Johh Ford of Strawbs
Singer/songwriter of the legendary British Rock ensemble Strawbs has been an ex-patriot living in the United States for over 3 decades. Over the years he has been performing periodically with his band in the NYC metropolitan area, and has been releasing new recordings on his own label Whole Shot Records. His love for his adopted homeland has inspired him to write stirring anthems, like “Sandy” after the disastrous hurricane that ravaged America in 2012, as well as straight up Rock ‘n’ Roll. On Easter Sunday, 2020, John released his latest single “All Locked Down,” referencing the struggles of humanity during the coronavirus pandemic. Recently, Cottage Views had the opportunity to speak with John. If you are unfamiliar with John’s solo work, now is the best time to do some research and visit his YouTube channel.
To watch the video for All Locked Down click here
John Ford of Strawbs
April 21, 2020
Cottage Views: Hi, John. How are you doing?
John Ford: Ah… like everybody else, I suppose, being stuck in the house.
CV: Yeah, I don’t think anybody was expecting this to be as crazy as it has become.
JF: I must admit that when I saw this a couple of months ago I didn’t think we’d have such a big problem with it, in all honesty.
CV: You don’t even know what to believe from the media anymore.
JF: That’s another thing. Every day I’m looking at Governor Cuomo, and de Blasio from the city, on the TV. You really don’t know what to believe. Are they over the top with this, shutting everything down? I don’t know. If the rest of the world wasn’t having the same problem, it might be a big conspiracy or something (laughs). We just got to blame the communist Chinese for not telling us all about it. That’s where it all started. Hopefully they’ll find a vaccine.
CV: You’re pretty close to the city, aren’t you?
JF: I’m on the north shore of Long Island, which is about 30 miles [away]. My area, we go through the same things, but it’s not a highly populated area. I go to the supermarket, but I tend to stick to the same stores. If you know where everything is, you can get in and out quick, so I don’t really go anywhere else. That’s what I’ve been doing, but I do go out. I wear a mask. I must admit, a couple of months ago I was very blasé about this thing. The flu’s got a higher death rate, but you’ve got to be careful. I’ve got all the gloves and the mask. There’s still a lot of people walking around here… I live in a place called Oyster Bay, quite close to Billy Joel. He lives on a little island that juts out into Oyster Bay called Center Island. Of course, there is no coronavirus on Center Island (laughs). There’s one road in and one road out that runs off the bay and, you know, like today it’s sunny here and you’ll see people running along, or cyclists riding around, and none of them are wearing masks. In the stores they put arrows on the floors and you have to walk one way. It’s like a war zone.
CV: Yes, I don’t think anybody knew the scope of this thing.
JF: On April the 1st, I was going to do this show in the city. It was a tribute for Ronnie Lane of the Small Faces and there was about 15 singers. Prior to April the 1st, on Sunday, we were going to rehearse with all of the singers in a studio and one of the singers was Allan Merrill. You heard of him? He wrote “I love Rock ‘n’ Roll” for Joan Jett. I don’t know if you’ve heard this, he got the virus and died. He played recently and he picked it up. Apparently, they’re saying if people have existing conditions, and apparently he had some lung issues a few years back, and it just knocked him out in a couple of days. So obviously, we never did the show.
The place we were playing, the Cutting Room, was shut down. If it had been a couple of days… if this thing had transpired a couple of days earlier, or later, we would have been rehearsing with him. I don’t know where he got it from. I understand he did a couple of shows prior to that. I haven’t played since last year. Last time I played a show was December.
(Merrill died on March 29, 2020)
Even if this thing ends tomorrow people are going to be apprehensive about going out – to shows anyway. I don’t think anything will get back to normal until next year, at least.
Mind you, I haven’t drastically changed what I normally do. All my life, being a singer I have suffered from sore throats and cold. Even in normal times, if I go to the store and someone sneezes in the aisle I’ll walk back the other way. It may sound stupid, but I won’t walk down any pain-killer aisle where people are going to get stuff for colds and stuff, I generally don’t. And also, I never, if I can help it, sing on other peoples microphones. I always bring my own mic. That is another killer. You’ve got ten people singing on a mic and even if you don’t touch it with your lips, you’re sort of breathing it, so I’m pretty paranoid about that sort of stuff anyway. I didn’t walk around with a mask on, but… (laughs).
CV: We will be in the future.
JF: It may be a new image. Everyone will have a mask (laughs).
CV: So, this is what motivated the new song?
JF: Yeah, it did, cause I’m stuck in my [house]. I’ve had another album finished for about a year and I just haven’t gotten ‘round to getting the sleeve together, all that sort of stuff, and that is called… What is that called? I can’t bloody remember what I’m calling that album! I’ve got a couple of songs that I’ve put up on video on my Facebook from that, recently. Anyway, I’ve got that out. Sorry, what was the question again? I’ve lost my thread (laughs).
CV: We were talking about the new song.
JF: Oh, yeah! I’d already written the song a year ago really. I don’t really sit down to write unless I have something to go for. But then, I made a joke on my Facebook – oh, I did a video for one of my other songs called “Together Apart” which I didn’t actually put up. Somebody beat me to it, a live version, and I had a picture of me looking down and I just for a laugh I put “what can I rhyme with quarantine?” What does ‘quarantine’ rhyme with? And I had all these people write in. You know, I never use their rhymes but then I was messing around with the word ‘quarantine’ and just out of shear boredom down in the studio here I just wrote that song over a period of a couple of weeks. And then, I thought ‘well, I’ve got nothing else to do’ so I recorded it. And that’s how that came about.
