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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On tour with David Ford

I spent last week on tour with singer/songwriter David Ford. Here is my tour diary:There is a glint in David Ford’s eye as he gazes over his shoulder at the seven dear friends that accompany him on stage during the encore of his set at Shepherds Bush Empire. As I stand in the shadows at the back of the stage, filming this touching moment, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Ford turns back towards the auditorium, where a thousand fans beam back in his direction. A mass singalong ensues. Deafening applause greets the end of the song as Ford bounces off stage and embraces his band-mates in a group hug.

For Ford, this seminal gig was the culmination of years of hard work. Years spent striving in the studio in his basement. Years of sitting alone in hotel rooms. Years of fumbling for tunes within his cluttered brain. In the short term, it was the climax of four days in a tourbus, arrowing around the United Kingdom before arriving in West London for the biggest gig of his life.

The journey which would end with his name in lights at the front of this beautiful and historic theatre began in the humblest of surroundings, at a rehearsal room in sleepy Eastbourne, where 11 of his best friends in the world gathered together to squeeze themselves into a small bus and head interminably north. First stop, Carlisle, an equally inauspicious settlement at the opposing end of the country. In the normal scheme of things, a seven hour journey in a bus with no DVD player would be considered hell, but with this collection of people the time flew as jokes were shared and songs were sung (including a devastatingly brilliant version of Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up by saxophonist Franco). No egos, no arguments, no animosity; just 12 mates revelling in each other’s company, riding, while not on the coattails of their dear friend, then certainly upon his shoulders. It was like the best school trip ever. Soundman Beige (below, right) was the teacher behind the wheel, telling us off for singing endless 90s dance classics, Frances got the same amount of unreciprocated abuse that she always receives, violinist Hannah’s Barnsley accent was roundly mimicked, while newcomer Keeston forged new friendships. By the end of the tour everyone, not least his fellow men, would have a small crush on him.Carlisle was reached in a state of tiredness in the depths of Wednesday night, as the group split into trios to bed down in the soulless yet welcomingly familiar Travelodge. I shared a typically bland and unattractive family-room with guitarist Piss Whisky and drummer Lil Joey Love, where we discovered a mutual love for the late night phone-in/rip-off quiz show, Make Your Play, on ITV. While it was unquestionably television at its lowest common denominator, it was also a strangely mesmeric experience watching the dregs of society running up an obscene phone bill in the hope of winning a quick buck. The three of us didn’t avert our stare from the screen as the presenters’ doggedly inane chatter was punctuated by calls from the drunk, the lonely and the eccentric. The show became one of the main talking points of the tour (along with the joyous resurrection of Whispa bars), as the rest of the band heeded our glowing recommendation and tuned in on the remaining nights.

Breathtaking scenery eased us into Scotland on Thursday as we headed to Glasgow for Ford’s appearance on XFM (below). Lil Joey Love grew increasingly agitated at being cooped up in the van when all he really wanted to do was roam the rolling hills with a salmon limply living its last moments between his teeth.Arriving in Glasgow in plenty of time, the funbus stopped off for some breakfast in the city centre. While others ventured to the café, I spotted a man who looked rather like Pete Doherty, stepping into a second-hand clothing store. He was tall, pale of face and dashingly handsome. On closer inspection, I realised that it was Pete Doherty. I felt instantly star-struck, my heart skipped a beat and a moderate amount of stalking ensued. I entered the shop and pretended to look at clothes but in fact stared through the rails and swooned in the former Libertine’s direction. He was buying hats. I was considering going gay.

On a high following our star-spotting frenzy, and full of anticipation, we headed to XFM, where Ford rattled out three songs, including the always jaw-dropping version of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine. After that and a quick wander around the grey streets of Glasgow, where the people were friendly but the city seemed to be lacking any remotely pleasing aesthetics, it was time to head to the wonderfully-named King Tuts Wah Wah Hut which, upon my first visit, instantly became my favourite venue of all time, thanks largely to the excellent two-course meal they served after soundcheck.

The gig was a triumph, and the cliché about Scottish audiences being the best in the world proved itself to be feasible. While the band belted out a winning set, I sat aside the stage swigging booze and ligging like the Robbie Williams to Ford’s Oasis (circa 1995). Towards the end of the set, David asked for silence amongst the crowd as a very nervous young fan requested the hand of his rather lovely girlfriend in marriage. She accepted. Cue hearty cheers all round and a poignant version of Song For The Road.Back in Carlisle a few hours later, and Make Your Play resonated from the TV screens across all four of our rooms. Tonight’s word on the quiz was “Hot_____”. Tonight’s contestants were even dumber than last night’s. Another few hours of stuttered sleep followed.

Friday saw us make a journey ridden with traffic jams to Manchester, for a gig at the Acadamy. A marathon soundcheck put everyone in a slightly agitated mood, while percussionist GMan and I took time out to meet up with an old school friend that distance has precluded us from seeing for a long time. He is also the director of every member of Team Ford’s favourite film, the lo-budget and almost entirely incomprehensible Ring Of Deceit (which stars an utterly disinterested GMan Page). It was a nice reunion.

