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Dick Greener
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Dick Greener

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Interview with Richard Hudson by Lindsay Sorrell - May 2005

Richard Hudson, aka Hud, was waiting to greet me as I arrived at Liverpool Street Station – no problem ever recognising Hud, his appearance has hardly altered since we first met when I was 13 and Strawbs were riding high in the UK charts with "Part of the Union", which he co-wrote with John Ford. Looking fit as ever (he once ran the London Marathon in aid of Mencap) Hud maintains his fitness these days by jogging the streets around his North London home. It's not just his appearance which seems cast in stone either – his amiable character, more down-to-earth than the teenage barrow boy selling fruit and veg he once was, hasn't changed an iota either. We wandered in search of convivial surroundings where we could chat and partake of liquid refreshment, settling on a pub called The White Hart. Over a bottle of wine we discussed Hud's recently released single, "The Actor" and, clichιd though it may sound, we really did touch on life, the universe and everything else.

For those not yet familiar with "The Actor", it is a pleasant acoustic song, eminently listenable with some attractive mandolin accompaniment and fascinating lyrics which quickly make it apparent that this is no ordinary actor Hud is singing about, but one who shapes the lives of millions through underhand bribery, lies and manipulation, and puts on an act worthy of the Hollywood greats.... it refers, of course, to a politician, and would prove a worthy description of countless politicians the world over. Hud admitted he has occasionally switched political allegiance in the past, always prepared to keep an open mind and give new blood the benefit of the doubt, but feels bitterly let down by those who renege on their promises. What spurred Hud to write "The Actor" is basically his own innate sense of fairness and loathing of individuals who betray trust; liars, backstabbers, sycophants and so on. Trust is something Hud clearly holds dear. The youngest of ten children, two of whom sadly died whilst they were young, and having lost his father at the tender age of five, he thanks his mother (for whom he wrote "Mother Mild" on Hudson Ford's Free Spirit album), and his elder siblings for the values instilled into him as a child:

"I was always taught to respect other people, treat everyone as equals and generally try to get along with others, whatever differences may exist".

Hud finds the adulation which many musicians crave both embarrassing and ridiculous; the result of hype created by the media. We discussed the absurdity of fame and those it touches, while millions of individuals such as nurses neither receive praise nor glory for the arduous and infinitely more demanding tasks they perform. Hud is a keen family man who talked repeatedly of his wife Elaine, currently in Wales tending her sick mother, and his son James, in his final year studying History at Cardiff University, of whom he is incredibly proud. They clearly have a great relationship and share a love of music:

"James is really into heavy metal and has taught me to appreciate guitarists such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani – I took him to see them in Bournemouth last year – they were amazing. James plays some great guitar himself now too".

James is obviously very proud of his dad too – he occasionally sports a Hudson Ford t-shirt over his rippling six-pack, so I'm told!

I asked Hud which prominent musical influences had shaped his career:

"My earliest influence was listening to The Shadows; I thought the drummer, Brian Bennett, was excellent. Jazz has always played a big part too – things like The Dave Brubeck Quartet and drummer Joe Morello who played unusual time signatures really inspired me, and I thought how much I'd love the chance to play drums creatively".

Hud got his wish at the age of 15 when a neighbour donated a drum kit, consisting of just a bass and snare. He cites a huge diversity of other influences, including the CAB Band, guitarist Albert Lee, various classical works, and country music among his current listening repertoire. Such an eclectic taste in music could well have something to do with his obvious contentment; he regularly plays with "around 7 or 8" bands, covering an enormous musical spectrum.

"High Society perform all original material with a 1930's feel. We play mainly corporate events which is great financially but unfortunately we don't play to the general public that often".

Hud proceeded to tell me about a deal he once set up with Virgin Airlines, wherein High Society entertained passengers en route to the USA in return for free seats. He laughed as he told me they attended the audition as a duo, got the job, and were subsequently given two return flights in payment. This went down a storm, so, rather cheekily, the next time they were booked they declared they had become a four-piece – which meant four free return flights in payment. Still pushing their luck, they ended up with the band morphing into a seven-piece in the name of free return flights! Apparently Virgin treated them superbly and never queried the ever-expanding band.

