The Ship’s Piano: Darren Hayman

Behind his new project

Darren Hayman doesn’t know how to sit still.

Back in January, the indie don announced that he was to write one song per day across the entire month. Managing the feat, Darren Hayman set the tone for a year which has seen a trickle of new material become something akin to the Niagara Falls.

Some projects have longer roots than others. Back in 2009, Darren Haymen suffered a fractured skull which left him unable to withstand loud noises. As a result, the songwriter swapped his electric guitar for a piano.

Constructed over a two year period, ‘The Ship’s Piano’ is a moving, intriguing return from the one time Heftner mainman. Using just one instrument – a French piano constructed in 1933 – the singer revealed recently: “I avoided any jagged edges. I kept imagining the sounds I wanted as round and smooth, like well-worn pebbles.”

Intrigued, ClashMusic asked Darren Hayman to tell us a little bit more about the project. Read the results below…

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I have this vague memory of playing a small-scale piano somewhere and someone saying, oh it’s a ‘Ship’s Piano’. It turns out that ‘Ship’s Piano’ is a term used for a small piano that may be stowed away in the confined space on board sea vessels. They are often strung in such a way that means the piano doesn’t have the high back obscuring the pianist’s view. Some are small enough to sit on tabletops.

I’ve often dreamt of having a piano. It seemed such an adult, writerly thing to own. So many instruments need to be plugged, in especially keyboards. I love the idea of a piece of furniture that is also a musical instrument. Something permanent that stares at you and demands to be played.

I like things that can be smaller then they need to be. The world is obssessed with size, colour and speed so much that I find myself drawn to things that underwhelm. I have guitars with four string and amplifiers with just two knobs, they work fine. We rarely need all the bells and whistles.

Me and my wife promised ourselves we’d get a piano when we finally lived in a house and when we found a small house we needed a small piano for it. Ebay only had one search result for ‘Ship’s Piano’; it was sitting in an antique warehouse in Hereford. It had folding doors that meant it could be disguised as a cabinet. I think it’s what they call on TV style programs a ‘talking point’.

I never really buy things on Ebay and a piano seemed like a ridiculous thing to buy online. I drove to Hereford to test its ‘action’. I have only the faintest notion of what ‘action’ means with pianos and guitars. I’ve been bluffing for twenty-five years. I drove to Hereford. It sounded like a piano and I paid in cash. It wasn’t expensive, maybe £400, but then a lot of pianos are free these days.

The piano was delivered by a single old man with a shit trolley. We broke our backs getting it in the front room and it won’t be moved again until we leave the house. He asked what type of music I make. I said ‘folky’. He said ‘Like Mumford and Sons?’ I said, ‘yes’.

The Ship’s Piano from Darren Hayman on Vimeo.

The piano worked. It makes you feel like a writer and not a busker. You start throwing in forced majors and sevenths into your songs, like your Van Dyke Parks or something. You know, proper chords that grown ups use.

The Ship’s Piano is the first thing I’ve ever owned that is older than me. It was built in 1933 and it’s odd when you think really hard about how long ago that was. It makes me want to play it softly and respectfully, indeed ‘piano’ means ‘soft’ in Italian. The Spanish don’t ‘play’ pianos they touch them.

I sometimes touch my piano and think about what other hands have been there. I imagined a history of my Piano and wrote a song about it.

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‘The Ship’s Piano’ is out now.

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