The gig was made all the more special by the crowd, who, far from being the shoe-gazing stoners that one might expect from the Manchester student fraternity, were even more vocal than last night’s alcohol-fuelled Glaswegian posse, most notably during Ford’s cover of hometown heroes The SmithsThere is a Light That Never Goes Out. Pick of the set was the heartbreaking lullaby And So You Fell, a too-close-to-home true story so touching, moving and sad that it rips my heart out with every listen. Everybody feels affected by melancholy songs, yet to feel and understand every single word is something which I had never before experienced. On each night, as I stood at the side of the stage, a lump would appear in my throat as I mourned the actions of a friend a couple of years ago, and the respectful silence that fell upon the room during this rendition in Manchester brought me to tears.A long drive followed the Manchester gig, all the way to Bicester (no, I haven’t got a clue where it is either; somewhere near Oxford I am led to believe) and watching Make Your Play upon our arrival at stupid o’clock was somewhat laborious. Tonight’s word was “_____Book”. I fell asleep while my roommates guffawed at the screen. I woke, as with every other day on tour, far too early as the sun peeped under the curtains and the hard sofa upon which I stretched offered little in the way of comfort.

As I rubbed my sandpaper eyes, I remembered that today was Ford’s big day. In little over 12 hours he would be performing a massive gig in West London. For now though, there was breakfast to be eaten and new drum skins to be purchased. Sandwiches were bought from Marks and Spencer before we headed to the Drum Centre, in the shadow of the colossal Wembley Stadium. Drums were played and percussion instruments were perscussed before we jumped back into the crowded bus, where we were entertained by Franco’s rapping skillz until we reached our final destination, the historic Shepherds Bush Empire. As our chariot eased towards the venue (below), the words DAVID FORD came into view in large red letters. Cue massive cheering from 12 painfully excited individuals.The afternoon flew by. A painless soundcheck was followed by me filming a film-crew filming Ford being interviewed by a friendly and entirely stereotypical female presenter for satellite TV. He talked well.

As the evening sneaked up on us, everybody became lost in their own worlds. Nerves were rife and the Ford entourage made sure that they kept anxiety at bay by busying themselves with anything that would take their minds off the upcoming performance. While the band headed out for some food, Shellers, The Captain and I set up the merchandise. As the doors opened at 7.30pm, it felt as though none of us were in any way ready for the night to begin - for real people to permeate our insular existence. But, rather than bursting our safety bubble, the steady flow of familiar faces – family, friends, fans, industry people - arriving in the foyer caused our panic and stress levels slowly to subside as hugs, high-fives and handshakes were exchanged. It was a calming feeling.

After the support acts had finished, I stepped out onto the stage with some bottles of water and found myself aghast at the size of the crowd. There had always been a slight concern that no-one would turn up, yet three tiers of the impressive venue were packed with enthusiastic punters. At that moment, I knew it was going to be a wonderful occasion.And so to the gig. I watched it from every part of the building. I stood on the stage, I stood on the ground floor, I sat in the Gods, and from every angle it was simply stunning. I have seen Ford play more times than I can count, yet I never grow tired of watching him perform and his shows never fail to impress me. But even by his standards this evening was a little extra special. It was as though he had finally arrived at a platform that suited him, and we all were there with him. He seemed entirely at home on the vast stage, and, as his musicians interchanged, he played a sterling set of old and new songs with an appealing confidence and swagger. As the set concluded, another couple in the audience got engaged.

Ford deserved the standing ovation that he left the stage to. He deserved the numerous pats on the back he received at the aftershow party. Popping champagne corks and singing stupid songs (including the tune of the hastingsdirect.com advert) in the dressing room at the end of the night is something that I will never forget. The room was filled with warmth, love and joy. Ford smiled. We all smiled. It had been a life-affirming few days on the road as great friendships were, unthinkably, made even stronger than they already were.Hours after he left to a standing ovation, Ford and his gang sat on the same stage (above), now completely empty, and looked out at the silent, yawning venue. We threw back champagne and red wine straight from the bottle, and lost ourselves in thought. We were too tired, too emotional to hold a coherent conversation. In honestly, we didn’t really need to say anything. As we pulled out of the venue, the large red letters had already been changed to spell the name of the next evening’s performer. Tomorrow would be someone else’s day, but this October night in London belonged entirely to David Ford.

7 comments:

julia said...

sounded like fun. a good write up.

Anonymous said...

Hastings direct dot com? eh?

magnoliaMAM said...

It was actually 1057 people.

Lovely piece Bobby

managermister

bobbysix said...

I stand corrected! 1057 people is an amazing turnout isn't it! Marvellous stuff.

Anonymous said...

Very nicely written Bobby. I saw you in the foyer.

From,
One of the stalker fans

bobbysix said...

One of the stalker fans?

Mysterious....

Lee said...

Nicely written Mr Six xx