Rowland S. Howard - 1959-2009

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 30, 2009 12:47pm | Post a Comment

Rowland S. Howard
was one of his generation’s greatest, most inventive and influential guitarists, as well as one of Australia’s towering but under recognized songwriting talents. Howard was most famous for his noisy, atmospheric, slash-and-burn style, mainly heard during his tenure with The Birthday Party. After their split, Howard continued to support and collaborate with a number of other musicians before finally embarking on a solo career.
Rowland was born October 24th, 1959. The slight, bat-eared youth was always drawn toward the fine arts and his early interests included drawing, reading and listening to The Monkees. In the early ‘70s he began playing guitar, as his musical interests shifted toward Syd Barrett, Roxy Music, David Bowie and prog rock. Eventually he became aware of and enamored with American bands like The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls and The Stooges. In 1974, after dabbling with the saxophone, Howard and his school chum Simon Mclean formed their first band, the amazingly-named Tootho and the Ring of Confidence. In 1977, the two joined Graeme Pitt and Rob Wellington in the short-lived punk band, The Obsessions.

That same year, Howard joined the first band that would truly showcase his precocious songwriting genius, The Young Charlatans. Joined by Janine Hall, John McKinnon, Jef Wegener and Ian “Ollie” Olsen, the band played a mere thirteen shows but recorded a couple of demos, including the sixteen-year-old Howard’s composition, “Shivers,” later included on the compilation, Fast Forward 004 (1981). Olsen, however, didn’t want to share the songwriting role and by May of 1978, the band was no more. Wegener played with The Last Words before joining Laughing Clowns. Hall later played in The Saints and Weddings, Parties, Anything. Olsen formed Whirlywirld and later Max Q, with INXS’s Michael Hutchence.

Howard next joined Boys Next Door. At that point, the Nick Cave-led band had been kicking around Melbourne for three years making a fairly dull, undistinguished brand of new wave. They’d already recorded several songs for their debut, Door, Door before Howard became a member. His arrival seemingly invigorated the rest of the band, as evinced by the vast difference in quality between that album’s two sides. Boys Next Door released the Hee Haw EP and The Birthday Party before changing their name to The Birthday Party and finding a larger audience. Under the new name the band released Prayers on Fire in 1981, a widely praised album that showcased both Cave’s and Howard’s songwriting in roughly equal measure; the latter’s marked by a direct and disarming gallows humor and preference for clever twists of phrase. By the time of The Birthday Party’s second album, 1982’s Junkyard, Birthday Party's Mick Harvey was also contributing considerably to the songwriting, nudging in the process Howard’s contributions to the sidelines.

That same year, The Birthday Party’s Howard, Cave, Harvey, Genevieve McGuckin and Tracy Pew joined Lydia Lunch and Murray Mitchell to record Honeymoon in Red (1987-Widowspeak). Another underground supergroup collaboration came about that year when Harvey, Howard and Cave joined The Go-BetweensGrant McLennan, Linday Morrison and Robert Forster as The Tuff Monks, who released just one single, “After the Fireworks” (1982-Au Go Go).

In 1983, after releasing the Mutiny and The Bad Seed EPs, The Birthday Party split and Howard next showed up on Fad Gadget’s Gag album, recorded that November. The following year, Mick Harvey convinced Simon Bonney to revive his band, Crime + the City Solution, who, after forming in Sydney in 1977, had ceased to be active since 1979. In Berlin, Bonney was joined by Harvey, the Howard brothers and Kevin “Epic Soundtracks” Godfrey. 1985’s The Dangling Man EP and Just South of Heaven and the following year's The Kentucky Click/Adventure EP  were further excellent showcases for Howard’s inventive guitar work but he was nonetheless sacked by Bonney, who claimed that his voice and Howard’s guitar occupied the same space. Howard took his brother Harry Howard and Epic Soundtracks with him.

The departing members of Crime + the City Solution were joined by former Birthday Party collaborator (and Howard’s girlfriend) Genevieve McGuckin in his next band, These Immortal Souls, which returned Howard's unique, nasal and tune-shy singing to center stage after many years in the shadows of spotlight hogs. After a couple of collaborations with Nikki Sudden (Nikki Sudden and the Jacobites, Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc and Jeremy Gluck With Nikki Sudden & Rowland S. Howard’s I Knew Buffalo Bill), These Immortal Souls released “Marry Me (Lie Lie)” on September 7, 1987. On December 1, 1987 Get Lost (Don’t Lie!) (1987-Mute) followed, which they promoted with European and American tours.

