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Songbook: Hudson Ford – Floating In The Wind

January 2, 2011

For many Strawbs fans the definitive line-up of the band’s many incarnations was the 1970-1973 version, with main songwriter Dave Cousins, Tony Hooper and young whizz-kid keyboard player Rick Wakeman, latterly replaced by Blue Weaver. Richard Hudson, the drummer, was a writer and multi-instrumentalist, bringing congas and sitar to the embryonic Strawbs mix. John Ford was the band’s Mr Cool, with dark glasses, a football star’s hairstyle, a very individual bass guitar sound and a repertoire of good moves on stage. The latter two were already a tried and tested songwriting partnership, formed during an earlier stint with the wonderful (and awful) Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera.

I’d enjoyed Ford’s Lennon-like vocals on the Strawbs songs Thirty Days and Heavy Disguise and Hudson’s more abstruse, mystical offerings like Canon Dale. Frustrated by their meagre allocation of a couple of tracks per album, the pair had built up a stockpile of potential hits and, after their success with the wholly uncharacteristic Strawbs single Part Of The Union, reckoned the time was right to break away and go it alone.

In the early 70s, and in my mid teens, I wasn’t used to groups splitting up and regenerating themselves organically, and didn’t know what to make of this ruction. What was Strawbs if it wasn’t those very five people? Pop itself was still fairly new, and the modern fad for groups reforming post-retirement hadn’t had time to catch on. So what initially appeared as a tragedy for Strawbs fans soon surprisingly came to seem like an excellent deal – two great groups for the price of one.

Whilst Strawbs proceeded to mine a deeper seam of rock, Hudson Ford went pop. Within a few weeks their decision was vindicated as they appeared on Top Of The Pops with Pick Up The Pieces, a quirky song which reached number eight in the charts thanks to an insidiously catchy slide guitar riff, a bouncy beat and an affectingly camp vocal, very much in vogue at the time – this was the age of early Bowie, Bolan, Steve Harley and Bryan Ferry, and the current fashion for plummy vibrato vocalising was a distant speck on the horizon.

Hudson Ford enjoyed several years of success before turning themselves, somewhat less credibly, into The Monks. They recorded a catalogue of fine songs, of which my favourite, from the 1974 album Free Spirit, was Floating In The Wind, a gorgeous piece of acoustic, hippyesque whimsy with a real ‘atmosphere’ and, even now, the ability to affect my mood for the rest of any given day.

It’s a beautiful production in every way – the playing, the arrangement, the wistful, world-weary lyrics and the wonderful feeling of easy nostalgia which pervades the song. Ford’s lazy, relaxed vocal is spot-on, perfect. The way he sings ‘wind’ is pure Beatle. Put the record on and it takes a few bars to get the feel of the basic rhythm, with the beat subdivided into threes. But once you’ve picked it up, the song actually swings in a gentle kind of way.

The lyrics deal in a generalised, dissatisfied world-view, with some turns of phrase very much of their time (“They took my mind and put it in a tin…”), and some classically 70s instrumental sounds. Among the song’s delights are a blissful, elegiac keyboard line which snakes across the main beat, threes against twos, and some lovely decorative electric guitar playing, mixed back with plenty of reverb. And there’s a joyful, triumphant-sounding final section as the song stomps towards its fade-out.

I once bumped into John Ford after a (reformed) Strawbs show in Milton Keynes, and told him I thought Floating In The Wind was one of the most beautiful songs I’d ever heard. Typical musician, he said “yeah, yeah” and went on to bemoan some detail he wasn’t happy with, either the middle eight or ending (I can’t remember) which, all these years later, “could have been better”. Modesty, I’m sure, and it’s probably hard to deal with extreme praise right out of the blue. It’s equally difficult to explain to someone why their song has such an effect: so much is due to catching a particular mood at the time, and my own particular mood at that time too. The first chords bring back the mood and the time instantly. For me it’s a song about years cherished, years lost, and, chaotic though it seemed in the actual moment, a simpler age. I’m grateful to Hudson Ford for putting that into words and onto record.

Hudson Ford on Strawbs website 

From → Songbook

3 Comments
  1. Yes, a beautiful song. I still have the 7″, but sadly not the 2 HF albums I once possessed. There are bootleg versions flying about, but unfortunately no official reissues to date.

  2. steve blomerth permalink

    Yes Hudson Ford was a great band.
    With their second album “Free Spirit” they achieved a nice balance of pop and some more serious work. A favorite of mine is their “Silent Star”. Musically it may be their strongest piece for contrasting dynamics. Lyrically it offers a great view point of looking back at the Earth and seeing it is a star in the distance.

    They never had the success they deserved. But I am glad I still have my vinyl LP’s from their best years.

    Steve Blomerth
    ps: I have even used a Hudson Ford song as a template for my own songwriting.

  3. carlos vilax permalink

    free spirit is the song pop in my country…..very good.

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