Martyn FordBorn: April 28th, 1944, Rugby (United Kingdom)
Having been a member of different amateur orchestras, it was only at his 24th that he ventured doing an audition at the Royal Academy of Music. He studied French horn with the acclaimed Ifor James, graduating after four years with the highest possible marks. Meanwhile, Ford had been a musician in London’s session studios for several years already. He played the horn during the recordings of many songs that have become international classics, such as ‘Let it be’ and ‘The long and winding road’ by the Beatles, ‘Without you’ by Harry Nilsson and David Bowie’s ‘Space oddity’.
In 1972, in his senior year at the Royal Academy, Ford decided to form an orchestra of his own, to which end he hand-picked the best musicians of all four London music academies. Ford, 28 years old at that time, was a couple of years older than most of his fellow students and naturally established himself as the leader of the orchestra. The ensemble experienced its baptism of fire during a world tour with rock band Barclay James Harvest, with performances in as far away as Switzerland and South Africa. After this hugely successful series of concerts, Ford had made a name for himself and his orchestra, which resulted in ample commissions for recording sessions in the pop music business. Amongst many others, he conducted his orchestra during the studio sessions of ‘Angie’, one of the trademark hits of the Rolling Stones, as well as in recordings for the likes of Stealer’s Wheel, Led Zeppelin, Wings, and Elton John.
Beside conducting many scores of other arrangers, Martyn Ford also started trying his hand at writing orchestrations himself, one of the first being for ‘I can see clearly now’, a smash hit for Johnny Nash in both the United States and in Europe in 1972. Later during the 1970s, Ford arranged hit recordings and albums for, amongst others, Gary Brooker, Bryan Ferry, Jeane Manson, and Barclay James Harvest, as well as the soundtrack of the 1975 film version of the Who’s rock opera ‘Tommy’. In 1976, the Martyn Ford Orchestra – or Mountain Fjord Orchestra, as it was in jest often referred to – released an instrumental album, ‘Smoovin’’, which contained the minor UK hit single ‘Let your body go downtown’, written by Mike Moran and Lynsey de Paul.
In the early 1980s, Martyn Ford continued to be much in demand as a record producer and arranger. He arranged and co-produced Phil Collins’ 1982 album ‘Hello, I must be going!’ as well as the single release of ‘You can’t hurry love’ from that same album, which was a major chart success for Collins in 1983. Other artists, for whom Ford wrote arrangements during that era, include Cliff Richard and Kate Bush. His orchestra was still very much in demand for sessions, for, amongst others, the 1982 album ‘Toto IV’; by Toto, containing the hit singles ‘Africa’ and ‘Rosanna’.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ford changed his working terrain, gradually moving away from the pop music business. Since, he has worked as a freelance musical director for theatre productions and concerts. In theatre, he worked on London West End productions and Gilbert and Sullivan operas. He conducted a concert of the Canadian pop group Caravan during the 2004 Quebec International Summer Festival in Montreal for an audience of 80.000. Martyn Ford is the principal conductor of the London TeleFilmonic Orchestra, a studio orchestra specialized in recording music for radio and TV commercials, corporate videos, television promos, and soundtracks. Moreover, Ford has conducted brass bands and produced music for a cruise company. Occasionally, he works as an interviewer on music programmes for BBC radio.
Martyn Ford in the Eurovision Song Contest
Subsequently, Ford was invited by the Cypriot broadcaster to accompany Anna Vissi as a conductor to the Eurovision Song Contest, which, that year, was held in Harrogate, England. The Cypriot entry did well, obtaining a respectable fifth position. Ford thoroughly enjoyed the Eurovision week: “During rehearsals, I encountered no problems whatsoever. The orchestra was very professional. Because I already knew several members of it from the recording studios in London, there were some faces friendlily smiling at me when I first mounted the conductor platform in front of the orchestra. The organisation was brilliant. One night, all delegations were invited to a banquet in Castle Howard. One other thing I remember is the amazingly beautiful women – dancers and singers – present at such a contest. Especially that girl from Spain, Lucía, blew me away”.
