Harry Howard’s musical career began in the same fertile punk rock music environment that gave birth to The Boys Next Door, The Young Charlatans and the Teenage Radio Stars. Howard is quick to point out, however, his original band’s inherent punk rock limitations. “It never played live, and no-one could really play their instruments,” Howard says. “But Rowland quite liked us, and at one time almost managed to get Keith Glass to put out a single without ever having heard us,” he says. “But then he did hear us, and he lost interest – I think he listened to the wrong side of the tape,” Howard laughs.
A couple of years later Howard followed the same path taken previously by many of his contemporaries, including his elder brother Rowland, when he left Australian shores and headed to London. “I hated Australia at the time – it was so dreary,” Howard recalls. While in London, Howard – who’d already given Rowland a few tunes that eventually found their way onto The Birthday Party’s swansong record, Junkyard – was drafted into The Birthday Party to fill the shoes – “his cowboy boots,” Howard laughs drolly – of bass player Tracey Pew.
When The Birthday Party drew a line under their tumultuous career in 1983, Howard teamed up with former Birthday Party member Mick Harvey in a revived line-up Simon Bonney’s Crime And The City Solution. “Mick decided he was going to get Simon over to stop him falling off the face of the earth,” Howard says. A couple of years later Rowland Howard asked Harry to help him play on Rowland’s solo project, which would be christened subsequently These Immortal Souls.
Crime And The City Solution subsequently moved on without Howard – “We didn’t leave technically, [Simon and Mick] got other people, but everyone was happier afterwards” – leaving him to concentrate on These Immortal Souls until that band’s formal demise in 1998. Now back in Australia, Howard played briefly in a theatrical-style outfit by the name of Christian High-Art Boutique (“it was equal parts hilarious and horrific”), before moving onto play guitar in local psychedelic-edged punk outfit Pink Stainless Tail.
It was after realising his tenure in Pink Stainless Tail was coming to an end that Howard began to record his own demo material. “I’d always wanted to put out some sort of solo thing, even back in the '80s,” Howard says. “So I decided to make it a project.” Realising he needed a band to help promote his recordings, Howard looked around unsuccessfully for band mates until Dave Graney, who Howard had known through the Australian expatriate community in London, expressed an interest in Howard’s fledgling compositions and offered to play bass. “I thought ‘Yes!’,” Howard says. “And then a couple of hours later Dave emailed me again and said that Clare [Moore] wants to play too. Problem solved!”
With Howard’s girlfriend Edwina Preston having already contributed keyboards and stylophone, Howard now had a full band. The presence of a settled lineup contributed to a refinement of Howard’s initial compositions. “The demos were a lot more arranged, and had more overdubs. When the band came along I was so taken aback by hearing the songs played a band, and the energy you get from a band, that I forgot about the early demos,” Howard says.
The post-punk style that Howard was hoping to achieve – born of an interest in bands such as The Modern Lovers (“proto-punk”) and The Fall – remained. “I like a lot of that music, a lot,” Howard says. “There’s a lot of integrity in that music that I like. And I learnt to write songs around that time, and I learnt to write songs by listening to other people’s songs.”
Howard concedes that the black title bestowed upon his backing band is a none-too-subtle reference to the health dramas he experienced a few years ago. Suffering complications from an operation to address a serious liver condition, Howard was literally on death’s door. One song in particular, Old Man Blues, captures Howard’s style of health and mind at the nadir of his health problems.
“That song is about being sick, and how it turned me into an old man. It was like having a holiday in an old man’s body – not that anyone should want a holiday in an old man’s body,” Howard laughs. “And there’s a bit of my sense of humour in there as well.”
by Patric Emery