What started as just a fun diversion, a review of an album released over 40 years ago has become a quest for knowledge. Antiques and Curios was, and still is, a very fine work of musical prowess. The band followed up with Witchwood, a slightly dark and haunting album. Grave New World which followed, took on a different angle, to me it smacked of anger. Bursting At The Seams was aptly titled as The Strawbs went into meltdown mode after it was released.

In part one and part two of my interview with (then) bass player for the band John Ford, he talked about life in The Strawbs. Of course, I had more questions. What happened after?

I like John Ford, he tells it the way he sees it!

Simon Barrett: You and Richard Hudson formed Hudson Ford in ’73 (or ’74), the band had a very different sound to it when compared to the Strawbs.  Looking back, what was the fans reaction?  Did the Strawbs fans move over to the new sound, or was it a new fan base that developed?

John Ford:  Our first single, “Pick Up The Pieces,” was a Top 10 record.  Maybe some Strawbs’ fans bought it, but I think we had a whole new market — at least, a Singles market.

 

At this point I need to explain something to our younger listeners, the Singles Market he is talking about is not Online Dating sites, but what us older folks call 45’s. Give one of these to todays youngsters and they would look at it with interest. After a couple of days of Twitter and FaceBook activity. They will give it back and explain that it does not fit in any of the Simm card slots on their iThing! Personally I think that iThings and Smart Phones are missing out. They should all come with the ability to play 45’s. And really expensive iThings should be able to handle the larger 33rpm album format! But that is just my thoughts.  

SB: I know I should really ask Hud this question, but I am sure you know the answer.  Hud parked his drum kit in favor of the guitar.  Why?

JF: Hud did not give up the drums.  “Pick Up The Pieces,” was just the two of us, with Hud  on the kit.  We were always good at our “Duo” recordings, because we instinctively knew what was needed in the production.  “Part of the Union,” was the same.  You can hear the original on the, Taste of Strawbs album.  Hudson actually is a very competent guitar player.  He played electric guitar on “Pick Up The Pieces,” and the Worlds Collide album.  When I went over to the electric guitar on The Monks albums, he played all the bass parts.  As far as Hudson being out front — we were a Duo, so it would have looked odd with me being the lead singer, and Hud on the drum kit.  We did swap lead vocals for whomever wrote the song at the time.  We recruited  Ken Laws on drums, Chris Parren on keys, and Mickey Keen for lead guitar, as backup from the Free Spirit album on.  They proved to be a great band.  For the album, Nickleodeon, we had session players comprising of: Gerry Conway – drums, Chris Parren – keys, Mickey Keen – guitar, and various others including, Rick Wakeman, who very kindly played on two tracks for us.

I do like John Ford. He wasn’t going for the bait! I decided to move on and ask about the general music scene in the late 70’s.

SB: Hudson Ford went quiet in ’77?  I was still living in the UK at that time, I left in 1980.  I viewed the late 70s as the “dark ages” for music.  The mega bands had become “demi gods” and distanced themselves from their fans.  They were playing 50,000 seat arenas but had disconnected from fans.  Punk came along, and punk (awful though it often was) filled the gap.  It was approachable in a bizarre way.

I have talked to a number of well known artists from the period about this.

Dave Cousins — Overnight we became dinosaurs.

The always entertaining Keith Emerson — It was a bloody mess, we said F it and moved to the Bahamas for a while.  We became tax exiles.

Al Stewart — I went on tour in the US, Year Of The Cat climbed the US charts.  It was charting here but in London no-one could give a damn.  So I just kept adding more gigs.  Finally after 6 months I rented an apartment in LA and called it home.

I am guessing that you viewed this period in a slightly different light.  In fact I’ll go so far as to suggest that The Monks was a ‘if you can’t beat em, join em band’?

JF:  The reason that Hudson Ford went “quiet,” is simply because we could not get any more hit Singles.  Our albums, although well received, did not sell in great numbers.  Dave Cousins once said that, “Hudson Ford could sell Singles, and the Strawbs could sell Albums.  Maybe we should have stayed together.”  Our last couple of Singles, make me cringe when  I hear them, and our last album, Daylight, I think was terrible.  Wrong producer, coupled with lack of direction.  I personally, as a songwriter was floundering at the time — wondering what to write?  It was the time of The Stylistics and Disco, which is why we recruited a new singer — who turned out to be, Terry Cassidy. 

By that time, we were thinking about High Society — which was my idea of a Django Reinhardt 30s-40s styled band, mixed with Modern songs.  Nevertheless, we made some good stuff with the Hudson Ford band, but I feel if we took the best of all the albums, we would have ONE great album.  To a certain extent, we were still influenced by the Strawbs, with Suites and Mega-songs which we tried to do in some cases, but we didn’t have Dave Cousins’ lyrical content, and relied on band arrangements to pad it out.  However, people still scream for our Hudson Ford albums to be officially re-released, as they have been lost in the shuffle of our own label, A & M’s sell off years ago.  There is still a chance this Hudson Ford re-release will happen one day in the future, once it’s sorted out. 

