Clive Winstanley reviews . . .
'Bittersweet - The Clifford T Ward Story' 
Biography by
Dave
Cartwright
 

DAVE CARTWRIGHT

"BITTERSWEET - THE CLIFFORD T. WARD STORY"

Moonicorn Books £17.95

Dave Cartwright is a man with a mission. Let the truth about Clifford T. Ward be told and let those who were there tell it, albeit with the benefit of hindsight. If this seems at times to push Clifford T. Ward from centre stage in his own life story, then the pay off is the fascinating perspective these diverse characters add to this tragi-comedy.

The popular image of Ward as the devoted family man takes some brutal knocks from no less than the man's family. Too shy to tour and build on the success of his big hit single - "Gaye-ee, won't you let me have a say-ee" - in the 1970s? Too selfish and bloody minded too. A perfectionist? Something more akin to a perfectly self-centred and stubborn autocrat, according to some. Even the ultimate tragedy - the undignified onset of multiple sclerosis in the 1980s and its effects on his ability to communicate - leaves one feeling as much for Clifford T. Ward's tireless spouse as for the man himself. Indeed, Mrs. Pat Ward's candid exposés about her lifelong partner may make the reader squirm but these are moving and essential pieces of the jigsaw.

Yet despite all the bitterness, Ward's genius, humour and lighter side shine sweetly through. He will love Jess Roden's laconic recollection of him as "a bit of a clarnit" and being labelled somewhat curtly as "that bloody sex maniac" by the manager of his first band, The Cruisers. Ward does have his say and though illness has not shattered his sense of humour he rarely comments on what has gone before. Stubbornly, almost childishly, he prefers to look ahead, trying to convince those who inquire about his past that the best is yet to come.

Perhaps it has always just felt comfortable to make light of the influence of the man remembered by many merely as the Singing Schoolteacher. Spirited contributions to "Bittersweet" from Premier Leaguers as disparate as Jimmy Page, Justin Hayward, Clive Selwood, Chris de Burgh, Jack Powdermonkey (read the book!), Jeff Lynne and, incredibly, Underworld's Karl Hyde ("When I'm writing, I think of what Cliff would have done here and there ...") add weight to the author's assertion that Clifford T. Ward's legacy will outlive us all.

The first biography of Clifford T. Ward was long overdue and Cartwright has done his man proud. Enticed by the author's refreshingly original style - conversational, informal, warm but never sycophantic - it's hard not to share his undisguised fondness for the man and his music. Nor is this lengthy, beautifully presented tome merely a sermon for the converted. "Bittersweet" is as polished, far- reaching and enthralling as Clifford T. Ward's music itself ....

... And that seemed the best way to sum it all up on August 6th 1999 when scurrying to meet Record Collector's deadline. It seemed important to promote the book but without losing objectivity. Free advertising after all. And there's nothing in the three hundred or so words above which is unrepresentative of my view of "Bittersweet", but somehow I feel I have more to say.

Whilst I was looking forward to reading "Bittersweet", it certainly wasn't eagerly awaited, for two reasons which seemed good ones to me at the time. Firstly, Dave Cartwright had explained at some length the difficulties he was having in finding a publisher and I wouldn't have been surprised if the book had never seen the light of day so I didn't build my hopes too high.

Secondly, the author had made it quite clear that this was a celebration of Clifford T. Ward's life rather than a dissection of his music. Well, I've never been that interested in his life to be honest. He can buy his undies at Marks and Sparks or Tesco or Ann Summers for all I care and it doesn't trouble me what his favourite food is. What always enticed me was the music. I was only interested in Clifford's private life if it explained a lyrical reference that was puzzling me or put a song into context. So when "Bittersweet" thumped through my letterbox last July, it was merely a nice surprise and I didn't actually begin reading the book for a few days.

I didn't start at the beginning. I flipped through like I always do, searching for references to my favourite songs and clues about what really went on between 1978 and 1983 when there wasn't a lot of Clifford T. Ward about. I wanted to know why there are two versions of Up In The World and which one Cliff likes best. Which songs of his did he think were rubbish? (I already knew the ones he rated most highly.) That sort of anoraky stuff.

This was my mistake, for Dave Cartwright clearly does not possess an anorak, or at least not one with big enough pockets. He is fascinated by the way Clifford T. Ward emerged from the Midlands they shared in the Fifties and Sixties, attracted to those whose shoulders have rubbed closely with CTW's and seemingly keen to reveal what it's like to live and work with the genius of Clifford T. Ward. And to throw in a few opinions of his own about the wider picture.

And my how it works. But you have to start at the beginning. Once you get used to Dave's tangential approach and the fact that in this definitive book about Clifford T. Ward you can read for several pages without seeing his name and believe you're reading a more general recollection of the era, you realise that this is one of the most fascinating books of its genre.

The lengthy interviews are at times harrowing in their frankness - I stared dumbstruck at some of the things Pat and the family said about Cliff though I had no illusions to shatter. It is, as I have already said, the man's music that seduced me not his image but I hope that my children won't say the same things about me when they grow up.

The bitterness felt towards Cliff by so many (though as the book's title implies, this was always sugared by sweeter reflections) amazed me. Mark Tibenham (who worked with CTW from New England Days to Sometime Next Year) particularly pulls no punches, to the extent that I was almost amused by his gripes. And Clive Selwood, a man of great esteem and honour, clearly cannot be unreserved in any fondness for Clifford or his music. It seems that only the fans are untainted. How those with illusions must feel now.

Two images haunt me after a third read of "Bittersweet". First, the embarrassment I feel at Clifford, this genius, this master of the art of emotive songwriting reduced in the 1990s to trying to pass off a widely-known Everything But The Girl song as his own to convince his bank manager that he is still able to compose. I have no doubt the young manager was too embarrassed to beg to differ.

Secondly, Pat Ward's recollection of finding the ailing Cliff in his studio, tearstained and distressed. He has heard a song on the radio which has triggered memories of happier days. Not expecting to be disturbed, he has allowed his emotions to show and on his wife's entrance he attempts to mask his distress as he always does. I thought this a desperately tragic moment which could have been a scene from a novel, yet it is for real.

You cannot read "Bittersweet" and be unmoved. Nor do you need to be a Clifford T. Ward fan to be attracted by it. And this is Dave Cartwright's particular genius. Revelling in his journey to the heart of his subject, he has written a biography which is unique and enthralling and which does not rely upon third parties or surmising for its content. I am poised to read "Bittersweet" for a fourth time and I wonder if this time I will be able to put it down. About as likely as a kind word from Mark Tibenham.

Cliffwardsurfers, you have to own this book.

Clive Winstanley.
24th September 1999.

 

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