John Howard (singer-songwriter)
John Howard in December 2006
|Birth name||Howard Michael Jones|
9 April 1953 |
Bury, Lancashire, England
|Genres||Glam, pop, folk|
|Occupations||Musician, singer-songwriter, pianist, recording artist|
|Labels||CBS, RPM, Cherry Red, Bad Pressings, Euro Visions, Hanky Panky, Kid in a Big World, AWAL|
|Associated acts||Steve Levine, Anthony Reynolds, Darren Hayman|
John Howard (born Howard Michael Jones, 9 April 1953) is an English singer-songwriter, pianist and recording artist. With his February 1975 debut album Kid in a Big World (CBS Records), Howard emerged as a late voice of the glam-pop wave of the early 1970s. Across a musical career that has included two main periods of recording activity – 1974-84 and 2004–present – Howard has released 12 studio albums.
- 1 Beginnings and early years, 1953–1973
- 2 CBS Records, 1973–1976
- 3 Post-Kid singles, 1977–1984
- 4 A second life in A&R, 1985–2000
- 5 Rediscovering the muse, 2003–2005
- 6 "The songs are still pouring out," 2006-2007
- 7 Truly solo, 2008-present
- 8 Personal life
- 9 Discography
- 10 Notes
- 11 External links
Beginnings and early years, 1953–1973
Having started playing the piano at four years old, Howard began classical training at seven. He attended St. Gabriel's Roman Catholic High School in Bury, and in 1969 enrolled at the Accrington College of Art.
Starting in March 1970 and continuing for the next three years, Howard – having adopted the professional moniker "Jon Howard" – played his own songs at universities and folk clubs, and at the Bolton Octagon Theatre.
At the Octagon, Howard often played support for the folk/progressive rock band Spirogyra. The band at the time was managed by Howard's contemporary, Max Hole, who later, as an A&R manager at WEA Records U.K. in the early 1980s, went on to sign Howard Jones, whose birth name – ironically – is John Howard Jones. Hole currently serves as chief operating officer of Universal Music Group International.
CBS Records, 1973–1976
Shortly after moving to London in August 1973, Howard was playing at the Troubadour folk club, when he was spotted by "Hurricane" Smith's manager Stuart Reid, who was the head of pop at Chappell Music. Reid signed Howard to a management contract – changing "Jon" to "John," in the process – and Howard signed with CBS at the end of that year.
Kid in a Big World (1975) was the first of three albums that Howard recorded for CBS in 1974 and 1975. The album – recorded at Abbey Road and Apple Studio – was produced by ex-Shadows drummer Tony Meehan and Paul Phillips. Session players included founding Zombies and Argent keyboardist Rod Argent and founding Argent drummer Bob Henrit.
CBS initially put considerable resources behind its new artist – promoting Howard's debut album with a major print advertising campaign, life-sized cardboard cutouts of Howard at record shops, and a launch concert for recording industry executives and press at the Purcell Room in London's Southbank Centre.
Following his debut album release in February 1975, Howard recorded two more albums of material for CBS that year. His second album – Technicolour Biography (recorded 1974 and 1975), produced by Paul Phillips – was a collection of songs in a vein similar to those on Kid in a Big World. Indeed, the songs on both of Howard's first two albums were among the group of songs, written between 1970 and 1973, that led CBS to sign Howard in late 1973. But after BBC Radio 1's rejection of the two singles from the debut album, CBS balked at this new set and shelved the project, with the songs never being developed beyond the initial "vocals and piano" demonstrations.
At this point, CBS, anxious for a hit, paired Howard with Biddu, a producer best known for his pioneering work in disco. Howard set about writing a new collection of songs, and the result was his third album, Can You Hear Me OK? (recorded 1975).
CBS's promotion of the only single, "I Got My Lady," from that fully produced third album included Howard's only live television appearance – on a December 1975 episode of the BBC television program The Musical Time Machine, which ran from 1975 to 1977. Also appearing on that episode were Johnny Mathis and Lynsey de Paul.
