Darren Hayman Interview on Bugbears

By Darren Hayman

This interview by the excellent Drunken Werewolf

Religion, relationships, new towns and open-air swimming pools: Darren Hayman has drawn inspiration from them all. His latest album Bugbears is a collection of seventeenth century folk songs. It continues his fascination with the era which began with last year’s album The Violence chronicling the Essex witch trials and was followed by the Four Queens EP earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, he sits down with DrunkenWerewolf’s Patrick Widdess to talk about his musical history project and why he wants to break our hearts.

So Darren, how did your fascination with English history in the 17th century begin?

I’m known for my use of contemporary language: slang, idioms, even brand names. I was doing a series of albums about Essex and I had this idea of doing something historical. I thought if I wrote about a story that happened a few centuries ago it would create hurdles in the songwriting process and make me change my approach to words.

Whilst writing The Violence I thought I should include a few folk songs of the time. I didn’t want to make the album sound 17th century but I thought I might learn something from researching them.

Interpreting and recording these songs became a separate project and album that was recorded at the same time as The Violence.

Where does the album name Bugbears come from?

The album includes a poem which was a rare rational treatise for the time. Everything else was about seeing fear and the devil in places. This poem says it’s all a lot of nonsense and to get a grip. It refers to these fears as bugbears. It seemed to capture what the whole album was about: curses and things going wrong.

You’ve changed the band name from The Long Parliament to The Short Parliament for this album. What’s the difference?

There are a few different members. The band I play with is always a little loose. There are seven or eight musicians I work with at different times. In this case I worked with those that had more of a folk leaning, particularly Dan Mayfield, the violin player. He’s from a Morris dancing family – the real deal. Not like us and Mumford and Sons who put on a folk hat when they fancy it!

It was a way to distinguish the two projects. There’s also the rump parliament which I should find a project for.

Yes, it’s a great name! How did you interpret these old songs for a modern audience?

I wasn’t trying to be slavishly accurate. Accuracy with something from as long ago as the 17th century is pretty much impossible. There’s only so much we can know about how these songs sounded.

I also didn’t want to completely reinvent the songs and say, “right, I’ll do them with a jungle beat and modulating synthesisers.” It was a case of making them sound apt without being ridiculously reverential.

So how did you change them?

First, I took lots and lots of words out. One of the fist

Folk Music and Me

By Darren Hayman


I like folk music, or at least I like my idea of folk music.

Seeing Billy Bragg at around 18 was a formative experience for me. He was someone who had grown up a few towns away from me and sang with my accent. It made it seem like people who made records didn’t live on other planets.

His records had the words ‘file under urban folk’ written on them. It was a grand claim for someone who was clearly a punk artist. To me the word ‘folk’ conjured up something more exciting and wild then punk rock.

I settled on my own flawed definition of what the word ‘folk’ meant and from then on that this was the music I wanted to make. A modern, relevant style of narrative song-writing that could relate both the political and personal. Song composition that gave words and story the same importance as melody and sound.

I wanted to be clear and precise. I think it’s that total commitment to meaning that puts many people off folk music. Folk has no burry edges, it’s presented in sharp focus.

I’m aware of the idea that folk music should represent its time and be the music of the people. Mike Skinner of the Streets is a better folk artist then I’ll ever be.

There is also another folk stereotype, that of the dusty librarian. The folk musician who acts as a custodian of tradition and songs and believe they should never be abridged or altered. This in turn supports the myth that traditional folk is a closed club, only open to those that have memorised the repertoire.

It’s a reputation not without some foundation.

Last year I made a historical album the East Anglian Witch Trials which took place during the English Civil War called The Violence. It’s the first time I’ve attempted any project not set in modern times. I was making folk music for people who had been dead for centuries.

I knew I also had to look at the actual folk music of the time. The 17th Century bought about the birth of the printing press and consequently songs are better notated and preserved from this period.

At first the idea was to pepper the Violence with a few pieces of traditional music to create some historical context for the stories.

However the song research soon got legs of its own and The Violence had a sister project, a collection of 17th Century Folk Songs called Bugbears.

My main problem in making this album was to how to present these songs. I couldn’t perform the songs in a historically accurate way, I don’t have the skill, knowledge or audience for that. Songs had more uses back then, they were news letters, soap, operas, movies and plays. More than anything they were long, really long, with verse after verse of exposition.

Neither did I want to adapt or update the songs and radically re-arrange them for modern ears. It was about finding the emotional centre of the music. Excising words that felt awkward on my lips and finding sentiments that rang true. Several of the more political songs had

An introduction to the blog

By Tom

Bugbears LP vinyl book

This is the official blog for Bugbears, the new album from Darren Hayman & The Short Parliament. Over the next couple of months, Darren and I will be posting here frequently, with all sorts of tasters of the new album. We’ll be featuring some of the thirteen artists that contributed illustrations to the booklet, we’ll be providing some historical context from people that know more about the English Civil Wars and seventeenth century folk than we (or at least, I!) do and we’ll be previewing some of the songs from Bugbears as downloads or videos. There’ll be plenty more too, and we’re always open to contributions from you – if you’re inspired by the project to create something then let us know, or indeed if you’re an ‘expert’ (however you wish to define that) and want to enlighten us all, then we’d be delighted to hear from you.

Get in touch via tom [AT] fikarecordings [DOT] com