Apr 12

How To Use Randomness As Your Creative Partner

dice-throwing-question_smallIt’s often a good idea to have a creative partner. Someone who will be able to add some ideas we couldn’t have thought of alone. Or someone who will provide input into how to structure a set list for a show. Or to advise on how best to tell a story you’re trying to tell.

Yet not all of us have the luxury of a creative partner, and so I want to tell you about the creative partner I have that all creatives can take advantage of – randomness.

This may sound a bit weird at first, but I find randomness really useful to come up with first drafts of things, so I want to show you how I use it, and then see if you can jump on board and provide some other ideas.

1. Concert Set Lists

When I’m doing a show, the organiser will tell me how long they want me to play for. I know from experience that, with me chatting in between songs, each song takes on average 4.5 minutes. (I’ll have to check this again as I’m probably even chattier now, but it’s a fair rule of thumb).

So I know now that if someone wants me to play for an hour it’s basically a 13 song set.

What I do then is list the 13 songs I think would fit that particular audience. But this is only the start of the process.

As any good entertainer knows, it’s important to place the songs in the right order. I want it to build towards the end, like any good story does. I want to make sure I don’t have three slow songs one after the other. I like my sets punctuated between the slow and the more upbeat so it is a really varied interesting experience for the audience member.

I used to spend lots of time on this, shuffling the pack through endless permutations. Now I have my creative partner, randomness, to come up with some ideas for me.

So I head off to http://random.org and use the Lists feature to type in the songs I’m singing. Then every time I press the Randomize Button, I get a randomly created set list order.

I then copy and paste that into my word processor, then do it again.

I’ll do this about half a dozen times. The effect is that of having a free assistant go away and come up with 6 different possible set lists.

I’ll look through them and there’ll be many that just aren’t right, but there’ll be one (maybe two) that aren’t quite right but they’re kind of close.

So I’ll hone in on that one, and then just take a few minutes to jiggle the set list around so it feels like it will be the good varied experience I want.

It really does save me a lot of time and unnecessary brainwork. Thanks Randomness!

2. Documentary Film Making

I’ve made a few social documentary films.

This involves interviewing people to get their story from them.

Once I’ve got the footage I’ll then watch it back, making notes to show which bits of the footage I potentially want to use.

Once I’ve cut the unwanted stuff, my problem is that I’ll then have a load of clips from the interview with Bob, another load of clips from the interview with Edna, and another load of clips from the interview with Jeff.

The viewer doesn’t want to hear from Bob then Edna then Jeff. It is more satisfying for the story to weave. Yet it feels hard as the film editor to really feel like they’re a story that can be weaved when they’re all queued up like that.

So I call in my assistant, randomness.

I give each clip a number, and then I use random.org again to randomise the numbers.

I’ll then organise the clips in that order, and sit back to watch the first draft that randomness gave me.

This is where my own storytelling ability kicks in as I spot things that should really have gone together. Or the part of the story that would have been better earlier on. Or the clip that really needs to be moved so it follows another clip.

But that first draft from my “assistant”, randomness? That makes it look like a story to me for the first time (albeit a badly told story), and so saves me a ton of work.

I then craft it by changing things around, but a good 50 to 60% of it is generally roughly where I’d like it to be.

Randomness gives me something initially wrong for me to craft. And it’s the crafting of the story that is the storyteller’s skill.

3. Getting Ideas In The First Place

Okay so here’s a disclaimer. I’ve not actually used this one myself. But I just heard it suggested by a comedy writer called Brian Luff.

His technique is to use the Halliwells Film Directory as a source of ideas. Open the book randomly, put your finger randomly anywhere on the opened page, and it will have landed on a Film Title with a Plot Decription. Once there, that rough idea can be a jumping off point for your own ideas.

Or maybe you do that twice, find two movies randomly, and merge the two together to come up with a new concept. So to take his example, Godfather and Star Trek might lead you to come up with the idea for a sci fi “gangsters in space” story.

I’m sure the finger in the movie book idea could help songwriters come up with ideas for songs and characters too, again just as a jumping off point.

Over To You

So that’s the main ways I’m using randomness at the moment, plus the new way I just discovered.

Have you ever used randomness to make your life easier, whether it be in your creative life or not?

And what ideas can you come up with to use randomness to help you create, organise and generate new ideas?

Share them in the comments section below.

Apr 07

Headlining GREENSTOCK Festival This Saturday

Alun ParryIf you’re looking for a great way to spend your weekend this Saturday, head on up to Ulverston in Cumbria for an all day festival of radical song. And all for just a fiver!

