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Q&A: Radical folk singer Alun Parry

May 18, 2010

Alun Parry is a Liverpool-based radical folk singer and founder of the Woody Guthrie Folk Club. We interviewed him for our new, upcoming newsletter Wildcat.

Why do you find Woody Guthrie such an inspiring musician?

I think because Woody was someone who went against the grain and started singing songs that celebrated people like us when hardly anyone else was. Despite the suffering that people were going through, there were songs like Putting On The Ritz that didn’t describe the lives of people at all.

Woody connected with the struggles of the many rather than the privileges of the few, and wrote songs that uplifted us and made us proud of ourselves again.

He sided with the poor against the bosses and was both political and popular.

What kind of reaction have you had to the folk club since it began?

It’s been astonishing to be honest. I wanted to create a folk club that had Woody’s edge and rebellion. But at the same time I was still thinking “still, its only a folk club”.

But the opening night was just crazy. There were tons of people locked out. The room holds about 50. I think we had more than double that. I was sorry for everyone who couldn’t get in, but really inspired that political folk could strike such a chord in people.

Every night since has been sold out. And we have heard great music from singers from Canada, America, Scotland and more locally.

The Ship and Mitre is renowned for its real ales. Why was it chosen as the venue for the WGFC?

For that reason. It’s renowned for its real ales. Part of the inspiration for setting up a radical folk club came from my experience with Robb Johnson’s fab folk club down in Brighton when I was touring with my album at the back end of last year.

That club is based in a real ale pub in a cosy small room that creates a lot of atmosphere and with no plugging in. I couldn’t help think “this would work great in Liverpool” and it has.

I searched deliberately for a real ale pub because its a great combination isn’t it – great radical music and great real ale. The Ship & Mitre has proven to be a cracking choice so far as a venue.

Why do you think folk music remains relevant today?

I think because it is story telling music that tells the story of ordinary people. And ordinary people are in fact extraordinary. We have some stories to tell.

And folk, I think, is a style of music that allows the words to be heard fairly easily.

Personally I always use the quote of Joe Hill as a benchmark. He said, to paraphrase, that you can put a great idea in a pamphlet and it’ll be read once. Put a great idea in a song and it’ll be sung thousands and thousands of times.

Radical folk music is about spreading great ideas through song, and celebrating our struggles, our victories, and our lives. The rich have Murdoch to peddle their stories. We have each other, and folk music is a part of that.

Can you tell us a bit about the Folk Against Fascism campaign?

The Folk Against Fascism campaign was set up by a range of leading figures in folk who were keen to protect the genre from the likes of the BNP whose manifesto encourages members to use folk music to spread their racism.

Part of that campaign is to encourage folk clubs and folk performers to openly support FAF, so from day 1 the Woody Guthrie Folk Club declared itself a club that supported Folk Against Fascism.

Last month, right across the country, Folk Against Fascism had a national FAF week, and the club joined in with that by turning the night into an anti fascist special. We had some great anti fascist songs and some wonderful songs promoting diversity.

I keep in touch with the FAF people and will continue to plug into any initiatives they have.

Are we going to see the return of the Working Class Music Festival this year? If so, what can we expect?

Not this year but only because I decided to change the Festivals place in the calendar. There was no logic at all to having a September festival. The only reason it was a September festival was because I had the idea in Feb 08 so Sept 08 was the earliest it could happen.

I think the back end of April makes more sense because then it leads right into May Day which is the traditional time when workers celebrate international workers day.

I couldn’t have pulled off Sept 09 and Apr 10 so the next one is April 2011.

I’m planning for it to be a festival which covers more venues across the city and which brings in more event organisers. I’ll have a better idea of the final format in the late Autumn, but thanks to having the festival, Liverpool is now the only place in Europe that has a festival of this type, so I’m keen to keep it going.

Next year too of course is the 100th anniversary of the transport strike, of Robert Tressell’s death, and it’s 100 years of international women’s day, so there’s lots for us to commemorate. Workers Memorial Day happens on the 28th April each year too so there’s lots of important things for us to pay tribute to and April 2011 makes more sense I think.

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