ALUN PARRY – Speak Easy, Sing Hard (own label)

Speak Easy, Sing HardA trauma therapist in his day job, recorded at his hometown Liverpool’s Prohibition Studio in front of a live audience, Speak Easy, Sing Hard marked Parry’s return to the stage after almost five years with a set that, split into solo acoustic and full band, pretty much represents a best of, drawing on material from across his many albums, suffused with the social protest spirit of Woody Guthrie (indeed one track is the rumbustious ‘Woody’s Song’ where he sings “I hate a song that makes you think that you’re no good/I’m out to fight those songs with my last drop of blood/I hate a song that makes you think you’re born to lose/I hate a song, sung just to abuse”) and Leon Rosselson and likened to kindred artists such as Bragg, Moore and Earle.

The acoustic numbers form the first half, opening with ‘The Football Song’, a wry Swiftian satire on the class struggle in a match between toffs and workers (“So they searched the old boy networks/The Oxbridge playing fields/In the public schools and boardrooms/They sent out their appeal/To build a team so mighty success would come their way/And they played a humble factory team on a wintery Saturday”­), the former’s self-interest their downfall in the face of team spirit (“But the rulers they are selfish in all they think and do/So whenever they would get the ball they’d just try to dribble through/But the workers knew togetherness/The football they did pass/And in unity and teamwork they beat the ruling class”), the moral of the tale succinctly summed up as “you have to stand together, divided we must fall/And you’ll never win a single game/If you don’t share the ball/For it’s not the skill or technique that set those teams apart/But the way each saw their fellow man and the values in their heart”.

It’s a serious theme but one which illustrates the playfulness that frequently informs his songs, found to good effect on the likes of the crowd friendly strummed skewed love song ‘You Are My Addiction’ with lines like “I could be your bluebottle – you could be my venus flytrap” and “I could be your sexy football – you could be my Aston Villa” or, one of the band numbers, the rock n rolling the pandemic-based ‘Lockdown Lover’ (“She’s in my bubble/Whole load of trouble”) with its Jerry Lee Lewis boogie piano.

There’s a parcel of up and downbeat love songs too: the harmonica-led swayer ‘After All Of This Time’(“I love you/After all of this time/I hear your voice for old time’s sake/On old recordings we would make/Your name it takes my breath away/To see it there on new year’s day”), ‘One Last Try’ (“The carpet is fading fast/Seems like you waited past/The sell by date of us/Now it’s too late for trust/Go if you must/The pictures upon the wall/They seem to say it all/Seeing the smiles we shared/Back in the times we cared/We were so unprepared/Woah-oh just one last try, give it/One last try/For me and you”) and the tinkling piano-accompanied swayalong never to be ‘Some Other Universe’ (“In some other universe/For better and for worse/I pass the years at your side…But in this reality/There’ll be no you and me/Here where the worlds won’t collide”).

The need for help and redemption underpin the reflective Celtic-shaded balladeering ‘If I Should Reach The Night Again’ (“I’ve been sitting up all night/Counting my regrets/Through the debris of my life/And all my losing bets…If I should reach the night again/I’ll be a lucky …Will you hold my hand”) while the steady strummed ‘Sonny’ looks to better times ahead (“someday soon we’ll turn this whole world upside down…Did no-one tell you that these feelings pass on through/And someday soon you’ll see the sunlight shines on you”). Likewise, on ‘Bring Love’, which opens the band set and is as much Hank as Woody, where he sings “Now I walk amongst this town of strangers/And no face of comfort do I see/These old boots are ragged from my wanderings/And I pray, I pray each day/To rescue me”.

But it’s his songs of social commentary, protest and defiance that ring the loudest. Backed by the band, ‘The Ship Song’ is a strident shanty that weaves a class allegory wherein an arrogant wealthy man and a sailor find themselves shipwrecked on a desert island, one making shore with a bag of gold and one with a bag of food. The set’s second number, the melody hinting at Deportees’, ‘I Want Rosa To Stay’ (“I don’t believe all the tales that they tell/No I don’t believe Rosalita’s a threat/Or that she’s a strain on the national debt/For Rosa has spirit and courage galore/To brave every ocean to land on this shore”) addresses the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, children in particular, and was written in response to the last Labour government ’s arbitrary jailing of refugees, denied education, allowed one shower per week and were frequently invited to sign papers for their own deportation, Parry being one of the co-founders of Merseyside Against Detention.

Several relate to real life figures. ‘If Harry Don’t Go’, another shanty-styled number is about Harry Constable, a leading activist in the struggle of the dock workers from before the war until the end of the 1950s, while the strummed ‘My Name Is Dessie Warren’ was written in support of the Shrewsbury Pickets Justice Campaign which seeks an official pardon for the people targeted by the state under the Conspiracy Act during the National Building Strike in the 1970s, Warren being one of those imprisoned, kept in solitary confinement and given “liquid cosh” (drugs administered to inmates considered awkward), resulting in drug-induced Parkinsons. Perhaps the most intriguing is the jaunty ‘The Limerick Soviet’ which relates the little known story of how, in 1919 at the start of the Irish War of Independence, when martial law was imposed on Limerick Town under The Defence of the Realm Act, the local trades and workers council declared a General Strike and the Limerick Soviet (a self-governing committee), one of several in Ireland that year, which existed for a two-week period from 14 to 27 April.

Elsewhere there’s songs about Irish immigration (‘Over The Water’), the power of workers (“We Can Make The World Stop”), the passing of the days of the old travelers (‘Settling Down’), solidarity (“Whatever Your Struggle’) and perseverance (“Cllimb”). ‘On The Train From Barcelona’ even recalls how, presumably returning from the 1962 Fairs Cup football competition on an overcrowded train, his normally quiet and respectful dad apparently hung an officious ticket inspector from a coat hook after he “poked my mother/Just beneath the shoulder blade/And yelled get out” and then demanded they put on extra carriages.

Ending with a rousing all join in rendition of ‘The Internationale’, like Guthrie and Dylan before him and contemporaries such as Bragg, Skinny Lister and he Dropkick Murphy’s, Parry understands that revolutions are best won with songs that have the crowd singing stomping and clapping along. This is a terrific return to performing and a sterling reminder of his commitment, passion and songwriting prowess. Now, let’s have a full tour.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘The Limerick Soviet’: