Darren Hayman, who bears more than a passing resemblance to “McLovin” in Superbad, welcomed the New Year in with an intimate (approximately 70 people, some of whom even pointed out tiny discrepancies in Hayman's anecdotes), stripped-down, free and upsettingly stunted set, in which the singer-songwriter didn’t even perform on stage, but to the side of it.
The endearingly geeky 41-year-old from Brentwood, Essex deals in kinky, droll vignettes about sexual dysfunction and confusion, desperate relationships (“Where were you when the roof tiles let the rain through” on “Old House”) and bittersweet regret. And, after confessing to a “slightly, grumpy confrontational start”, we are treated to his distinctive brand of melancholy and his impressive, twang-loaded vocals, which sound like a blend of Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus.
His affecting warble is a triumph on the likes “The Comedians”, and splendid again on the exquisite break-up song “It Was Over”, with the warped lyric: “She was big around the hips/ Licking pickle from her lips". It's a track from his insanely ambitious project, January Songs, in which Hayman wrote, produced and released a song on every day of January 2011. He has decided to release the songs as an album later this month, each record graced with a different hand-drawn picture from Hayman himself. The musician is nothing if not generous, forever engaging with his small audience, regaling us with tales of 17-century Essex witches and dead dogs before performing “Vinegar Tom”, and wittering on about the emotional fallout of listening to “Red Red Wine” when he was 13: “It was always the sound of someone missing out”.
The former frontman for Hefner, a band championed by John Peel, is in the mould of other erudite, witty British lyricists such as Billy Bragg, Jarvis Cocker, Paul Heaton and Neil Hannon. He’s that good. The highlight here, though, is Elizabeth Morris, from Allo Darlin, performing a low-key rendition of Hayman’s“I Know I Fucked Up”, from his new album; which fades out on “You were the best friend I almost had.” It gets the best response during this rather unusual afternoon performance.
After seven numbers, Hayman admits “That was as much as I selfishly wanted to do.”Thankfully, he does deliver the wonderful "Big Fish" with the angry lyric “Life here got way too brown”, from his finest album, Pram Town, a concept record about Harlow. And that’s it. No time for "Eastbourne Lights" and "The Greedy, Ugly People". But, despite a polite call for more, Hayman stops, entering the crowd to chat to pals. It was free...