In 1988 Howard again collaborated with Gluck and Sudden on the Burning Skulls Rise album (1988) before These Immortal Souls returned to Australia for a short tour. In 1991, the Howard brothers and Lunch again collaborated for Shotgun Wedding (1991-Triple X Entertainment). They promoted the release live with future bad seed Jim Scalvunos on drums. Howard also played a one off gig in London in a band called Tender Justice and collaborated with Einstürzende Neubauten on their “Thirsty Animal” single. In September of the following year, Howard joined a partially reformed Birthday Party (with Martyn P. Casey filling in for the late Pew) at London's Town and Country Club.
The following month, These Immortal Souls returned with “King of Kalifornia,” which preceded the December release of I’m Never Gonna Die Again (1992-Mute). After Epic Soundtracks left to embark on a solo career, drummer Chris Hughes filled in on the ensuing tour. Howard’s next recorded contributions were on 1994’s Nick Cave album Let Love In and Lydia Lunch’s Live in Siberia. In the meantime, he continued working with the latter on new Shotgun Wedding material.  After These Immortal Souls’ rendition of “You Can’t Unring a Bell” on the Tom Waits tribute, Step Right Up – The Songs of Tom Waits (1995-Manifesto), they continued without Soundtracks (who died in 1997) until July 23rd 1998, when (with Lunch as support) they played their final show at the Greyhound Hotel in St. Kilda.

Howard finally released an excellent solo album in 1999, Teenage Snuff Film (Reliant Records), featuring support from Beasts of Bourbon’s Brian Hooper on drums and organ, Mick Harvey and Genevieve McGuckin. That year Howard also produced The Dirty Three-like Hungry Ghost’s eponymous album, Hungry Ghosts (2000-Reliant Records). In 2000, he joined his brother on guitar in The Pink Stainless Tail. Two years later, Howard appeared with Hugo Race, Robin Casinader and Aimee Nash as an all-vampire band in the Aaliyah film, Queen of the Damned.
In the 2000s, Howard’s recording and performing output slowed. After the French label Stagger Records released a 2-CD tribute to Howard, A Tribute to Rowland S. Howard (2006-Stagger Records), featuring Mick Harvey, The Drones, Loene Carmen and Warren Ellis, Nikki Sudden and many others; the guitarist joined Magic Dirt and Beasts of Bourbon for a tour of Australia’s east coast.

In 2009, Howard, along with The Primitive Calculators, Ollie Olsen, Phillip Brophy and many other figures of the Australian underground appeared in We’re Livin’ on Dog Food, a documentary/tribute to Melbourne’s music scene of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. That same year Howard produced HTRK’s Marry Me Tonight (2009-Blast First Petite) before releasing his second solo album, October’s Pop Crimes (2009-Liberation). It was even more acclaimed than its predecessor and is tipped as a contender for the upcoming Australian Music Prize. Around that time of the album’s release, Howard announced that he’d contracted liver disease and was waiting for an organ transfer. That month he played his final show at St Kilda's Prince Bandroom, visibly struggling to get through the show, coughing up blood throughout. Nonetheless, he was picked by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to join them for a planned live performance but his declining health necessitated his cancellation. Rowland S. Howard died December 30th, 2009 at the Austin Hospital. He was 50. 

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The evolution of the music video, part II (1950s - 1960s)

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 6, 2009 01:45pm | Post a Comment
As persuasively and incontestably argued in The evolution of the music video, part I  (1890s - 1940s), the music video began not in the '80s, as is often wrongly assumed, but the '90s... the 1890s (if we accept the basic concept of videos being one stand-alone work of one song/one visual). From the humble sound experiments at the dawn of the celluloid age through the artistic flowering of Soundies, many musical promos were created of high historical and artistic importance. In the 1950s and '60s, videos moved from bars and clubs to the living room, as television became the new venue for music promotion.

Cineboxes, Scopitones and Color-Sonics
According to the Quixotic Internet Accuracy Project, the term "music video" was coined by DJ (VJ?) J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in 1959. That year, the Cinebox hit the scene, essentially following in the footsteps of Soundies by manufacturing videos for what was essentially a jukebox with a visual component. In 1965, the Cinebox was re-branded the Colorama in the US. The following year it was again re-branded, this time as the Cinejukebox.


Scopitones followed Cineboxes, hitting the French market in 1960 and making their way to the US in 1964. The similar Color-sonics followed in 1966.