The festival starts at noon and I’ll be headlining an awesome array of acts. I’ll be on stage with a full 70 minute set from 9.45pm onwards.

It’s going to be a great day and I’d love to see you there. If you love radical song then this is the only place to be this Saturday.

Full details:

Ulverston Sports and Social Club
Priory Road, Ulverston, CMA LA12 9HT

Mar 19

Sack Esther McVey Official Campaign Song

Sack Esther McVeyHere is the official campaign song for Wirral TUC’s Sack Esther McVey Campaign.

Written and performed by me, the name of the song is simple: Sack Esther McVey.

She has presided over the appalling benefit sanctions regime, and she can be booted out of Parliament altogether on May 7th.

The song is available  to hear in three ways. There is a video which was put together by Julian Talbot. There is a song that you can stream on the internet.

Finally, there is a free download so you can download it to your own computer and device.

Please share the song on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and amongst your friends.

Free Download

Download the song for FREE by clicking here


Listen Online


Mar 14

Songwriters: How To Get Your Music Performed

songwriteradviceI started a new feature on my website recently called Ask Alun. It’s your platform to ask me whatever you like, with a promise that I’ll answer it.

Here is the question I got from Crispin, which I’m going to answer below. I think my answer will help other songwriters in Crispin’s position.

Alun, How would you suggest a writer gets material noticed? I write and record songs but am just not good enough to gig. I still want people to hear my songs though, so would love to have other performers sing my song. My question for you is how would you suggest I do this? Thanks – Crispin

The first thing I’ll say is that I’ve not been too strategic with this myself. Other people do sing my songs, and I’ll explain how that happened, but you’ll also see that it’s not a strategy so much.

Also, you’ll see that it’s happened because I perform my own songs, and I see you and many other songwriters don’t want to do that.

So I’m also going to give you a strategic plan of what I would do if I didn’t perform, so that the songs still had a life without the songwriter.

My Experience

The idea of a song with a life that is independent from the songwriter is one that resonates with me. I’m not a performer who wants to be famous. In fact, I think that would be horrendous.

Yet I’d love my songs to be famous. Then I’d get quite a nice low level of recognition, but still be able to trundle around Aldi doing my shopping without being mobbed.

I’m now in a position where others sing my songs, and it’s the most flattering feeling in the world for a songwriter. It’s also fascinating to hear what others bring to the song and how they deliver and arrange it. It’s something I absolutely love.

The Manchester based duo Our Morals sing I Want Rosa To Stay. Red Leicester sing a few of mine. Liverpool Socialist Singers perform a few too. Nottingham based punk folk artist Paul Carbuncle does a great version of If Harry Don’t Go. Leeds singer Gary Kaye sings My Name Is Dessie Warren. And a high profile artist has committed to recording one of my songs for his forthcoming album.

So how did this happen? By accident is the truth. Well, kind of. I perform my music, and I record my music, and I share my music. So even without trying, just this act of ensuring music is heard leads to these opportunities happening.

If you’re a songwriter, it’s really important to have your songs recorded, on YouTube, on things like Soundcloud, and share them as much as you can. That’s a prerequisite. It stands to reason that if you’re the only one who hears your songs then nobody can find out about them.

But that’s just a prerequisite, it’s not really a plan.

And of course, many songwriters aren’t performers.

So I’m going to detail what I’d do if I didn’t perform to make sure that my songs were still heard.

I’m Not Good Enough

But before I do, I want to poke about with that phrase in Crispin’s question that says “I am not good enough to gig.”

Maybe, like Crispin, the reason you’re not gigging isn’t because you don’t play an instrument or sing. It’s because you judge that you aren’t good enough.

I’m always reluctant to leave statements like that unchallenged. And here’s why.

The belief that we are not good enough is one of the most common limitations that people have. Let me tell you a story.

When I was 18, I was named the Merseyside Busker of the Year by the local media. There’s a lot of buskers in Liverpool, but they said I was the best. I’m not saying I agreed with them so I’m not telling you this to swagger and brag. I’m saying it because that’s one hell of a lot of validation that I was good enough, don’t you think?

Yet even with that approval, I discounted the value of that award. To me, I still wasn’t good enough. I didn’t start doing music properly until 17 years later. That’s not a typo by the way. It really was SEVENTEEN years later.

I didn’t think I’d be good enough. So I didn’t do it. I still feel a real deep upset about this. I wish I hadn’t started 17 years too late.

My story aside though, there is hard science that says that people who are brilliant think they are mediocre, while people who are only average at something think they rock! This science actually won the Nobel Prize and you can read more about it in my blog post Your Doubts Are Only A Sign Of Your Brilliance.

