Thursday, December 31, 2009

Obituary - Roland s. Howard

On Wednesday 30th December 2009, Roland S. Howard, guitarist of iconic Australian band, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, died in a Melbourne Hospital. His death was the result of an on-going battle with liver cancer. He was aged 50.
Howard had been awaiting a liver transplant for some time, and due to his illness, had to cancel several shows including one in Melbourne the day before he died with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Earlier in December, he had to cancel a show after being admitted to hospital. His last public performance was back in October at St Kilda’s Prince Bandroom. According to reports, he struggled through the show, coughing and spitting up blood.
Born on 24th October 1959, Howard’s musical career began in the late 70s with the band The Obsessions, although his first band of note was early Aussie Punks BOYS NEXT DOOR which also included Nick Cave in its line-up. In 1979 he wrote the band’s cult hit ‘Shivers’. BOYS NEXT DOOR eventually mutated into what became the legend that is BIRTHDAY PARTY. Nick Cave fronted the band throughout its tempestuous lifetime, while Howard provided a six-string sonic attack that welded feedback-laced blues riffs with some startling, reverb-drenched, slashing Punk stylings.
Following the band’s split in 1983, Howard went onto play in bands like CRIME AND THE CITY SOLUTION and THESE IMMORTAL SOULS, and collaborate with the likes of HENRY ROLLINS, NIKKI SUDDEN, JEFFREY LEE PIERCE and LYDIA LUNCH.
This year, he released what was his second solo album, the critically acclaimed ‘Pop Crimes’. On the album's title track he prophetically sang, ''I guess that I won't see you tomorrow. On this, our planet of perpetual sorrows''.
Along with music, Howard appeared in several feature-length films, such as Wim Wenders’ 1987 movie ‘Wings of Desire’, 1990’s ‘In Too Deep’ and the 2002 vampire film ‘The Queen of the Damned’ in which he cameod as a musician in a vampire club band. His role in the Australian Punk movement has also been captured in Richard Lowenstein’s documentary, ‘We’re Living On Dog Food’.
Howard's father, brother and sister all live in Melbourne.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Show Time!

REBELLION FESTIVAL, Blackpool UK, 6th-9th August 2009
Every year you hear the same thing – “It’s like one of those old teddy boy conventions”. Really? Did the teddy boys have 40 or 50 new bands (many of them good) at a festival to choose from? Or maybe the whingers and moaners themselves are the jaded old cunts. One of the worst days in my life was the day of Xmas On Earth in 1981 – an all dayer (a new concept back then) in Leeds that I’d saved up for for months. I didn’t even get three miles before the bus got stuck in a snowdrift. Imagine if I knew then that one day there’d be four whole days of Punk Rock with bands from all over the world on three or four stages! I can understand those on the dole or a low wage giving it a miss – the various costs soon mount up – but many of the biggest critics have good jobs, and will be sitting in their rocking chairs in 20 years time saying “I wished I….”
A four hour bus journey later it was check in at the B&B and straight off to the venue where GEOFFREY OICOTT were setting up in The Arena. You probably know the script by now – Yorkshire Oi band who sing about cricket, with plenty of double entendres thrown in – for example 'Bouncers', a reference to awkward bowling practice or a dig at our friends in security? Then there’s 'LBW' which, turns out, is short for 'Lager Before Women' (I got a LBW bottle opener when they played the toon, Dawn wasn’t impressed!) Musically they are basic (but powerful) Oi with CONDEMNED 84 style vocals (no comparisons politically though!) and they put on a good show, playing most of the songs from 'The Good The Bad And The Googly' LP and also a couple off the new 7”, 'I Was Monty’s Double' (including the PARTISANS cover, now christened '17 Pints of Ale'!).
It was all change this year as the main bar became the home of acoustic acts which made for difficult conversations over a pint (which incidently was £2.80 or £3 depending on if you got the dodgy barman. Good pint of snakey as long as you avoided the gig rooms cos they had fucking Strongbow Extra Cold, which is just plain wrong.). Meanwhile the Pavillion was turned over to an art show for most of the time which didn’t amuse the stallholders as it meant less prospective punters passing through.
