Welcome to the William Morris Song Book
WHO WAS WILLIAM MORRIS?
William Morris (1834-1896) was one of the foremost designers of the nineteenth century, of whom it is correctly said that during his own lifetime, he influenced the appearance of every house in the land. Morris was also the owner of a ‘Firm’ (Morris & Co.) which produced stained glass, wallpapers, textiles, carpets, tapestries, furniture, ceramics and paintings, a successful poet, and a man who revolutionised British architecture in the shape of Red House, now in SE London.
William Morris is probably nowadays best known for his wallpapers, which, contrary to popular myth, did not poison his customers. But as well as ‘poet, designer, businessman’, he was also a revolutionary socialist, who spent eleven years from 1883 until his health failed travelling, lecturing and writing on socialism (as well as carrying on running his ‘Firm’, and continuing to write).
Morris’s political ideas are explained in the many articles he wrote for contemporary newspapers such as Commonweal or Justice, and in two of his most famous later works; A Dream of John Ball (1886), which deals with the ‘Peasants Revolt’ of 1381, and News from Nowhere (1891). This story is set in the twenty-first century after a socialist revolution, and is a perfect description of an ‘ecological society’ – precisely the kind of society we will all need to live in ‘after the oil runs out’.
THE WILLIAM MORRIS SONGBOOK
Morris often employed song as a political weapon, and wrote several such songs himself. The Morris family also liked to play and sing songs from the Scottish and English traditions; Jane Morris played piano, Morris and their elder daughter Jenny mandolin, and May, their younger daughter, guitar. Like the Coppers of Rottingdean, the McPeakes of Belfast, the Stewarts of Blairgowrie, and nowadays The Unthanks, or Waterson-Carthy, the Morrises had a ‘family band’.
As we also play in the same traditions (and the Irish), we wondered whether it might be fun to record a collection of songs Morris himself might either have heard during his lifetime (or even have known and sung), or which – in the case of more recent songs, and had he lived long enough – Morris would no doubt instinctively have liked and learned (because of the points these songs make about those social and political issues in which Morris himself was interested).
This idea led us to develop The William Morris Songbook; not a CD of Morris’s own songs, which are nowadays not easy to find – but of songs which Morris (had he known them) would probably have learned and sung. We see our efforts as part of the ‘story of history’ which Morris himself used to make important political points in A Dream of John Ball. Or as Arlo Guthrie once put it:
‘… one of the things … I learned from … my mother and my dad … is that … wanting to make the world a better place … (is part of) a tradition that’s probably been going on for as long as people have been around. … That’s the job of being a human … to make the connection to the future and hold on to the connection to the past’.
This is our contribution to that story, and these are our songs.
To listen to The William Morris Song Book Disc 2, Click Here,
or to buy a CD of The William Morris Song Book, Click Here.
You may also be interested in visiting the William Morris Society website
to learn more about him. If so then please use the link below.