Ashley was a founder member of Sad Café in 1977 and a vital part of the band until the Ole album in 1981. In 1986, he returned to the band for their Politics of Existing tour as well as joining Paul Young for a stint in Mike and the Mechanics.
After his initial stint with Sad Cafe, he worked with Chilliwak and a number of bands on the European mainland. He left Sad Café again prior to their “Whatever it Takes” album.
He is another one of the musicians who joined to complete Paul’s vocal tracks on Chronicles and round out the Sad Café story.
Over to Ashley himself:
I was born in Christchurch England and educated at Somerford secondary school, later to be named the Grange... (How posh... not) At 14 I lost my marbles on hearing a Spanish guitar being played by my mate Nick Grinter in my lunch-break... That was it... something happened that day and I knew I was going to be a guitar-player!
It took a year or two and I was in my first band... without a bass-player, but playing pubs and well...anywhere! A good friend and mentor; Martin Jefferies spent a lot of time turning me on to cream and various Hendrix records... we used to practice vibratos for hours! It wasn’t long before Christchurch began to close in on me and I left in the back of a station car bound for Manchester, with my mate Martin and another guitar-player... ohn Stimpson. We all lived in this big old house in Didsbury Near Manchester that was the Italian Embassy at one time... we used to grow pot in the windows and go to bed when the sun came up! All we did was play our instruments and often walk about without any clothes on...just a guitar and it all seemed like a perfectly normal thing you know... I seem to recall smokin’ a lot of wacky weed back in those days!
Out of" those" days a band was created called Friends, that managed to get itself together and actually play a few gigs. Things took a fateful turn after meeting Dave Rohl out in Poynton in Cheshire. He was working in an 8 track studio and we became friends while working on a couple of projects, one of which was Mandalaband. Once singer"Dave Durant" was found, John Stimpson, Vic Emerson, Tony Cresswell and I began recording our first album "Om mani padme hum"for chrysalis records. It was a concept album dedicated to the situation in Tibet and the band toured as an opening act for Robin Trower. Not much happened for us though and John Stimpson, ever the instigator and now the bass-player, arranged to go see a guy called Paul who was the front man with a band of shit-kickers called Giro. We waited in the crowd and these tough dudes were making great music and suddenly, this guy in a Hawaiian shirt exploded onto the stage and sang his ass off! Paul Young basically became the new front-man for our band right there and then and we didn’t have a name for it yet... but we had this feeling..."
Things soon started to heat up for us and before long Ian Wilson was brought in on rhythm guitar and vocals. Manager Harvey Lizberg agreed to manage the band and once producer John Punter was pulled in, we soon found ourselves in strawberry studios in Stockport... We didn’t have a name yet, but we were working with the name "Urban Guerilla". We worked really hard and kind of brought a bit of the mandalaband thing into the music. I was still a nerdy kid and to be honest… a bit nervous of Paul. He’d learned in the school of hard knocks it seemed and was a powerful personality plus these guys could smoke me under the table! I was given the title of light-bulb Mulford, because after a couple of puffs of a spliff... I was out like a light! I would wake up and tons of over dubs were done and I started to feel a bit left out... snooze yer lose... as they say!
Finally a friend of the band suggested the name Sad Café from the book by Carsen McUllers; "The Ballad of the Sad Café" and after ending up with the view "what’s in a bloody name anyway" we agreed and that part of history was settled... After the second album "Misplaced Ideals" was recorded at the sawmill studio in Cornwall, Tony Cresswell parted ways with the band and we started auditioning for a replacement drummer. I remember some seedy warehouse in Manchester and Dave Irving was setting up to play...He was funny and I already liked that... then he started hitting the skins... he had a tight sound that locked everything like a vacuum. We knew we were back on track!
One tour led to another and the we soon found ourselves touring the states for three months. The return to England gave us one sellout show after another and our future was secured. I had since met a French-Canadian actress and decided to start living between Toronto Canada and Manchester. I was stupid to put such a strain on the band back then, when I should have spent all my time with the guys and pushing our career up and over the top. I was in love and hey... blind as a bat and stubborn as a mule! Lenny did warn me....
After trying to be in two places at once I decided to leave the band and fortunately for the rest of the guys Mike Hehir was already helping out and jumped straight in. Me however, found meself bandless and needed to do something...
I was doing it all backwards really, because I only had limited work permits, so I was living illegally in Canada most of the time. I was constantly being smuggled into New York in the back of jeeps and stuff to play gigs with a band I’d put together called Easton West. I recorded and produced an album with the band and just as a deal was put on the table from Capitol records, the band got cold feet and ran... so I was left with all this material and I took it to Solid Gold records(a very questionable outfit I must say) and they sent a limo over a couple of days later to pick me up and drive me to the airport... I was off to Vancouver...