The rest of the night was spent mainly socialising, although we did catch the CUTE LEPERS in The Empress (2500 capacity yet somehow with a decent sound). Almost didn’t recognise them as Steve E Nix’s blond barnet is now a more conservative colour (did you see that? I used the word ‘conservative’ without also using the word ‘cunt’!). Anyway just about all their album on display plus one of their best songs 'Young Hearts' from the new split 7” with the DISCO LEPERS - basically THE BRIEFS with a bit 60’s melody thrown in. Dawn says the bird from THE NIPPLE ERECTORS made a guest appearance for one song, yet I was watching and didn’t even know (some reviewer!).
The hectic proceedings meant an early night for us (this became a bit of a theme, especially when toothache set in; sleep not helped by soft pillows, knobheads shouting in the streets till 5am and the loudest seagulls I’ve ever heard)
Must go down in history as the most badly managed attempt at a review in history, for today we saw a whole TWO bands fully!! Socialising, drinking, afternoon kip, anything but what a reviewer shoulda been doing. I returned from my slumber to catch the PORK DUKES at 6.20pm. The Olympia now has two stages. The main stage from previous years (a complete waste of both the bands’ and the punters’ time), and another one at the side which sounds good if you’re in front of it. Luckily PORK DUKES were on the side stage. Not pretty, but a tight, powerful performance that had far more oomph than the original records. Songs from the heyday ('Telephone Masturbator', 'Big Tits' etc) to the 2nd LP ('…Gun For Xmas') to the comeback stuff. Some cracking tunes over the years and music that is made for drinking. The sight of two fat, bald 50-yr-olds enjoying themselves will probably piss off the PC hypocrites even more (sexism = bad ; sizeism/ageism = perfectly acceptable).
It was good to see Bison back in the fold, manning the stall in the Olympia, selling zines like hotcakes and saving me ending up with arms like Lurch from the Addams Family. This is another good thing about Rebellion – there is always a huge selection of stalls, most of which have an ever changing selection of goodies throughout the weekend.
Dawn joined me for the new line up of DEMOB who played much the same set as the last time I seen em a few years ago. 'Teenage Adolescence', 'Anti Police' and 'Think Fast' still sounded mighty fine and 'No Room For You' of course brought the house down with no shortage of volunteers on backing vocals.
Off we went to see ARGY BARGY who these days play with the confidence of a band whose last album put them in the big league (I stole that description from Nigel from Derby, but nothing else sums em up better). They properly went for it… unfortunately the sound was fucking appalling. A swimming bath has better acoustics than the Olympia.
So pub, and another early night.
By far the best line up, and what better start than LOS FASTIDIOS (pictured <) in the Empress. Good sound, lively performance, and all their best stuff including the ones about football, the Housemartins tribute, and a couple of more from their excellent new CD. Singalong Italian Oi/Ska/Punk (some of it in English) and making no bones where they stand politically (anti-fascist/vivisection/homophobia). 'Stay Rude Stay Rebel' seemed to have half the 500+ crowd skanking which ain’t bad for 2PM in the afternoon. Had to choose chilling time wisely today so off back to the B&B and back to venue for NEWTOWN NEUROTICS (which meant two of Dawn’s all-time faves within two hours, I really can’t understand the moaners). A new line up but virtually the same set – plenty of 'Beggars' LP ('The Mess' , 'Agony' etc), most of the singles including 'Kick Out The Tories' (which probably isn’t quite out of date yet unfortunately) and thankfully very little from the lacklustre 'Bolsheviks' LP. Had a quick chat with Mr Drewett who was
chilling with his family in the bar later and I think he said Colin can’t gig anymore for health reasons (bad back or something).
