John Ford Rocks the Library

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Former Strawbs bass player demonstrates versatility and style

John Ford at the PW Library  StageI thought that I knew every long-haired musician in town, all two of them, but apparently I was wrong. I was unaware that living in our midst is John Ford — singer, songwriter, musician, and long-haired Port Washington resident. Ford was part of the British folk/progressive rock band The Strawbs, who achieved success in the 1960s and 70s. In addition to his work with The Strawbs, Ford had several bands of his own as well solo work, and projects with other musicians, such as Ritchie Blackmore (of Deep Purple and Rainbow).

Before I talk about Ford’s performance, I feel compelled to offer kudos to the Port Washington Public Library for launching a new series (Live @ PWPL) designed to reach a different demographic. This was, without a doubt, the most exciting concert I have seen at the library in a long time. I left the library feeling very fortunate that we have such an excellent resource in our midst. And the price of the concert cannot be beat (It’s free).

Ford, a tall, leggy man with a shock of hair and an English accent, was absolutely charming. He was humorous, self-deprecating, and entertaining – and this was all before he started playing. He’s the sort of a guy that makes you feel that you want to be friends with him.

The first half of the show was a solo acoustic set, featuring Ford on guitar and ukulele. He played songs from his years with The Strawbs (“Stormy Down”), solo work (“Together Apart”), and with the band he formed with former Strawbs drummer Rick Hudson called Hudson Ford (“Burn Baby Burn” and “I Don’t Understand”). The songs were all well done, but some, such as “Kissed by the Sun,” the song penned for his daughter, were heartbreakingly beautiful.

Interestingly, Ford really shined on some of the work by other artists that he decided to cover. His ukulele rendition of the Beatles’ “P.S. I Love You” showcased the clarity of his voice and was particularly delicious, as was his version (also on the ukulele) of The Kinks’ song “Well Respected Man.”

He was the bass player in The Strawbs, but he is clearly a competent and versatile guitarist. The ukulele was an interesting touch, but I didn’t feel it worked as well with the old prison song “Midnight Special.”

The second set was with his band, which included a keyboard player, drummer and Ford’s son (named John Ford as well) also on guitar. The younger Ford, tall and leggy like his dad, also provided back-up vocals. When the band started playing, I was almost blown off my seat! I didn’t know they allowed music that loud at the library. The full band played Strawbs songs, Ford’s solo work and some covers, most notably an absolutely incredible version of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” (better than the original). It was all I could do to stay in my seat. The band was tight, well-rehearsed and able to handle the occasional minor technical difficulties (guitar problems, cable issues) that arose.

There were a few strange moments: I had a flashback to the movie “Spinal Tap” during the performance of the Strawbs hit “Witchwood.” I kept imagining a mock Stonehenge being lowered onto the stage as the band played on with great sincerity and seriousness. At one point, Ford turned over the microphone to his son, who did a cover of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life.” The younger Ford had the vocals dead on, but I’m just a little tired of that song.

A highlight of the second set was a song that Ford had done as part of punk rock band, The Monks, in the 1980s. The raucous and entertaining song had the dubious title, “Nice Legs, Shame About the Face.” Another highlight was the sardonic “Big Hit in India” in which Ford basically mocks his own career. You have to like a guy who can do that.

Ford closed with “Part of the Union,” a song which was voted by the New Statesman (Britain’s political magazine) as one of the 52 best political songs. All in all, it was an evening very well spent. The library’s auditorium was close to full with people of all ages, from children to seniors, but most were baby-boomers getting another taste of the music they grew up on. I, for one, will definitely go to the next Live @ PWPL event, and I’ll be hoping that the library is considering bringing John Ford back for another show.

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