Intimate, poetical hinterland folk.
Gare du Nord Records seem to be developing a niche for albums that speak quietly and intimately about real places, people and history. And about change. The label released the debut LP by The Cold Spells earlier this year, (a fabulous record by my reckoning), and are set to release another top-notch album of South East English folk, this time by Jack Hayter (Ex-Hefner, Dollboy).
Half sung, half spoken and backed by small acoustic ensembles, it's his first solo album in 15 years so perhaps no surprise I'd not stumbled across his music before. That said he's been active musically as a member of Papernut Cambridge, as well as performing and recording with former Hefner frontman Darren Hayman. Like flowers blossoming in a forgotten railway siding this twelve song collection highlights the hinterlands and examines small moments and marginalised lives (both geographically and socially). Yet all the time bursts with heartening empathy.
Abbey Wood is an area of South East London currently experiencing the mixed blessing of improved transport links and ensuing gentrification. A Crossrail link will will soon mean it's only 11 minutes away from Canary Wharf. But it's not this shiny, steel and glass version which Hayter eulogises. His poetical songs speak of an older, semi-forgotten Abbey Wood. Having spent time living in an abandoned children's home in the area he's witnessed changes that sweep aside history and its impeding emotional associations. Hayter's eye for detail and sharp turn of phrase helps make the album a lyrically rich portrait of a specific place, sepia tinted yet poetically alive. Take 'Fanny On The Hill' for example, an ode to selling knock-off meat in a now-closed Bexley pub. With each listen a different sentence catches the ear. Like the best literature, it's a slow reveal but worth the investment.
Aside from the songs centred on Abbey Wood there are wider historical and war-torn stories illuminated from personal perspectives, such as 'Bendigo' and 'Arandora Star' where the stories of both Australian WWI conscripts and the sunk British warship are rescued from cold factual history and retold with a more human and ultimately more resonant perspective. The album closes with a second version of 'Arandora Star' read in Italian by Hayter's friend Sylvia De.
Rooted as most of the songs and stories are in one postcode, there's a wider emotional resonance at play here. With our cities changing at a seemingly ever faster and sometimes alarming pace, simple remembrance is more precious and important than ever before. We should be thankful that an artist as skillful as Jack Hayter can help us in this much needed act.
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