Hefner are not remembered as one of the best bands to come out of the Britpop scene of the 1990s, which is a shame, as their two best albums, 'We Love the City' and 'The Fidelity Wars' were triumphs of classic British kitchen-sink songwriting in the mould of Elvis Costello or Morrissey with the irony of the latter taken to Ian Dury-like levels by songwriter and vocalist Darren Hayman's saucy (sometimes downright filthy) wit.

Since the band's demise Hayman has turned his hand to several bands including a superb bluegrass outfit known as Hayman, Watkins, Trout and Lee, some of whom join him on stage tonight for a performance of songs from his current album, 'Pram Town', recorded as Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern. It's a kind of love poem to the urbs and suburbs of Britain (specifically Harlow in Essex), written from a point of view of genuine understanding and empathy.

Hayman strides onto the stage at the Lexington brandishing a ukulele, strumming it as though he's playing along to Gary Numan's 'Cars', which is currently blaring through the venue's PA. “Can you mute this?”, he asks the sound man, turning to the crowd and adding: “Marks out of 10 for the sound guy?” as his request is ignored. “It can only get better,” he decides, and it does.

The opener, on solo uke, is an entertaining number called 'Spider-man Beats Iron Man' and when it's done he says to the audience: “We've listened to the complaints that we only know three songs from the album so we've learnt another three. It's almost like those gigs where the band does a classic album, but we're only going to do half.”

The six come early on, starting with the title track, by which time Darren has swapped the uke for a battered Fender Telecaster. It has a strangely country feel to it for a song about Harlow, but that's hard to avoid with a banjo and a fiddle in your backing band, and so does 'Losing My Glue'. 'Room to Grow' has hints of the best of Hefner in its “sucking at the teat” lyrics and its rooted references (“around town in a Ford Capri, a man in the corner flips the bird at me”). It's a curious hybrid of Essex and Alabama, something Hayman has alluded to on his bluegrass album.

When he sings about “I need room to throw my arms open wide” his mouth opens wide too for a wail that has been too rarely heard since the mid-1990s. 'Amy and Rachel' is about people who come to London for the first time and includes such superbly evocative lyrics as “it's all chicken and burgers and ringtones in Rachel and Amy's home town”, memorialising “the best band to come out of Harlow”.

The 'Pram Town' set finishes with 'Big Fish', after which Darren announces: “Thank you very much. We'll play some songs that you know now.”
The set finishes with one of the better late-period Hefner songs, 'Angels Play Their Drum Machines' and a surprising closing number from his previous non-solo project the French. It's called 'Wu Tang Clan' and includes the wonderful: “She dreams of Staten Island/she never dreams of Walthamstow.” It's a pretty song that includes a slow bottle-slide guitar and a slightly more frenzied violin outro.

'Pram Town' is a very good album, parts of which rank with Hefner's classics, and it's led to a brilliantly entertaining and engaging gig.

There is an encore, but Darren announces, deadpan: “I'm going to keep my dignity – I'm not even going to tell you about all the CDs I've got for sale.” We then get a quiet, contemplative 'The Winter Makes You Want Me More' and a more sprightly 'Caravan Song'. The keen-eared amongst us, he says before the last song of the night, will have noticed that he's losing his voice - “it's not going to stop me. It just means you won't hear the words.”

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Commenting On: Lexington, London, 5/3/2009 - Darren Hayman

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