Took Dawn to a fancy restaurant (Harry Ramsdens) then I went back to see THE FREEZE. Clif Hanger must be pushing 50 but still jumped around like a lunatic. From the back the tunes were hard to make out, and they didn’t seem to be doing owt from their best CD ('Freak Show'), preferring instead to cater for the HC clientele, so I buggered off to see MAJOR ACCIDENT. Last time I saw em at Morecambe, they were great. Tonight they were lumbered with the Olympia stage and it was, quite honestly, painful to watch a good band destroyed by the acoustics of the Grand Canyon. 'Respectable' – never their finest moment – sounded especially out of tune (even though it probably wasn’t!) and I reluctantly departed for Scruffy Murphys (one of the few boozers with a decent pint, as long as ya stick to snakey).
Dawn left for the B&B but the AMEBIX slot had been given to LAST RESORT, which is like swapping a lifeboat for a tea bag, but who am I to complain? The last time I saw LAST RESORT was five years ago in Morecambe around about the time their comeback CD 'Resurrection' was released - pretty forgettable heavy Oi that seemed to be trying to be USHC like MADBALL (even the old songs/4-SKINS covers sounded metally that night). But what a difference five years makes. The new CD really is worthy of the subtitle 'Skinhead Anthems 2'. So we got the best songs off that ('Beyond The Promised Land', 'War Widow', 'Cockleshell Heroes' etc) mixed with the early classics, with a leaner meaner Roi Pearce leading the charge like a fully tattooed psychotic extra from Lock Stock. This was proper drinking music and 2000 strong crowd loved it.
Having as much sleep as a Guantanamo detainee is not the best way to start the final day, but thankfully GIMP FIST (pictured <) can liven anyone up. Most of the classics from the first two CDs plus songs from their next album (to be recorded in November) like 'Heart & Soul' and 'Skinhead Not Bonehead' were played to a very respectable (for 1pm) crowd of about 700. Michael (drummer) drew the short straw and was absolutely besieged on the merch table afterwards. Two years ago I despaired at seeing a band so great play to 15 people in the Fish Tank (Durham) but now they are finally getting the recognition they deserve. If you want tunes that stay in your head, sussed lyrics and choruses bigger than a mighty elephant, look no further. A couple of jars with John from Wigan then off to see LAST ROUGH CAUSE who were Pop-Punk long before it meant out of tune American accents and rock school guitars. LRC’s now very sought after 7” was a cracking EP and the tracks accompanying it on 'Skins & Punks' split LP weren’t bad either, so I was really looking forward to seeing em. Sure enough the Olympia did not disappoint - or rather it did. You could put mattresses all over the walls of this place and it would still sound shit, and the turnout here was nothing short of disgraceful (about 40 people). Still good to hear 'Violent Few' etc again and lets hope they keep it going and play the toon sometime. Bumped em in the street later and they’re really good blokes; the drummer remembered me from years ago. It involved his record collection. Time to scarper! I had almost forgotten but, whilst waiting for LRC, we took in a band from Herts, CHARRED HEARTS, who gave a powerful, confident performance. I have no idea if this is a new band or an obscure KBD act who’ve just reformed but despite being my age or more (except the drummer who I think is the singer’s son, though you wouldn’t be able to tell as he clattered them like a pro) they were obviously here to entertain, the singer jumping over the barrier and handing the mic to a rather bored/confused looking YTS security type! Musically if you imagine old KBD bands like BLEACH BOYS with modern day heavy production. Had to square up with Tony (top man!) from the stalls which meant I missed most of KUNT & THE GANG but he went down a storm anyway. If you’ve seen him you’ll know exactly what to expect – depraved lyrics set to innocent sounding 80’s chart music. His videos are legendary (you MUST check out his My Space site). Songs include 'Fred and Rose' (“I’d murder a lodger for you”), 'Men With Beards' (“…what are they hiding, have they buried a body next to a railway siding”) and the very topical 'Michael Jackson Tribute' (“he was born black, he died white, and in the middle he fiddled with