Pram Town is a ‘folk opera’ from former Hefner frontman Darren Hayman. The story follows a unmotivated guy stuck in the town where he grew up, Harlow (nicknamed Pram Town in the 50s because of the sudden influx of young families when the town was built in the aftermath of WWII). He meets an ‘out of his league’ London woman while fare-evading in a first class train carriage.
Album opener Civic Pride begins with an old recording of a man saying ‘I’m tired of these surroundings’ followed by a melancholy instrumental in muted brass. The very phrase ‘concept album’ is enough to elicit groans all round here at FFS HQ, but Hayman’s opus silences doubters from track two: the intro is the only song on the album that isn’t a perfectly crafted four minute folk-pop tune.
But the melodies and hooks don’t detract from the narrative. Pram Town boasts Philip Larkin-esque lyrics, which render the banality of day-to-day suburban life in Harlow poetic. ‘It’s all chicken and pushchairs and ringtones’ describes fringe characters Amy and Rachel’s view of their hometown. While the disparity between the lovers’ lifestyles is revealed in Out Of My League: ‘She’s all sun-dried tomatoes/I’m all gravy and potatoes’.
“It is a set of songs about someone who doesn’t escape. It’s about how pride can lose you love. It’s about high and low ambition and the gap between,” says Hayman. Pram Town is an album with lofty ambitions, which unusually, are fully realised. It’s as good as Hayman has been. In short: a triumph.
Words: Lynn Roberts