David Ford Sings the Blues

Here’s the situation. It was somewhere in the vicinity of St. Valentines Day, 2008, and we’re patiently waiting for the headline act to come on stage at Webster Hall in NYC. A guy got up on stage, barely visible in the dim blue spotlight haze, wisps of remnant fog machine smoke, made to approximate the feel of the smoky bars of old. He had the feel about him of a depression era dust bowl transient, or possibly a post war down on his luck door to door salesman. Baggy trousers, worn jacket and tie, a rustic derby style hat and shoes to match, with a three days old scraggly beard; all the markings of a man down on his luck and on the move.
“Who is this guy, and what’s he doing on stage? Is he a homeless man just in from off the street? Is he just one of the roadies tuning up for the main event (a sold out performance from Ingrid Michaelson, in support of her new album, Girls and Boys)? Or is he another opening act?”
These are all things that ran through our minds since nobody in the crowd knew what was going on. We had already sat through a set of completely forgettable music by some guy I couldn’t begin to remember, and nobody had said anything about another opening gig. We were getting antsy and were afraid that we would have to stand through another crappy set by another forgettable singer.
In short order all our fears were vaporized, because the thing we all didn’t know is what a dynamic treat we all were in for when the aforementioned guy on stage started humming into his old timey style, vintage looking radio microphone.
He started softly, almost imperceptible at first, “Hmmmm, hmm, hmmmmm,” then just as soon as we got that into our heads, he stopped, but the humming kept on going in the background. Then he started shaking a maraca into the microphone, “Chukka, chaa, chukka, chaa,” and just then he stopped, but again, the humming and shaking kept going. Next he bonged on the small piano, “bong………Be Bong,” and stopped, now all three playing over and over. Now he starts with an, “Ohhhh, oh, ohhhhhh,” and begins playing a melody on the piano, sounding like an old music box (a prop he would use in later performances). These sounds all layer on top of each other, every measure adding something new till he starts singing, “I never treated you so mean, like that’s a reason…. to be proud,” the opening line to David Ford’s opening single, “Go To Hell.”
The whole song, his entire set actually, is a rare one man assault on the senses, showing workmanlike skill in gleaning fine harmonies and simple melodies from all manner of instruments and non instruments alike. Putting it all together by using a digital looping machine to record measures of repeating music, and his insightful lyrics and gravelly voice, as well as standalone guitar, piano, and harmonica work, Ford creates powerful songs that belie his one man band appearance.
He can go from a cappella to full on loud instrumentation at the drop of a hat, from softly intoning love and romance to a screaming rage about crashing economies without missing a beat. Ultimately though, it’s not about the playing of instruments so much as it about getting his sentiments out there.
His songs generally center round being alone in a big world, wishing things were better or at least what you yearn for, without ultimately ending in disappointment, but no matter what, life keeps plugging on and there are always other roads to travel in search of what comes next.
If you ask him why he seems so negative in his songwriting, he’ll probably tell you something about being British and being humble in the face of tough times, but ultimately I think he would end up trying to convince you that he really sings about the hope you need in this world to keep on keeping on, always moving forward, all the while keeping a sentimental eye on the past. He says on a video clip from Sun Studios, “I do get accused of being miserable often, but I promise that’s not the case, and often hiding beneath the songs people think are miserable, actually they are pretty happy tunes.”
Born outside of London in the late 1970’s, and coming up after that in Eastbourne, on the southeast coast of England, Ford no doubt has had his thoughts of misery instilled in him from an early age. Thus I’m reminded of the famous line from A Fish Called Wanda, “Do you have any idea what it’s like being English?” While I’m not sure how much that helps his persona over there, on this side of the pond it seems to work in his favor. He has alluded to the fact that when he comes to America, his Britishness, shall we say, becomes exaggerated and he feels that Americans then find him “Exotic.” It seems to me that his whole persona springs forth from that way of thinking, but then takes a hard left turn to the proverbial crossroads of American Blues tradition.
The whole look he’s established is seemingly rooted both in the proper tradition of English society and the blues tainted vagabondery of the juke joints of the South here in America. He will get up on stage, apologize for something, then unapologetically tell you how it is when he breaks into State of the Union, banging on instruments and singing “What a model of Christian behaviour, Preach on with the message of ‘Go fuck thy neighbour.’ Meanwhile his next tune could be the infectious Motown styled “Decimate” which will get you up and moving upon the dance floor, while the lyric goes, “Ain’t it hard to live on smoke and dreams when spirit crushers work in teams to leave you where you are,” leaving you to wonder if this is one of those happy songs hidden away inside the misery.
Ford has a fairly well defined history of this way of thinking in his music. In 2001, after years of being in local rock bands with mate Glenn Hooper, they teamed up with bassist Jo Taylor and the indie rock band Easyworld was born. The band signed to a label named Fierce Panda and released their debut E.P. “Better Ways to Self Destruct” and later they signed to Jive records, releasing two albums, “This is where I stand” and “Kill the last romantic.” In August of 2004, Easyworld, even though they had been acclaimed as one of Britain’s up and coming popular bands, was disbanded by Ford. He makes no apologies for his current belief that working alone is far superior to trying to fit in with a band situation when it comes to his creativity. There’s nothing democratic about expressing your feelings and passions when it comes to songwriting, and if you can get the performance part down without dealing with the hassles of other players, why not?