But when the single did not chart as well as CBS had hoped, CBS shelved that album too. Having failed to find an audience for Howard's music, CBS ultimately released only the first "installment" of Howard's first three albums – sometimes now referred to as the "Kid trilogy." Howard left the label in early 1976.
Many years later, Howard's mentor Paul Phillips – who at the time was Howard's producer and A&R manager at CBS – had a more specific explanation. Phillips told Howard that his difficulty in getting radio airplay was due primarily to homophobia in the recording industry. Howard, who is gay, presented a louche and effete image at a time – the early 1970s – when, despite the shattering of gender stereotypes that was being heralded by the emergence of glam and disco, record label executives and radio programmers still often expected gay male artists to conform to traditional ideals of masculinity and to keep their sexuality to themselves. Howard wrote about his experience of this dynamic in his 2007 song, "My Beautiful Days."
Post-Kid singles, 1977–1984
In late 1976, Howard suffered a fall in which he broke his back and feet. But after a period of recuperation and recovery, he resumed recording and released a number of singles over the next several years.
Howard's work with the producer Trevor Horn in 1977 and 1978 resulted in two 7" singles – "I Can Breathe Again"/"You Take My Breath Away" (Ariola, 1978) and "Don't Shine Your Light"/"Baby Go Now" (SRT, 1979) – that were among Horn's earliest commercially released production credits.
And a brief return to CBS in late 1979 led to two more 7" singles – "I Tune Into You"/"Gotta New Toy" and "Lonely I, Lonely Me"/"Gotta New Toy (remix) – both released in 1980.
In 1981 – the year before Culture Club released its debut album, Kissing to Be Clever – Howard teamed up with Culture Club producer Steve Levine, a collaboration that resulted in another two 7" singles, "It's You I Want"/"Searching for Someone" and "And the World"/"Call on You."
A second life in A&R, 1985–2000
But by the mid-1980s, Howard had stopped recording and moved to the business side of music, where he forged a successful career in A&R for fifteen years, before "retiring" to Pembrokeshire, Wales, in 2000. Among the artists Howard worked with during this period were: Elkie Brooks, Maria Friedman, Connie Francis, Hazell Dean, Sonia, Gary Glitter, The Crickets, Lonnie Donegan, Madness, Barry Manilow and Sir Tim Rice.
Howard did record one album during this period, The Pros and Cons of Passion. The album – a collection of Howard originals and covers of songs by George Harrison, Brian Wilson, k.d. lang, Stephen Sondheim, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Paul McCartney and Janet Hood/Bill Russell – was slated for 1996 release on the Carlton label. But – as if to remind Howard that Murphy's law still was in effect – the label folded the week before the album's street date, and the album remained unreleased until Howard released it himself in 2008.
Rediscovering the muse, 2003–2005
The album cover of Kid in a Big World was featured in Matsui Takumi's 2002 book, In Search of the Lost Record: British Album Cover Art of 50's to 80s. This turned out to be one signpost of a revival of interest in Howard's early work. Responding to this, Cherry Red Records subsidiary RPM Records in September 2003 featured "Goodbye Suzie" – the song which, when it was released in October 1974, BBC Radio 1 had scuttled as being "too depressing" – on its compilation "Zigzag: 20 Junkshop Soft Rock Singles 1970–1974." Two months later, and nearly thirty years after the album's original release, RPM re-issued Kid in a Big World.
Kid in a Big World is a magnificent collection of rococo balladry and florid vignettes from a singer-songwriter who might have rivalled Elton or Bowie had his record company managed to market him right during that strange nether-period between glam and punk.
Coward is a frequent reference in reviews of Howard's music. In 2006, a couple of years after the re-issue of Kid, the Manchester poet Robert Cochrane – who collaborated as the lyricist on Howard's 2005 album The Dangerous Hours – observed that Kid is "Noel Coward getting fruit with Elton and Ziggy."
Writing in the Guardian, in 2005, Alex Petridis mused that, when Kid was "[r]eissued to critical raves, its florid, glam piano balladry seemed more contemporary in the age of Rufus Wainwright than it must have done at the height of pub rock."
