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The magnificent unknown bluesman—Hayes McMullan

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This release ought to ensure McMullan’s rightful place among the better-known Delta greats such as Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House and Willie Brown.
Issue 2538
Hayes McMullan
Hayes McMullan

Steeped in the brutal horror of lynch-mob racism, blues music can be traced back to the darkest days of the chain-gang chants and church-group spirituals. It eventually spilled out into the local dances and finger-popping juke joints.

Early blues players were the poets of their day, channelling their words of truth through music.

One such player was sharecropper Hayes McMullan, the relatively unknown performer of the magnificent Every Day Seem Like Murder Here.

The songs spring from the murky waters of the Mississippi Delta, in the heart of the racist South.

As the title track laments, people of colour were “born in a desert” and “raised in a lion’s den”. The Depression-era sorrow heard in McMullan’s beautiful voice underpins the history of which he is part.

The call of his crisp, urgent Delta picking style is answered by delicate surges of falsetto.

McMullan’s incredible singing and guitar work sway between the soft and lush and the booming and loud. His songs are simple, but fresh, and retain a hopeful openness about life, despite the harshness of early 20th-century America.

In Hurry Sundown, we hear, “I said, hurry sundown, let tomorrow come. Says, she may bring sunshine, may bring drops of rain.”

An exquisitely raw Smoke Hut Lightning is featured, a song later popularised as Smokestack Lightnin’ by a certain Howlin’ Wolf.

But Hayes McMullan is not a household name.

Explaining why he passed up the chance to record with “father of Delta blues” Charley Patton, he said, “They only offered me $5 a song, and you know they could make thousands off just one song.”

This release ought to ensure McMullan’s rightful place among the better-known Delta greats such as Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House and Willie Brown.

Do yourself a favour—listen to this repeatedly. You will be rewarded.

Everyday Seem Like

Murder Here by Hayes McMullan

Art Revolutionaries in London

Just around the corner from posho shop Fortnum and Mason are propaganda posters urging workers to take up arms against fascism.

Art Revolutionaries celebrates the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 Paris exhibition. In the midst of the Spanish civil war it urged support for the Republican government—and sometimes went further.

A surrealist manifesto designed by sculptor Henry Moore calls on artists to fight for revolutionary change. A pamphlet of photos and written testimonies exposes the horror of aerial bombing in Guernica.

Pablo Picasso’s painting of the same now hangs in Madrid. But there is a reconstruction of Joan Miro’s painting El Segador (The Reaper) celebrating the defiant peasants of Catalonia, and later works by both artists.

This is a small exhibition that won’t keep you for long, but with entry free it’s well worth popping in for a taste of the creativity unleashed in one of our class’s greatest struggles.

Galeria Mayoral,6 Duke Street St James, London, SW1Y 6BN. Until 10 February. Free

Night Light

Somewhere in England two teenage asylum seekers, fearing deportation, hide out in an abandoned factory. As the cold night unfolds, they imagine their future and tell each other about their past.

They hear someone else arrive. Terrified, they creep towards the door where they find a familiar figure.

He joins the teenagers and the three of them talk through the night about home, belonging and the system.

Night Light, Directed by Yasmin Sidhwa. Tour dates include Liverpool, Bradford, London and Derby.

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