Thursday, 24 October 2019

Clifford T. Ward - Mantle Pieces (1973)

All modern conveniences....

 

Released in December 1973

Running time 43.17

I have mentioned on my review of Clifford T. Ward’s second album some of my memories of him from 1973. Another one I have is of seeing this, his late 1973 third album, as I flicked through album sleeves in record shops. I have got to know it in subsequent years and, like Home Thoughts From Abroad, it is a most appealing, understated, but lyrically clever offering. Ward’s style is one of subtly orchestrated and gentle melodies backing his observational lyrics. He was a man that cared about things, and this shines through the whole album. It is sensitive and studious. Ward was an ex-schoolteacher with unfeasibly long blond hair who shied away from publicity, but he produced a couple of really attractive albums of vaguely folky singer/songwriter stuff. It is such a pity he is no longer with us.

Although this album was released in December 1973 it very much has a vibe of 1970-1972, for me - that slightly hippy, airy, folky earnestness that didn’t really fit in late 1973/early 1974. It was already something of an incongruity. Listening to it now, however, its cultural relevance in 1973 is thankfully no longer a relevance.

TRACK LISTING

1. Scullery
2. Not Waving - Drowning!
3. Are You Really Interested?
4. A Sad Cliché
5. To An Air Hostess
6. All Modern Conveniences
7. Wayward
8. Screen Test
9. For Debbie And Her Friends
10. Tea Cosy                                                             


Scullery may be frowned upon these days as Ward eulogises the beauty of his lady as she cooks and washes in her rubber gloves. So what. It is a genuinely beautiful song. It was a minor hit for Ward and deservedly so. Not Waving - Drowning! has a rock-ish intro before it settles into a typical CTW laid-back, tender melody. It has a winning, catchy chorus with some lovely string orchestration. It is a really good song.

Are You Really Interested? is a quirkily rhythmic jangly guitar-driven number. These were really good songs, I am surprised that Ward never really made it. They still sound good today - a good song is a good song. A Sad Cliché is a moving tale about a young female offender. It ends with a delightful piece of saxophone. To An Air Hostess is a mildly amusing song about that iconic seventies figure - the air hostess. Its melody is endearingly folky. “I wanted to give her a copy of my record...” sings Ward, unassumingly then a big backing chorus comes in singing the same line, which is really enjoyable. There is something entrancingly disarming about these songs.


All Modern Conveniences is a very Al Stewart-influenced number about an ageing woman, it reminds me of my late mother. It is another clever, observational song. “She likes her television - Crossroads, Coronation Street and Robin Day’s bow-tie...”. Very seventies. My mother was in her late forties at the time, but was very much like the woman in the song. Ward describes a house as costing “ten thousand pounds” in the song. How times have changed.

Wayward is as rocking as Clifford ever gets, but it is still a tuneful, light number, enhanced by some rock guitar.  It is very Bread-influenced, and a bit Dylanesque in places too (New Morning era).   Screen Test is a politely cynical look at the “fame game”. The lines from Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice ("the quality of mercy is not strained..") that is narrated at the end is very touching. For Debbie And Her Friends is just lovely, written by Ward for his wheelchair-bound daughter. The opening bits of children talking is so nostalgic. Tea Cosy is an attractive final track, with a nice subtle bass line and another light but meaningful vibe.

This was a really, really nice album. Clifford T - God bless you. Your gorgeous, thoughtful music lives on.

Below is a clip of Clifford performing Scullery on The Old Grey Whistle Test.


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