A few weeks after the Uncut review, a London show by Howard – organized by RPM to celebrate the re-issue of Kid – included in the audience Lawrence Hayward of Felt, Peter Astor of The Weather Prophets and rock biographer Nina Antonia, further attesting to Howard's influence.
In 2004 and 2005, respectively, RPM issued the other two (unreleased) albums of the Kid trilogy – Technicolour Biography and Can You Hear Me OK? The first of these prompted a less predictable appearance by Coward, in a review by Anthony Reynolds, who wrote that
Technicolour Biography's "title track...sound[s] like the hangover to the night out of the preceding track. Grand, grand piano and a masterful vocal hinting at distant choirs and philharmonics, telling of wide-screen sagas of beaches and car lots, of premieres at empty cinemas. It's like Coward writes Kerouac."
During this period, Howard entered a second stage of creative output, recording and releasing more than seven albums' worth of new material from 2004 to the present.
In a four-star review of The Dangerous Hours (2005), Howard's collaboration with Robert Cochrane and his first new album release in 30 years, Alexis Petridis wrote in The Guardian that
the intervening decades have done nothing to blunt the edge on Howard's songs. Nor have they dulled the flamboyance of his delivery ... Thirty years on, he still sounds astonishing – a man making up for lost time with enviable panache."
The album, wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his own four-star review, has "all of the hallmarks of [Howard's] '70s work – big, sweeping, cinematic choruses, lush, sighing melodies, music that is once dramatic and intimate," and "Cochrane's words...flow like Howard's own." Musically "spare and simple, just Howard and his piano, occasionally embellished with a synthesizer and overdubbed vocals," the album is "a perfect soundtrack for either late-night introspection or a contemplative Sunday morning. The best thing about The Dangerous Hours...[is] that it proves that his skills as a craftsman are untarnished after all these years."
Later that year, Howard released on RPM parent label Cherry Red what Erlewine called Howard's "true comeback" album, the wryly titled As I Was Saying (2005), the first album collection of new, original all-Howard songs since 1975. The album features ex-Lush bass guitarist Phil King on electric bass and Andre Barreau – who plays George Harrison in the Beatles tribute band The Bootleg Beatles and who also was the lead guitarist on Robbie Williams's 1997 single, "Angels" – on guitars.
"The voice," wrote Helen Wright, "is in peak condition – richer than in his youth but retaining all the character, and sounding more and more like a slightly posher John Lennon." Wright singled out the song "Oh, Do Give It A Rest, Love" – which Dickon Edwards had called the album's "epic centrepiece" – as "a tour-de-force, a seven minute epic of wit and bitchiness that manages to include pretty well the entire history of pop music."
Erlewine wrote that
Howard's writing is as strong as it was in the '70s – clever...in his lyrics and graceful in his melodies....Howard is clearly an older songwriter, and has become more sentimental with time, but instead of turning him saccharine, it has given him a warm, hazy glow appropriate for his sweet melodicism, which has not diminished over time....[I]t's a quiet, understated gem of a comeback.
"The songs are still pouring out," 2006-2007
The momentum of new songwriting and recording continued with Howard's next album Same Bed, Different Dreams (2006), released on the small French label Disques Eurovisions. Although the release of Same Bed was delayed until the summer of 2006 – the year after 2005's Dangerous Hours and As I Was Saying – Howard had laid down and sent to Eurovisions demos of all 14 of the album's songs in January 2004. So these actually were the first new songs that Howard recorded after the re-issue of Kid in a Big World in November 2003.
Reviewing Same Bed for the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles, Celine Remy called it "an authentic hidden treasure of eccentric pop: the kind of disc that one could imagine had been reissued as a vestige of a time when Bowie still haunted the cabarets and Elton John preferred writing to shopping," with Matthieu Grunfeld in another French magazine, Magic RPM, suggesting that the album "should find a strong echo among...the fans of Ben Folds."
