THE ROUGHED-UP GUITAR, THE BRUISED VOICE, THE RESIGNED ADMISSION OF DEFEAT… IT’S THREE SONGS IN TO FOURTH ALBUM CHARGE (OUT NEXT WEEK) WHEN FAMILIAR DAVID FORD SHIVERS APPEAR ALONG THE SPINE.
Sorrowful ISN’T IT STRANGE? could be one of the best songs Dartford’s prodigal son has written. It’s certainly one of the most affecting, perfect in the run-its-course relationship pathos: “it creeps up on you, like the lines on your face”… Ford has exactly the right voice for this kind of hollowed-out ache: a dented bell of an instrument, ringing off like a rusted Kentish Springsteen.
Elsewhere the low-light high-heat bad-woman rhumba THE BALLAD OF MISS LILY and the harmonica and handclaps quickstep through middle-America of POUR A LITTLE POISON suggest Ford has spent some crucial creative time on the other side of the Atlantic. And so he has: CHARGE’s more robust moments – PERFECT SOUL, LET IT BURN and the declamatory EVERY TIME – are a nod to almost two years on the road with stations spinning Memphis Soul, New Orleans jazz or New Jersey rock ‘n’ roll in each town passed through. Once in the studio with producer James Brown (who, surprisingly in light of his muscular work with Foo Fighters, fashions some really delicate edges) all those miles and their 45s have spilled out.
Most touchingly, PHILADELPHIA BOY celebrates the brotherhood Ford found when onstage and at an emotionally low ebb in the place he’s since called his spiritual home. Tom Waits piano trills and noble strings turn it into a snow-covered winter warmer, virtually IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE gathered in song around a fire-barrel.
Similarly poignant, WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE is a guileless ballad that could be mawkish in the hands of less capable craftsmen. Here it’s unselfconsciously earnest, tender and romantic.
‘Troubador’ is a word tiresomely shed of meaning in an age when it’s thrown at 20-year olds with big bucks PR campaigns and hermetically sealed high-life tourbuses parked out the back. Thankfully, it’s also sometimes reclaimed by those to whom it authentically belongs. Both Ford and the great Andy White have recently chiselled resonant and earthy books from low down the sheer cliff face, revealing the open mind and long fuse required for extended time on the B-road.
Ford – as grittily detailed across the pages of I CHOOSE THIS: HOW TO NEARLY MAKE IT IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY (“There was a time when people swore I would be the next big thing… It took ten years of hard work and dedication but I finally proved them wrong”) – has staked his claim to the word, his life, the right way. That’s to say, what has occasionally been the toughest way. A series of pride-swallowing sieges and hard won low-key epiphanies since his time as frontman of Easyworld in the noughties means that truth and, ultimately, a look-yourself-in-the-eye dignity have remained within easy reach for his songs. And never more so than on CHARGE.
Wed 20 March SOUTHAMPTON The Cellar
Thur 21 March BRISTOL Tunnels
Fri 22 March OXFORD O2
Sat 23 March HOLMFIRTH Picturedrome
Sun 24 March MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Wed 27 March EDINBURGH Electric Circus
Thur 28 March NEWCASTLE Cluny
Fri 29 March YORK Fibbers
Sat 30 March NORWICH Arts
Sun 31 March CAMBRIDGE Portland Arms
Wed 03 April LONDON Scala
Thur 04 April BIRMINGHAM Hare & Hounds
Fri 05 April NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Sat 06 April RATOATH / DUBLIN The Venue Theatre
Sun 07 April BELFAST Empire