One of the great pleasures in being an independent reviewer is that no-one tells me what to review, or when. I get to pick and choose my targets. I have recently been writing a series of articles about the great Brit band, The Strawbs.

I was delighted when the original bass player for The Strawbs contacted me. He kindly sent me some of his more recent CD’s. among them was Backtracking. This 2004 release is a wonderful look at John’s career covering ground from The Strawbs in the 1970’s through the turn of the new millennia.

Bass players are often the unsung hero in a band. John Ford is the exception, he is a very talented and creative singer and song writer.

John Ford kicks off Backtracking in grand form, whats not to love about his collaboration with Richard Hudson under The Monks moniker? Nice Legs, Shame About The Face was a huge hit in 1979 and is as much fun today as it was then. It is delightfully irreverent on just about every front. You have two incredibly talented musicians producing a musically and lyrically simplistic song with a punk after burn! I am firmly convinced that the pair of them were poking fun at the awful state popular music had found itself in at that moment in time.

Nice Legs alone covers the price of admission to enjoy Backtracking!

But there is better to come.

John Ford has the ability to turn his hand to many different styles of playing. Suspended Animation (track 2) is another Monks classic, and right out of David Bowies Ziggy Stardust playbook.

Being a person that defies convention I had to switch to the end of the CD, the last two tracks are classic Strawbs tunes. Over the past several weeks I have listened to more versions of ‘Witchwood’ than I care to even contemplate, studio, live, acoustic, I have heard them all. It’s a miracle that I don’t have dreams about this song. But all of the versions have had Dave Cousins doing the vocals. Here was a version without Dave behind the mic. Could John Ford pull this trick off? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact Johns treatment of the song is somewhat lighter than even Dave Cousins’ acoustic version. Witchwood is just such a pretty song.

Also from the Strawbs era is Heavy Disguise. This is a song that has a history all of its own. John Ford wrote this song for the Grave New World album which as I recall was released in 1973 (but don’t quote me on that one). Grave New World as a bit of a tempestuous period in the history of the Strawbs. Heavy Disguise, much like John Ford’s Thirty Days on From The Witchwood received little support from Dave Cousins. Although it should be noted that according to a conversation that I had with John Ford recently, it was Dave Cousins that suggested the inclusion of the brass section.

 I am sure that John has played this song many, many times over the intervening 40 years. Songs are like Gumbo recipes, they tend to morph over time. Heavy Disguise stays very close to the original version with one, no make that two changes. This version does not have the horn section playing. But I don’t think anything much was lost by that. The second change is far more subtle. It is in the vocal delivery. This version has something delightfully alluring in the vocal style.

Backtracking is a very unique CD and showcases the broad spectrum of John Ford’s musical ability.

You ca order your copy of Backtracking by using the Amazon link above or through his website www.johnfordofthestrawbs.com

Simon Barrett

 

 

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