Canada was a pioneer in moving the music video from various video jukeboxes to the television. Singalong Jubilee debuted in 1961 on the CBC, 23 years before the debut of Much. In addition to featuring musicians playing in the studios, artists were also filmed on location. The show was based in Halifax. Music videos proved an ideal alternative to a punishing journey across the vast, frozen wastelands of the north just to play a song or two before returning home. Sadly, I can't find any videos from the program.

As we've now seen, music videos were around for 61 years before The Beatles got in on the act. And yet, many still insist that they invented the music video. As the Fab Four began to make studio-enhanced psychedelia that was difficult to come anywhere near re-creating on stage, they stopped touring and relied on music videos as the main way of promoting their music, perhaps giving rise to the myth of their having had a hand in the format's creation. Many of their peers followed suit, often engaging in the lighthearted shenanigans apparently so popular with English teenagers of the 1960s. The Doors, including as they did a couple of film students, were generally more dour.

Australia, like Canada, is characterized by tiny outposts of humanity spread across an enormous, unforgiving countryside. Following the Canadians' lead, Australia did more to establish television as the venue for music videos than any other country. With the UK and US millions of miles away, the Australians ended up regularly making their own videos for songs by bands unwilling to cross the globe. By 1966, Australian bands regularly made videos for their new releases. That year, The Black Diamonds (after encountering bushfires and blizzards in their attempts to tour) became the first "country" band to sign to a major without having set foot in the capital. A year later, The Masters Apprentices made a color video, which was just showing off, because Australia successfully resisted conversion to color TV until 1975.

The scene in need of a name

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 14, 2009 06:39pm | Post a Comment

About ten years ago, my friend Pete Jourdan and I were trying to advance the awareness of what we felt was a scene that was somehow unrecognized both for its existence as a scene and for the Godlike Genius of it all. I described it thusly, "Although there’s never been a name put to it, there’s an ongoing movement in music whose participants mix musical influences like the baritone atmospherics of Lee Hazelwood, the Doors, Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen with Ennio Morricone, Hank Williams, and Southern Gothic and Poetic Realist literary influences to create a sort of rural, post-apocalyptic, midnight cabaret music that, whilst dark and doomy, offers a sepia-tinted alternative to the embarassing cornballisms of Goth. A lot of the bands hail from Australia and their members normally look like a mix of consumptive prospectors and bourbon-drunk undertakers. Their lush, decadent sound is usually built around haunting violins, spaghetti western guitar and old time religion."


Windswept, Australian, Hillbilly Heathcliffs

It was the CD era, pre-blogs, and eventually we, like Israel and Palestine, couldn't come to an agreement either on what to call it or how to characterize it. Pete maintained that Nick Cave was the central figure. Given that Boys Next Door inarguably sucked while the similarly minded Young Charlatans and Crime + the City Solution were already good, I didn't want to overemphasize Nick Cave's importance at the expense of Rowland S. Howard, Simon Bonney, Mick Harvey and others. If everything had to tie directly to Nick Cave, how could we incorporate bands like Wolfgang Press and Tindersticks but through at least three degrees of separation? Nick Cave became our "right of return" and talks broke down. I don't know whether this biography is auto or not, but in order to preserve it:

Peter D. Jourdan, plagued with weak health, was begged by his family physician, Old Man Olafson (who runs Olafson’s General Store in West Lakeland Township), to harden himself and his constitution by way of spending a length of time on in the masculine arts of ranching and trail-riding in our wonderful frontier... but only after his prescription of horehound (oral) failed. Instead, however, it seems he fell in with the notorious Rowena gang and his health and moral reserve were subsequently eroded completely.

And Also the Trees

Anita Lane

Angelo Badalamenti

Asphalt Ribbons

Birthday Party

Blackeyed Susans

Kid Congo Powers

Crime + the City Solution

The Dirty Three

The Flaming Stars

Gallon Drunk

Hugo Race & the True Spirit

Mick Harvey

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross

PJ Harvey

Rowland S. Howard

Simon Bonney

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo
Sixteen Horsepower

These Immortal Souls

The Tindersticks

The Triffids

The Walkabouts

Wolfgang Press

Young Charlatans

Also check out Conway Savage, The Denver Gentlemen, Die Haut, Fatal Shore, The Gilded Bats, Honeymoon In Red, Hungry Ghosts, Once Upon a Time, Shotgun Wedding, Those Poor Bastards and Woven Hand, which have no decent video footage currently.

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Giant Tarantulas Attack!

