A Hawk and a Hacksaw - Darkness at Noon


Any album filled with accordions and castanets is OK by me, especially if a mariachi oompah band accompanies them as occurs on Pastelka On the Train.




It seems unlikely that the world was crying out for an album that mixes Eastern European folk music, North African music and Mexican Mariachi music. Happily, this hasn't put off Jeremy Barnes (the man who wields the Hacksaw) from undertaking such an endeavour. The resultant album – Darkness at Noon – is necessarily filled with accordions, harps, trumpets, violins, ouds and melodicas. But it also contains, if I'm not mistaken (and I think I must be), a sample of Mutley laughing.


A Hack and A Hacksaw's debut album was essentially the work of a one-man band. It could be compared in many ways with the albums put out by another one-man band – The Lonesome Organist. There are certainly a few things that their albums have in common. For one thing, both performers are called Jeremy (Jacobson in the case of The Lonesome Organist) and both display a certain hyperactivity. I expect that this comes from performing the songs live (which I have seen The Lonesome Organist do, and he's great) and whilst the frenetic nature of the music is fun it can also be rather tiring. A Hack and A Hacksaw's debut album was a suite of songs that just couldn't sit still. On this follow up, however, he has got something of a band around him and the music is all the better for it.


Instead of songs that career along at a mad pace only to suddenly stop and change direction, or that break down completely into a mess of percussion, Darkness of Noon is a suite of songs that actually feel as though they were constructed as such, and not just thrown together in something of a frenzy. Which is not to say that these songs are in any way lifeless, or lacking in energy. Because they are not. Nor are they in any way kitsch, as might be expected from the mixture of styles and influences mentioned above. This is not an easy listening album - it is not 'fun' and 'exotic' in the way that such albums are intended to be.


It is, however, a little belter. It begins with Laughter in the Dark and the sound of melancholic trumpets. They are playing a Transylvanian folk melody. After a few minutes they fade away and a bass drone takes their place. Distant voices are heard, not singing exactly, but supposedly taking their cues from a George Bush speech. Whatever is said is largely indistinct, thankfully, and over the top of the drone shimmer trumpets, harps and drums. It's a pretty fierce statement of intent and the rest of album manages, rather wonderfully, to back it up.


The Moon Under Water, for example, begins with the sound of frightened horses before racing into a duet between an accordion and some percussion. Is it Eastern European in origin? Before you can decide the accordion cuts out and is replaced by piano and violin. Then trumpets belt out some Mariachi styling over the sound of a party. And then the accordion returns, complete with a mournful violin. This might sound like an almighty mess but I can assure you that it works.


Perhaps the reason for the album's mixture of influences has something to do with Jeremy Barnes peripatetic lifestyle. The album was conceived in Prague and recorded in England and New Mexico. It is perhaps not surprising that it comprises folk jigs and waltzes, that it harnesses styles of music from three different continents and that at times transports you to the back streets of Budapest, the bazaars of North Africa and the plains of Mexico. Perhaps this sounds too much, and perhaps it is. But this is a great record; any album filled with accordions and castanets is OK by me, especially if a mariachi oompah band accompanies them as occurs on Pastelka On the Train. The final track is a cover of Derroll Adams' Portlandtown, the anti-war folk song made famous by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. It is a mournful ending to an album brimming with ideas and life.

Words: Christopher Dawson