Howard followed Same Bed, Different Dreams with Barefoot With Angels (2007). Released on the small Spanish label, Hanky Panky Records, the album includes the song, "The Exquisites," that Howard wrote for his 2005 London show at the Glam-ou-rama community's Night of a Thousand Ziggys. John Howard calls the song – which initially was inspired by Oscar Wilde's dictum that "The future belongs to the dandy. It is the exquisites who are going to rule." –
my take on how glam rock saved pop music in the early ‘70s after the Beatles had left the scene and the ‘60s had ended with a whimper. T. Rex, Bowie, Roxy Music and their gorgeous chart-colleagues brought fun, great singles and beauty back to a pop scene badly in need of a polish.
Barefoot also includes the song "Magdalena Merrywidow," Howard's tribute to April Ashley.
Howard appeared as a pianist on two other albums in 2007: Anthony Reynolds's British Ballads (Spinney) and Darren Hayman's Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern (Track & Field). Both albums tapped the contributions of musicians who had been extremely influential in 1980s British indie pop, with the Reynolds album featuring ex-Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde and the Hayman album featuring Pete Astor, who had founded The Loft and The Weather Prophets.
Truly solo, 2008-present
After releasing four new albums on small independent labels from 2005 to 2007, Howard began recording, releasing and selling CDs of his music on his own label, Kid in a Big World, with digital releases of his entire catalog through AWAL.
Howard's ninth studio album, Navigate Home (2009) – which he wrote while waiting to move from Wales to Spain and completed recording in Spain – was the first album to reflect this new approach. Reviewing the album in Dusty Wright's online pop culture magazine Culture Catch, Robert Cochrane observed:
John Howard has in his early fifties reached a point of creative maturity few achieve, especially after almost twenty-five years in the "dump-bin" and it is a further irony that this album is entitled Navigate Home. During the period of its gestation, he was a temporary resident of transitory homes: the home of the past, the home within his head, and a home as yet unbuilt. Waiting to emigrate to Spain, he realized a series of songs sublimely inhabited by English ghosts, a haunting and restful work, completed and refined in his new country, but without even a hint of sunshine or sangria, only suggestions of clouds and summer showers. Knowing he was leaving England allowed him to plunder his past with a fresh and concise perspective. These songs have a longing and a sense of focused regret. Nostalgia is too obvious and unsubtle a label. There is a strange air of resolution and refinement present. It is a gathering up of half a century's memories, his most personal album so far, but free of anger and misery. Tranquil in tone, but pulled by the magnets of retrospection and anticipation, these songs have a striving but restful nature, a certain sadness, but balanced by a spirit of joyful projection. These are kindly conversations sung into an unsuspecting ear.
- Dry Run (2011)
- In October 2011, Howard released the original demos for Navigate Home as a separate album, Dry Run: The "Navigate Home" Demos. This collection – chronologically, Howard's eleventh studio album – includes demos of two additional songs, "Genius" and "In Your Dreams," that did not make it onto the original album.
Howard's tenth studio album, Exhibiting Tendencies (2011), had its digital release in February 2011 and its CD release in May 2011.
His twelfth studio album, You Shall Go to the Ball! (2012), was released on 24 September 2012. On this 15-track collection, Howard "revisits" and elaborates on nine of his 1970s-era songs that previously had been recorded only as musically spare demos. He interweaves these revisitations with a half-dozen "soundscapes." The result, writes Joe Lepper for the digital magazine Neon Filler:
gives the album a dreamlike, almost Brian Wilson produced feel, with his forgotten songs shining brightly throughout.
John Howard's thirteenth studio album, Storeys, is to be released on 25 November 2013.
In 2006, Howard and retired theatre actor and director Neil France – Howard's partner of now 27 years – were married in a civil partnership ceremony in Pembrokeshire.
The next year, 2007, Howard and France moved from the United Kingdom to Murcia, Spain, where they continue to live.
