Record Overplayed
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David Ford interview | Leeds Art's Café| 23/09/07

“I’m this bumbling, slightly camp, very, very English person”

Interview and Photos by Dawn

It’s been rather a long time since Record Overplayed sat down for a chat with David Ford. He’s spent much of the last 18 months touring around the world, but recently returned to the UK to promote his new album, Songs For The Road. Thankfully, when we meet him in Leeds before his secret café gig, he’s exactly as he was before his globetrotting adventures, from his charming, impassioned conversation right down to his dry sense of humour and deadpan expression...

‘The highlight of the past year...’ David pauses for a split-second. ‘Oh, it’s all been a series of lows, so it’s been tricky...’ Something tells us he’s not quite not telling us the truth, so we let him elaborate:

‘I did some very enjoyable touring in North America, which was very pleasant, and Australia about a year ago which was pretty cool. Touring in America is very different. Well, it’s essentially the same, but then all the subtle differences mount up, like it’s really difficult to get pancakes in this country. I found pancakes really hard to avoid in America. You get waffle houses on every freeway exit, so if you’re a bit hungry in the morning and you want some breakfast then you can go to a waffle house. They have this maple syrup there, but it’s not real maple syrup - it’s like this synthetic stuff. It’s amazing; it’s so horribly sweet. American food is insane – so bad for you, so fattening, so much of it and so inexpensive... And American cars, they’re very big and very easy to drive; American roads are very straight...’

And the American crowds? ‘They’re pretty good. They’re very appreciative and I think being English goes a long way in America because there’s something a bit “exotic” about it.’ Apparently they see him as the stereotypical quaint Englishman: ‘Yeah, honestly, I go there and they’re like “Do you know the Queen?” so I tell them I’m the third Duke of Eastbourne. I don’t know if everyone gets this, but when I go to America my Englishness becomes amplified somewhat, so that essentially I become Hugh Grant for the first week that I’m there,’ he laughs.‘And I’m this bumbling, slightly camp, very, very English person. I say ‘Splendid!’ a lot and things like that!’

Listening to David’s new album, the songs seem to document the time he spent travelling around the world. In reality, though, he doesn’t consciously remember where they were conceived.

‘It was just written all over really. Some of the songs I already had. They all take months and weeks of kind of dithering and then ignoring it, then eventually you find “oh, that song’s probably in a kind of state that we can start playing it”. Songs don’t really have specific kinds of times or locations or events that lead to them being born – just all of a sudden you kind of realise that they’re there. That’s how it is for me. There are certain rock and roll stories... I can remember pulling together some lyrics on the beach in Santa Monica – that was kind of cool. I used to scribble a lot on aeroplanes. But I honestly just don’t remember writing songs. I mean I’m assuming that I did and I didn’t steal them from other people.’

As on debut album I Sincerely Apologise for All the Trouble I’ve Caused, the recorded versions of many songs differ significantly from those played at gigs, particularly album opener Go To Hell.

David explains, “I wrote and recorded [Go To Hell] years ago, so there was a recording of it in existence before I ever played it live. And I started playing it live and then I didn’t have a version of it to make it onto the first album. Given the themes of apology and reconciliation and shame and what have you, I think it definitely is akin to the first record in some ways more than the second, which is kind of why it went at the front of the album - like a stepping stone from that place to this place. I definitely wanted it to be the first track on the new album from as soon as we didn’t put it on the first album. Originally my idea was just to have it as a strings orchestral piece with just lots of violins and cellos and some singing on top, but you kind of get told not to be so self indulgent and you’ve got to put drums on things or else you don’t stand a chance. But generally recorded versions and live versions – you try and make them similar but then sometimes it’s impossible. You know, if you’re not touring with an orchestra you can’t do something orchestral, it doesn’t work. Unless you cheat and you have things recorded on samples and I don’t like doing that.’

Songs like I’m Alright Now and forthcoming single Decimate have a definite optimism to them, and David begrudgingly agrees that the new album is more hopeful than his last. ‘I think it’s a positive record, but then I didn’t think the first one was a negative record. I thought there was some “up” and some hope in it. But I guess that it’s maybe a little less shrouded on the new record – one of the main themes as opposed to being like a sideshow if you will, so I think it’s probably fair to say that.’

David has always possessed the enviable knack of writing thought-provoking lyrics which trip easily off the tongue, but on his new album this is more apparent than ever. ‘I’ve not really thought about the words on this record,’ he admits. ‘I mean, I’m sure they’re very nice and everything but I don’t know - I just kind of do it really. I don’t write a song or write an album and then give it marks out of ten for this and that. I’m very precious about the words to songs because I’m so kind of analytical of other people’s words that I think I never want to set myself up for people going “that’s a load of shit”.’

