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Gaye And Other Stories - Clifford T. Ward

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Genre: Rock / Artist: Clifford T. Ward / Audio CD released 1992-06-29 at Virgin

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      03.01.2003 13:53
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      The results of the ‘Best of British’ Radio 2 poll (listeners’ favourite British songs or pieces of music over the last 50 years) were broadcast on 1 June 2000. No surprises in the top three, chart-toppers and million-sellers all: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, and ‘Imagine’. But what’s this at No. 4? A song that never even grazed the Top 75 - ‘Home Thoughts From Abroad’, Clifford T. Ward. I’d like to think I wasn’t the only one to stop what I was doing, listen to the song and brush away a few tears, not for the first time. It never fails to have that effect on me. ‘HFTA’ is without doubt one of the most poignant, and thoroughly English, songs of our time. Inspired partly by Browning’s poem of the same title, it was written by Clifford while he was on tour abroad, missing his home patch of Worcestershire in general, and his wife in particular. To a delicate backing initially of piano, then of strings and drums, he tells us how he has been reading Browning, Keats and Wordsworth, asks his wife if she still uses TV to send her to sleep, does the cistern still leak, and “how’s your broken heart?” If you don’t know the song, get hold of it – and if your eyes don’t well up, check your pulse. Back to the man and this record. Clifford T. Ward, born in 1944, made a couple of false starts as a songwriter and performer with a British Motown-influenced band before embarking on a solo career proper in 1972. At the time he was also teaching English, though in time he had to choose between one career or the other – and music it was to be. The three albums he recorded with the Charisma label between 1973 and 1975 were undoubtedly the peak of his artistic and (briefly) commercial success, and it’s from them that this 20-track retrospective is compiled. Space doesn’t a
      llow for a full song-by-song commentary, but a look at about half of them ought to be enough to give you the picture, if not convince you. The opening track was Clifford’s only Top hit in the UK (No. 8, 1973), and may awaken some memories. ‘Gaye’ is a hauntingly delicate song, unashamedly sloppy but in my view never falling into mawkishness. With delicate acoustic guitar, sparingly-used strings and drums behind that pleading voice, with its lines like “You’re the tray of bright things that I upset yesterday, The display of bright rings that I let slip away,” all add up to one of the most sublime love songs you can imagine. ‘Wherewithal’ was the follow-up single, though despite heavy airplay at the time, failed to chart. More commercial, with a faster tempo, and a backing of mainly acoustic guitar and piccolo augmented by lead guitar in the break, this catchy tune and lines like “You were so nonpareil, you opened up a new elation in my life”, still sounds just as enchanting as ever. A minor Top 40 hit ‘Scullery’ followed at the end of the year. One of several songs he wrote about his wife Pat, this has come in for some criticism on the grounds of sexism. I mean, describing your lady as “my picture by Picasso” and then going on to mention her in rubber gloves (er, the kitchen variety), washing up the pots and pans. This is not rock’n’roll. But then, an English teacher who also writes such delicate acoustic songs as ‘Nightingale’, name-checking Keats again, and ‘The Open University’, a whimsical song about a love affair in which the man’s squeeze is breaking his heart because she’s fed up with working in a factory, wants to better herself and is now reading Lawrence and T.H. Huxley – I rest my case. ‘University’, by the way, opens softly, before sneaking into a brass break which sounds
      almost like a Dixieland jazz band. As most of Clifford’s songs are ballads, and as his voice is perfectly suited to them, the few up-tempo numbers seem to draw attention to themselves more. ‘Crisis’, with its busy horn section and urgent pace – recalling the general flavour of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Save The Life Of My Child’, for those of you familiar with the ‘Bookends’ album – is a reminder that in earlier days he fronted a band who specialised in Motown covers. The lyrics have an ironic twist in the story, telling the tale of a bored married man who goes to a dodgy party to get away from the wife and discovers her there. ‘The Dubious Circus Company’ is an apparently jolly romp in military band style, so catchy that it might almost have been written as a children’s song – but the circus is not one of friendly lion tamers and fairground rides, actually it turns out to be a cover for a band of crooks. However, the dark side will elude you unless you listen to the lyrics very carefully. A subsequent single, ‘Jigsaw Girl’ (again, a radio favourite but chartwise a total flop) is likewise quite commercial, and rather clever in its use of metaphor – “hope you find the time to put me in the picture,” and “seems that I’m around to pick up all the pieces”. To label Clifford as a nicey-nicey MOR singer of mushy love songs only scratches the surface. The stark ‘Miner’ speaks for itself, while ‘A Day To Myself’ is another homesick song written while he was in France, but this time the feeling of loneliness is less acute than his visits to some of the Great War battlefields and his thoughts on the British soldiers who never returned home. The albums from which these were taken are ‘Home Thoughts From Abroad’ (June 1973), ‘Mantle Pieces’ (December 1973), and 
      216;Escalator’ (1975). The first two have been issued on CD and deleted, but copies appear from time to time. The first was far and away the best, perhaps reflecting the usual principle that when a singer-songwriter has to work under pressure for ‘the follow-up’, the results are never quite as strong as the unhurried earlier material. So some tracks aren’t that outstanding (hence four stars instead of five), but at their best, they’re among some of the loveliest ever recorded in their field. Clifford was that rare artist, a quintessentially English writer with a self-evident love of the English language and its literature. I can’t honestly think of any other with whom to compare him, except possibly Al Stewart in some ways. By the way, I find it hard to listen to Clifford without a desperate feeling of sadness. Let’s just take a few lines from the insert notes to this CD, from fan and later official biographer Dave Cartwright: “…when I think of the potential that has been lost here, I get mad. He could have, should have been a huge star…The mind so creative, inventive, unique, is now trapped in a frame that cannot function.” In 1986 he was stricken with the first signs of what proved to be multiple sclerosis. For years he was confined to a wheelchair, his speech reduced to a slur. He recorded a final album by managing to crawl into a home studio on hands and knees, on what he called his ‘better’ days. It may have been a merciful release when he passed away in December 2001. Before you ask, I did cast my vote for ‘HTFA’, as did Terry Wogan - and evidently thousands more of us. For Clifford’s official website, visit http://members.madasafish.com/~ctward/start.html

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Gaye
      2 Wherewithal
      3 Cellophane
      4 Dubious Circus Company
      5 Not Waving Drowning
      6 Time The Magician
      7 Home Thoughts From Abroad
      8 Way Of Love
      9 Open University
      10 Jigsaw Girl
      11 Day To Myself
      12 Nightingales
      13 We Could Be Talking
      14 Where's It Going To End
      15 Crisis
      16 Scullery
      17 Where Would That Leave Me
      18 To An Air Hostess
      19 Sad Affai