I’ve got a few good lines in there, I thought. we can’t get out/so we suffer inside (laughs). I thought that was pretty good.
CV: As soon as I saw it on FB I thought ‘another brilliant song. I have to share it.’
JF: Yeah, thank you. I got a terrific response. All those videos went up about a dozen times. That’s not me, I only put it up once. People keep putting up on my site. Maybe they don’t realize that I’ve got it up. I don’t know. And it also went to, someone put it up on the Strawbs FB right at the front, which probably didn’t please Dave Cousins. It would be like “Part of the Union” all over again (laughs).
CV: It’s funny you bring up Part of the Union. One of the things that stuck out for me in the new song was the bass line. It reminded me of when you were writing songs like “Part of the Union” and “Burn Baby Burn” with Hudson-Ford.
JF: Yeah. Actually, it’s very similar. The chords are not the same though. The timing with the bass drum hanging at the front there is typical of what I do. My new album isn’t like that at all, but if I sit down with the guitar my default rhythm sort of goes to that. It’s just what I do, I suppose. It is quite like “Part of the Union.”
CV: Will this track be a part of the new album?
JF: Seeing that I haven’t got the album out yet I may put it on there actually, yeah, due to the response, ’cause I’ve only got ten tracks on there. Oh, the name of the new album is Life in a Foreign Town. All the songs are linked to the same sort of thing. ‘Life in a foreign town’ is me living here, basically in America, and that’s the title of one of the songs. And I’ve got another song called “Back in England” that lyrically is referring to England. There’s a loose sort of link going through all of the songs. So, that is the title, Life in a Foreign Town.
CV: One of the other tracks that you have is “Together Apart.” Is that something you wrote with or for Hudson-Ford?
JF: No. That was on one of my solo albums. When I was doing the Strawbs tour around 2000 I just wrote it because Hudson and I were performing with the Strawbs like a separate solo spot and I did write that in sort of a loose context with together/apart, but it’s not really about that. I’ve recorded it, I think it’s on my Resurrected album. That was a compilation of all my good stuff. Also, it’s been recorded a few times. I did it live when the Strawbs did their 40th and that went on their album. So, I sat down here before I recorded the new song and I just did it like everyone who’s doing their home videos. I still have the video but I never put it up. When I did the Strawbs 50th last year, on the day after the shows we had this brunch for the VIP ticket holders in the hotel and Dave Cousins, myself and Blue Weaver did three solos spots and I couldn’t think of what to play and I dug that up and I sang that and someone took a video of it and put it up on my FB so I never bothered to put my own version of it up. To answer your question, it had nothing to do with Hudson when I wrote that.
CV: Tell us about the 50th anniversary concerts for the Strawbs. Did they get together all of the past members of the group?
JF: Most of the former members. Originally, Rick Wakeman was going to do it, but he had something going on and he couldn’t do it. He was never really on the bill, but I knew from Dave Cousins that he was asked. If this was this time last year it would have been cancelled. We would have had to wait another 50 years (laughs).
But, yeah, it was great. There is this theatre in Lakewood, New Jersey, that the Strawbs have been playing at for the last few years called The Strand. It’s a 1920-30’s converted cinema, a beautiful cinema. Dave and the Strawbs have played there quite a few times. I actually did it with my band a few years back. I did it twice actually. Dave struck up a relationship with the owner, a guy called Ray Coles and Dave Cousins decided to do it over here.
It was actually fantastic, it really was. It was two days and then the third day was the brunch for the VIPs, and they paid about $300 a ticket, which enabled them to the usual VIP stuff – front seats and all that sort of stuff. So everyone was there.
We had the existing Strawbs band, which is Tony Fernandez, Chas Cronk, the new keyboard player Dave Bainbridge, Dave Cousins and Dave Lambert, and then Blue Weaver, who was on the old stuff with me flew over from Germany, Brian Willoughby who was in the Strawbs and his wife Cathleen Craig, English singer Annie Haslam – she was in Renaissance. We had a guy called Eric Brazilian, who wrote “One of Us” (a #4 hit for Joan Osborne in 1995). He has recently become friends with Dave and he was a great asset to the show. Another British guy called Wesley Stace, he compèred everything.
What happened, basically, the set was a combination of all different areas of the Strawbs career, and one of those areas was the album Grave New World, which I played on. So we did it as a whole set piece with Wesley Stace narrating the story to Grave New World. Considering that I got there only two days before and I hadn’t really played that stuff – I only play one song out of that and I don’t even play it in the Strawbs key – so I was rehearsing and by the time I got there I had already got the bass down. I knew everything, you know, which is a lot more than a couple of people who were on the show (laughs).
Tony Visconti, David Bowie’s producer, was there because he produced some early Strawbs tracks. He was there with the orchestra – they had an orchestra for some of it. I wasn’t on until the second day. I actually sat in the audience and watched the first day’s show. On the second day, my band went on. I kept it acoustic; acoustic bass, my son on the guitar, percussion. Our set went down great. It really did. We had a finale at the end. Everyone. Dave brought in this choir from the UN, the United Nations singers. Apparently they have a choir (laughs). I think they sang Benedictus. It all came together at the end. It was great. It couldn’t have been any better.
CV: Will they be releasing any of the recordings or video from that?
JF: Yeah. It was all filmed and recorded. Blue Weaver is supposed to be producing and editing up what was all done. The fans are all screaming ‘when are we going to see this?’ but it’s not easy to put together and finance. It’s got to be financed to do this, to press all this stuff up. Without a major label behind you you’ve got to do all this stuff yourself.
To be continued…
Top photo courtesy of John Ford
Other photos by Michael A. Cimino © Michael Cimino Archives