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Review: Hayden Cohen's Rantings of a Young Fool
Written by Richard Stamp   
Published on Saturday, 10 July 2010

I feared for Hayden Cohen as he strode onto the stage: fully a third of his small audience were brandishing notebooks, the telltale sign of someone poised to review.  But the show, I’m pleased to say, very much went on, with a confident performance that soon got me tapping my toes and even singing along.

I don’t like having to say this, so I’ll get it out of the way: Cohen isn’t the strongest of singers.  But he is, first and foremost, a lyrical songwriter, and throughout the hour-long set I hung on his words far more than his tunes.  Sad to say, the self-professed rant songs crashed over me – they seemed profound and witty at the time, but they whirled past too quickly and I find nothing’s stuck in my mind.  But there’s one slower number, beautiful and melancholy, which I’m still singing today; and if you’d played me a cover and told me it was by Dylan, I’d have taken you at your word.

Yet for all the varied work in Cohen’s show, the pieces I enjoyed the most were the simple spoken-word poems.  They arrived unannounced, as a link between pieces unexpectedly blossomed into something far more – and every one of them gave me something to take home.  Here, there was an amusing insight into the writer’s craft; there, a gentle reassurance that life was, by and large, OK.

The first piece of all was a veritable manifesto, a promise we wouldn’t be “catapulted into rhythmic banality” by the trammels of a fixed metre; and without a doubt, Cohen broke free.  The poetry mixed styles, the music fused genres – and with very few exceptions, the experiments were a success.  What’s more, the whole show refused to be pigeon-holed, with punkish musical protest suddenly swerving into delicate classical guitar.

But that last point, I think, may be a problem.  While I admired the attempt to mix up the pace, the gears crunched too obviously for me; the mix seemed incoherent – a mere aggregation of the things Cohen happened to be able to do.  He said he’d welcome my feedback, so here it comes: it’s your words which matter, not your strumming.  Have confidence in what you do best, and make the space to help us take it in.  Less will mean more.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.