- Kid in a Big World (CBS, 1975; RPM Records reissue, 2003; AWAL (digital), 2009)
- Technicolour Biography (CBS, 1975, unreleased; RPM Records, 2004; AWAL (digital), 2009)
- Can You Hear Me OK? (CBS, 1975, unreleased; RPM Records, 2005; AWAL (digital), 2010)
- The Pros and Cons of Passion (Carlton, 1996, unreleased; Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2008)
- The Dangerous Hours (Bad Pressings, 2005; AWAL (digital), 2006)
- As I Was Saying (Cherry Red Records, 2005; AWAL (digital), 2010)
- Same Bed, Different Dreams (Euro Visions, 2006; AWAL (digital), 2007)
- Barefoot With Angels (Hanky Panky and AWAL (digital), 2007)
- Navigate Home (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2009)
- Dry Run: The "Navigate Home" Demos (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2011)
- Exhibiting Tendencies (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2011)
- You Shall Go to the Ball! (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2012)
- Walk on the Wild Side (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2007)
- My Beautiful Days (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2007)
- The Bewlay Brothers (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2007)
- Songs for the Lost and Found (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2008)
- Songs for a Lifetime (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2009)
- Atmospheres & Soundscapes (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2012)
- Loved Songs (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2013)
Released singles and B-sides
- "Goodbye Suzie," from Kid in a Big World (CBS, 1974; Tony Meehan, producer)
- "Family Man," from Kid in a Big World (CBS, 1975; Paul Phillips, producer)
- "I Got My Lady," from Can You Hear Me OK? (CBS, 1975; Biddu, producer)
- "I Can Breathe Again" / "You Take My Breath Away" (Ariola, 1978; Trevor Horn, producer)
- "Don't Shine Your Light" / "Baby Go Now" (double A-side) (SRT, 1979; Trevor Horn, producer)
- "I Tune Into You" / "Gotta New Toy" (CBS, 1980; Nicky Graham, producer)
- "Lonely I, Lonely Me" / "Gotta New Toy (remix)" (CBS, 1980; Nicky Graham, producer)
- "Nothing More To Say" / "You Keep Me Steady" (Loose Records, 1984)
- "Lion in My Winter" / "Take the Weight" (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2009)
- "The Dilemma of the Homosapien" / "These Fifty Years" (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital) reissue, 2009)
- "Ballad of Sam Mary Ann" / "Beautiful Poppies at Even" (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2012)
- "The Deal (Revisited)" / "The Deal (Original 1975 demo version)" (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2012)
- "I Tune Into You" / "Lonely I, Lonely Me" (CBS, March 1980 & August 1980; Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital) double A-sided reissue, 2013)
As Quiz (with Steve Levine)
- "It's You I Want" / "Searching for Someone" (Hit City, 1981; Steve Levine, producer)
- "And the World" / "Call On You" (Hit City, 1981; Steve Levine, producer)
- Sketching the Landscape: Demos, 1973–1979 (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2008)
- Creating Impressions: Singles & Rarities, 1980–1990 (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2008)
- These Fifty Years: The Best of John Howard (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2009)
- Making Tracks: Curios & Collectables, 2001–2009 (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2010)
- In the Room Upstairs: Live at the Briton's Protection (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2007)
- More from the Room Upstairs: Live at the Briton's Protection (Kid in a Big World and AWAL (digital), 2008)
- "Goodbye Suzie" on Zigzag: 20 Junkshop Soft Rock Singles, 1970–1974 (RPM Records, 2003)
- "Goodbye Suzie" on 15-Track Pick of the Best Recent Music (Uncut magazine, June 2004)
- "Missing Key" on Best of 2004 Reissues, vol. 2 (Uncut magazine, December 2004)
- "Beautiful Lies" on Songs for the Next Generation, Michael Weston King tribute album (ARC Music Group, 2007)
- "The Bewlay Brothers" on Rebel Rebel: A Tribute to David Bowie (Uncut magazine, June 2008)
- "Something" on While My Guitar Gentle Weeps: Covers, Curios & the Music That Inspired George Harrison (Uncut magazine, August 2008)
- "No Use" (Ralegh Long cover) and "Creosote Summer" (Rotifer cover) on Ebbsfleet International: Gare du Nord Records Compilation Vol. 1 (Gare du Nord Records, October 2013)
Other album contributions
- Anthony Reynolds: British Ballads (Spinney, 2007) – piano
- Darren Hayman: Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern (Track & Field, 2007) – piano
- Richie Unterberger, "John Howard", AllRovi, 2005.
