Darren Hayman – Chants For Socialists

The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism.
Karl Marx

Like most things that Margaret Thatcher wasn’t keen on, Socialism is a really great idea! When Margaret, largely accepted as the most hated politician in British history, said “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money” she showed her shocking lack of understanding of what Socialism is all about. Whilst certainly not her biggest flaw, her inability to appreciate the idea that people could exist for a greater good beyond the collection of gold was probably a key factor in her inability to be a decent human being which underpinned the vast majority of her political legacy.

All ranting about that awful lady aside, whether you think it works or not in reality, the ethics and morals of Socialism are undeniably honourable. The basic premise – we’re all in it together, we work as one towards a greater good, producing what we need and sharing the spoils fairly based on effort and contribution – is just a good way for the world to be right?

Pipe dream or reality? As the political climate in the UK seems to become increasingly divided between left and right, so may come the chance for a decision to move away from Conservatism and get behind something genuinely progressive. That or we may end up with a horrible conglomerate of UKIP and Tory, in which case we will emigrate and set up a socialist paradise somewhere slightly warmer. Who’s with us?



Allo Darlin’ wrote a song about Darren, it told the tale of locking yourself away from the world with the one you love and sticking on a Darren Hayman record as you “get drunk and fall about and he makes us laugh so hard because we mean it.” Darren’s the man who wrote the line “how can she love me if she doesn’t even love the cinema that I love” so he’s clearly as adapt at bringing about a wry chuckle as he is at telling tales of crushing heartbreak such as, “and now I’m older I should have told her how I felt when we were younger, she don’t talk to me, she just talks at me and tells me that nobody else wants me.” It’s undeniable if you look back at the lyrics of Mr Hayman there’s plenty to laugh at and plenty to cry about but on his latest project Chants For Socialists he’s not here to make you laugh, he’s not here to break your heart, he just wants you to think!

“I offer these songs as political, historical curiosities and as something to comfort ageing lefties like myself.

In 2012, Darren found a pamphlet in the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, entitled Chants For Socialists. Written in the late 19th Century. The idea was that the words there would be sung to the popular tunes of the day, with no melody specified, Darren describes them as “emergency protest songs.” Inspired by the words he read, finding more parallels with our current political climate than you might imagine, Darren decided to set these tales of simple kindness and hope, and re-work them for a modern audience, as he puts it to “build a bridge between the 19th and 21st centuries.”

The result is an inspiring collection of songs, a rousing call to arms for the left-wing dreamers. Morris’ words invigorated Darren with the politics of his youth, with the sense of hope that was brought about by the music of the Red Wedge movement. In the same way that the music of Billy Bragg and The Communards inspired him, his music can now inspire a new generation, these are protest songs for a time when nobody writes protest songs anymore.

The albums opening track Wake London Lads is an accapella blast of harmonious spirit, a choir of voices coming together as one. It’s a rousing call to arms and probably the truest to William Morris’ original vision. A hairs on their end reminder of the power of the human voice, or perhaps human voices! It’s a trick Darren repeats throughout the album, the choir almost omnipresent throughout.

If Wake London Lads is like nothing you’ve heard from him previously, the single, May Day 1984, is in many ways classic Hayman. Twanging electric guitars, a gently ticking drum, lyrics like “spring with summer tied to her dress”, it’s a heavy dose of pop. The chorus of beautifully harmonised chants of “May Day” over a meandering guitar in the vein of The Wave Pictures is surely one of the most jaunty pieces ever written about a large scale riot! It’s by far the albums most upbeat moment and stands out because of it.

Down Among The Dead Men sees a marching drum come together with bright, brash brass in a drinking song commemorating the fallen comrades lost to social injustice. The chorus is a spine-tingling moment, a cacophony of voices, hands gently ambling around a piano, a twanging guitar solo and wheezing horns; it’s the previous untrodden middle ground of Tom Waits and a Colliery Brass Band, and every bit as great as that sounds!

The Voice Of Toil sees the choir chiming “are we not stronger than the rich and the wringer when they break over our dreams”, set to a gently meandering Rhodes piano and shimmering guitar chords. A Death Song has a smoky New-Orleans Jazz feel, distant woodwinds conveying a mournful feeling echoed in the repeated line “not one but thousands they slay if they darken the day, darken the day”, it’s just a clever piece of songwriting! Whilst the closing track No Master High Or Low is a suitably cacophonous dream of being free from anyone rule, be it your line manager, or some potential god chap up in the sky, it’s really rather moving!

Best, or at least strangest of all is the penultimate track, The Message of the March Wind, it’s a complete musical departure with it’s distorted guitar and plodding piano, it wouldn’t sound at out of place on one of Nick Cave’s more recent albums, it’s even a bit sexy! Darren sings “draw closer my love and give it to me” like a grade A lothario, which is all well and good, but shouldn’t you be thinking about Health & Safety Legislation and reforming the factories?! Even out of the context of the albums subject manner it’s an excellent piece of song-writing, there’s even room for a wry sting in the tale, Darren singing “we shall rest in desire but tomorrow’suprising be sweet” you can almost hear the glint in his eye!

Previously we’ve never quite been sure about Darren’s concept pieces, yes the one about witches was fun and the idea of an album about Lido’s is great, but here perhaps for the first time he’s managed to combine both his own personality as a songwriter and a weighty concept. It’s probably his finest record to date, it’s both a thoroughly enjoyable listen and carried off with the gravitas of the subject manner, it feels like not just a good record, but an important one!

Chants For Socialists is out on Where It’s At Is Where You Are on February 2nd. Darren Hayman plays at Union Chapel tomorrow lunch time (24/01/15)

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