Corridors of Stone

New Album by Alun Parry
Released on 23rd November 2006

Reviewed by John Davies

I first heard Alun Parry’s music at a benefit for this magazine a few months back and although I only caught the end of his spot, it was obvious he already had quite a following amongst arts and community activists. Corridors of Stone - Parry’s debut album, shows why.

Drawing on a myriad of musical influences - mostly from the sixties - and a variety of traditions, the album should appeal to a wide cross section of thinking listeners. I could hear folk, skiffle and protest song motifs, as well as definite echoes of The Hollies, The Bee Gees, Lindisfarne, and probably several others that I’ve missed.

The album opens with a couple of Graham Nash sounding numbers, You Are My Addiction and the title track Corridors of Stonem where there is some great mournful harmonica and - to my ear at least - a definite Hollies influence. The first is a love song with witty and amusing lyrics, while Corridors is a mournful tirade against the monotony and drabness of much contemporary culture:

Who took all my horizons away? Must we live in these corridors of stone?
If we give them time, they’ll make stone of us all

Woody’s Song is a skiffly protest number, presumably referring back to the great Guthrie, although musically it is more reminiscent of Pete Seeger and the American labour movement songs of the fifties and early sixties. This is a kind of Parry manifesto, in which he tells us what he dislikes in a song.

I hate the songs that sneer because you’re down in luck
I hate the song that’s only sung to mock

Parry clearly sees his song writing purpose as a long way from the smart-arsed petty personal sniping of a lot of contemporary songs.

I sing a song that helps to see ourselves with pride
I sing a song to fill us up inside

True to his word, the folk influenced Life of Crime throws a sympathetic light on how much crime is rooted in the banality and fatigue of low paid work. The central character works in a coffee kiosk. He is sweating for very little, and when the ‘kiosk hems me in‘, crime seem the logical step.

When the stakes are so low
You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain

There’s a great female harmony line on this number which makes it all the more powerful.

Make a Man is a driving satirical piece about macho values being passed from father to son. I couldn‘t make my mind up if the aggressive and slightly obtrusive cymbal work on this track were the result of a mixing misjudgement or a stroke of genius, re-inforcing the male aggro of the overbearing dad. Make up your own mind.

Although written in a very different musical vein, Today’s just Yesterday reminded me of the great Ewan McColl’s Ballad of Accounting, with it’s warning that at the end of our lives we will have to confront the truth of how we have contributed during our brief stay. With its Bee Gees sounding backing harmonies, it’s appropriate that Parry’s plea to get on with life is less severe - When tomorrow comes, today’s just yesterday. At moments it sails close to sounding trite but in the end manages a gentle, aphoristic wisdom.

No point in mourning history
All the things you wanna try, try them now

Mixing it up well, Parry moves up a gear with Thursday Night Drinking Song, which as you‘d expect from the title is an up-tempo tribute to the Friday sickie. I struggled picking up some of the lyrics on this - Parry’s accent varies from slight scouse to an American drawl (possibly a throwback to his cover-singing busking days?) and it’s the American which dominates on this. Personally I’m less keen on it, partly because it makes his sharp and thoughtful lyrics less easy to pick out. Nevertheless, this dig at the tyranny of work with laughter at its heart is fun, and Parry is also clear that he isn‘t joking.

If you wanna revolution then make it
If you wanna freedom you gotta take it

I Want Rosa To Stay was the number which I caught at the Nerve benefit and hearing it again I can see why it produced such a positive response from that audience. Probably more than any other of his subjects, the question of asylum seekers and deportation is very much ‘of the moment'. This is a classic protest song which nails its sympathies to the mast in the first verse - For Rosa has spirit and courage galore, to brave every ocean and land on this shore - but goes on to offer more than sympathy and solidarity. Parry understands very well the roots of the current hysteria against migrant workers:

For I’ve read the headlines in papers I’ve bought
The panic that passes as rational thought
Written by peddlers of falsehood and fear

And although the last verse is an echo of many before it, nevertheless Parry makes his point with great economy and force:

Rich men in mansions say that’s why I’m poor
But I don’t remember being wealthy before
You need someone easy to carry the blame
And Rosa’s the one you hope we’ll pursue
So we don’t go pointing the finger at you

Good lyrics can go to the heart of important issues and, in Parry’s hands, skewer them with the minimum of fuss.

The final track, The Ship Song sounds like a re-worked folk ballad with New Testament parable echoes of the rich man and poor man. It has a great, taunting, raucous, singalong chorus - nananananana - at the expense of the rich man starving with his bags of gold. It’s appropriate that Parry finishes with this taunting cry at all those who flaunt their wealth, for social criticism is at the heart of this thoughtful and committed first album.

The new album will be launched on Thursday 23rd November 2006 at The Casa in Hope Street, Liverpool with a free launch party. The Alun Parry Band will be playing every song from the album live. Also on the bill with acoustic sets for this celebration are Ragz, Campbell Todd, and Tom Western.

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