- Biography at Official John Howard Web site
- Information provided at John Howard Facebook profile
- John Howard, Song note on video of "Nothing Is Forever Anymore", official John Howard YouTube channel
- Audio of "Goodbye Suzie", official John Howard YouTube channel
- Audio of "Family Man", official John Howard YouTube channel
- Video of BBC live television performance of "I Got My Lady", official John Howard YouTube channel
- "John Howard", RPM Records Web site
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Review of The Dangerous Hours," AllRovi.
- Vincent Lamar Stephens, "Integration, Exploitation and Separation in the 1970s," chapter 7 in Queering the Textures of Rock and Roll History, Ph.D. thesis, 2005, pp. 377–402.
- John Howard, Song note on video of "My Beautiful Days", official John Howard YouTube channel
- John Howard, Song note on video of "Magdalena Merrywidow (for April Ashley)", official John Howard YouTube channel
- Discography at TrevorHorn.com
- Helen Wright, Interview: John Howard, musicOMH, October 2005.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Zigzag: 20 Junkshop Soft Rock Singles 1970–1974", AllRovi.
- Paul Lester "Fop of the Pops", Uncut, March 2004.
- Robert Cochrane, "Anatomy of the Comeback Kid," Culture Catch, 5 September 2006.
- Alexis Petridis, "John Howard, 'The Dangerous Hours'", The Guardian, 24 June 2005.
- Anthony Reynolds, "Technicolour Biography," musicOMH.
- Audio and video of "Oh, Do Give It A Rest, Love", official John Howard YouTube channel.
- Helen Wright, Review of As I Was Saying, musicOMH.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Review of As I Was Saying, AllRovi.
- John Howard, Album notes on Same Bed, Different Dreams, MySpace blog, May 2010
- Translations of French-language reviews of Same Bed, Different Dreams on Album page for Same Bed, Different Dreams, cargorecords.co.uk
- Celine Remy, Review of Same Bed, Different Dreams, Les Inrockuptibles, April 2006.
- Matthieu Grunfeld, Review of Same Bed, Different Dreams, Magic RPM, May 2006.
- Audio and video of "The Exquisites", official John Howard YouTube channel.
- Helen Wright, Review of John Howard show, 24 September 2005, musicOMH, September 2005.
- Web site of Glam-ou-rama community
- John Howard, Song note on "The Exquisites", MySpace, June 2010.
- Audio and video of "Magdalena Merrywidow (for April Ashley)", official John Howard YouTube channel.
- Tony Heywood, Review of British Ballads, musicOMH, December 2007.
- News item on British Ballads, Spinney Web site, May 2007.
- Album page for Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern, Darren Hayman Web site.
- Peter Steward, "Interview with John Howard", 2009.
- Robert Cochrane, "The Restfulness of Exile", Culture Catch, August 2009.
- Joe Lepper, "John Howard: Time Will Heal Things", Neon Filler, November 2012.
Articles, interviews and reviews
- "John Howard: Time Will Heal Things" (Neon Filler, 7 November 2012)
- "Anatomy of the Comeback Kid" (Culture Catch, 5 September 2006) and "A Most English Decline" (The Bad Press, 2004)
With Robert Rotifer
An hourlong segment on Rotifer's Heartbeat program for Austrian radio station FM4 aired on 3 December 2012.
With Peter Steward
With Helen Wright
Same Bed, Different Dreams
As I Was Saying
The Dangerous Hours
Can You Hear Me OK?
Kid in a Big World
12 Bar Club, London, 18 January 2006
Club Bohemia @ Buffalo Bar, London, 24 September 2005
Cecil Sharp House, London, 26 August 2004
Jermyn Street Theater, London, 1 April 2004