Our correspondent had the great pleasure of experiencing Darren Hayman and friends present this project for a Daylight Music session at Islington’s Union Chapel on 10 November 2018.
Twenty- five years ago, the Union Chapel was a virtually abandoned, near-derelict structure that was in imminent danger of demolition. Today – it is now a Grade 1 listed building, a fully –functioning church and an award-winning performing arts venue, hosting a variety of events but especially those of a musical nature. On this basis, the venue is extremely popular and attracts tens of thousands of people each year.
Daylight Music curate events on over thirty Saturdays each year, between midday and 2:00 p.m., and have a “pay-what-you-can” admission policy with a suggestion of £5.
Ben Eshmade of Arctic Circle is the promoter – for further info: www.jointhecircle.net
In 2002, the John Peel favoured indie rock bans Hefner – with whom Darren Hayman was the lead singer and main songwriter – split up. Since then Hayman has released over a dozen albums and appeared and/or produced albums by a number of other artists. In 2011, he released a song every day during January of that year. It is safe to say he has had a prolific solo career.
Fast forward to 2016 and Hayman embarked upon his Thankful Villages project, progressively visiting all of them; conducting interviews with the locals, absorbing the ebb and flow of village life and setting the whole to music, thus capturing and preserving individual pieces inspired by each of the 54 locations.
So – what is a “Thankful Village”?
The term was coined in the 1930s by writer and journalist Arthur Mee to describe a village to where every soldier who served during The Great War returned home alive. At that time, Mee was able to compile a list of 23 Thankful Villages. However, many more have since been uncovered – indeed Hayman believed that he’d visited all of them prior to the completion his trilogy of albums, however, only last week and much to his chagrin, a 55th was discovered.
Hayman does not believe that his project is confined to just war and remembrance, but rather that the “Thankful Villages” are a quirk of fate, a chance event that sent him to random places. “These places had open arms and clear voices – the stories found their way to me, I never really had to search for them. If there is a connection between these places and stories, then maybe it is simply to do with the word ‘thankful’. The songs I have written and the stories contained within them are threaded through with a certain generosity of spirit and gratitude. These aren’t really songs about death, these are songs about life.”
Hayman saunters onto the stage, turning to face what my companion, The Boy (a Daylight Music regular) described as the largest attendance he had witnessed at these events thus far.
“I am described as curating this event”, he says, by way of introduction. “Wow – makes it sound like the Meltdown Festival. So, like with that, in the first third I shall introduce me playing some songs about the villages. Then, after a break for quiche, I shall reintroduce myself playing a bit more, whilst we also hear the villagers themselves talk. Mostly about death. So – quiche, then death. After that, I shall have the pleasure of introducing the band. Accompanying the final act. Me. Again”.
Over the next ninety minutes or so, we were taken on a journey to and through these Thankful Villages; hearing the voices of many of the villagers interviewed by Hayward, their voices and their stories set to music, or via live readings from the Chapel balcony above.
Early on in the show, Hayward introduces us to his friend “Judy” (see photo below). Judy lives close to the Thankful Village of Upper Slaughter, and Judy has written lyrics for a song inspired by the river nearby. For those who do not recognise her, the lady is Judy Dyble – renowned British singer-songwriter and founding member and vocalist with Fairport Convention.
Not all of the songs are about or inspired by death though it is of course a reoccurring theme. We are told a story from a native of Teigh in Rutland, who recounts discovering that both her grandfather and father had very strong Nazi sympathies, the latter being imprisoned during World War Two for being a member of the British Union of Fascists (the “Blackshirts”). It struck me as being rather incongruous for the audience to applaud after that story…
The last Thankful Village visited Hayward explains was Catwick in Yorkshire. He recounts meeting a chap called Godfrey, who explained how a coin was nailed to the door of the village’s old forge for every soldier that left to fight in the First World War. And, of course, they all returned.
Schools feature frequently throughout the Thankful Villages. In Hunstanworth, for example, we hear a poem written in 1974 by a villager to commemorate the day the local school closed down. It was read by that villager’s granddaughter, with the accompanying song featuring the refrain of “School’s over, school’s over”.
“Come back again in ten minutes for the final part of the show” say Hayward “where we play all the hits! And I’d like to say that nobody dies this time…But that would be a lie.”
During the song for the village of Knill, we hear of Alfred Watkins, who came up with the idea of ley lines. Three ley lines intersect in this Thankful Village.
Wariness prevailed throughout the project; at the outset Hayward was informed by one local vicar that he didn’t think any of the villagers would want to talk to him…
But…Back to Catwick – “I take photos in the rain. A man thinks I look like trouble. ‘Are you looking for someone? Can I help you?’”.
These are the last words Hayman hears in a Thankful Village……