Last year, Hayman, backed by The Long Parliament, turned out a career highlight with The Violence, a 20-song chronicle of the 17th-century Essex Witch Trials. Bugbears is a companion album, with Hayman, backed this time by The Short Parliament, reworking 13 traditional songs from the same century.
Though the sleevenotes make reference to research in that sacred temple of English folk music, Cecil Sharp House, this is far from a purist exercise. In fact, Essex-indie vowels notwithstanding, there are unexpected Americanisms amid Hayman’s exploration of this most English of subjects. Babylon Has Fallen adapts the sort of folk-blues shuffle you might find on mid-70s Townes Van Zandt, while some of the album’s gentle, interlocking electric guitar-picking evokes third-album Velvets. A contemporary comparison might be Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s 2012 collaboration with Trembling Bells.
A strain of wistful longing, traceable through much of Hayman’s work, is present in about half the songs, including the title track and the instrumentals Sir Thomas Fairfax March and The Owl. This is effectively juxtaposed with ominous understatement, and the shifting moods, combined with varied instrumentation including harmonium, banjo and electric piano, make for an intriguing, satisfying listen. Will Hayman make this a trilogy, maybe with an album about the travails of Charles Edward Stuart, the second Jacobite pretender to the thrones of England? We would welcome it.