“Florence will be the first album I’ve ever released with no other musicians whatsoever. This doesn’t really seem like a selling point.”
Announcing his new album with typically self-effacing charm, the prolific ex-leader of singular Brentwood urban-folk cult icons Hefner (“Britain’s Largest Small Band, 1997 to 2002”) need not be quite so modest. As productive, perceptive and witty as his Essex folkie forefather and key formative influence Billy Bragg, Florence is another excellent addition to Darren Hayman’s sterling oeuvre.
Having explored the history of his native land via starting points as disparate as 17th Century East Anglian witch hunts, the origins of the modern UK Socialist movement and the decline of the Great British outdoor swimming pool, here Hayman offers the musical fruits of a winter break in Tuscany.
For the most part Florence is fuelled by little more than Hayman’s voice, ukulele and ever-observant eye for detail as he passes a few days in The City of Lilies during “the nothing between Christmas and New Year”, as “From The Square To The Hill” has it.
A sprinkling of enchanting rinky-dink electronica on “Break Up With Him” and “Post Office Girl” - Darren’s answer to Bruce Springsteen’s maligned “Queen of the Supermarket”, perhaps? - harks back to his undervalued post-Hefner work with The French.
Lyrically he’s superb as ever, with an absolutely wonderful portrayal of encroaching middle-age served up with “When You're Lonely Don't Be” (“F*** getting old today, why don’t we just stay this age? A little ache, the right amount of grey...”) but grateful for the opportunity to simply “treasure the small things we know” (“On The Outside").