Other bands Hud regularly plays with include The Good Old Boys, whom he described as "kind of 1960s/70s rock and roll", Ginnie Brown (a country singer, formerly known as Little Ginnie), The Dogs, whom he described as "a bit like Bryan Adams' kind of rock", Quadrant, mainly a functions band, The Paul Millns Band – Paul is a superb singer/songwriter/keyboard player, with a blues and soul background, and The Bob Brady Band, who play an excellent brand of light rock [DG: he also played on Rick Wakeman's Gospels tour, including dates in the USA]. Hud laughed again and apologised that he had become "brain dead" trying to remember them all. I jogged his memory and reminded him that he'd played with Dennis Locorriere of Dr. Hook fame quite recently too.

"I love the variety and I love the people, there are no egos to deal with in any of the bands I play with, just good times doing what I love".

I recalled his days playing guitar and singing out front, sharing the spotlight with John Ford as Hudson Ford, and asked which he prefers: the spotlight or the drumkit. I was quite incredulous at his answer:

"Drums, definitely. I don't think I'm a front-man and I don't like my voice, I can't bear hearing it on answer phones or anything like that".

Puzzled at how anyone who dislikes their voice could have performed live and appeared repeatedly on Top of the Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Test and several other TV shows around the globe, I told him how extraordinary I found his reply. I've always loved the softness and warmth of his voice and told him I'm sure many thousands of Strawbs' fans have felt the same about songs like "Flight", "Canon Dale" and "Lady Fuchsia", all of which he wrote, or co-wrote with John, and sings.

"Really?" he asked, looking surprised,
"Someone else said that to me recently, I just never considered I could sing".

There are not many individuals who have had chart success, sung to millions on TV, live and on record and could make modesty like that sound credible; Hud, however, does.

We talked about his inspiration for songs recorded with Strawbs and Hudson Ford. and I commented on how his material frequently imparts a sense of spirituality:

"I dabbled with Buddhism a long time ago and believe strongly in a lot of the concepts involved. However, I felt the ideology of living on charitable donations conflicted with my lifestyle as a musician and being paid by audiences. I didn't feel I could become a true Buddhist. [I reminded him he had been a Monk at one time however :o)]. I feel Buddhism made a valuable contribution to my ethos in life though. Another problem for me was that while following a strict vegetarian diet I became thin as a rake and had no energy; that definitely didn't suit me. I would say that all the songs I've written which you've mentioned, and several others too such as "Is It Today, Lord?", were inspired by a general searching for life's meaning, trying to understand what it's all about and being prepared to consider new ideas".

The conversation turned to Hud's early days with Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera and his initial meetings with John Ford. Hud values his friendship with John greatly, and told me John remains his best friend, despite the Atlantic Ocean now separating them. Apparently they've never had a crossed word in all the years they've known each other. An amusing story of how Velvet Opera played quite a prestigious gig somewhere "oop north" supporting the Animals followed; next day, back in London, he and John decided to do a bit of busking to the queues waiting to go into West End theatres:

"Who should be standing in the queue but Alan Price, the Animals' keyboard player. It was hilarious, he pointed at us with a bemused look on his face and muttered something about recognising us!"

I swear Hud blushed as he told me some of the outrageous states of dress (or undress) he adopted onstage with Velvet Opera, complete with slogans daubed across his chest and back:

"We truly were a punk band, kicking against all the crazy flower-power stuff, about 10 years before punk actually happened"

That inclination to be at the cutting edge of creativity continued in many ways as Hud and John moved on to join Strawbs. I mentioned the Grave New World film:

"I think when we first watched the Grave New World film we all felt slightly embarrassed; well I did anyway. It was like we were trying to be actors when quite obviously we weren't, and music videos just didn't exist at that time. It didn't help that the film was shown with Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Pictures at an Exhibition" which seemed to make it all the more embarrassing! Now, though I feel proud to have been part of something that really was new and innovative".

Although both of us could have talked for several more hours I had to dash to catch a train back to Southend to pick my children up from their after-school clubs, while Hud was planning to visit TeeCee Sound Studios, belonging to his great friend and musical colleague in High Society (and formerly The Monks), Terry Cassidy. Later that evening I received a phone call from Hud, checking to see I'd got home safely. To me, that says it all.

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