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A review of...

Chants For Socialists by Darren Hayman

Chants For Socialists
Date: 
February 2, 2015
8.5

The gist

Darren Hayman gives 19th century politics a fitting home in 2015

The music

Listening to an album based on some lyrics written in the 19th Century by William Morris and entitled Chants for Socialists might not seem like the easiest way to open your 2015. But fear not, because Darren Hayman is here to guide you through them with his characteristic charm, he's also updated some of words so that they're more relatable to a present-day dweller. Recorded in three of Morris' former homes with an array of guest musicians (including a choir which was formed by singers who lived close by to The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow), the album also features a sleeve handprinted on Morris' own press. Keeping with the socialist ethos though, the album is also available as a free/pay what you can afford download. William Morris is obviously a passion for Hayman, he's similarly got great mileage out of his passion for Essex and his interest in witch trials (not to mention his foray into commissioned dog portraits...there are many feathers to Hayman's cap), and he actually refers to these albums as "projects" now, perhaps a nod to the amount of planning and research that goes into each one. As for the songs, it's probably Hayman's most enjoyable collection since 2010's Essex Arms. There's a great warmth to the arrangements here which perfectly compliments the hopefulness and (as Hayman puts it) "naivety and rhetoric" in the lyrics and their messages of solidarity, togetherness and perseverance. There's certainly a place (and a need) for this sort of message in 2015, and it's interesting to hear it alongside other artists who have similar views but convey them in a wholly different manner (compare to Sleaford Mods' bubbling rage for example). Other, less political, influences also creep into the mix and on "May Day 1894" Hayman sounds like he's been taking notes from his time with Papernut Cambridge, it's a classic rock stomper of the Christmas Number 1 variety. A double tracked lead vocal and elements of US West Coast/British glam combine to form one of the album's most engaging tracks. Elsewhere there's folk compositions aplenty backed with traditional brass and a whole host of helpers, it has the feel of a true community spirited record. It's a pleasant surprise, given the myriad of external musical influences and the subject matter, that Chants For Socialists retains Hayman's grounded style and modern viewpoint. Most importantly though, it sounds great.

Listen to

"A Death Song" - utilising the ad-hoc choir gives an eerie child-like undertone to a song that is mainly concerned by death, death and death.

"Down Among The Dead Men" - probably the most chant-like chant on the album. It's also one of the few tracks that sounds like a period piece, lyrically. This, combined with the brass, simple acoustic guitar and military drum make for one of the LP's most interesting arrangements.

"The Voice Of Toil" - another pitch perfect use of the choir, this time coming together for a hopeful and spine tingling chorus "are we not stronger than the rich and the wronger, when day breaks over our dreams". Beautiful stuff.