Shot! Darren Hayes at the Brighton Dome
Back in Brighton after an eleven year hiatus, the former Savage Garden singer put on a swashbuckling show filled with classic songs and creative drapery
A quick back-story: Alongside fellow Brisbane musician Daniel Jones, Darren Hayes formed the Australian duo Savage Garden. Together they recorded two albums which contained some of the definitive ballads of the 90s: Truly Madly Deeply, To The Moon And Back and I Knew I Loved You.
In 2001, after selling over 30 million records worldwide, the pair decided to go their separate ways. Hayes began a successful solo career, and put out a handful of excellent albums, although he was unable to recreate the stellar success Savage Garden enjoyed. When he was 40, he played his last show in 2012 and pretty much disappeared.
In actuality, he’d moved to California to study acting. Fast forward ten years, and he was back with new music and playing shows in his native Australia. Early 2023 saw him return to the UK with his appropriately named Do You Remember? tour, which included a date at the Brighton Dome, the very same venue where I’d last seen him back in 2012.
For me, those lost years were a misadventure. Too talented a singer and songwriter to be penning songs for the likes of Steps — he wrote 2021’s A Hundred Years Of Winter — Darren Hayes should have gone on to become as big a solo star as he was in the halcyon days of Savage Garden. He may have been away too long, but you don’t lose your talent…or your voice. It was good to see him back. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Some two weeks earlier I was at the Dome seeing Self Esteem (the stage name of Rebecca Lucy Taylor). I mention this only because of how many similarities there were between that gig and this one. Both artists were supported by just a couple of musicians (Self Esteem had two, Darren three) and both featured a trio of backing singers. Both artists are openly gay and both wore suits, a grey mannish one for Self Esteem, a rather more fancy get up for Darren. And both stages featured a set of steps as its central feature and where each performer made their entrance.
By happenstance, one of Savage Garden’s lyrics, from the song Affirmation contains the line: “I believe that beauty magazines promote low self esteem.”
So quite a few coincidences, but there was one big difference between the two shows. Self Esteem chose ro configure the venue so people were standing on the floor, while for Darren’s gig, everyone was seated. I don’t know why he did that. For me, it was a big mistake and meant most of the time the audience were in their chairs rather than being on their feet. That really changes the vibe of the show and in particular the energy of the crowd.
Enough of the comparisons. As good as Self Esteem was, Darren put on the better show. Not only was he the better showman, but his vocals — and the songs he sang — were on a different level. That shouldn’t come as any surprise, he’s a much bigger, more experienced artist whose enjoyed stellar success, albeit some while ago.
As it’s been over ten years since he last played Brighton, you’d be forgiven for asking whether his voice was still up to it? And approaching his 51st birthday, does he still have the energy and the stage presence that he had when he was in his prime? The answer to both questions is categorically yes. His immediately distinctive vocals were as good as they ever were, indeed I’d say he was in exceptional voice. And there was no doubting his verve or vigour as he strutted around the stage in swashbuckling style sporting a black tailcoat, a frilled cuff shirt and knee-high boots. If truth be told, there was a touch of the Adam Ant’s about his appearance.
After performing the first of several dance routines with his backing singers, he said: “Who decides to come back after eleven years and put choreography in their show? Me!”
His acting skills also came to the fore as during the show he’d perform short skits with one of the backing singers. Indeed, he proved himself somewhat of a raconteur as between songs he told their origin stories or recounted momentous times in his life.
He also gave credit to his Savage Garden co-founder, saying “We wrote some incredible songs together.” They certainly did. Songs like Affirmation, To The Moon And Back and Truly, Madly, Deeply haven’t aged and still sound current today, albeit beefed up by extra bass and percussion.
One of many highlights was the emotionally-drenched Two Beds And A Coffee Machine, which along with I Knew I Loved You featured some of Darren’s best vocals of the evening.
The set was pretty evenly split between his classic Savage Garden hits, his subsequent solo materials and a few dance-flavoured, high energy tracks from his 2022 comeback album Homosexual, his first release in ten years. Personally, I think he’s at his best with the more sophisticated Savage Garden material.
Talking of material, one of the big successes of the show was the use of vertical drapes. Five of them provided the backdrop, but rather than just be an inanimate part of the set, they were creatively used throughout the evening.
At the start they were used to silhouette Darren when he appeared behind them, at other times one or all the drapes were untied and video images were projected on them. But perhaps their most memorable use was when Darren stood atop the stairs and held all five drapes in his hands.
Creative drapery might not sound like much of a spectacle, but I have to say it was very effective. Having seen images from the first night of the tour in Nottingham and the third date in Cardiff, the drapes look even better in a bigger venue where there’s much more ceiling height than the Brighton Dome.
Musically, Darren was impressively backed on stage right by Trevor Yasuda on keys as well as Lee Novak and Karl Lewis, who back in the day played bass and drums respectively with Savage Garden.
On stage left, Maddie Coghlan, Sharon Muscat, Virna Sanzone provided some fabulous backing vocals that perfectly complimented Darren’s flawless falsetto.
Mention of compliments, Hayes spoke about how much he loves Brighton, calling it the best of all British cities. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another eleven years before he makes a return visit.
Setlist: Homosapien (Pete Shelley cover) | Chained To You | Affirmation* | The Animal Song* | Insatiable | Forget Me Nots (Patrice Rushen cover) | All You Pretty Things | To The Moon And Back* | Two Beds And A Coffee Machine* | I Don’t Know You Anymore* | Poison Blood | I Knew I Loved You* | Casey | Do You Remember? | Homosexual | Let’s Try Being In Love | Pop!ular | Break Me, Shake Me* | Hey Matt | Dublin Sky | Crash And Burn* | Truly Madly Deeply* | I Want You* | The Best Thing*
*Savage Garden songs
Thanks to Powdered Sugar for arranging the photo pass
Behind the shot: These images were taken using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens and the camera’s built-in digital zoom. I was only allowed to shoot the first three songs, and as it was a seated audience there was no pit which meant I could only shoot from the side aisles or from the back of the venue. As a result, I couldn’t get the close-up portraits I typically aim for. All the iPhone shots were taken afterwards with the iPhone 14 Pro. Photographed in Brighton on 22 March 2023
About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in creating out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens, not forgetting an array of automotive exotica.
On the writing side, he has used his research skills to author deep dives into some noteworthy songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople.
He has also written a biography of Robert Palmer and the stories behind Whitesnake’s blatant Led Zep rip-off, ‘Still Of The Night’ and Harry Styles’ anthem to positivity, ‘Treat People With Kindness’.
Most recently, Gary has penned the fascinating story behind George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’
All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians including the likes of Royal Blood, Joe Satriani and Wolf Alice.