I personally thought Punk was a breathe of fresh air in the music business, descendants of which are Green Day, The Foo Fighters, and the like, who make an art of the distorted electric guitar sound.   After the self indulgent so-called Progressive music of that time, it made for an interesting contrast.

John hits a familiar (excuse the pun) chord with his comment about re-releasing albums. He is far from the only musician that has found himself in that nasty situation. Through no fault of their own, ownership and control of the material is lost as labels merge and die.

SB: There are various stories about ‘Nice Legs’ a popular one is that it was a demo never intended to be released.  And it became a problem child when it grew in popularity.  What is the real story behind it?

 

JF:  The Monks were sheer fluke, as was the name itself.  It should have been “The Mugs,” but someone at the label mispelled it to, The Monks.  “Nice Legs Shame About The Face,” was  my ex-wife’s comment to me, if she thought I was looking at  another woman.   I can’t remember the time, or where I wrote this song.  I was living at Carshalton Beeches, in Surrey, so it must have been there.  Hudson chipped in with, “Met her on a blind date, helping out an old mate,” and it was done.  We initially gave the song to the younger brother of Jaymes Fenda, (lead singer in my earliest band, Jaymes Fenda and the Vulcans), Clive Pierce, who ended up playing drums for The Monks.  Our management didn’t like the recording Clive’s band made, so we shelved it.  But, eventually including it on a batch of Demos, we sent off to the Midem Music Fair which happens in Europe, every year.  A label picked up the song and wanted to release it as it was, which had Hudson banging on a flight case and bass, with me on electric Strat and vocals — all recorded to a 2-Track tape.  The bad imprint of the recording, even gave an echo at the end that wasn’t really wasn’t meant to be there.  It sounded Punkish, I suppose.  We had a lot of flack for that record.  On Top of The Pops — a British TV show we appeared on many times, Terry Cassidy mimed to my vocals, and Hud hid under a monks’ robe.  We were trying to hide the fact that it was Hudson Ford, as our usual stuff was more “sophisticated.”  We were asked to make an album, “Bad Habits,” and later on, “Suspended Animation,” and although considered tongue-in-cheek, there was some very clever stuff on those albums, with Terry Cassidy’s talent for imitating lots of different voices.  I recently heard on YouTube, some good DJ Remix dubs of, “I Can Do Anything You Like,” where he imitates a band from India trying to get a record deal with, “Mr. EMI.”  Between the three of us, we wrote some great stuff.  Unfortunately, only Canada took us seriously.  It might have been the same in the US,  but things didn’t work out with Capitol Records, who wanted us to sign with them.  Nevertheless, we picked up Gold and Platinums for both albums.  Brian Willoughby played on Suspended Animation, but due to prior commitments  couldn’t tour with us, so we had guitarist  Hugh Gower from the band, The Records, join us.

SB: Drugs In My Pocket is another interesting track.  I could come up with several explanations, it was just for fun, it was a social message, or something else?  What is the story behind the track?

 

JF:  “I’ve Got Drugs In My Pocket And I Don’t Know What To Do With Them,” was a Richard Hudson line, he used to say for a laugh.  I added  music and rest of verse one.  Later, we sat down with Terry Cassidy, and finished the whole song.  Again, a piss take on being on drugs.  That song got played in Canadian universities, where the Bad Habits album started to sell big time.  The Single, “Johnny Be Rotten,” which was a pun on John Lydon from the Sex Pistols  and the song, “Johnny B. Good,” is actually pretty clever.  We could not chart again after “Nice Legs…” so we had re-embarked on High Society, thinking it was all over.  Then, we were informed, Bad Habits, was selling thousands in Canada!  So once more, we shelved High Society, and put on our robes again, to become Monks.

In retrospect, if I had not come to live in America, I think Hud and I would be doing Hudson Ford Acoustic by now.  But that was not in vogue in 1986, when I moved to the US. I am surprised that there hasn’t been a “Hudson Fraud” tribute band – haha.

John makes a good point, there are millions of Elvii, and millions of Coleoptera (that’s fancy Latin for Beatles) bands. It is high time that homage was paid to John Ford and Richard Hudson. The options on names are almost endless, Monk Off is probably my favorite. Close behind would the Monkeys, of course this might cause some confusion with the Monkees, but I am sure that the fans would be able to spot the difference. It is hard to confuse I’m A Believer with Nice Legs Shame About The Face.

More soon.

Simon Barrett

 

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