kids”) – the latter caused absolute riots on You Tube because genuine fans of the Paedo of Pop have been searching for their hero only to find THAT!! THE STUPIDS sounded the same as ever – powerful early 80s US influenced HC (but not nearly tuneful enough to hold yer attention for long) lost in the Olympia wall of echo. THE THREATS were thankfully playing the side stage at the Olympia. Like the PORK DUKES, they’re not pretty but they’re another kick in the teeth for the jaded absentees who moan that it’s all washed up heroes of yesteryear playing sluggish versions of their old stuff. Since coming back a decade ago or so, they have knocked out two powerful albums and are more powerful today than ever. Tracks from '12 Punk Moves' and 'God Is Not With Us Today' were mixed with the old classics like 'Writing On The Wall', 'Politicians And Ministers' and '1980s' and they played like a band out to make their very first impression on the world. A quick hiatus back at the B&B then I think it was back to a rescheduled CRAVATS. I loved 'Precinct' when I was a young un – in them days entertainment was walking round with a tape recorder usually blasting offensive tunes – so, as the song wasn’t peppered with expletives it musta been good – though I remember being disappointed by their LP ('XMP' excepted). I couldn’t, however, remember their most famous moment – 'Rub Me Out' (Crass Recs). No wonder. This is the song they kicked off with – an intolerable, arty jazz number. No tune or direction, it’s only purpose to irritate, although the band deserve kudos for suffering for their art, the sax player wearing an old East German army coat (that probably hadn’t seen the light of day since 1980) in the excruciating heat. That’s about as much as I could bear so it was off to my natural habitat, the bar. By now depression was setting in. The bar was half empty, and I ended up in a debate about USHC with Hebby (t-shirt magnate) and Shaun from VOORHEES. I still ended up none the wiser as to what constitutes good HC or bad HC (to me “It’s all a noise Alan”) and I thought I’d better check out KILLING JOKE in the Empress. Most of the remaining punters obviously had the same idea. I only ever liked about three songs by em ('Wardance', 'Psyche', and 'Complications') but I’d heard they were some act live. Well stood at the back, it just seemed like a wall of echo with a deranged Michael Jackson lookalike walking back and forwards shouting “Change!”. That will probably knark diehards like ebay Lee, but unless a band has lots of good tunes that is probably as far as I delve at this stage of proceedings, so back to the bar and they’re still on about bands who go “shout shout shout”… and we’re just about the only ones left in there. Doom, gloom. I had promised to help load out for John (Overground) after the gig, but being the only person left in the stalls area I was no doubt suspected of being a wrong un and ushered out of the building, leaving a less than amused John when the gig finished. Mondays in Blackpool are always suitably bleak. It pisses down, you’re kicked out of the B&B at 10am and the bus doesn’t come till 3pm. But we will be back next year with a vengeance (and hopefully not toothache). It remains the greatest holiday on earth. Next year tips – scrap the big stage in the Olympia (keep the small one), and turn it over to the art show, and possibly a Punk Rock market/car boot sale where ordinary Punkers can pay a small amount for a small stall for a day to sell their cast offs, recor
ds, CDs etc. Use the Pavillion for bands instead.
Trev Howarth (Myspace)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Show Time!

THE FREEZE - SHORTBUS WINDOW LICKERS - DEFCON ZERO - THE RUINED, Camden Underworld, London, UK 4th August 2009
As I sat in the World’s End pub in Camden sipping my first pint of Guinness on British soil for a year, I had chance to reflect on what
brought me here.
Y’see, I’d been back in the UK for about 36 hours when I made the trip to London. My journey from my New Zealand home to my Mum’s place had taken longer than that. I was heavily jet-lagged and struggling with the humidity of London after the relative open (and harsh) New Zealand winter that I had left behind. I still had two hours before the doors opened and just hoped that I would not have to leave the venue half-way through THE FREEZE’s set to catch the last train home.
