INTERVIEW: Darren Hayman | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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A thankful village is defined as a village in Britain where every soldier returned alive from World War One. For his latest project, Darren Hayman is going to all 54 of these villages, recording a piece of sound and a short film for each one, telling stories of village life.

“Initially the idea was that all of them would be inspired by the visit, so I’d go to them, and I’d take some small piece of recording equipment, and it would literally be an album of field recordings. I would react immediately to what was there.” He explained.

Recording in situ meant an element of each village was incorporated into the music. “In recording studios, a great deal of effort is made to keep sound out – massive foot-thick doors, no windows, big shields within drums – the idea is to control sound. So it’s liberating to forget about that and think, ‘ok, there’s gonna be some wind on this’. Wind troubled me early on, because it’s quite a nasty sound against a microphone. I experimented with some windshields and then realised that sometimes, to have the absence of wind was a step too far the other way.”

Thanks to background noises like the wind, the birds you hear on Culpho, and the running water of Holywell Lake, the listener feels transported to the locations. “It’s hard also to tell people how to record when they’ve never been recorded before. In some cases I’ve had an eighty year-old person with a mic set up in front of them, and they immediately start using what we used to call our phone voice, and a sort of version of received pronunciation, and then gradually you hear the accent come through. So I started using the iPhone more, and they’ll move their chair, or slam a cup of coffee down, because you can’t say ‘right this is how it works in a recording studio’. There was one where what the person was saying was great, but she had a mouthful of cheese sandwich.”

Darren doesn’t just give us the sonic pictures of each of these places though; a short film accompanies each one, with videos up to the tenth, Stocklinch, available to view online. They all begin with a circling of the destination in red pen, and are often made up of footage and stills of scenery from the village, full of signs of life (and indeed remembrance) like the bench and the gravestones in Puttenham, but without any actual people. The closest he comes to filming people are hands in interviews like in St Michael, South Elmham and Aisholt.

“At first I felt like I needed to prove I was there, but once you get to the second volume, I’m quite happy to not appear in them, and to make them less movie-like, purely from stills. I have started to think about how a village might be represented visually with no film or photos. Could I draw one? Maybe one could be a comic? I’m thinking about having a sequence of drawn images from the village, or something to do with maps.”

I don’t think people’s brains get the complete aural picture right, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the point of field recordings

Melodies like the ones in Culpho are so evocative that occasionally you feel like you can hear things like the sun coming out from behind the clouds and going back again, and the light all around you changing. While other tracks, like the one for Rodney Stoke, feel like they paint the picture of the scene being described in watercolour. Darren says that a lot of the melodies simply came to him as he was there, giving them a sense of spontaneity. “Puttenham is almost the sound of me trying to work out how to work a church organ. I think the difference between recorded sound and recorded light, how we see and hear it, is interesting. The way our ears filter sound, the way that when I’m listening to you I’m filtering out the tumble dryer in the other room, but microphones have a truth about them. Once it’s in music you can’t really hear it anymore, but it’s still odd. I don’t think people’s brains get the complete aural picture right, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the point of field recordings. I think people can stand a lot more lo-fi than they think. People who make records tend to feel people need a perfection they never really asked for. Having said that though, not everything works. In Rodney Stoke, the gas man came in while I was recording and that didn’t sound good.”

Although these ‘pictures’ were mainly quite tranquil, not every story was one of cosy village life. Flixborough, appearing on Volume 2, was the site of a huge industrial accident, said to be the UK’s Chernobyl, where a chemical plant had exploded in 1974. “I was talking to Derek and his son Andrew about this Flixborough disaster. Everyone in the factory died, but no-one in the village died, so he’s talking about the damage, the tiles coming off the roof, the glass everywhere, what the communities had to do, then all of a sudden there’s just this line about ‘Ah you know, you saw limbs in gardens and things like that’. And you suddenly realise their telling of the story has had years and years of being tamed.”

Sometimes though, the tranquillity of the subtler stories is just what’s interesting about village life. “I would like to not interview someone for a reason, to sit down with someone and say ‘I’m doing a project about these villages, what did you do yesterday?’, something that’s really a slice of life, even though one of them is only talking about a painting, and even though some of them are small and inconsequential.”

Darren Hayman’s Thankful Villages Volume 1 album is released on 3rd June. He plays The Mining Institute, Newcastle on Saturday 18th June.

Stocklinch, Somerset – Thankful Villages #10 from Darren Hayman on Vimeo.

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