DEAN FORD: REFLECTIONS OF HIS LIFE


Expanded Review of:

‘THIS SCOTTISH HEART’

by DEAN FORD

(SHINE ON RECORDS)

www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/

 

DEAN FORD: 5 September 1946 – 31 December 2018

 

There never was a ‘Dean Ford’. Seventeen-year-old apprentice-plater Thomas McAleese sang with schooldays group the Tonebeats, then the Monarchs, and acquired his alias as singer with the unfortunately-named Dean Ford & The Gaylords, in the Glasgow east end, during 1963. His song “Buddy, Roy And Dion” on this two-CD set reminisces those scuffing days of playing the notorious ‘Barrowland Ballroom’, covering chart hits and meeting his idols, with only ‘four wheels and my radio’. His “When Will It End” even catches something of his Orbison ‘voice’. With Dean were guitarist William ‘Junior’ Campbell (born 31 May 1947), rhythm guitarist Patrick Fairlie (14 April 1946), bassist Graham Knight (8 December 1946) and drummer Graham Duffy. ‘A bit like Cliff And The Shadows’ the group toured hard, and became big names on the Scottish circuit, alongside rivals the Poets, Pathfinders and Beatstalkers, but ‘we weren’t content to sit around and be recognised on Canon Street’ recalls Junior.

Breaking into the London scene proved more problematic, despite entertaining singles such as the Shirley Ellis novelty “The Name Game” and the Coasters’ “Little Egypt”. Until they name-change to Marmalade. At first falling about in laughter at the absurdity of their manager’s suggestion. But persuaded, Marmalade is there on every supermarket shelf, on every breakfast table. They even adopt Robertson’s Golliwog logo for the bass-drum skin. Signed to Columbia by Norrie Paramor their cover of Chubby Checker’s “Twenty Miles” in Spring 1964 was c/w group-original “What’s The Matter With Me”.

After a few more low-key shots, they switch to CBS for the Geoff Stevens production-line Pop “It’s All Leading Up To Saturday Night” in 1966. But it’s the sweetly inoffensive “Lovin’ Things” that breaks them through to no.6 in May 1968. The song tells a complicated tale, originally done by Artie Schroeck a year earlier, Marmalade’s hit was subsequently covered in Jangle-Pop style by Bobby Rydell, then xeroxed to no.35 on the US ‘Cashbox’ chart by the Grassroots. It was swiftly followed by “Wait For Me Marianne” – a no.30 that same October, written by the Ken Howard-Alan Blaikley team responsible for a string of Dave Dee, Dozy Beaky Mick And Tich hits, but flipped with “Mess Around” written by Junior Campbell with McAleese. These two hits headline their debut album, ‘There’s A Lot Of It About’ (CBS 63414) which nevertheless includes six group originals – including August 1967 Freak-beat single “I See The Rain” with thunder-effects, which established them in Europe, matched to a high profile clutch of Folk-Rock covers, the much-recorded “Hey Joe”, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City” plus two Bob Dylan songs, “I Shall Be Released” and “Mr Tambourine”, maybe indicating the group’s preferred musical direction. Even when smoothed by Keith Mansfield’s arrangements.

Then they take the Beatles-cover option… which could be a poisoned chalice. The record industry awaited each new Beatles album eager for hits to pilfer. But for every group that made a career from a Beatles song there was an Overlanders or a St Louis Union who score just once, obviously a case of the song not the artist. Marmalade won the battle over fierce competition for Paul McCartney’s Reggae-tinged “Obladi-Oblada”, taking it to no.1 for three weeks in January 1969, despite Bedrock’s version also charting. Wearing rather unconvincing psychedelic jackets, its high-profile enables them to take greater control of their direction, and following a final CBS hit single with Tony Macauley’s “Baby Make It Soon” (no.9, June 1969) they re-sign to Decca.

Their subsequent hits combine Pop-flair teenybopper-appeal for their regular ‘Top Of The Pops’ slots with enough creative originality to retain the edge of credibility, a bridge between Radio-Pop and Adult Rock. “Reflections Of My Life”, co-written under Dean’s birth-name with Junior Campbell, goes Top Ten in the US as well as Top Three here. Dean’s solo vocal-lines are enforced by tight group harmony-chorus, ‘it was melancholy, it was sad’ says Dean, and “Rainbow” – promoted on TVs ‘The Lulu Show’, with Dean’s keening harmonica, both peak at no.3 (in December 1969 and July 1970 respectively). Followed by “My Little One” (no.15, May 1971) and “Cousin Norman” (no.6, September 1971). Their first album for Decca, ‘Reflections Of The Marmalade’ (1970, Decca SKL 5047), draws on James Taylor for “Carolina In My Mind”, but allows greater space to develop their own songs.