Over the past three years or so, Ford has traveled Europe and the U.S. in support of his two albums, “I sincerely apologise for all I’ve done,” and “Songs for the road,” the latter coming out late in 2007 over there, and spring of 2008 over here. When we saw him in NYC back in February, he was beginning what would wind up being almost nine months of the year here in the States. His comment to me back in May while he was opening for “Love Song” singer Sara Bareilles, was that, even with Petrol prices looming in the $4 a gallon range, it was by far cheaper to tour America as opposed to Europe or England, thanks to the weak dollar and ability to string shows together. The feeling, no doubt, was that there was much more bang for the buck over here, a bigger potential audience, and a constant string of opening gigs for Ingrid, Sara, and the band Augustana, with a few solo gigs sprinkled in for good measure.
It worked, for while anyway. The DYI video for “Go to Hell,” shot in one continuous take in his New York studio area, was featured on YouTube.com in late spring, and ended up with over 459,000 views. He was featured on Free at Noon Friday in May on Philadelphia based radio station WXPN, which is syndicated via NPR. Filmspotting, a Chicago Public Radio film review show featured his music over the summer. By all accounts, it was a very successful year touring America. He went back to England and hosted a few sold out shows in London, and will end the year with his annual charity concert series called Milk & Cookies.
At the moment he is again on tour with Ingrid Michealson throughout November. And judging by the recent bevy of comments on his myspace page, he is out there wowing crowds once again. He is currently promoting “Songs for the Road,” as well as a three song self produced EP entitled “Pages from the Electrical Scrapbook,” featuring the song “I want More,” a catchy little ditty about living outside your means, quite appropriate given our current credit crisis and crappy economy.
The down side to all this is evidenced by the solo shows he did before the Ingrid tour started. Atlanta, Charleston, Annapolis, and NYC, hosted Ford solo shows, two of which are cities he had never played before. It was an attempt I suppose at breaking in some new territory, however, anyone that’s seen David in the last year in the states, by a large majority, has never seen his full headlining act. So for those of us that became fans seeing him open shows for other acts, it was a real treat to drive an hour and a half in the cold rain, on a night any true Phillies Phan should have been at the game or glued to the television, to catch one of these shows. The vast majority of Americans had no idea what they were missing.
The Annapolis show was at ‘Rams Head Live On Stage,’ the little sister to the one in Baltimore. It is an intimate setting of dinner tables and small stage, a place where you are given seating reservations, the door is closed behind you when you enter, and you’ve got waitresses tending to your every comfort. Not really a place to get up and get moving, but it was nice. We actually got in for free, as we were recruited to help run things for David, as he was touring on his own. Just he and an SUV packed with his small piano and other stage equipment. His preferable way of touring I might add, a glutton for punishment you might think, but it fills up the time he can never kill when he’s on the bus, so to speak, on other tours.
He was gracious, greeted us and others before the show and gracefully exited when the opening act, the Passengers, got up to play. And when he finally got up on stage, it was amazing, one of the most talented singer songwriters you’ll ever hope to see, up on stage giving his all, ripping through a set of all your favorites and a few interesting covers thrown in for good measure, all for the maybe forty people in attendance. A big turnout compared to the first two shows, which means Ford traveled to the U.S. a week early to play shows that may have totaled a hundred people, NYC not withstanding. Pitiful.
Think about this for a second, imagine say, Elton John, Billy Joel, Springsteen, etc, in the days before they were really popular, playing a show like this, and then compare and contrast that to the American Idolization going on these days. If David Ford were up against the two David’s on Idol last spring, which one would be more talented? This is the best argument for going out and seeing live shows, you never know when you will be blown away by a true talent, and for that I love David Ford, unapologetically. He represents everything true and right in the world of music, in direct opposition to the homogenization the industry presents us most everywhere else, and he brings it to you in person, on the road, in a club or town near you.
The road is a hell of a place to practice your craft and after years and years of constant traveling, it begins taking its toll. It seems that Ford is filling out that role of down and out traveling salesman more than he ever intended. He’s out there working hard selling his wares to anyone that will listen, whether it’s a packed house waiting for Ingrid, or the small room with more empty tables than audience members, he’s got a song and dance routine to get up for, and he will get up for it and give you everything he’s got, every time, but these days the tolls have risen and the consequences are more painful. Dispatches from the road in the past few days have taken a decidedly negative turn, and it seems like when this tour is over, it may be quite sometime until we see Ford on the Road again.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. This guy deserves your attention, and his talent deserves a decent paying audience, a small sliver maybe of the homogenized world, let’s see if next time around, maybe when he puts together another headlining tour of small venues in the U.S., we try and give him one? – JSW 10/12/2008 – jwettig@yahoo.com

HYPERLINK “http://www.myspace.com/davidford” www.myspace.com/davidfordHYPERLINKhttp://www.davidford.mu” www.davidford.mu


David Ford Sings the Blues


Millersville, United States

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UK singer/songwriter David Ford gets the Blues touring America, but he still loves it.

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  • Carl Osbourn
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