Live at Faversham on Tuesday, 24th April 2007
The 300 people having a good time at the Faversham (and paying good money) weren't going to worry over whether it was in response to a cultural phenomenon or a truly musical experience, as the avowedly 83-year old T-Model [James Lewis Carter Ford] Ford sat before them. Various levels of publicity had done their bit towards tonight's assembly, and that's not to suggest there wasn't something to publicise. Things have been on the move for quite a time: the LG John Peel broadcast Ford; the Guardian and some specialist music press have featured his visits; and although he believes himself destined to live another 27 years this is the last tour to the UK.
Evidence of unstoppability came with the three-chord same-key output chugging along from before 10 till after midnight, accompanied by backing drums from fellow-Mississippian Lightning Malcolm. A CCTV link to the side area of the room gave sole stardom rights to Malcolm for almost an hour before an improved camera angle took over, but from the outset all areas had access to the mild old-style R&B sound which proved so hypnotic for the packed crowd in front of the stage. Lyrics familiar from the blues and rhythm and blues songbooks were moaned and chuckled by a voice with all the requisite cultural cues. Ford knows how to keep an audience happy: a big part of his success is that people like him and enjoy having him around, to some extent making him a cosy icon, who though he may not have learned from the blues greats, has lived a long life in the same breeding ground that gave us what was secretly the most important music of the twentieth century.
And part of tonight's success was because Ford played to listeners who had already been treated well. The evening was launched when Serious Sam Barrett stepped on stage for immediate take-off in own song 'Tongue-tied Blues' - and instantly converted a chamber of social babble and drink-sipping into an attentive audience who stayed that way. With the adoption of the word 'serious' into his professional title, he's added a maturity of delivery and style to what he's already best known for : acoustic blues, gospel and American country songs, where his Stella guitar - a souvenir of Jackson Tennessee - can lend a banjo-like edge when required. For contrast Sam included an English sea song, showing further promise for material with sustained vocal notes.
When describing David Broad it's a good thing to have a few Zs in easy reach, for the zing and zip of what preceded T-Model Ford, and the pizazz of swift-fingered treatments of several pre-war standards which flow from Broad with a charm that breathes vivid new life in to well-worn material. There was some evidence that tonight's audience would have gone in a big way for the guitar-breaks that David tends to ration a little severely but listeners enjoy so much. A quick passage introduced toward the end of 'St James Infirmary Blues' was a moment of instant focus throughout the room. We heard clever choices of other slower songs among the hectic sequence which began with a typically speedy version of the potentially slow 'Careless Love' and moved on through songs by Blind Boy Fuller, and pieces with ragtime characteristics to the much-appreciated and strongly delivered climax of 'John Henry', before the young player who not so long ago risked the perils of Greenville Mississippi to meet T-Model Ford at his own home stepped aside for a comprehensive reminder of what good company some very old people can be.