Rowland S. Howard † [1959-2009]

january 23, 2010.

Just before the turn of the decade, on december 30th 2009, Rowland S. Howard died.

cover velvetI remember Rowland not so much for his guitar playing - admirable and influential as that may have been - as for one single recording (originally a 12" vinyl single released on 4AD Records) that to this day is a favorite of mine: it's Rowland's 1982 version of Lee Hazlewood's Some Velvet Morning, a duet that he recorded very early on in his career with Lydia Lunch. Not only because it made me (re-)discover Hazlewood's fine songwriting. Rowland continued to be with me because I always have kept a definite preference for the Howard/Lunch version over the Hazlewood/Sinatra original.
[Both are, by the way, part of the many tracks that together make up Mucilage Schubert Angst, the appropriately named second Raudio 24/7 web stream, ceaselessly playing for your listening pleasure since december 2004. Now also on your iPhone!]

I further remember Rowland as the first soul to emerge from what at the time hit me as a heap of bodies on the floor of a shabby cupboard sized room in a London apartment, spread out there and reeking as if knocked out in chemical warfare, which obviously in some sense indeed had been the case. That was early afternoon, on saturday july 11th, 1981. I had traveled the few tube stations down from where I was living at the time to meet The Birthday Party, talk about the band's move from Australia to London, about their music and their plans; and then write it all up for the Dutch Vinyl magazine. It was Nick Cave that had jotted down the Maida Vale address in my agenda two days earlier, when I had gone to see the band perform at the West Hampstead Moonlight Club. "Come saturday, not too early though. Between one or two, that should do," he told me. And indeed it was Nick Cave that came out next and, extremely polite and boyishly grinning, invited me to go to the pub next door, for the pictures and an interview. I did both pictures and talking, as this was one of those occasions on which there had been no time or no money to arrange for a photographer to come over from Amsterdam to shoot the pictures that would illustrate my article. ( * )

Here are three from the series that I took five days later, during the band's concert at The Venue, on thursday july 16th, 1981. ( ** ) That was explosive. For me then and there the BP were too rough, too real. Too ... dangerous maybe is the right word.

rowland s. howard

In the picture with Rowland S. Howard above, on the far other end of the stage (wearing a hat just like the one I bought in Portland, Oregon, many years later, in 1998), there's Tracey Pew, the mostly leather-clad BP bass player. I recall Tracey from both London gig nights as a solitary and silent guy that, before, during and after the concert, in a continuous slow fuck, was working his way towards some orga-co-smic big bang ... fucking to come, eventually ... but only in a very, very distant, distant future. In the end the bang did come, but it still came way too early: Tracey Pew died in 1986 of an epileptic seizure.
Rowland S. Howard was diagnosed with a liver cancer and awaited a fresh liver to replace his. It did not reach him in time.


birtday party
birtday party


Rest in peace, boys.


[] added february 8th, 2010: I received an email from Hans, who is maintaining an extensively documented online Birthday Party gigography. This is what he wrote me: "The dates you mention are all correct. I just looked them up in some old issues of the NME. On july 16th, 1981, at the Venue, the BP actually were support act for the Blue Orchids."

Here's the Venue's program ad, as it appeared in the july 18th, 1981 issue of the NME:

NME clip

notes __ ::
(*) The interview was published in Vinyl #6 (september 1981) under the title "Facts of Life". [ ^ ]
(**) Unlike the Moonlight Club gig of july 9th, the concert on thursday july 16th, 1981, at The Venue, does not figure in the lists of Birthday Party gigs that circulate on the web (not yet, but it now soon will, of course :-) ) .... The date and place are surely correct, though. The concert in The Venue is mentioned on that day's page in my 1981 agenda, and the fact that it is there that I took the pictures is confirmed by the order of my negatives, where the shots of Nick Cave in the Maida Vale pub's court yard come before the concert photographs. As I traveled from London to Brussels on july 21st, I can not have shot the concert pics at the BP's other july 1981 London gig, the 29th in Covent Garden's Rock Garden. Anyway, the scene in the photographs does look nothing like that in the 1980s Rock Garden... [ ^ ]

tags: Rowland S. Howard, Tracey Pew, Lee Hazlewood, London, Nick Cave, The Birthday Party, Vinyl Magazine, 1980s

# .344.

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