David Ford's tour in support of his forthcoming album May You Live In Interesting Times and his impromptu 48 Hours With mini album that he recorded with support act Annie Dressner hit Manchester's Castle Hotel for the first of two nights in the city. Veering away from his tour set and with a stripped down kit he delighted a crowd of devotees with a career-spanning set and plenty of witty anecdotes.
Annie Dressner opens the evening with a six song set that features tracks taken from her three albums to date - three from 2020's Coffee At The Corner Bar (Dogwood, Pretend and Look What You're Doing To Us), one from 2018's Broken Into Pieces (Bruise Beneath My Bones) and 2011's debut Strangers Who Knew Each Other's Names (the title track and When I See Stars). Her songs are simple yet evocative in the emotions and feelings which they express and it's little wonder that the two of them have formed a bond that led them to write together. Her vocals add gravitas to these songs as she lets the richness and depth to her voice accentuate their emotional impact, even more so when David joins her to add piano to her guitar. There's something really special about articulate well-constructed songs delivered by their creator to a respectful audience and Annie's opening slot ticks all those boxes.
David Ford has a wealth of songs to choose from these days. Even forgetting his two albums with Easyworld before he went solo in 2004 (a request for Bleach from their debut is met with the politest "fuck off" ever heard), he's built a phenomenal back catalogue of six studio albums and countless EPs and mini-albums from which to select from. He tells us he hopes he has enough for two sets of top quality songs so that he can deviate from his tour set tonight when the reality is that people are going to be disappointed to not hear many of their favourites over the two nights even if the sets are changed completely.
Tonight he's operating with just an army of guitars, a trusty old piano and his voice, a weapon that often gets overlooked as people marvel at his trickery with the loop pedal and whatever magical box of tricks he's created for the tour. With that left in the back of the car it brings into focus, as with Annie before him, the simple qualities of his songwriting that have run through his work from those early days when he stood at the edge of singer-songwriter stardom and took a backward step (I'm Alright Now, Train, Song For The Road) right through to songs from the new record (6 Feet Apart and Just For You, the latter of which is turned into a duet that continues his history of collaborating with talented female singers and musicians such as Frances Law and Hannah Peel amongst others). Annie joins him for three other songs mid-set, taken from their 48 Hours collaboration, a record they decided to make after spending just two days together on tour back in January and which has been written, recorded, mixed and pressed to CD in the six weeks since then.
The lack of effects pedals tonight means that his set is about more than the music though. He's also developed into a storyteller between songs too, often going on to tangents talking about a show he played in South Carolina to an audience comprised solely of bar staff and no paying customers at a beach resort in November, broaching the touchy subject of football after derby day and an (ir)rational hatred of raisins. He's engaging and humourous, throwing in the first line of This Charming Man when an audience member shouts it out when he asks if anyone has any requests. It's a talent that's grown over the years without losing that slight awkwardness that endears audiences to him even more so, although when he sings of love and homesickness on Song For The Road, the song that could have broken him in many senses of the word, it's his ability to frame emotions so clearly that we all feel in words that many can't express that makes him such a beloved songwriter for those fortunate enough to cross his path.
He finishes with Every Time, prefaced by his long held acceptance that this is his lot, but that's he at his happiest playing in front of audiences where he can see everyone rather than them being dots in the distance at the back of a cavernous venue and there's no reason to doubt that as he loses himself in an increasingly frenzied final onslaught that ends in the declaration "I choose this motherfucker and I choose it again." And whilst we still believe he's the superior to many more successful singer-songwriters, if he's happy with his lot then we're privileged that he's sharing it with us. With two new records and a third one on the way before the end of the year, we are living in the interesting times that he references in the title of one of those records.
David Ford played I'm Alright Now, Pour A Little Poison, To Hell With The World, 6 Feet Apart, Why Won't You Answer Your Telephone? before being joined by Annie for Easy Falling, Give It All Up For You, Just Like You and Something I'll Have To Learn before concluding with Train, Song For The Road, Call For Arms and Every Time.
Their tour continues at Manchester Gullivers (March 8), Runcorn The Brindley (9), Pocklington Arts Centre (10), Durham Old Cinema Laundrette (11 and 12), Leicester The Musician (13), Brighton Hope And Ruin (16), Abbotsbury Church (18), Truro The Old Bakery Studios (19), London The Fiddler (23 and 24) and Winchester The Railway Inn (26).