DARREN BLACK – Wisperau (own label DBCD005)

WisperauDarren Black is not a man to repeat himself. His previous album was inspired by his boyhood in industrial south Wales but Wisperau is a meditation on the seasons in rural Hampshire where he now lives. I suppose that every songwriter feels compelled to do something of the sort at some time – the trick is to be original. Darren goes for originality by writing a suite of four songs coupled with four sets of paired instrumental pieces with titles drawn from the lyrics. This gives him a chance to show off his fiddle playing but to my mind it’s a trifle short, clocking in at just about half an hour. But, come to think of it, that’s what LPs used to be back in the day.

The other good thing about this album is that all the tracks could sit comfortably into any live set. The opener, ‘Pale Winter Blue’, is a painting in words and Darren talks about deer making their silent display – I imagine that to be hoof prints in the snow. But he also remarks that a whiteout is rare these days, something that anyone who has moved to this part of the country from less balmy climes knows far too well.

‘Chalk Streams In Sunbeams’ is about the renewal of life in spring and Darren picks on the reappearance of butterflies – let’s hope that they will not become a rare sight – but also the return of migratory birds, notably seabirds coming back to their summer home on the Solent. ‘Sow It Right’ feels like a love song wrapped up in the metaphor of ploughing and sowing but it’s rather melancholy. I’d hate to think of Darren going through a bad patch but that’s how it feels. Perhaps it’s just poetic licence.

Finally, ‘Queen Of The Forest’ is another painting in words, a description of a great tree shedding its (her) leaves and standing like “a waiting mannequin” and “a sylph-like skeleton”. Somehow, Darren manages to bring a sexual element to the song, or is that just me? The production is simplicity itself: just fingerstyle acoustic guitars and voice with overdubbed violin on the tunes and ‘Queen Of The Forest’ and it’s all rather lovely.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.darrenblack.net

‘Chalk Streams In Sunbeams’:

Hampshire singer/songwriter Darren Black announces his new solo album

Darren Black

Wisperau is the new album from Darren Black. Consisting of vocals, acoustic guitar and fiddle, and recorded over Spring/Summer of 2017, it is an album about the Seasons. Darren says of it:

Wisperau is my journey through Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn, with a nod to the Hampshire countryside in which I live. A song and a pair of fiddle tunes for each season – timely in their arrival but each dealing an increasingly unpredictable hand. I can remember weeks of snow in the Winter, months of parched lawn in the Summer. Odds were still on for a white Christmas. Mixed grassland with livestock grazing on pasture, hedgerows and hedgehogs. But, everything changes over time and this isn’t a misty-eyed reflection on what has been, more an appreciation of what still is. I love the transition, the colours and the contrast, the native and migrating birds. Each season has its own distinct charm and beauty, and that is what inspired me to write and record this album.”

Contemporary, yet rooted in the acoustic folk tradition, Darren’s music has a unique sound which captured the attention of the British Library where it is now stored for preservation in the National Sound Archive. His first album Silent Poetry was recorded in 2007 at legendary fiddle player Dave Swarbrick’s home studio and gained rave reviews. His 2008 follow-up Thinkers & Fools went a step further, featuring a smorgasbord of guest musicians including Joe Broughton, Kevin Dempsey and Dave Swarbrick. 2014’s Rise Above The Mumblings was recorded with Kevin Dempsey at the controls and on guest guitar. Lord Abergavenny’s Hills was released in 2015. Also featuring Lennie Harvey on slide guitar it is based around stories and tales from the South Wales mining industry where Darren was born and where his grandfather worked for nearly a quarter of a century.

Aside from his solo work, he was in Black Peak which he formed with ex-Bluehorses fiddle player Deborah Peake. Their album In Times Back When was released in 2011, having previously been runners-up for Best Debut in the Spiral Earth Awards. He has also guested on other recordings including Naomi Bedford’s album Tales From The Weeping Willow, which also features Paul Heaton, Alasdair Roberts, Justin Currie and Paul Simmonds.

Darren is also part of the In A South Downs Way cast. This is a performance of dialogue, poetry and music – singing alongside actors Hugh Bonneville, Christopher Timothy and Juliet Howland. It is a show based around composer Damian Montagu’s album of the same name, also featuring ex Paul Weller sideman Stewart Prosser and the Tippett Quartet. It premiered two sell-out shows at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester in late 2016.

Wisperau will be released with an intimate show at the Hyde Tavern, Winchester on Friday 6th October 2017. See Darren’s website for details and tickets.

Until then, here is an oldie from the folking archive:

Artist’s website: www.darrenblack.net