Sunday 1 September 2013


CD Review

When the Sunlight Shines

Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Alun Parry is now, sadly, one of the rare breed of folk singers who still produces politically barbed songs, and Parry is unashamedly political both in his outlook and especially in his music.

Alun Parry's third album When the Sunlight Shines
The Woody Guthrie enthusiast seems to span generations both with his style and lyrics. His style is most reminiscent of the Merseybeat of the 1960s and could easily be mistaken for the likes of Gerry & the Pacemakers, with a smattering of Lonnie Donegan and the skiffle sound with more than a hint of Woody himself.
The lyrics are a reminder of the late 1970s to the mid 1980s when there were more politically charged songs around, designed to make people stop and think and politicians uncomfortable.
When the Sunlight Shines is Parry's third album and all 15 tracks are clean, clear and precise. The sort of songs you can pick up in minutes that have a lilt and beat which makes it almost compulsory to sing along to.
There are so many obvious influences in Parry's music with Americana, the dust bowl anthems of Guthrie, Celtic, traditional folk and even bordering on honky tonk.
The album opens with a jaunty upbeat number Bring Love which is a toe tapper that seems to have a barrel house sound mixed with New Orleans and blue grass folk, which is quite an eclectic blend but Parry's soft and easy voice knits it all together.
Parry has so many strings to his musical bow one of which is storytelling and there are tracks on this which point to the human condition and individuals who in their own way have made a difference to society and are thus worthy of being immortalised in song.
Union Hall is the first of the politically charged tracks which is very much in the Guthrie stream and wouldn't have been out of place as part of the sound track of that great Cohen brothers film Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
The song again is a real toe tapper but, sadly seems almost anachronistic in its clarion call for people to be stronger as part of a collective or, to use the dirty word, union, but if you're going to produce a song which you hope will stir people then the way Parry has done it is as good as it gets.
It has that simple beat which makes people take notice, the clear message in the precise lyrics and stirring brass band-style sound which evokes mind-pictures of banners flying majestically in the wind held in the calloused hands of exploited workers.
Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Alun Parry
My name is Dessie Warren is one of those songs deep rooted in the folk tradition where it tells the story of an individual, in this case a political activist, who became know as one of the Shrewsbury Two the other being another activist who has since become one of the country's best loved actors and comedians, Ricky Tomlinson.
The song tells of Warren who fought for a minimum wage and was imprisoned for conspiracy to intimidate while protesting in Shropshire. He died in 2004 from Parkinson's Disease which has been linked with the long-term effects of the treatment he received during his time in prison, in particular the 'liquid cosh' – a cocktail of tranquilisers administered to keep inmates docile.
In his telling of this story Parry pulls no punches and like most of the tracks on When the Sunlight... is a straightforward, unadorned clear account of the story of Warren and his refusal to give in to the authorities.
Over the Waters has a feel of a sea shanty about it which is hardly surprising since it's an immigration song, something no self-respecting folk album should be without. It also has that Celtic feel where you can almost see the people on the decks of the ship swaying from side to side and singing their farewell to their home and loved ones.
This is followed by the faster moving and jaunty Puppets in the Wind and is perhaps the most commercial sounding of all the tracks. It has the feel of Lindisfarne but the quick beat provided by the banjo and guitar gives is a strong undertone which holds Parry's voice up perfectly.
Julio From Chile is in the same vein as Dessie Warren which again tells the story of an individual who fled the Pinochet regime and was treated as a political football. While again Parry tells the story clearly and precisely there is something at odds with the lightness of the song considering the subject matter of how the union saved him from from being extradited.
This is followed by After All Of This Time which is a move away in that it's a love song which is the most Celtic sounding of all the tracks with the fiddle adding some colourful tones to Parry's voice and guitar playing.
Parry moves back to his storytelling for the People's Midwife which is a simple ballad which seems to be a straightforward lauding of the role of the "bringer of life" which is undoubtedly worthy of a song.
If you were in any doubt about Guthrie's influence on Parry then The Dirty Thirty should seal it for you. The song complete with harmonica is straight out of the dust bowl tradition and singing about striking miners in Leicestershire during the 1980s.
The song is notable for that simple fact that, considering how turbulent that period of Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher's reign was, there are surprisingly few protest song about it.
Ulysses is another homage to the great Irishman James Joyce and to his notoriously inaccessible epic story. This time Parry has made this feel like the sound of a one man band.
If Harry Don't Go is back to the political storytelling this time about the dock workers in London and one in particular Harry Constable, who fought against exploitation. This one is in your face and never lets up with a constant marching beat and like so many of Parry's songs within the first few bars, which start with Parry's voice alone, you have picked up the refrain and feel like you are already part of the protest, so much so that when the instruments come in you feel like you are being carried along in the march.
Another homage song this time to his father with On the Train from Barcelona where his usually reserved father "flipped his latch". It's a lovely example of storytelling and how the music and Parry's voice take you through the action and build up the picture of the events so vividly.
The most politically barbed song on the album Oh Mr Cameron is juxtaposed against the flippant tune of Oh Mr Porter, from the film of the same name starring the late great trio of Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat.
Parry openly admits the song was inspired by his mum and pulls no punches with the lyrics, although it must be noted it was written before the Iron Lady died, but nonetheless the message is just as savaging. Drawing on the history of French revolution and calling for the return of the guillotine for certain politicians may not be original but it is certainly radical for today's politically neutered music scene and that includes the folk circuit.
However, this said, you kind of get, from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band-style musical inserts,  that Parry is playing it tongue-in-cheek to a certain degree.
The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band
The Dylanesque/Guthrie opening of Letter to Kathleen is another migration song where the character misses his daughter. The great thing about Parry is that although these are often tragic songs or outlining deeply serious and controversial subjects he never lets his songs get maudlin, miserable or self-indulgent, he manages to keep them all upbeat.
To end the album, not surprisingly for a Scouser, there is a track about football. But don't be fooled the political edge is still there and although The Football Song is about the beautiful game, it is also clearly about the class war where the rich use their influence to try and keep control and the only way the lower classes can hope to beat them is by working together as a team. And you thought it was just 22 men kicking a bit of leather about.
The political angle of most of his songs means Parry is probably never going to be mainstream which is something of a raison d'etre for folk music but of course it could also put people off even though it's not preachy in any way.
Parry has tried to express his political beliefs in a way which makes it entertaining to listen to and he has for the most succeeded. His messages and stories, like his playing and singing, are crisp, clean, crystal clear and precise and they are extraordinary tales, told in straightforward tunes for ordinary people to understand.
Below is a link to listen to The Dirty Thirty.

Alun is promoting the album with a tour of the UK & Ireland, starting in Leicester on September 30th and continues until Spring 2014. When The Sunlight Shines is released on September 21.

Further listening:

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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