"...there's an album about girls and sex and stuff... or, I'm putting William Morris's Chants for Socialists to music."
How could I resist?...
Now, I don't know if you've ever released an album by Darren Hayman (the
majority of London's independent record labels have), or even heard one (in
1996 he formed a band called Hefner, then a band called the French in 2002, and
has been recording under his own name since 2006) but they are always amazing
things to be involved with. They are like the best school projects that go on
into the holidays because you are loving to learn with your new friends. There
is always more to find out, more questions to ask, and more ideas to embrace.
So, with this in mind, we sat in a Walthamstow pub talking about William Morris,
and how we could release an album of 19th century chants and make it both
relevant in the 21st century, and true to Morris' ideas. We boiled it down to
"I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or
freedom for a few."
- We had to make the music available to everyone, allowing anyone who wanted to
listen to pay what they could afford or felt it was worth.
"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or
believe to be beautiful."
- This couldn't just be your bog standard
CD-with-a-picture-of-the-band-on-the-front. We would include a booklet with the
physical release, and ask experts for short essays. Darren would illustrate
each track. We would make both the sleeve and record itself (yes, a vinyl record!)
so remarkable that people who have moved their turntables to the loft (shame on
you) could still enjoy the 12" square and circle.
"To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use, that is
one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must
perforce make, that is the other use of it."
- The means of production is all important. We would hand make whatever we
could, asking favours (to be returned) of friends with expertise or eagerness
to learn, or simply enjoyment of their craft. People who love to sing would be
in the choir, people who loved to play would be in the band and people who
loved to print would put the cover together
All nicely summed up by the great man:
"... we may adorn life with the pleasure of cheerfully buying goods at
their due price; with the pleasure of selling goods that we could be proud of
both for fair price and fair workmanship: with the pleasure of working soundly
and without haste at making goods that we could be proud of"
Comforted that we weren't going to betray too many of his philosophies, we also
wanted a link to Morris - some context to the recordings, so we sent some
- the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow kindly opened their doors one
evening to let us record a choir (of "left-leaning locals") in the
house he grew up in.
- the William Morris Society generously opened up at 9 one Saturday morning for
us to record nine female singers in the room Bernard Shaw lectured, and Gustav
Holst conducted the Hammersmith Socialist Choir.
- and Kelmscott Manor allowed Darren to play William Morris' piano (very
So here we are, at the end of the summer, with an album recorded and hundreds
of people to thank (especially Helen Elletson, Rebecca Jacobs and Kathy
Haslam). We'll be busy putting the whole thing together over the next few
months, and you can keep track of our progress here
I wonder what happened to that album about girls and sex and stuff...
“If a chap can't compose an epic poem while he's weaving tapestry, he had
better shut up; he'll never do any good at all.”