I’m clear about which side I’m on
Wednesday 22nd March 2017
Singer-songwriter ALUN PARRY talks to Bob Oram about what inspires his new album Freedom Rider
PROMOTER, stand-up performer, online tutor, podcaster, football club founder — if ever there were a man for all seasons it’s singer and songwriter Alun Parry.
An independent online artist who’s fully embraced the possibilities of communicating directly with the listener, live he exudes a passion, humour and charisma which embeds itself into a tuneful storytelling, laced with classic traditional English influences and an Americana heartbeat with a Celtic twist.
It’s everything you’d expect from a proud Liverpudlian and a lot more besides.
But it’s his politically conscious observations, along with a deep reverence for those who’ve struggled and fought for causes and their fellow man that makes his singing and songwriting stand out.
As a child Parry was always exposed to music and records for him were what told stories. Hearing Johnny Cash sing about San Quentin prison was “a spine tingling moment” and at the age of nine he started to write songs.
The inspirations were George Formby, “me Nan’s favourite,” the Beatles, “my dad’s,” and The Who, “my brother’s.” But only at the age of 16 did he get his first guitar and learn some basic chords.
Two weeks later he was busking on Bold Street in the centre of Liverpool.
“It’s the one place you can always get a gig,” he says.
“It was nervewracking. It can be very uncomfortable but you learn what works, what goes down well and I enjoyed it and earned enough to buy my first proper guitar and a new radio for my Nan.”
Winning the best busker award in Merseyside at 18 could have been the moment his career took off. But it was not to be.
Alun ended up getting a job and it was only when he was 35 and “it was just unbearable not to try again” that he decided to get a record out.
His first album Corridors of Stone was described by Liverpool Daily Post & Echo as “post-punk social realism on acoustic guitar.”
His affinity with the working class is obvious and Alun describes a youth spent in a house where the news was on constantly.
“I remember when me dad got in from work the news programmes went on and he watched them all.
“He was a real news junkie — national, regional, Newsnight, Question Time, everything.
“I grew up gradually realising there are politicians who care about people and those who care about money. I was clear which side I was on.
“The miners’ strike really politicised me. I was only 13 but it made me question if the state was actually our friend because of what I saw happening. It made me read everything voraciously.
“Where others were reading comics I was reading papers and journals, trying to understand the world.”
History permeates his songs and two he has written are for unknown heroes like Julio from Chile and the legendary Jack Jones.
“I’m inspired by great stories. I hear a story or read one and it sets something off. I can feel the kettle boiling inside me,” he says.
“A friend told me the story of Sala Udin, one of the freedom riders in the US, and that moved me to write the title track of the new album.”
How does that work? “I just start singing,” he replies.
“In the kitchen, in the shower, when I am out walking. If it gives me an emotional sense of something, a rhythm, I will record it on my phone and then work on it. The guitar comes after.
“I wrote my first song at nine but learnt guitar at 16. When I run workshops for aspiring songwriters I always say: ‘You don’t need to be an instrumentalist to write a song.’ Capturing the moment and creativity is so important. The rest will follow.”
His new album Freedom Rider is launched next Saturday in Liverpool.
“I am pleased with it because the blueprint in my head is now the sound on the disc,” he says.
“Previously I’ve been working and learning with some great people but on this, my seventh release, I did all the recording and production — everything until the mastering stage.
“Even the funding was via my members’ site, where I shared the early acoustic versions as they developed with an explanation of the song and raised the funding to release it.
“The internet for me is not an awful thing. It’s put the means of production and distribution in our hands — what’s not to like about that?”
Parry is a huge music fan as well as a performer.
He oozes pride when talking about singing with Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora and Peter, Lonnie Donnegan’s son.
He’s supported and sung with his hero Billy Bragg, who gave him hope in “the vast desert of nonsense that existed in music in the early ’80s.”
And he’s currently collaborating with Ricky Tomlinson on an as yet unrecorded song called The Shrewsbury Two.
“I was made up by that, as it came about after Ricky heard me sing My Name Is Dessie Warren.”
Brimming with ideas, constantly seeking new challenges and opportunities — he’s life president of cooperative football club AFC Liverpool, yet another string to his bow — Alun has an infectious enthusiasm for life.
And a spirit from Woody Guthrie that Morning Star readers will love.
The launch of Freedom Rider at the Casa in Liverpool on Saturday is sold out but for tour dates or to order the album, visit parrysongs.co.uk. To book Alun for a gig, email email@example.com.