ALBUM REVIEWS


John Parkes
ILLEGAL SONGS
AAZ RECORDINGS 14.1.08
@www.vanguard-online.co.uk


John Parkes is a long-time committed Leeds musician. One time member of obscure eighties indie scene lads, The Sinister Cleaners, he is seeing some success with the band Whole Sky Monitor and garnered some good reviews for his last solo album. This offering is a stripped down, one man and his guitar affair – pure acoustic and straight ahead in sound. In fact, it’s folk. Reminding me at times of a harder-edged Robb Johnson and touring venues like Bradford’s Topic Folk Club, John strums away and even, shock! horror!, plays the mouth organ on occasion. He’s not hot on big tunes – these are accompaniements to the words, decoration if you like. The strength here is the lyrics, honesty and heart.

John is an unreconstructed cynical, rebellious and idealistic teenager in a grown-up’s body. He considers terrorism and concludes “terrorism founded the United States”. He attacks the detention laws. “Let’s Make Love” (“together; if the government says okay”) digs rightly at the obsession with safety laws and control of the individual that erode personal freedom. “Incitement To Religious Hatred” ends – “the thing that strikes as wrong is that God needs protection from me and my song”! “Left Of Centre” nails this administration as being far from ‘left of centre’ and prepared to sacrifice ideals for power. He “prays for recession”, wanting a simpler “repair and borrow” way of life. There are relationship songs but, even there, he won’t do Valentine’s Day, largely because it is big business.

These are songs you need to pay attention to, becoming noise in the background if ignored. Songs that’d be good in a small club or while you are not otherwise occupied reading or whatever. They are in the tradition of Billy Bragg and other social commentators / protestors. But John doesn’t see himself as hardcore as Woody Guthrie – a snap on the album cover shows John’s guitar, labelled: “This machine gets grumpy”.

www.johnparkes.com


Ross McGibbon