Translator and John Ashfield at Cafe Du Nord

by E. "Doc" Smith on November 4, 2005

Inspired by the Beatles, the four-piece Translator featured the talents of two singer/songwriters, Steve Barton (guitar) and Bob Darlington (guitar), and a sound that spanned Merseybeat to psychedelia. Larry Dekker on bass and Dave Scheff on drums completed the lineup, which remained constant during the band’s seven-year stay. Formed in Los Angeles in 1979, the band relocated to San Francisco and were swiftly signed to Howie Klein’s independent label, 415 Records, on the strength of their demo version of “Everywhere That I’m Not,” the song that would remain the band’s signature tune.

In 1996, they were paid the highest compliment when voracious Beatles fans alerted the world via Internet and fanzines that the Fab Three had re-recorded a version of the Beatles instrumental “Cry For a Shadow” during the Anthology sessions. The tape was later found to be an old Translator B-side.

Translator’s music encompasses elements of traditional folk-rock, adding modern sounds, novel ideas and cool deadpan pop – simply put, diversity makes Translator fine and often fascinating. Singing guitarists Barton and Darlington have a wide stylistic arsenal and each has the ability to write varied songs of quality and endurance. “Heartbeats and Triggers”, produced by David Kahne, was a great debut album with very few weak tracks.

“No Time Like Now” contained another batch of melodic and rocking tunes played with ringing guitars and attractive harmonies. While “Un-Alone,” “Break Down Barriers” and the title track manage to keep the musical faith.

“Translator”, produced by Ed Stasium, was for the most part a return to form. “Gravity” was as good as anything they’ve done; other tunes maintain a tasteful, invigorating blend of vocals, rhythm guitars and intelligent songwriting.

Translator broke up in 1986. The career-summing “Everywhere That I’m Not” draws from all four albums, adding one otherwise non-LP bonus: a version of Jefferson Airplane’s “Today.” The track selection isn’t ideal, but it’s a fair representation of this special group’s work.

In addition to this reunion tour, all members of the band continue to play music in some form; Scheff immediately joined Winter Hours for a brief spell, and Barton has released two solo albums, “The Boy Who Rode His Bike Around The World” in 2000 and his current 2005 release “Charm Offensive.”

John Ashfield

John Ashfield opens for Translator at Cafe Du Nord.
John Ashfield opens for Translator at Cafe Du Nord.

Multi-instrumentalist John Ashfield has been writing and playing music since his early teens. Ashfield’s influences started at home, with his father being an accomplished Barbershop Quartet singer. Natually Ashfield looked to the younger and more “happening” version of Barbershop and discovered The Osmonds, who had begun as a Barbershop group, later to become Bubblegum superstars. This began John’s foray into sunny Pop/Bubblegum music. Ashfield explored other popular music for that time (early 1970’s), delving in Wings, Beatles, The Partridge Family, Bobby Sherman, The 5th Dimension and anything else that was on his AM radio while summering at the Jersey shore.

Back in high school, Ashfield discovered he had an amazing voice and put it to good use in school musicals. Ashfield played in bands and continued to write, moved onto college, winning a four year music scholarship and playing in more bands, varying instruments from keyboards to guitar to bass. Ashfield graduated college and began his “day job” as an elementary school music teacher, which he loves and still keeps. His current band, The Bobbleheads (www.thebobbleheads.com), has been getting some recognition in power pop music circles as the nicest, most fun group around. His teaching job and musical influences often overlap with his solo material having innocence, yet maturity while he teaches his students to play “Light and Day”, by the Polyphonic Spree, “Atomic” by Blondie and “Rock aroud the Clock”, by Bill Haley.

“Harmony Bunny”, Ashfield’s last album and first solo album release, kicked off with 3 great songs. “Why Not Smile”, which set the pace and standard for the rest, and “Crush”, which was considered the most impressive track and begged to be a top 40 single. Crush looks back at the “angst involved in being young and very much in love with a best friend who has no appreciation of what you’re going through”. Patrick Goodwin, of fellow San Franciscan queer-core band Pansy Division added a very tasteful edge on lead guitar in “I Don’t Know”. Ashfield presented a fine collection of power pop, in the tradition of Gruppo Sportivo and Nick Lowe with Harmony Bunny.

Strongly guitar-based, with “plenty of variety and entertainment for your head in the arrangements”. Chris Xefos of King Missile (“Detachable Penis”) contributes instrumentally and vocally as well being engineer and co-producer. The basic tracks were recorded in John’s home studio. Ashfield is a confident, ample man (the result of many Hostess cakes, he says) and has a sweet and gentle voice. Joining him at Cafe Du Nord will be bassist Xefos, and guitarist/drummer John Moremen.

Translator with John Ashfield at Cafe Du Nord, 9:00pm
Sunday November, 13th
2170 Market Street, SF
415-861.5016 Show: 9:00pm

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording engineer who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Cliff, and John Mayall among others. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached at drummstick@earthlink.net

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