Despite receiving rave reviews from some of the music business’ most respected publications, David Ford is not a performer who may spring to mind when you hear the phrase ‘singer songwriter.’ He hasn’t achieved the levels of fame of his heroes (he speaks glowingly of performers such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young) and he’s so aware of this fact that he published a book a couple of years ago entitled I Chose This – How to Nearly Make It in the Music Industry.
‘Writing the book was about a story less told – the work of being a musician,’ David explains. ‘It’s not what you think it’s going to be when you’re a kid and you first get into music. I think a lot of the time, the people who write books about their own experiences are people who’ve hit the very top of the career ladder, and I maybe got a couple of rungs up and found it was very different and that I didn’t have the nerve to climb any higher so the book is about beginning the journey into the music industry and finding out what it was like – I’m not against it, but it’s maybe not designed for people like me.
‘My ambitions have always been creative and artistic,’ David continues. ‘I want to write better songs. I’m not interested in being famous – social media, the trappings of celebrity. I find all that completely boring. I don’t know why the two things have to go together – if you love music, and you’re obsessed with song, why you’d also want people to know what you had for breakfast. I’m very lucky in that the people who know about me and come to my shows keep coming back. The way I work now is good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth.’
Despite not actively seeking to scale the highest heights of the industry, David’s musicianship and songwriting abilities have nevertheless earned him many fans and critical acclaim. His latest EP, The Union, is perhaps a perfect introduction to his music for those who may not have encountered him before. From sweeping full-band ballads that evoke thoughts of Phil Spector’s fabled ‘wall of sound’ to bouncy acoustic numbers, The Union is an eclectic collection of tracks and available at all of David’s shows on his current tour.
‘If I play a cute little piano ballad,’ David explains of his studio process, ‘I then instantly feel like I want to make a load of racket and do something rock and roll, then I want to do something country, then a bit more soul. I’m easily bored so I like to mix it up a lot and try and get all the different kinds of music that I like into the records I make.
‘The EP came about as I was making my latest album,’ he continues. ‘These were the songs that I really like, but that weren’t in keeping with the tone of the album. I thought they deserved to have a life of their own. I work with a very strict quality control mechanism: I’ve written 15 songs in the last three years and that’s all of them – there are five songs on the EP, there are 10 songs on the album. Everything gets used. I discard most ideas before they ever become a song – if I finish a song it’s because I believe in it 100 percent.’
When our talk turns to his own musical tastes, David speaks warmly about the music of other performers (‘Bob Dylan’s lyrical contribution has been wonderful, and I like Tom Waites and Bruce Springsteen – there’s only one Boss – and Neil Young), but is quick to point out that he goes his own way when it comes to his music. ‘I never wanted to emulate anyone,’ he says. ‘A good song, or even just a good line in a song, can bring people to tears so my fascination has always been how to get that reaction from people, and how to transmit these huge, personal, emotional stories in short nuggets, so I was more into how great songwriters are able to do that, rather than necessarily thinking “I want to be like Bob Dylan,” although I think that at certain times everybody wants to be like Bob Dylan.’
When asked what we can expect from a David Ford live show, David is ready with a reply. ‘I want someone to leave one of my shows feeling like they’ve been a little bit beaten up. I want grown men to cry. I want people to get excited. I want to do a high energy rock and roll show, then I want to destroy people emotionally. I want it to be as intense an hour and a half as you can spend listening to music. I want it be joyous and I want it to be sad and I want it to be thought-provoking – maybe even educational – and I want it to be entertaining.’
Lofty goals, but no more than you’d expect from a musician who labels himself as ‘highly ambitious.’ After talking to him and listening to his latest EP, it appears David Ford can deliver the lot. A story he recalls about a previous gig at Newcastle’s Cluny backs up the belief that this next show will be a gig to remember. ‘It was in June and it was the hottest day. The walls were sweating – my bass player actually passed out because it was so hot – but it was an amazing show, one of the best gigs ever. We always get good audiences in Newcastle – up for a good time, up for a bad time, whatever kind of time I throw at them.’
David Ford’s next album will be called Animal Spirits and he hopes it will be out later this year. He’ll be playing the following gigs in the North East and Yorkshire:
6 June – The Cluny, 36 Lime Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle NE1 2PQ
22 June – The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 33 Queen’s Road, Leeds LS6 1NY