So I’ll challenge that statement. You’re not good enough to gig? Really? You see Crispin, I’ve heard your stuff on Soundcloud, and I thought it was really good. And it was you performing it. So despite what you’re saying – I’m not so sure.

I’d really advise you to get to some open mic nights. You’ll meet a ton of musicians there too, and they’ll become your pals. As you’ll see in a moment, that alone is pretty valuable.

No Really!

For those songwriters who are glaring at me right now thinking “no, really, I can’t gig” then the next bit is for you. Here’s that plan I promised you.

Your goal is to get other bands and singers to be performing the song that you have written.

So the best thing you can do is to become somebody that all of your local music scene knows, and values, and regards with some “authority” and trust.

I’ll take you back to my story again now, as it is relevant.

As I started so late in life, I needed to start quickly. So I set up a music night. It wasn’t an open mic, it was a night of booked acts. We took a split of the door money.

I think this would help you too and here’s why.

1. You become insanely useful to the people you want to get to know.

You could go round cold calling musicians, sure. But you’re only scratching your own itch here, and besides who responds positively to a cold call?

Yet what do bands and singers want? Gigs! A stage to perform on. Set up a music night and here’s what you’ll find will happen.

You’re local music scene will be contacting you!

2. You’ll be the hub of your local music scene

The fact that you’re booking gigs will give you a certain authority amongst the local music scene. I don’t mean that in a uniform and funny hat way. More that you’re regarded as someone who is a player on the scene.

3. You’ll know everybody – and many will become your pals

So why is this important? Well, it gives you three things that you really need.

Firstly it gives you intelligence. No, not the IQ Test kind. The James Bond kind. You’ll be in a position to think of your songs, and be able to identify exactly which acts a particular song would be perfect for.

Secondly, you’ll get to know which acts are songwriters, which acts need songs, and which acts are a bit of a mix. Pitch a song to a writer like me and no matter how good it is, I’m unlikely to sing it. Why? Because my main reason for performing is to have MY songs heard. That’s my songs main opportunity to be out in the world. So you’ll need to know in the first place which acts are needing songs, as they’ll be really receptive to an approach.

Thirdly, because they are now your mates, or at least acquaintances who view you as someone with weight on the local scene, it is really easy to put a song their way and ask if they would be interested in adding it to their set.

Moreover, the fact that you now have the “scene intelligence” to carefully select a song tailored to a particular act, and  you know that act needs material, increases your chances of a YES many times over.

Here’s Another Great Idea

Now that you’re in touch with everyone – why not put the feelers out for songwriting collaborations?

This opens up possibilities to get your songs sung by those “off limit” acts who are prolific songwriters. Many songwriters love to collaborate. Of course, some of us are predominantly loners, but others love to join up.

This is a great way to start getting your songs performed because anything you write with a singer/songwriter will be a song that they’ll inevitably put in their set list.

Ride The Momentum

Once your songs are being performed by acts on your music scene, ride the momentum. When you talk to other acts that you’re pitching ideas to, make sure they know that you wrote this song for that band.

It gives you a whole load of social proof, which is really important in calming people’s fear of the unknown and uncertain.

You’ll also get a halo effect from the act singing your song too. If they like that act, they’ll be impressed that you are writing songs for them, and it will make them even more receptive to you.


So that’s my advice.

1. Challenge the “I’m not good enough” stuff. It’s normally not true. You don’t need to be perfect and my guess is that you’re more than enough already.

2. Set up a music night where you book local acts to play it.

3. Use the knowledge you gain to filter which acts write and which don’t.

4. Carefully select songs to suit the style of those acts who don’t write, and pitch them. After all, you know them now.

5. Approach acts who write their own stuff, and suggest a collaboration. Expect people to say no, that’s normal. It’s not personal but some songwriters work alone. But you will get a yes. Just keep putting the question.

By the end of this, even if you’re not performing yourself, your songs will be getting performed by others.

Let’s know how it goes.

What Do You Think?

Well that’s my take on it. But I’m sure there are a ton of ideas out there.

Have you had songs sung by others? How did it happen?

How would you go about having others sing your songs if you didn’t perform yourself?

Have you ever sung someone else’s song that wasn’t famous? How did it happen?

Write your stories in the comments box below. I’d love to hear them.

Mar 13

New Feature: Ask Alun

Screenshot 2015-03-13 10.54.57Here’s a brand new monthly feature on my website, and it’s called Ask Alun.

So ask me anything that you think I might know.

I’m really looking forward to hearing your questions.

Watch the short video below to find out more.

