Saturday 17 June 2023

David Ford / Abe Partridge - Manchester Castle Hotel - 16th June 2023

David Ford and Abe Partridge brought their two-man songwriters' circle tour to Manchester's Castle Hotel on Friday night in sweltering conditions, each playing a solo set and then an encore where they took turns in playing songs. Each told stories around the songs and their journey as songwriters as well as their obvious mutual love and respect for each other as people and musicians.

David and Abe have played together before back in 2019 and a 2020 tour was postponed because of the pandemic, but as part of a European tour, Abe and David decided to play some more shows together in the UK, hence the short time since David's last Manchester appearance across the road in Gullivers back in March. 

The evening starts with them both on stage, Abe on guitar, David on piano, duetting on Young Love (Alabama Skies) then David asks if anyone has a coin and they toss to decide who plays their set first. It's tails so Abe is first up. His songs cover many of his life experiences, from growing up in Mobile, Alabama, attending four theological colleges in four years, being attached to churches before moving back home and starting a family and going to war in the desert which gave him the final inspiration to play his songs and pursue a career in music. He prefaces each one with providing the context behind the song and his life journey which endears him immediately to the crowd.

The songs are like an audio version of his autobiography. Fake It Till You Make It is about being true to his own music rather than playing covers and fooling people by naming songs after famous ones (Freebird). Breaking Up Christmas is dedicated to his Granny who was told to lose weight by smoking in the 1940s which gave her the cancer that killed her - recalling the family Christmases that she organised. The crowd listen in silence, drawn in by the tales he's telling.

Abe Partridge's 403rd Breakdown is a song he wrote when he let his brain just spew out what was in his head, all the questions he didn't have answers for going further down into a rabbit hole including the reason for war, asking what might happen if John Lennon wrote with Einstein rather than McCartney and why he's not met his John Lennon and the nuclear bomb hadn't been invented. It's from his new album Love In The Dark as is the title track that follows it. Get Thee Behind Me Hippee is a satirical dig at the jam bands in his hometown. 

He finishes his set with a new song about his grandfather JJP's canteen that has been passed down via his mum to him which he had when he was fighting in the Second World War. It's inscribed with his initials and the countries he visited and Abe tells us he's brought it with him for its second journey.  

David's shows often have him with a variety of instruments and pedals that he's assembled at home in his Eastbourne studio, but tonight's kit is much more modest, a couple of guitars and a piano / keyboard. It allows us to marvel at his songwriting craft as opposed to his ability to loop twenty things at once without it all coming crashing down. 

He starts with I Don't Care What You Call Me from his debut I Sincerely Apologise For All The Trouble I've Caused and then in the spirit of the "let's see what happens" approach to the evening, he plays St Peter from his second album Songs For The Road, laughing that playing with Abe inspires him to play his songs about Jesus. He then decides to try and play a song from each of his albums, following with To Hell With The World, Isn't It Strange and O'Sullivan's Jukebox from Let The Hard Times Roll, Charge and The Arrangement. 

He quickly realises he hasn't got time so moves forward to his most recent album Love And Death which was recorded with a band but here he plays Raise solo. He prefaces this by telling us how his songwriting has changed - how he pays more attention to detail now than he did when he wrote the likes of State Of The Union, a song that launched his solo work to the world nearly twenty years old (making us all feel old when he tells us). He's absolutely right, but what he hasn't lost is the ability to find the right words to connect with the audience, ourselves included who seem like most of us have been along for all that journey. Raise is about his recurring theme of the decline of humanity, taking a fun swipe at Phil Collins' Another Day In Paradise and Michael Jackson's Earth Song. 

After another fifteen minute break, both Abe and David return to the stage. Rather than the old contrived duets that often happen at the end of the evenings like this, they sit and watch the other with the same admiration as the audience. Abe kicks off with No Teacher Blues, a trip around the US to find that the music that inspired him has lost its importance to all those except the ones that music means everything to. David follows it with Pour A Little Poison, a tale of similar experiences that included his only gig where he had zero paying customers down in South Carolina. 

Abe continues the theme with Black Flag T-Shirt Lament whilst David sits at the piano stool looking on intently as Abe's heavily accented vocals draw every little bit of lived experience out of the song for us. As they bounce each other David tells stories of travelling the UK with his friends around the time of his debut album before playing a timelessly beautiful version of Song For The Road, written about those times when he didn't even know if they were getting paid for the shows. 

David accompanies Abe on piano for Coffee On The Counter, his last song and taken from his new Love In The Dark album before David brings the evening to a close with Every Time, his song about all the expectations placed on him by others and him deciding that he's going to do his own thing and love what he does rather than preoccupied by trying to find stardom.  It's a fitting way to bring to an end a wonderful evening of two songwriters from different parts of the world and with vastly diverging life experiences who are bonded tightly by a love of making music.

David Ford’s website can be found here.  He is also on Twitter and Facebook.

Abe Partridge's website can be found here and he is on Facebook and Twitter.

Their tour continues at Durham Old Launderette (June 17), London Green Note (18) and Eastbourne Frontier Bar (20) before Abe heads out to The Netherlands and Germany.

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