Darren Hayman - Chants for Socialists - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Darren Hayman - Chants for Socialists

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2015-02-02

Darren Hayman is without a doubt one of the finest songwriters we have. Hayman first emerged with 90s indie stalwarts Hefner, producing much loved cult LPs such as debut album, Breaking God’s Heart. While never gaining huge mainstream exposure, these were albums that people really embraced. 

There were tales of Christian girls, stolen brides, unrequited love and one night stands alongside hymns to cigarettes, alcohol, coffee and even the postal service. Hayman’s songwriting undoubtedly gave Hefner a unique and distinctive voice. The band split after 2001s Dead Media, yet Hayman’s subsequent solo career only went on to enrich Brentwood’s finest.  

There’s been a trilogy of Essex inspired albums that covered such unlikely topics as the post-war new towns of the 1950s, East Anglian rural life, and 17th century witch trials. There’s been a series of EPs about great British holiday destinations, an album of piano ballads inspired by a stint in hospital, and an record where he wrote a song for every day in January. Idiosyncratic, intelligent and full of warmth and honesty, Hayman is a songwriter with a natural flair for making even the most unexpected subject matter his own.

Taking a 19th century pamphlet by writer, poet, textile designer and socialist activist William Morris as inspiration, Hayman has produced an album with all the intimacy and attention to detail we’ve come to expect. Music and politics obviously have a fairly rich and expansive history, with everyone from Crass to Woody Guthrie springing to mind. Chants for Socialists isn’t Hayman’s bid to become the new Billy Bragg, however. Despite its name, Chants for Socialists doesn’t come across as some angry rallying call or state of the nation address, rather a gracefully sung message of hope for troubled, cynical times.

In the spirit of socialism, Hayman invited local members of the public to form a people’s choir that went on to provide the distinctive backing vocals and auditory backbone of the album. The vocals were recorded in two of Morris’ homes, with the entirely a capella opening piece, ‘Awake London Lads’, immediately giving the album its fireside intimacy and communal tones.

Morris’ words have been used on every song, words that were designed to be sung to ‘popular tunes of the time’. Hayman has skilfully adapted the 19tn century prose to fit his reliably wonderful melodies, bringing fresh relevance and life to Morris’ words.  

Most of the compositions adopt a quiet, predominantly acoustic timber; simple, uncluttered arrangements that let the words and group vocals breathe. Songs such as the melancholic ‘A Death Song’ bloom into life as the assembled people’s choir join Hayman on the chorus: “Not one/ but thousands they slay/ if they darken the day/ darken the day”.

‘All for the Cause’ offers comfort to the “fools and dreamers”, while ‘No Master High or Low’ is a defiant plea for freedom and togetherness. Each song feels like it should be, and no doubt will be, passionately sung along to. Just take the quietly powerful ‘The Voice of Toil’ as its chorus proudly soars, “Are we not stronger than the rich and the wronger/ when day breaks over our dreams”.

Chants for Socialists is yet another triumph in Hayman’s consistently engaging catalogue. A political album that doesn’t hector or preach but rather one that offers solace, hope and unity. After all, as Hayman once sang back in 2000, “The greedy ugly people are not like us/ they don’t feel the love/ that she and I would die without”. 

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