Bittersweet: The Clifford T Ward Story by Dave Cartwright
Sometimes a book can be such a revelation that only clichés can do it justice – un-put-down-able, riveting, unique, tragic, triumphant… they all apply.
Dave Cartwright, Cliff Ward and I were all West Midland men who travelled parallel journeys in the 1970’s. We all secured recording contracts with big companies; we all acquired the soubriquet “singer-songwriter”; we all aimed high and hoped for the best. Clifford got the hit with “Gaye”, Dave and I failed to get one, and in those days that made all the difference. However, all three of us were chewed up and finally spat out by the London based music machine that demanded success above all things.
There were those who did succeed who had no scruple; success meant money and they would do anything to get it. We three couldn’t bring ourselves to think like that, being in thrall to words like integrity and art, and we all hated London and all that it stood for. Dave and I gigged and therefore built up an audience that supported us but Clifford hated live performance and relied solely on media appearances and royalties for his income. That was fine in the singer-songwriter period of the early to mid- seventies, but when tastes changed and heads turned towards punk and a younger generation, the door closed on opportunity for the literate, thoughtful performers.
Dave and I soldiered on, producing work we felt confident with and making a hard travelling living, dealing as best we could with the demons suggestively whispering “failure” into our ears; demons all too capable of destroying relationships as we battled frustration and angst, as did other song writing friends of ours who had made the same journey. Clifford too succumbed, which was bad enough, but then his body failed as he was diagnosed with the worst form of MS.
To use another cliché, the story is Shakespearean in its study of triumph and tragedy.
Dave brings all this before us, but what makes the book so special is that he interweaves his own story with Ward’s, now and then making comparisons with a searing honesty I can only admire.
He is also a very fine writer.
For anyone interested in that period of singer-songwriter ascendancy who has ever wondered how it was behind the scenes, it’s all here.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s available in paperback – go get it!