A love letter to an English new town – Darren Hayman’s Pram Town

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I own far too many Darren Hayman albums. Since being smitten by the brilliant Hefner records We Love the City and The Fidelity Wars I have religiously bought anything that the Essex popstrel has had his paw on. I don’t know whether Darren is just prolific for being prolific’s sake (he said in an interview not long ago writing songs was the way he stayed calm) but there are too many songs on the likes of Hefner’s electronic album Dead Media, various Hayman solo projects and his Bluegrass super group that I could do with never hearing again.

Which is why it is such a delight that Hayman’s latest epistle, Pram Town, is such a joy. Perhaps it is because Hayman seems to work well with a project/concept see City and that on Pram Town he appears much more focussed and direct. Sure there are still too many ukuleles for my taste and not enough hard edged guitars – I don’t know if it is just me but I think his rather coarse voice is best suited to electronics twangs rather than acoustic strums – but the quality of the tunes shine through.

This album is classic Hayman – a paen to the town where he grew up – Harlow new town. It is a journey from optimistic shiny newness through to cynicism and bitterness, inevitably framed around a relationship. It is a tale which starts by explaining how he feels comfortable in his Essex surroundings and then finishes with his being fed up of a big fish in a small pond. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town, especially one in striking distance of London, will recognise the sentiments instantly.

It is a fantastic choice of concept too. Who else would write such a joyous song about the M11 (Our Favourite Motorway) or the UK’s first high rise flats (High Rise Towers)? There’s even an amazing modernist church – St Paul’s – on there too if you listen. I am planning a road trip very shortly.

The killer tune is the title song Pram Town an achingly sweet ballad with a wonderful – how could you live anywhere else refrain. No Middle Name is just as good, a straightforward country-ish ballad that is a delight to listen to and Fire Stairs is an uplifting pop song with more than a nod to The Beatles. Pretty much all of Pram Town is great, there’s a quality control that has been lacking on his more recent material. It is a little one-paced but probably all the more listenable for that.

So if you loved Hefner but have given Hayman’s stuff a wide berth recently, this is the album that should get you reacquainted with one of England most under rated songwriters.

btw the vid for Pram Town is composed of mobile phone images – very cool.

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