tune, managing to bring tenderness as well as perviness to the tale of swinging and sexual experimentation.

An indulgence, maybe – but with songs as good as these, it’s our treat, not his.

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