Monday 25 August 2014

Chants for Socialists (after William Morris)

"...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 three points:

"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 emails....

- 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 gently).

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.”

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