Darren Hayman returns with a beautifully delicate and touchingly honest album simply titled Florence after the city in which it was created. This is his very first purely solo album, featuring no other musicians. It was written and recorded between Christmas and New Year at the end of 2014 in the Firenze flat belonging to Elizabeth Morris (Allo Darlin’) and Ola Innset (Making Marks). Continuing his habit of making incisive, observational and beautiful albums, with Florence Hayman has taken a back-to-basics approach, eschewing his recent collaborative, conceptual approaches for a humble and modest solo effort, entirely recorded and performed in the Italian apparetemento of his hosts.
Best known as the singer-songwriter of the phenomenally successful and much-loved Hefner, Darren Hayman is now 15 years, and over 14 albums, into an increasingly idiosyncratic career path, where he has taken a singular and erratic route through England’s tired and heartbroken underbelly. Darren is also writing the best tunes of his career; increasingly complex and mature songs, he is a thoughtful, concise and detailed songwriter.
Hayman’s first two solo albums, Table For One (2006) and The Secondary Modern (2007), charmed the critics – with The Guardian opining that Hayman’s profoundly English songwriting was “the match of Ray Davies”. Mostly joined by his band The Secondary Modern – a loose, urban folk collective, underpinning Hayman’s concrete sorrow with rural violins and tired pianos – he has released a series of albums, largely focused on place. This allowed for the exploration of nuanced subjects in detail, with a trio of albums based in Essex (2009’s Pram Town and 2010’s Essex Arms) and culminating in 2012’s The Violence, a 20 song account of the 17th century Essex witch trials. From this he developed an album of English Civil War folk songs of the time (2013’s Bugbears) and stayed with the historical theme for this year’s Chants For Socialists, which saw him set William Morris’ words to music, creating an album of kindness and hope that brought Hayman’s most critical acclaim yet.
Florence is sparse and poignant. Tinged with melancholy and etched with heartache, revealing the very best of Hayman’s considerable songwriting verve, this collection of songs shows what you can achieve whilst on holiday at a friend’s house, taking refuge in the winter quiet during the festive season.
Press for Florence
"Perfectly poised romances on intimate solo outing from ex-Hefner man... Florence is a beautiful, bespoke gem of an album... Italian jobs come no finer." Uncut [8/10]
"Its delicately observed song cycle unfolds like a novella or short film, with tracks that might seem slight in isloation gaining resonance in situ." Q [3/5]
"This lack of concept has enabled Hayman to go back to the universal motifs of love and loss that served him so well as the frontman of indie favourites Hefner. And we’re glad to report that he’s right back on the money from the word go. First track Nuns Run The Apothecary turns a stream of mundane details into something inexplicably heartbreaking, with little but a softly strummed guitar as an accompaniment. This is Hayman’s gift – the ability to elevate the quotidian to heights that are almost sacred... Hayman has made a career out of surprising his listeners, and Florence – cutting and pretty, grubby and sexy – is one of his best surprises yet." Folk Radio
"In some ways this is my favourite Hayman album for some time. It’s got the song writing of the best of his Essex trilogy and the warmth of much of his January songs project, recorded at this same time of year and involving him writing, recording and releasing a song a day with help from his musical friends and social media community, including my own dog. Although in a different city to his native London this most melancholy of times of year once again provides the perfect inspiration for his songwriting." Neon Filler
"Florence is another excellent addition to Darren Hayman’s sterling oeuvre" The Line Of Best Fit [8/10]
"Since his folk rock outfit Hefner split in 2002, Darren Hayman has released 12 solo record. His 13th is the first to not feature any other musicians, and unfolds like a giant lullaby." NME [3/5]
"It is Hayman’s attention to detail that elevates his songs beyond being simple little ditties: the cream in Break Up With Him; the elaborate directions and descriptions of key size in the quite beautiful Nuns Run The Apothecary. Safe Fall describes a woman who has presumably given up on herself, hair dye growing out, nail paint chipped, losing grip, and wrapped in fleas. There’s no judgement here though, just a prayer for someone down on their luck and finding life a little too much. It’s heartbreaking... Like the rest of the album, it is full of understated charm and is quite, quite beautiful." Music OMH [8/10]
"Florence isn’t Hayman’s most ambitious or thrilling work ever, but it’s not supposed to be. A moment’s rest can work wonders on a tired soul. The number below is just a number, an objective assessment that demands me to juxtapose this with other 7s, 8s, and the rest of Hayman’s work. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t fall in love with this album, or at the very least fall into a lovely chat with it and feel a little less lonely for an evening." Drowned In Sound [7/10]
"Stripping things back allows Hayman to concentrate on the songs and opener ‘Nun Run the Apothecary’ is an autumnal acoustic delight and even if ‘Break Up With Him’ uses drum machines they are minimal and unintrusive. My favourite songs are those which keep to the simple guitar and vocal blueprint. ‘From the Square to the Hill’ is a lovely delicate thing using clipped guitars to create the kind of melancholy that will appeal to fans of Kings of Convenience." Norman Records [7/10]
"Darren Hayman continues the tradition of indie singer-songwriters breathing new life into the hackneyed love song. He achieves this by way of convincing detail (as on Nuns Run The Apothecary and Post Office Girl) or unexpected directness (Didn’t I Say Don’t Fall In Love With Him and Break Up With Him)." Record Collector [3/5]
"Across the album, there are moments to savour: a charming fuzzy guitar solo on 'From the Square to the Hill'; an Americana-infused guitar riff on 'When You're Lonely, Don't Be', a gradual layering of guitar lines and multi-tracked vocals on 'Didn't I Say Don't Fall In Love With Him' and, as the album draws to a close, a pretty slice of psych-folk that could easily pass for a long-lost sixties relic, the kind of thing Stuart Maconie occasionally plays to calm people down during his 'Freak Zone' programme. Modest and restrained, yet pretty and tuneful, anyone who has found their way to this website is bound to enjoy this." PennyBlack Music
"Taking inspiration from his Italian surroundings, Hayman here occasionally takes a step back from his usual Anglo-centric musings with the late period Jonathan Richman-esque instrumentation suiting his ruminations on life, love and getting older." Narc [4/5]
"They’re delightful images on this modest but endearing album which shows that, after 15 years, Hayman has his feet on the ground but can still paint the stars." For Folks Sake
"A somewhat solemn strum, the new track finds Hayman in reflective mood, his dimmed vocal set only against an acoustic guitar and slender embellishments. It’s left to the lyrics to tell the whole story, and in that respect Hayman has always achieved, his tender storytelling presenting the kind of song you instantly find yourself lost in despite not having any grasp on either people or place." Gold Flake Paint
"The album is very much what a fan of Darren Hayman would expect, and fits in well with the rest of his work in that is it intelligent, emotional and mixes melancholia with optimism. As it is more introspective and less esoteric than his recent output, it serves as a good introduction to Hayman’s work." GigSoup [4/5]
"An open-hearted exercise in melancholy, Florence is the work of a man who, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, still believes in a thing called love. Amen to that." The Skinny [3/5]
"Possibly closest to Sufjan Stevens on Illinois, Florence is mostly Hayman’s voice accompanied by ukulele, an arrangement that lets his genius lyrics shine." Towleroad