Saturday, 9 April 2011

Interview: Touring with Dan Haywood’s New Hawks

In this brief interview conducted during February 2011, poet/singer/ornithologist Dan Haywood discusses critical reception of his 32-track triple-disc record (released on Manchester’s Timbreland Recordings in December 2010) on the eve of several UK dates with New Mexico’s A Hawk and a Hacksaw.

“Defiantly individual” [24/7 mag], Dan Haywood’s New Hawks has already been reviewed as a “cult classic” [24/7 mag]; monumental and rich. Performed live the experience can go from elegant to dangerous in a hair’s breadth.

Matched with the North American duo, these 'Hawk on Hawk' dates promise a night of aural migration. Whilst AHAAH take inspiration from Balkanic eruptions, New Hawks maps a new Highlands - chasing the ghosts of folk, rock’n’roll and psychedelia; found or spliced into the Caithness/Sutherland areas of upper Scotland. As Dan explains, “it's a kind of country music without much human history to go on, made from studying what remains - and examines the severed links rather than perpetuating traditions like folk tries to.”

Here, Dan converses with Tom Bramhall about the project, some of the players involved and what audiences can look forward to at the coming shows.

Dan, last time we spoke like this, the record was on the verge of release. It's a few months on, some reviews have been written. How have people responded?

It was on the verge of release then, and it's still on the verge of something now. But of what, Tom? Of what?

The record has had a fair amount of press. Mostly positive, but it hasn't been much fun for us because the reviews are so often just regurgitations of the label press release. The art of paraphrasing is fit as a fiddle. We're not really learning much.

I assumed it would be tough for people to get a fast, critical turnaround on a project so (apparently) big, but that said - it's no excuse for sloppiness… Could you describe an ideal reader/listener response?

No. But things that our small number of buyers have said have been more illuminating to us than any 'official' verdicts. That's the beauty of spontaneity. They're lucky enough not to be watching the clock and scanning the press release for clues. And illumination is what I need, because the album's still a bit of a mystery to me.

Fans have spread their words on message-boards. Some great, sensitive responses. I like how they've rallied on some of the more far-out comparisons.

Well, some press comparisons have included Fairport Convention haven't they? Because it's faintly folky. We have the wick Mikey Kenney on fiddle, but he's very much his own man, as opposed to Dave Swarbrick, (who's a little over-rated). Superficial resemblances.

Yet to read anybody weave you into a contemporary context though - which surprises me. I’d anticipated some critical reception off the back of the folk revival-revival vibe - I'm thinking about books like Electric Eden, Sweers’ Electric Folk and Brocken’s The British Folk Revival 1944-2002, etc… Bands like Trembling Bells.

There's time yet. We'll get woven into the past. And then the music'll be posthumously contemporary... Or something! I dunno...

The album's partly concerned with folk music; there are new songs on there about folk music... Also experimental songs that emulate folk... But it's not trad and it's not even folk-rock in the traditional sense. The album's too restless.

Folk Roots magazine declined to review New Hawks because they thought it "outside their remit". Man, it's about folk roots!

But what do I know?

You're set to tour the Kingdom with A Hawk and A Hacksaw…

Yes. We do about nine or ten dates with them in April. Some as a small band, some with the usual larger set-up.

On the surface it looks like a nice marriage. The two acts could be seen to share some similarities. It feels like AHAAS are exploring Turk, Euro and Balkanic threads in much the way you're mutating Anglo-Celt, American and again, European stuff?

Yes, you could be right. I'm interested how the music will relate each night. I look forward to it, because AHAAH fans are broadminded adults; open-minded, because their music truly crosses over... I'm hoping we can let our hair down in front of their audiences. Occasionally I tone performances down. Out of fear, see.

What's the fear?

Just plain, old-fashioned fear.

The shows seem to go full spectrum. I've caught you comic and sublime, always dangerous - each night seems to offer a different interpretation of the songs…

Thanks. Yes, it's like an old sex gang trying to spice up its love life. Some of the songs are innately restless, and different sides just come out without any warning. And to complicate things further we throw in more deliberate rearrangements and some tricks. Often there's no set list and the rest of the band chase me around all night. Bill (one of the drummers) hates it. Mind you, I sometimes think he hates everything. We've never done the same set twice... so we're rarely bored. For the April tour I've told myself that we should perform each of the 32 songs from the album at least once over the ten days - in the spirit of equality and to try and keep things fresh. I suppose one of the better things about being commercially woeful is that we don't have to do the greatest hits every gig.

Dan Haywood’s New Hawks play at Islington Mill on 14th April 2011.

Words: Tom Bramhall
Images: Courtesy of Dan Haywood

Tom Bramhall writes for po)))nies

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