In 2012, I found a photocopied leaflet in the William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow, called ‘Chants for Socialists’. It struck me as a bold and divisive title. Not one you would be likely to find on a record or CD today.
There are very few of my contemporaries that sing political songs and I understand why. Today’s politics can be very nuanced and personal. The way we discuss today’s problems can be hard to reduce to a song or short poem. Political songs can be gauche and hectoring. I struggle myself, and can only really claim to have written a handful of overtly political songs over a 15-album career.
William Morris wrote these lyrics in the late 19th century; they were to be sung to the popular tunes of the times. In only two cases did he specify a particular melody. I saw these as ‘emergency’ protest songs, something to draw on in times of strife. I think we are in troubled times. I regard these as useful lyrics.
They’re great melodies as well - melodies to match Morris’s spirit. This is the cleanest and warmest Hayman has sounded in years, from the sparkling riff that motors along in ‘Mayday 1894’ to the lovely, hymnal ‘A Death Song’ and the rat-a-tat waltz of ‘Down Among The Dead Men.’
There’s a satisfying match of form and function here. The album’s stirring, massed choral peaks feature a choir recruited from Hayman’s local fanbase with musical ability no consideration at all, giving those sections an honesty and endearing lack of polish. This is the “rolling ocean, the giant wave” he sings of on ‘The March Of The People’- it really is “the workers marching on.” The result is an album that we can all take ownership of- we could all have been a part of it had we been walking past at the right time. It’s real leftist ideas generating real art. (...)
Hayman has given us a beautifully crafted love-letter to the real humanity that is the soul and centre of socialism, both sad and sweet, melancholy and inspiring - a collection of songs that belong to everyone and cement Hayman’s place as a nationalised treasure.
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.