The band Chilliwak; a Canadian legend, was now only Bill Henderson the singer and founder, so he sat and wrote with me for a few weeks in Vancouver prior to going in the studio to record. The line up to record was Mo Foster on bass, (Jeff Beck band) Richard Gibbs on keyboards (oingo Boingo) and Simon Phillips on drums. (Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Currently Toto...) I played some guitar on the record, but was mostly there as a writer. This led to a number one in Canada and another solid gold records act; Champion... I initially wrote two songs for the band, but due to missing live work, I joined them for a few months. Various bands employed me over the next year or so and after playing with R+B and blues a new style started to emerge... I got to play with "The Lincolns" at one point, they were an R&B legend over there and we had to wear black suits and do these Blues Brothers moves... great stuff"
While I was playing around Toronto, Sad Café decided to make a tour to support the Politics of Existing album and once again most of the original members were standing together rehearsing for a British tour. I didn’t really know what to expect when I got over to England and true to the old days, the first night ended up in a free-for-all! We got ourselves organised and before I knew it, we were rockin’ once again....
After Paul dropped a word in the Mechanics camp, I was invited at the end of the tour, to visit Mike Rutherford( of Genesis and Mike and the Mechanics fame) at his house in Wessex. It was an audition for the upcoming US tour. I was pretty lucky at that point, because the record company weren’t going to pay me for the tour with the Caffs and I was a few thousand miles from home, so when I got a yes to join for the the M+M’s to do the States, at least it wasn’t for nothing. Sad Café were to make a video at the recording studio downstairs from the label’s offices, so once we were all set to shoot, make-up and all, I went upstairs had a huge debate about my politics of existing and got my tour cheque! I hopped in a cab to Lloyd’s bank and when I had it all in my hand... We did the video! I don’t think it did much for relations with the guys, but I had learned a bit in Canada!
After the last British tour with the old band, I flew home and learned the material for the coming Mike and the Mechanics US tour.
Straight after the Mechanics tour, I got into more writing and producing for TV and film in Toronto and started playing with a girl singer called Joni Wilson who now works and lives in Nashville. I didn’t really like Toronto and had a chance to live in LA for a while... I drove with my son Kim in an Oldsmobile cutlass across the States on route 66( whenever I could find it) and moved back with his actress mum. I had to make some money so I ended up with a couple of Mexican guys working for me as I renovated houses in Beverly Hills... I played Thursday nights at a place called Bangers in the valley with Graham Lear from Santana and we had to pay the owner to use the place! One day I was doing a roof in Simi valley and I heard "Still got the blues for you" on the radio and I put my tools down and said to myself "WHAT am I doing?"
That same night I got a call from Toronto calling me back to do a month on some TV scores, so... off I went!"
I finally broke from my girlfriend and dived into music for a while when I bumped into a Danish girl while shooting a video for children’s aid. She was living in Toronto... And before long we we started dating as they say over there... She took me over to Denmark for a holiday where I met Poul Bruun, the head of EMI/Medley records. He had a band called "Michael learns to Rock" and they needed a lyricist/consultant for the next album. I worked for a week with the main writer and singer, Jasher Richter and we ended up doing the next 5 albums together."
I moved to Denmark shortly afterwards and have lived there ever since. I’ve had a great time in Denmark and done TV and albums, had a shop selling Mexican art and furniture, made great friends and played every weekend for years! I have a trio, a duo and I play a lot on my own since I found a voice! I still dream about being onstage with "The Caffs" only I always find myself saying" I can’t remember the bloody songs! Why am I about to do this gig?" Must mean something... I took up sailing again and I have a 24 foot sail boat in the harbour, the Baltic is great for sailing! After growing up on the south coast of England I’ve found a coastal town that is full of culture and there’s live music every weekend in almost every bar! So it’s music and sailing for me... I’m trying to finish a CD of my own and when autumn arrives, I reckon I will!
I would really love to join up with Dave, Des and any other of the old bastards who can still get it up and do new arrangements of some of the best Sad Café material, plus some new ones... We can’t replace Paul, but it would be a tribute to a great band and a chance to see a lot of people I miss again... If there’s a singer out there who doesn’t want to be a "Paul clone" and would help to revive some great music...I’m all ears! Music should be a living, flexible and changing force, that transcends all the bullshit that this necessary evil called "show bizz" or "the music industry" throws at us! I wonder what it would be like to play together again...?