Clifford T Ward - Interview

In June 1998, Cliff agreed to be interviewed, at his home, by 'Waves - The Clifford T Ward Fanzine'. Here is the interview (by kind permission of Clive Winstanley - editor of 'Waves'. Clive wishes to give credit to Roy Smith for arranging, and indeed, making the interview possible):
It's summertime and the view from the living room of Clifford T. Ward's home across the valley is breathtaking. Cliff sits in his favourite chair, ever thoughtful, considering each question and even inventing some himself. He never did like interviews but here in this lovely room with a view, mixed with some good-natured banter and sidetracking, it's hopefully not like the press inquisitions of old. No angles, just a nice chat, some fond reminiscences and more than the odd roguish aside, unsuitable for printing in a family fanzine! Cliff's been through it all before but he answers patiently. It occurs to me that today we have a great artist looking at his work from a perspective he could never have imagined. Talking between equinoxes as the sun appears to stop and rest upon the blue.


What is the worst thing anyone has ever said about your music?
In the mid-70s I was doing a concert tour in Germany and in a place called Baaden Baaden, the German concert promoter commented, "I thought this was going to be a rock and roll concert not sad ballads!"

And the nicest?
David Niven said there was only one person who had ever sung better than me, and I said. "Who's that?" He replied, "My wife." I thought, "Who's your bloody wife?"

You've been married for thirty six years to the same girl. What keeps the marriage a success?
I would have to say a feeling of respect, love and understanding because she and I were at secondary school together and she is still the same beautiful and intelligent person ... and her's getting me tea tonight!

You have four children, two girls and two boys. Did your fame affect them?
No, I think not and I hope not.

Are any of your children musical?
Yes, they all are.

Would you have liked them to pursue a music career?
Yes, but not in pop.

When did you first realise you had an interest in music?
I have always been interested in music since I was a child.

At the time who were your influences?
One person was Buddy Holly. He was appearing at the Gaumont Theatre in Worcester. A friend and I travelled from Stourport to Worcester on the bus to see him. I remember being very impressed. He was great. A year later he was dead.

Did your parents encourage your music?
Not consciously but they never tried to stop me.

When you were young did your parents complain about your hair?
I remember my father did once say, "Cliff, why don't you settle down, cut your hair and get a proper job?"

Apart from music, do you have any other interests?
I enjoy reading.

Do you read on any subject?
Mainly novelists - i.e. American novelist Norman Mailer and his novel "The Naked And The Dead". My sporting interests extend to playing football for Stourport Secondary Modern where I played in the school's first eleven. My friends at that time were also keen and competitive such as a dear friend, Maurice Reece, who has since died.

Do you like gardening?
When I was fit and well I enjoyed gardening. At our house in Herefordshire I recreated a very splendid garden. It was mainly lawns and heathers.

What is your favourite TV programme?
In all honesty I don't have one because I don't watch it.

If there was to be a Hollywood film of your life who would you like to play you?

And if it wasn't you?
Daniel Day Lewis.

In a 1973 interview you described some of The Secrets songs as "abysmal" . . .
I didn't, did I?

You did, in ZigZag Magazine. Do you still feel the same about them?
I've changed my mind. They were damned good!

Were you overawed when you first appeared on Top Of The Pops?
Yes I was.

Did you ever appear on the Old Grey Whistle Test?
Yes. It went out live in 1973.

Did you get fed up with all that "Singing Schoolmaster" stuff in the press?
Yes. I regarded it as a real hindrance.

You once said that you wouldn't have chosen Gaye as the first single from Home Thoughts. What would you have chosen?
Left to me I would have chosen Home Thoughts From Abroad. I thought it a better single.

Go back to 1974 when you seemed to have the pop world at your feet. With the benefit of hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
I would have toured less!

Talking of touring - when you toured, which country did you like best?
It would have to be Ireland because that is where I was best received and felt very much at home.

If someone had predicted at the time that Scullery would be your last chart hit single, what would your reaction have been: You surely wouldn't have believed it?
It wasn't my final hit! I have had further hits in Ireland and Europe.

Where you surprised at Jayne From Andromeda Spiral's failure to chart, hot on the heels of Scullery's success?
No I wasn't surprised that it didn't chart.

Why do you think that your own versions of songs like Up In The World, No More Rock 'n' Roll and The Best Is Yet To Come, which are absolute classics, failed to chart in Britain?
I think that's best answered like I don't know.

When Both Of Us was completed, you must have thought you were on a winner.
I have never felt like I was onto a winner.

What do you remember most about the time you spent in America recording New England Days?
I would say the people were extremely nice to work with and the people who came in the club.

Which is your favourite sleeve design of all the albums you've released?
Sometime Next Year - I designed it!

Home Thoughts is your most well-known album, but which is your favourite?
No More Rock 'n' Roll.

When you were first diagnosed with MS, what were your feelings?
My feelings were of confusion because I didn't know what MS was. All that I knew was I thought it was a woman's disease. When I mentioned it to my professor in London he said, "No, not just women. Men also have it."

Whose idea was Laugh It Off?
The idea was mine.

Who chose the songs?
I chose the songs.

How did you feel about putting out songs which presumably you weren't originally completely satisfied with?
Nothing has been released that I didn't approve of.

What did you think about being John Dunn's Mystery Voice on Radio 2 recently?
It was very pleasing.

Do you enjoy getting out to the conventions and CTW Band concerts?
Yes, I like meeting the fans.

Doesn't James Davey sound remarkably like you ?!
Yes he does!

Do any of your ex-pupils still come and see you?
Yes, and it's most pleasing to see how they have grown up.

Do you still get fan mail?
Yes, mainly from abroad.

Any plans for further releases either of old material for CD, or anything new?
There are lots of new songs I have written and I am continuing to write.

When you're composing, what comes first, the words or the music?
They always happen at the same time.

What sort of things are you writing about in your songs now?
Well I would say human relationships.

Finally, if you could select your own "Best Of" compilation, which twelve tracks would you choose?
The Best Is Yet To Come; Home Thoughts From Abroad; Up In The World; A Day To Myself; Gaye; Who Cares; Nightingale; Scullery; Time, The Magician; No More Rock 'n' Roll'; You're No Angel; Water.

And if you could record a bonus track which was a cover of someone else's song, what would you choose?
That's What Love Is For by Amy Grant. (1991 CD Heart In Motion - A & M 3953212).

Later Note: There have been a number of comments about Cliff's brief answers in this interview: one has to remember that because of his illness, Cliff now has great difficulty with his speech, and, as a consequence, has to carve his words very slowly so that he can be understood - for this reason, he needs to make his answers as concise as possible.

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Mick Armitage (e-mail)