By: Gaz Cloud
Darren Hayman | website | twitter | bandcamp |
Released on February 2, 2015 via Where It's At Is Where You Are (WIAIWYA)
What a simple, brilliant idea. Darren Hayman, formerly of Hefner and, since 2006, a solo artist whose live reputation precedes him, has set William Morris’ Chants For Socialists to music. Hayman’s re-ordered the songs, edited the text where appropriate to ensure the content speaks loudly to a modern audience, composed and arranged the music and even gone as far as to record the resultant tunes at three of Morris’ former abodes. The texts, originally intended to be sung to popular melodies of the day, lend themselves well to Hayman’s pared back, folky song-writing style.
Awake London Lads, not actually part of Morris’ “socialist” collection, but one of his earlier political poems, sets the scene – apparently acapella to attract attention to its rallying call. The remaining arrangements all fall within the gentler end of Hayman’s oeuvre, seemingly an attempt to focus the listener’s attention on the lyrics. At times naive, at others damning of society as Morris saw it, these words are filled with a sense of hope and optimism that make the album alternately bring a tear to the eye and a smile to the face.
Hayman’s best work has always been based on what’s left unsaid. When questioned about the source material, Hayman replied “I think we are in troubled times. I regard these as useful lyrics.” Towards the middle of the album, mortality becomes a common theme, with Down Among The Dead Men and A Death Song subsequent track titles. Here, the original texts are barely recognisable, yet their core message remains intact. A Death Song’s simple piano chords, sing-along refrain and groaning strings fully encourage introspection. It’s easy and rewarding to read between the lines on Chants For Socialists.
A “dub” version of the album, available to vinyl enthusiasts, is a dubious “bonus”, so crucial are the words to this project. More satisfying is the concept of “paying what you feel” for the digital download, the idea being that people should only contribute that which is within their means. Gestures such as this demonstrate Hayman’s regard for the socialist ideal – this is not a co-option of left-wing ideas to simply benefit the artist; but a heartfelt, tender release.