As I found a second wind with a second pint of Guinness, I got to thinking about how I discovered THE FREEZE. My thoughts went
back to the flat Rikki of Red Flag 77 had on Wherstead Road in Ipswich some 20 years previous. We’d been on one of our then frequent lunchtime drinking sessions before crashing at Rik’s for a blitz of Punk Rock tuneage. As I sat there nursing another can of Export-strength beer, Rikki put on a record called ‘Land Of The Lost’ by some band I had never heard of. These wild harmonic notes made me pause my drinking before the band burst in with a fury that was jaw-dropping. And so began ‘American Town’, the opening track on the album.
Since that day, I’ve become an avid FREEZE addict. I’ve interviewed Clif Hanger twice and spent many hours with the stereo cranked listening to the band’s output. So, with a wait of 20 years, I finally found myself a few hours away from seeing the band. Suddenly a 36-hour trip and all the jetlag seemed trivial.
Unfortunately, I still believed the Underworld worked on the time-schedule that it adhered to before I left - ie: first band on at 8pm. By the time I wandered down, it appeared that THE RUINED (who I had spoken to in the bar and were decent blokes all round) had already played. That was a real pisser as I really enjoyed the band’s stuff on its split EP with Destructors 666.
DEFCON ZERO had only just started when I arrived. The band played a fast, tough Hardcore Punk sound, decidedly UK82 influenced, a bit rough around the edges and totally in your face. I kept thinking of a mix of CHAOS UK and the VARUKERS. Song titles are lost already but I remember a damning condemnation of the British National Party’s Nick Griffin and one about Rats. The band would probably have been more effective had it played a pub’s back room or a squat rather than the barely ¼ full Underworld.
The oddly named SHORTBUS WINDOW LICKERS was next up, keeping things entrenched in a UK82 British feel but with a hard-hitting Hardcore bite, somewhere between POISON IDEA and MOTORHEAD. They too had a song about the slime that is the BNP - possibly tied up with the word cunt!! Haha!! Can’t recall much more about them bar the fact that the singer had a fascination with blow jobs and, I think, there was a song about zombies!! The whole band was tight, powerful and equally in your face as DEFCON ZERO. Have to say though, both bands seemed rather odd choices for FREEZE support slots.
Just as I first heard ‘American Town’ at Rikki’s flat all those years ago, so it was the same song that opened THE FREEZE’s set. It was quite a cathartic moment no doubt amplified by my still slightly otherworldly state! Besides Clif on vocals, the band featured two guitarists, one of which I am sure WAS Bill Close. The set was a virtual all you wanna hear of the band’s back catalogue with a surprising amount lifted from the ‘One False Move’ album. Highlights? So many but those that stand out include ‘Warped Confessional’, ‘Mental Defective’, ‘Freakshow’ ‘Trouble If You Hide’, ‘False Messiah’ and a show-stealing blaze through ‘Terminal’. I was surprised to hear ‘This Is Boston... Not LA’ but man, it was welcome and seemingly faster than the recorded version. The band itself was tight, commanding the front of the stage and certainly seemed to know each other musically. Clif was very visual in a theatrical sense - more so than I expected in fact. More than once he brought to mind Biafra’s deranged stage antics during his DEAD KENNEDYS peak. Not sure if it was Clif’s hearing that was playing tricks, but more than once he walked over to one of the guitar cabinets and stuck his head right in front of it. A set that lasted an hour finished with the obligatory ‘Broken Bones’ the intensity of which actually sent a shiver down my spine. The last band to do that? IGGY AND THE STOOGES in Sydney.
The turn out was quite disappointing though. I thought the place would be at least 75% full. It actually appeared to be less than half.
And so I made my way back to Liverpool St to face my final task: staying awake on the train after four pints of Guinness was piled onto my already jaded state! The last thing I wanted was to fall asleep on the train and end up in Norwich. Mercifully, those ringing chords of ‘American Town’ kept reverberating in my ears. A Contract High indeed.