When UK singer-songwriter David Ford began his set, I was still upstairs working on the computer. I had to haul ass to get downstairs and through the crowd and up to the front of the stage to shoot the first of two ridiculously good photos you see here in this article.
Wearing a t-shit an blazer with a hip, old-timey hat, Ford began the night in the seated position with an acoustic guitar and harmonica. Accompanied for the first half of his short set by a female backing singer and a keyboardist, he ran through a few songs from his debut, switching back and forth between acoustic and electric guitar. He then sent the help packing and broke into one of the most memorable performances of any single song at SXSW this year. He prefaced it by saying, "I apologize to any Texans here... cuz I'm going to stick it to your big boy," and then broke into "State Of The Union." A commentary on the American machine of war and politics, the song would be passionate enough if Ford just sat down and sang it with his acoustic guitar. But he didn't just sit down and sing it at all. Instead he began by looping a simple acoustic guitar part and then wandered the stage singing the first verse. He then walked back to the acoustic to loop some filling finger-picking, then to the tambourine and the maracas. He stood on a bench at the center of the stage and belted out the second verse like a man possessed. You could sense the blood boiling as he sang the ultra-political lyrics of the song. Ford then ran over to the piano and looped a piano part, then he picked up the acoustic, beat on it like a drum and then looped that. He picked up another microphone and began singing lyric-less harmonies, one on top of the other until it sounded like a full chorus of back up singers was on the stage. By the time he was finished, that single artist had made an enormous tidal wave of musical conviction that ended with a poignant whisper.
I hear that if he had more time, he would have thrown in some sick stand-up bass licks and a few other instruments as well.
The songs of heartbreak and love that David Ford write are universally appealing. Time and time again, this year more than ever, I'm reminded why "the song" is such an important piece of the puzzle when discovering new talent. All the energy and passion and coolness and great outfits and "vibe" in the world will only get you as far as your songs will carry you. For that reason, I'd bet on David Ford to go all the way.
Look for I Sincerely Apologize For All The Trouble I've Caused on April 25.
David Ford will also be playing with Gomez and Richard Ashcroft in NYC and on the road with KT Tunstall this spring.