Posted by Whitmore, May 8, 2009 07:40pm | Post a Comment
Australia is someplace I will probably never visit, and that goes double for Australia’s Outback. The main and personally terrifying raison d'être is the Down Under’s world renowned collection of weird, poisonous, larger than friggin’ life creepy crawlies lurking in every shrub, behind every rock, and under every toilet seat.
And a new story in Times of London isn’t helping my arachnophobia, ophidiophobia, or even my entomophobia.
Scores of eastern tarantulas, that can grow larger than the palm of a man’s hand, also known as “bird-eating spiders” or “whistling spiders” because of the noise they make when disturbed or aggravated at close range, have begun crawling out from their netherworld lairs and are now invading the coastal town of Bowen, about 700 miles northwest of Brisbane. Even long time, hard core outback residents have gotten the willies.
Earlier this week a tarantula the size of an SUV was spotted wandering towards a public garden in the center of town. Alarmed residents called in the Amalgamated Pest Control but not before using a full can of insect repellent spray to stymie the spider's approach.
According to Audy Geiszler, the hero in this tale who runs Amalgamated Pest Control, he has been inundated with calls from wigged out locals. "There have been a number of reports. It's not plague proportions but a number have been spotted around the district.”
Not plague proportions … yet!
One spider was so large that when he placed it in the palm of his hand -- dead of course -- its legs hung over his fingers. Common in eastern Australia where they usually live under logs and in naturally rocky outcrops, these giant tarantulas seem to have been pushed out from their usual habitats by the recent unseasonably heavy rains.
While not deadly like many other Australian spiders, these tarantulas are still venomous; their bite can pack quite a punch. They can grow up to, and obviously beyond, 6cm (2.4in) long with a leg span of 16cm (6.3in). By the way, despite being called “bird-eating spiders,” they do not eat birds, but can kill a dog or cat with one quick bite.

Jorn Utzon 1918 - 2008

Posted by Whitmore, December 3, 2008 06:09pm | Post a Comment

The architect who designed one of the world’s most recognizable buildings, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, yet never saw the completed project, Jorn Utzon, died of heart failure in his sleep in Copenhagen this last week. He was 90.
Born April 9, 1918 in Aalborg, Denmark, Jorn Utzon studied architecture at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. After establishing his own practice in Copenhagen in 1950, he entered the 1956 international architecture competition to design the new Sydney Opera House. He spent six months designing the unique sail-like roofs, his nautical design is said to have been inspired by sections of an orange. Utzon triumphed over 232 other entries; he was just 38 years age and hardly known outside his native country. For the next five years he worked on the project from his office in Denmark until he moved his family to Sydney to oversee construction in 1962.
It would be Utzon’s greatest design, on which most of his architectural reputation is based. It is also Australia’s most famous landmark and one of the most celebrated, influential and iconic buildings of the 20th century.
The Opera House is surrounded on three sides by the waters of Sydney Harbour at Benelong Point. The five performance halls are housed under ten reinforced concrete shells, dressed in white tiles. The sail-like shells and the upturned ships’ hulls rise 60 meters high above a four-and-a-half-acre concrete and granite platform which was inspired by the ceremonial steps of Monte Alban in Mexico.
However in 1966, seven years before completion, controversy erupted. Utzon resigned and packed up his family, leaving Australia never to return. With only the shell of the Opera House done, Utzon found himself in the middle of a power struggle and at odds with local politicians, specifically Davis Hughes, the New South Wales minister for public works who criticized the cost overruns and delays. At a price tag of more than $100 million Australian dollars, the original project was budgeted at ridiculously low estimate of $7 million. After Utzon’s resignation, the Opera House was completed by Government appointed architects who finished the interiors by drastically changing the original layouts to the five theaters.
In recent years Australia had tried reconciling with Jorn Utzon. In 2002, he was commissioned to update the interior renovations, in an attempt to alleviate the acoustic problems and bring the building closer to its original vision. In 2003, Mr. Utzon received an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney. And in October of 2004 the Utzon Room, overlooking Sydney Harbor, was officially dedicated.
In 2003 Utzon won what is considered architecture’s highest honor, The Pritzker. Frank Gehry, one of the jurors, said Jorn Utzon “… made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinary malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country.”
After leaving Australia, Utzon worked in Switzerland and Spain before settling in Majorca in the mid-1970s, where he would live and work for the rest of his life. Besides designing the Sydney Opera House, he designed the Bagsværd Church in Denmark (1968-76), the National Assembly of Kuwait, completed in 1983 and rebuilt in 1993, many private residences, and his own home in Majorca.
Jorn Utzon is survived by his wife of 66 years, Lis Fenger, three children, Jan, Kim, and Lin, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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