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Review: Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern - Essex Arms

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3/5


The list of twee indie heroes whose catalogues include an ongoing homage to Essex must be short. At least Darren Hayman can add this peculiar niche to his C.V. The reedy-voiced ex-Hefner frontman has followed up last year's baby boom paean Pram Town (his first album with collaborators The Secondary Modern) with Essex Arms- another foray documenting life in his home county.

Although the album is surprisingly foreboding in a couple of places, the general tone is joyous or sleepy and more often than not the songs are avid love songs and warm recollections of old personal history from Hayman's time growing up in Brentwood: the occasional run-in with the police ('Spiderman Beats Ironman'), a trip on bikes to go screw in fields, and all the other frolicking things children get up to with access to both meadows and council estates.

For a bystander with no sense of the Essex demographic, the album often sounds a far cry from the often unfavourable reputation the county's populace has, serving as a production line for footballers' wives. That said, Hayman drops plenty of references to boys with kit cars and the rest, ('Dagenham Ford', 'Two Tree Island'). But far more frequently he makes the place sound bucolic and pleasurable, probably because he is mining his past with a lot of sentimentality.

A cynic would say Essex Arms typifies Hayman's soft songwriting and wry introspection much clearer than it does the county itself. Indeed, the Essex stereotypes in their Vauxhall Novas might find Hayman's encapsulation of the county in his shy brittle tales particularly alien, but realistically they are the least likely to hear the record at all. So if Essex turns out to have lovely corners where kids fall in love and watch the neon underlighting pass them by, it'll be our little secret.

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