Hap Hayward plays the Melbourne Fringe

“Two winter’s children/On a football ground/On a winter’s night/In a winter’s town/You won’t remember me/ Wendouree...” The Dead Salesmen, Wendouree.

The house in Alfredton is a perfect model of 1970s design. Placed obliquely on its block, with glass sliding doors, lots of timber and clinker brick, the yard goes on forever. 

Inside, Hap Hayward is wearing a magnificent, 70s period-matching jumper – he’s known for his excellent taste in jumpers – in a Scandinavian pattern of blue with a red and white pattern.

So damn happy: Justin Hayward at home. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

So damn happy: Justin Hayward at home. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

You might expect to see a HQ Holden in the driveway and Family Circle magazine on the kitchen table. Hayward has a skill for setting a location and a time. You hear it in his songs.

Self-effacing, considered and pensive, Justin ‘Happy’ Hayward is one of Ballarat’s most influential and quietly successful musicians.

Beginning with the legendary Dead Salesmen in the late 1980s, Hap Hayward fronted and played in many bands over time. The Underminers, The Nulty Grips, Gus & Bags, and The Vests are just a few.

ABOVE: Lacerating introspection of self... Loudon Wainwright III performing. Picture: Carl Lender.

ABOVE: Lacerating introspection of self... Loudon Wainwright III performing. Picture: Carl Lender.

Hayward is widely recognised for the quality and intimacy of his songwriting, its wry humour and local references. It’s easier to make a place like St Kilda sound romantic, to . Hayward finds love and heartbreak in Wendouree.

He wears his musical influences proudly. The Go-Betweens, The Smiths, even Sade. One of his heroes is the North Carolina-born musician Loudon Wainwright III.

Now he’s taking the influence of Wainwright into a show in Melbourne’s Fringe Festival – Open Season on a Broken Heart.

A good dream: The Dead Salesmen in an early incarnation.

A good dream: The Dead Salesmen in an early incarnation.

“I got ‘Hap’ from being a morose songwriter,” says Hayward amusedly.

“When I first stared writing sad songs, someone in this house I was living in called me ‘Happy’ Hayward. It was a sarcastic reference, and I realised it was that ironic thing Australians do – redheads are called ‘blue’… and it just stuck. And it became ‘Hap’ over the years.”

Hayward, like many who sought something different in the culture of Ballarat in the 1980s and 1990s, found himself thrust into the beer-soaked noise of the Bridge Mall Inn band rooms.

Last album: the acclaimed Amen was released in 1998. The Dead Salesmen released three albums and several EPs during their decade.

Last album: the acclaimed Amen was released in 1998. The Dead Salesmen released three albums and several EPs during their decade.

The legendary venue, sometimes maligned but much-missed, was formative.

"That place was just such a find, in terms of having original music almost every night, it felt like,” says Hayward.

“I'm sure it wasn't every night but it felt like it. Certainly every Wednesday night onward you would be getting live music, and for a couple of bucks."

There was a generation before us that had paved the way, and we were the generation that reaped all the rewards

Justin 'Hap' Hayward

"I was in art school at SMB and it was the classic ‘getting people from university and art school’ going there.

“It felt like a true alternative to the other pubs around town. It was a badge of honour to go there and feel part of an alternative movement. True alternative, before that word got overused.”

FIVE SONGS THAT INFLUENCED HAP HAYWARD”S MUSICAL CAREER

1: The Smiths – How Soon Is Now?

“Morrissey could express words and feelings that I didn’t think men were allowed to.”

2: Billy Bragg – Levi Stubb’s Tears

3: Paul Kelly – Little Decisions

“Anything on Post. It’s one of the greatest albums.”

4: Loudon Wainwright III – Motel Blues

“Here’s a person talking about the loneliness of doing what he does, with humour and real sadness.”

5: Paddy O’Driscoll – Mother’s Favourite Son

“’I was my mother’s favourite son, and it brought me undone.’ A local song that’s very, very beautiful.”

Before long Hayward had teamed up with guitarist Justin Ryda, and The Dead Salesmen were created. Later adding music producer and bassist Patrick ‘Paddy’ Bath, drummer Len Hyatt and in their final incarnation keyboardist Julitha Ryan, the ‘Salesmen’ recorded three albums in the decade after 1988.

“…I hate happy families/we were happy for a while…” sang Hayward in Bumper Bar Stickers. Just 17, his precocious ability to marry words and melody with acerbic insights in family life and love gave the band a devoted following in a city that was discovering how many good young musicians it had reared.

It also meant that a young Hayward was susceptible as much to the lacerating lyrics of the erratic Loudon Wainwright III as he was to those similar but later, post-punk wordsmiths like Stephen Morrissey of The Smiths and Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens.

Although he first achieved stardom with the happily off-kilter Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road, Wainwright stands as a genuine maverick in the hallways of rock and roll history. From a distinguished southern family, he straddles country, rock and folk like Bob Dylan. In fact, he described himself as:

“...the oldest new Bob Dylan around. I predate Bruce Springsteen, Steve Forbat and John Prine. I was probably the first of the new Bob Dylans…”

His personal life plays out openly in his songs – his tempestuous marriage to the folk legend Kate McCarrigle and difficult relations with children (and stars in their own right) Martha and Rufus Wainwright and Lucy Roche.

“I first heard of Loudon Wainwright through a local singer-songwriter named Terry Byrne. He was at the Bridge Mall Inn one night playing a song called Motel Blues,” recalls Hayward.

“I started buying Wainwright’s back catalogue, which was massive, even then. He could tell stories in ways I hadn’t heard before.

The Dead Salesmen in their ultimate form.

The Dead Salesmen in their ultimate form.

“He would tell a story where he didn’t come across too well, and quite often. There’s a song called I Saw Your Name In The Paper, where he writes about how jealous he is that (his late wife) Kate McGarrigle is getting more attention than he is.”

Later touring with Wainwright, Hap Hayward says he saw the line leading from Hank Williams through Gram Parsons to the present.

“There was a generation before us that had paved the way, and we were the generation that reaped all the rewards.”

Open Season On A Broken Heart - songs and stories from a fan of Loudon Wainwright The Third and Family plays the Melbourne Fringe Festival September 22 - October 1 in the Jury Room of The Courthouse Hotel, North Melbourne.

The show is Hayward’s truly sincere attempt not only to honour Loudon Wainwright but also his musical kin, including The McGarrigle Sisters, The Roches, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche.

“I pointed these songs at each other on stage and realised that they had spoken to each other before. These were family conversations with really interesting melodies all about regret, celebration, pain, anger and what it is like to be in an oversharing and incredibly talented family,” says Hayward.

Each night the singer will alternate special guests for the ten-show run Hap’s musical collaborators for this event are Brodie Glen (guitar) and Daniel West (piano). 

Tickets available now for $20 via melbournefringe.com.au or 03 96609666.