What Shall I Ask?

Your questions might be about

  • creative process
  • productivity stuff
  • personal development
  • songwriting
  • the music industry

or something totally different.

But ask me anything in the comments below. I’ll read them all and I’ll answer them all.

I’m really looking forward to finding out what you want to know, and then answering your questions.

Get typing :-)

Mar 07

Freddie Matthews – Free Download

This song is not mine, only the performance and the recording. It’s a traditional tune, and the words are by Ron Elliott.

It tells the true story of Hatfield miner Freddie Matthews who was killed on the picket line in 1972.

I have learned and recorded the song in time for my peformance at the commemoration of the miner’s strike at Hatfield Colliery, where Freddie will be commemorated too.

For more background on the story, and an interview with his brother Jimmy, read this article here: http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/doncaster-miner-s-heartbreak-over-death-of-brother-on-picket-line-1-7141397

You can also download the song for free, by clicking here.

Feb 20

New Song Release: Until Midnight Tonight Only – Listen Now

DON’T WAIT. This song disappears at midnight on the 20th February 2015 as it will feature on my next album.

Don’t hesitate with this. It’s a newly recorded song. But it’s here for a limited time only. It’s a sneak preview of the enitire song and it will vanish at midnight. So don’t delay. Listen now or you’ll miss it.

The song is set in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. The fascist general Franco had overthrown the democratically elected government of Spain.

This is the true story of Spain’s forced adoption scandal, which continued for half a century, even until the 1980s.

The Church ran the maternity hospitals, with nuns as midwives.

Franco decided that the children of revolutionaries would be sold off to fascist families instead.

Their mothers had their newborns snatched from them and told they were dead.

The practice outlived Franco as those the Church regarded as undesirable would be lied to and have their newborn babies given to others.

They were handed mass cards, and went through fake burials, and mourned at empty graves.

Yet all the while, their children were alive elsewhere.

The song was cowritten by Gabi Monk of The Good Intentions. Gabi saw the story on a news report and it touched her deeply. She asked me if I’d join her in writing a song about it, and so we worked together to create this.

Gabi also sings on the record.

DON’T WAIT. This song disappears at midnight on the 20th February 2015 as it will feature on my next album.



Jan 29

A Tribute to Pop, my Granddad

LiverpoolDockersI always thought that Pop knew the bus drivers.

Mum and I would be sat at the Walton depot on the number 46 bus, and Pop would be sat with us, chatting away carefree, as the driver got on and revved up the engine.

“You’d best get off now Pop” says Mum.

Pop waves her away. “No it’s alright girl” he says and continues to chat in the most relaxed of fashions.

Mum would be panicking at this point. Not me. I was a young child, and I’d already figured out what happens next and just thought it was normal.

After all, Pop knew the bus drivers didn’t he. After all, he was Pop.

The bus driver would check his mirrors, indicate, and drive off.

It was only then that Pop would rise to his feet, run down the aisle of the bus, and yell something like “ee’y’are driver.”

The stunned driver would then stop the bus and Pop would leap off quite happily like it was the most normal thing on earth.

But it turns out Pop didn’t know the drivers at all. It was just Pop being Pop.

In The Casa bar on Hope Street, there is a photograph of Liverpool dockers in the docks canteen from years back, and another showing them stood out in the elements, presumably waiting for work.

I always look for Pop in them. It’s impossible to see them and not see something of Pop.

A Liverpool docker all his life, he wore the dockers uniform even after retirement. The long coat down to his knees, the scarf, the flat cap, and the folded newspaper tucked under his arm.

To be a docker in those times was a gruelling and often filthy job. The waterfront exaggerates the mildest of weathers. Walk by the river on a day that is merely inclement and you find yourself at the mercy of the coldest of winds.

This was Pop’s workplace at all hours, in the days when Liverpool was the most important port in the land.

The Czech writer Karel Capek describes the reality of those days in this busiest of ports:

“Yellow water, bellowing steam ferries, white trans-atlantic liners, towers, cranes, stevedores, skiffs, shipyards, trains, smoke, chaos, hooting, ringing, hammering, puffing, the ruptured bellies of the ships, the stench of horses, the sweat, urine, and waste from all the continents of the world … And if I heaped up words for another half an hour, I wouldn’t achieve the full number, confusion and expanse which is called Liverpool.”

And in the midst of this stench and confusion, there was Pop.

People remember him for his kindness and his straight talking, honest to the core in all senses of the word. A musician and a teetotal, he would play piano in the local pub, being paid in alcohol that his pal would drink.