Asked whether he writes his music or his lyrics first, David looks thoughtful. ‘It’s kind of a mixture. I’ll never write words which don’t have a tune attached to them because I think that I write songs, and songs are words and music. In many ways, the way that the lyrics interact with the tune can completely change the meaning or the way that the words work. If you had the same words with a different tune then the words wouldn’t mean the same thing. I kind of don’t separate the two – the words and the music are all part of the same thing. I kind of think you can’t separate them like that. I always start with an idea, or a line, or a verse and you kind of expand it in all directions and as the tune and the lyric expands so does the meaning and the point you’re trying to get across. Sometimes it’s quick and easy and sometimes it’s slow and difficult but I always seem to get there in the end.’

Ask David an interesting question and you can usually be assured of receiving an equally interesting – not to mention wonderfully passionate - answer. Ask him what made him start writing music in the first place, however, and there’s a moment’s pause. With a contemplative sigh he admits, 'I don’t know really. I mean, my stock answer is always Automatic For The People by REM... but generally it’s kind of the revelation where you listen to music and it means something to you.

‘I think music’s in the worst state it’s been in certainly in my lifetime - with the possible exception of the 1980s - but as far as the intermingling of music and business goes, things have become monopolised so incredibly, particularly in this country. I think that those responsible for bringing music to the masses, their agendas are so incredibly skewed - the quality control has completely fallen off the radar. It’s all about markets and demographics and consolidating your success and ultimately making money, but also there’s a lot of fear and when people fear for their jobs and fear for their profit margins essentially what they do is take control. When it comes to a creative art form, you don’t want to put restrictions and controls on people because it should be a completely free and liberated thing. You just get to a stage where nobody is allowed to fail and when you’re not allowed to fail then you’re inhibited from taking chances, and when you don’t take chances you’re not creative, so I kind of think creativity is almost like a luxury that nobody can afford in the current situation... and I just realised that I don’t even know what the question was anymore...’

Not to worry; that brings us neatly onto the topic of David’s new single being playlisted on Radio 2. ‘It’s nice and everything, and obviously I’d rather the radio was playing my records than anyone else’s. Obviously all the people who are working on the record are very happy that that’s happened, but it doesn’t really mean anything to me... You know, I think it’s pretty bloody obvious that they should be playing my records – I mean, it’s a good record – I think they should have been playing the previous one and the one before that as well. And at the same time you look down the playlist and you think you absolutely shouldn’t be playing this and you shouldn’t be playing that and that is completely horrible, but I don’t take any interest in radio playlists because I’ve missed enough playlists to know that it’s nothing to take personally. In the same way that I wouldn’t take it personally if I didn’t get a playlist, at the same time I don’t take it personally when I do. I don’t think it means that I’ve arrived or made it or that the record’s gonna be successful, in the same way that I don’t think it means I’m worthless if it doesn’t do that well – it’s just something that happens or doesn’t happen and it’s got nothing to do with me and I don’t take it as any kind of compliment or insult.’

That said, David definitely agrees that Radio 2 isn’t such a bad place to be: ‘ Radio 2 is most certainly, as far as national stations go, the only one I listen to. I also listen to Radio 4 and Five Live but that’s another matter entirely. When it comes to music, Radio 1 is virtually unlistenable I think, with occasional exceptions, but I think Radio 2 is great, as far as being like a grown-up station that doesn’t just force feed you the same utter, utter shit. – they’ve some very good presenters and some very interesting shows. The music’s always interesting and the conversation’s always enthralling – Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie’s show is fantastic. So coming back to the playlist thing, if you’re gonna be playlisted anywhere, it’s all about Radio 2.’

So we’ve talked about the present, but where does David see himself in ten years’ time? He answers instantly, in an impassive manner reminiscent of the beginning of the interview: ‘I don’t care. I think I’ll be dead.’

Once we’ve scolded him for this response, he continues: ‘Ten years is such a long time – I mean, I’m gonna be nearly forty in ten years’ time. One of the bees in my bonnet is musicians not fucking growing up gracefully. Some people are just an embarrassment - great, wonderful, legendary people. Paul McCartney is embarrassing. The Rolling Stones are getting embarrassing. Then you get some people who seem to grow old with a great deal of class and understanding of the fact that they’re a not a teenage rock and roller anymore. Bono’s started to look like one of those really embarrassing drunken uncles at a wedding. It’s like “Oh, for God’s sake, stop wearing leather trousers and jumping around like you’re a kid”. I don’t know how old Bono is, but he’s knocking on a bit and he’s filling out in the middle and now’s the time to act like Elvis Costello or Bruce Springsteen and kind of understand who you are and have respect and understanding for who you were.

‘So when I’m knocking on 40 I hope that I have an understanding of how to be an old man and still be relevant because there’s nothing wrong with being old – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being 50 or 60. Neil Young has still got some good stuff in him, Tom Waits is still phenomenal despite the fact that he’s nearly 60 himself. I think it’s all just a matter of knowing how old you are and knowing what you can and can’t get away with, and knowing what does and doesn’t fit with who you are and the age you are. So like I say, I just hope that I’m not wearing makeup or jumping up and down in Spandex when I’m 40 ‘cause that would not be a pretty sight.’

With much love and thanks to Daves Ford and Wibberley. Visit and for more information.

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