They had a big fan-following. No-one screamed at the Beatles any more, and the Bay City Rollers were still years into the future. So, for a while, Marmalade were perfectly demographically positioned. But Graham Knight explains how Dean ‘wanted to change the image of Marmalade… he wanted to become ‘heavy’,’ he had ‘this vision for the group, and it didn’t work.’ A lightly-bearded Dean himself began refusing to play the old hits onstage, he saw ‘the only way to be happy in what you’re doing, is to write your own material.’ Now, propelled by jumpy phased guitar he recalls in “Merry-Go-Round”, how the story ‘started off like a symphony, turned into a Blues, thought I was on the road to win, not the road to lose.’

Drummer Duffy was the first group-member to quit, replaced as the result of a ‘Melody Maker’ classified by Alan Whitehead in a line-up shuffle. More significant was the loss of Dean’s song-writing partner Junior Campbell, who spun off into a run of successful solo singles, including “Hallelujah Freedom” (no.10 in October 1972) and “Sweet Illusion” (no.15 in June 1973). He also lucratively scored the TV theme for ‘Thomas The Tank-Engine’! His replacement in Marmalade, ex-Poet Hugh Nicholson soon went on to form a pre-Boyband group called Blue, with his other former band-mates.

Reduced to a four-piece, with Dean and Knight re-enforced by drummer and other ex-Poet Duggie Henderson and guitarist Mike Jupp, they continue making pleasant Pop singles – “Back On The Road” (no.35, November 1971) and a return to the Top Ten with Hugh Nicholson’s up-tempo “Radancer” (no.6 April 1972) – celebrating the Northern Soul cult. The fade-out refrain ‘read the Sunday papers’ a tongue-in-cheek reference to Alan Whitehead’s shock-horror interview in ‘News Of The World’ about the band’s groupie excesses! Until Dean’s debut solo album ‘Dean Ford’ with Alan Parsons on EMI in 1975 – which includes his single cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Crying In My Sleep”. It precedes the group’s final chart appearance with the aptly-titled “Falling Apart At The Seams” (no.9, February 1976). Various incarnations of Marmalade continue to play Golden Oldie package tours on the nostalgia circuit.

The first CD in Dean’s ‘This Scottish Heart’ double-pack, in itself runs to a generous 01:07-minute play-time. Stripped back to basics, just his Taylor electric and acoustic guitar, and recorded DIY in his own kitchenette, the songs are directly personal. After the implosion of Marmalade, Dean moved to Van Nuys, despite never having toured America, and fought alcohol addiction there, re-emerging clean in 1986. Documenting his battle with alcohol, his voice is raw on “A New Day”, aching to ‘turn my life around’. Softening with regret and remorse about ‘no more dancing in the moonlight, no more dancing at all.’ A wistfulness balanced by “Little Man”, about the start of a child’s life for whom ‘all is new’, followed by the tender “Dreamland” lullaby. There are harder harmonies on “Running Out Of Time”, a paean to California. Little ringing and chiming guitar licks fold in and around his vocal lines in songs of loss and separation, sometimes restless, broken and resonant. There’s classic Country-Pop on “The Blue Angel” edged with lonesome harmonica, then programmed drums punch out “Until The Day I Die”, melodic with catchy repetitious hooks. The Tex-Mex “Left My Heart In Mexico” and the art-surreal “He’s An Angel” tribute to painter Keith Haring. The two religious tracks, a prayer and a carol, obviously document a memory of the simple certainties he’d once known in “A Song For Mary” ‘at the church on Sunday, we sang harmony and gave praise,’ and maybe something of the source of strength to pull him through the bad times?

Finally, he revisits “Reflections Of My Life”, given added poignancy by news of Dean’s death from Parkinson’s Disease complications, at age seventy-two. There had been an earlier solo album, ‘Feel My Heartbeat’ (October 2017). And he renews “Glasgow Road”, a 2012 single recorded with ex-Badfinger Joe Tansin – based on a family memory and featuring Dean playing Bob Dylan’s tambourine on the original video!, as part of a suite of nostalgic autobiographical songs that achingly record his childhood and family days in Scotland from an exile’s perspective. If never a major talent, Dean left his mark on his generation, and this rich song-collection makes for a distinctive memorial.

 

 

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BY ANDREW DARLINGTON

 


By Andrew Darlington

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