He had an electric organ in his front parlour that he would sit at and play in the dark. This was likely the very first musical instrument I ever set hands on. One can only guess what subtle influence this might have had.

He was the kind of man who said what he thought, and stories abound of this special kind of integrity.

When the local priest visited one day, he saw some money on the mantelpiece and eagerly swiped it for the church. “Ah good, I’ll have that” said the priest, sweeping it into his hands.

The priest’s authority was unquestioned in these times, and many a family would have gone hungry before challenging him.

But not Pop.

“No you friggin’ won’t” he said, took back his money, and promptly marched the priest out of the house, never to be seen again.

Pop was born a Catholic but eschewed religion. In a city that suffered horribly from religious sectarianism, I wonder what kind of stir it must have caused when in 1940 he married his sweetheart Mary McIntyre, who was C of E.

But again, that was Pop. He knew his own mind and that was that. He was a respecter only of things that he felt deserved his respect, and he was no fan of hypocrisy just to fit in with social niceties.

For me, as a child though, I remember someone who was thin of frame yet solid of character.  I remember his beautiful hands when his fingers became the passenger striding towards my toy bus. I remember pink and white marshmallows which he used to love. I remember that his laughs were low on noise and high on non verbals, his head thrown back, his eyes chuckling. I remember him stood in the kitchen doorway putting on that dockers uniform.

There are many tributes one can say about a man like Pop. There are so many stories that make me laugh and make me proud about who he was. But they are the tales of adults who saw him through an adult’s eyes.

I was only 8 when Pop passed on. It is only now that I realise how young he was to go at 64.

He would have been 100 years old today.

Children, I think, see the world in a simple way that has a certain truth and  purity and wisdom.

So my tribute is from the me that was 4 years old and playing buses with him on a tin tray table, or as a 5 year old telling him a joke and watching him laugh, or the 6 year old excitedly walking with him to the Walton bus depot where he didn’t actually know any of the drivers.

And I just remember that I adored him.

For you, Pop.

Jan 24

A Love Song For Fellow Weirdos Everywhere

10926789_10153126454501495_5711438035812590315_oHey fellow weirdos! Here’s a first song for the new year which I’ve just finished recording. Oooh about five minutes ago.

It’s called The Odd Couple Song and it’s for all of us weirdos everywhere, with love.

Weirdos of the world unite! Enjoy the tune. Stamp yer weird feet and clap yer weird hands.

And just because I feel like, here’s a photo of me dressed as my comedy hero Stan Laurel.

Jan 18

You Are Not A Book, You Are A Movie

Movie-ScreenI tend not to watch film adaptations of books that I’ve loved. I prefer the richness of books.

Books offer so much more than movies. Firstly, they are not limited by time. The author doesn’t need to fit the story into just 90 minutes.

But most importantly, the book offers something that the movie typically can’t. It offers us an insight into the main character’s inner world.

When a character does one thing, we can know, through access to their feelings and self talk, that they’d really rather be doing something else.

In a book, we the onlooker, have access to them all.

Not so in a film.

When a character does something, we just see them do it.

A screenwriter faces a different problem to the author. The screenwriter has to show everything.

If our hero wants something, or feels something, or has a particular facet of character, the screenwriter has to show it.

The hero is feeling remorseful. “So how can we *show* this?”, they ask.

90% of the hero is underwater in a movie. In a book we get the whole iceberg.

Our lives too, as seen by those around us, are movies, not books.

Just as the hero in a movie is only understood by what he or she shows, so too are we.

This means we can be easily misunderstood, and not realise why.

We expect the world to be relating to us as if we are the hero in a book. But we are really the hero in a movie.

To those who experience us, we are what we do much more than what we think or feel.

A friend of mine recently had difficulty with someone in her social circle.

“I really value her” she said. “But when she comes round to see me, she stays until after 1 am. I have to be up at 7 for work and she doesn’t. Why doesn’t she see that this isn’t good for me?”

I asked her if she had ever told her friend to leave at an earlier time.

“No” she said.

“Well then, why would she go earlier? As far as she is concerned, she thinks you are the friend who is really happy to stay up until half one during the week.”

The fact that people are movies and not books can be a real source of angst, trying to second guess people’s true intentions.

Maybe this is why I particularly value my more forthright friends. They soothe that angst because they wouldn’t just let me hang around til half one, resenting the hell out of me from 10pm onwards. They’d tell me to leave.

You see, we are not books. We are not our own authors, we are own screenwriters. So the world will only know us by what we are brave enough to reveal.

So if you feel something, or want something, your job is the same as the screenwriter.

For the world around you to know it, you have to figure out how to show it first.

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