Ford continues: “I’m proud of the performance we gave that night. On screen, it simply looks spectacular. There was a spot on me for the full three minutes; there was no conductor of any other country who was shown on screen longer than I was. Apparently, the director thought I was good, or perhaps it was done because I was English… no idea! I remember the adrenaline rushing through my veins. At that time, I did a lot of work for radio, but hardly anything for TV… and the Eurovision Song Contest has a massive audience. Perhaps I conducted a bit more flamboyantly than I would have done in the studios, but what is wrong with that? After all, we were performing! That is why I chose to wear a white suit – the same suit I wore when I got married. The Cypriot delegation was thoroughly satisfied with the fifth place. Beforehand, we already knew it was going to be well-nigh impossible to be victorious in a contest like this with a ballad, but we were convinced that such a strong and melodious song could come close. Coming fifth representing a small country such as Cyprus is no mean achievement! I was complimented on the job I had done by both Anna and the rest of the delegation.”
In 1986, Martyn Ford was invited by the Cypriot broadcaster to come over to Nicosia to be a member of a panel which was given the task to select the song to represent the country in the Eurovision Song Contest, that year to be held in Bergen, Norway. In the end, ‘Tora zo’, sung by Elpida, was chosen as the most suitable representative. Ford was again asked to be the arranger and conductor for Cyprus. In Bergen, ‘Tora zo’ finished on a twentieth and last position. Ford: “Unfortunately, the song I preferred in the Cypriot preliminaries did not win. I thought ‘Tora zo’ was a crap song, but I tried my best to pen a good arrangement, although I realized it would be hard to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But in the music business, you never know: some of my recordings with the best artists and some of my best arrangements were never released, and some other things I had worked on and which I thought were useless, became major successes. As a producer, it is impossible to predict what will do well and what will not. So I simply wrote the arrangement and hoped it would work out well. And then there was this other thing… doing Eurovision meant being given a one-week-holiday at the expense of the Cyprus broadcaster. On top of that, I was paid well for the job I did: I think it must have been about 1000 pounds, which was a lot of money back then.”
During the rehearsals, Ford became more confident ‘Tora zo’ could do well after all: “I did not expect a last place, for sure. We did not deserve to finish at the bottom either, by which I do not imply we should have won! It is hard to explain, but when working intensively on a project, it becomes progressively difficult to assess its artistic quality. It is as if to find yourself in a cocoon: you devote all your energy and love to the project, it is fun working on it, the performance went well… and in the end I thought: ‘We are going to be all right’. What is more, during the week of rehearsals, I woke up every morning singing the bloody thing.”
The 1986 Cyprus entry was unique in a way, because halfway during the performance, Martyn Ford jumped onto the stage to encourage the audience to clap along during the bridge in the song. It was for the first time in Eurovision history that a conductor left his place in front of the orchestra during the song, only to be repeated by Denmark’s Henrik Krogsgård in 1989. Ford remembers: “It was my own idea. I was just having a good time, because I absolutely love performing in front of an audience. I wanted the audience to clap along. During rehearsals it had taken me a considerable amount of time to convince the musicians of the orchestra to clap along as well. They needed some time to get used to the idea – Scandinavians naturally prefer sitting on the fence. In the end I managed to win their sympathy with a couple of jokes. Moreover, I decided to wear an over the top costume. Sometime during the Eurovision week, I walked into Elpida’s dressing room, and I saw a glittering jacket with silvery lapels hanging in her wardrobe; I liked it the moment I laid my eyes upon it. I asked her if I could borrow it. She did not object to that. She was not the most slender of women and even for me, with my 1,85m, the jacket was a bit too large. That jacket was really fantastic! During performances, I adore wearing outfits that are colourful and over the top. When I get the chance, I still do this. I wish I still had that jacket, but Elpida insisted on having it back after the show. She was not too disappointed with the bad result. After all, she already had a career in Greece. Her voice had character; what a pity that that was exactly what the song lacked."
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