Dan Haywood is a keen ornithologist, so it is fitting that a number of tracks on Dapple, his delicate and brief new album, contain recordings of birdsong. This isn’t merely birdsong as a pleasant background hum, a lazy invocation of season or place. Haywood’s birds are instruments in themselves, given a billing equal to that of his guitar. There is no studio trickery here – the wren that interrupts opener The Apple Tree does so in real time and with utter naturalness. This is because Haywood chose to record the album in venues around Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland. The idea was to give the sound a feeling of timelessness, a distance from twenty-first century pressure and influence. It is a measure of the success of this particular ploy that The Apple Tree – a tale of scrumping and young desire – feels like it could have been written three hundred years ago. Or rather, it feels like it wasn’t written at all, but passed down orally through generations.
The most important aspect of this record – the thing that gives it its unique air of wisdom and slight uncanniness – is its deep and symbiotic relationship with nature and place. The second song on the record is a folky setting of Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Half spoken, half sung, the words bring to mind the great Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies’ essay A London Trout. Indeed, Jefferies’ technique of total immersion in the natural world is one that seems to be shared by Haywood, and the results are similarly transcendent.
There is much to be admired in Haywood’s musicianship. A Floral Dance is a lively, pastoral fingerpicked instrumental, ephemeral in the best way, subtle and shimmering like a mayfly’s wing. The title track is a sad story of a wealthy, booze-ridden gent and his horse. As the protagonist consolidates his drunken sadness, he begins inadvertently to resemble the animals around him, his ‘ruminant stomach leaking from drink.’ Equally bittersweet is the weird, harmonium-soaked Suspicious Farms. Told first from the point of view of trespassing lovers then from that of the isolated farmer himself, it draws on a cast of rooks and ‘verminous magpies’ and ends in a wish for salvation.
In terms of musical precedents, Haywood’s idiosyncratic voice bears a passing resemblance to Robyn Hitchcock, although more heavily accented and much more rural. And while he shares a certain eccentricity with Hitchcock or Syd Barrett, his vision is all his own. His primary influences, rather than having their roots in popular or folk music, seem to have seeped up from the ancient ground on which he made these airy and beautifully understated recordings.
Review by: Thomas Blake
13 Nov 2013 The Redhouse, Sheffield
14 Nov 2013 Adelphi, Hull
15 Nov 2013 Ravenous Cafe, Raveningham
16 Nov 2013 The Local presents the End Festival, London
17 Nov 2013 Albion Beatnik, Oxford
18 Nov 2013 B Bar, Plymouth