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INTERVIEW: Ralegh Long On John Howard
The Quietus , November 13th, 2013 09:41

Ahead of a one-off gig in Dalston, headliner Ralegh Long introduces us to special guest and underrated singer-songwriter John Howard

On November 27, Gare du Nord Records will be putting on a gig at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston with Ralegh Long, the singer-songwriter who'll be releasing his debut album on the label early next year, with a couple of guests, Quietus favourite Darren Hayman and John Howard, the excellent singer-songwriter who first started releasing his piano-driven classic pop in the 70s before disappearing, then returning in 2004 and now enjoying a resurgence which will see him releasing his new album, Storeys, on the week of the gig.

In advance, we asked Long to give us an introduction to Howard and his back story; head to the Facebook event for full details and here to get tickets.

When did you first hear of John Howard?

Ralegh Long: Two years ago, via Darren Hayman. Darren had been a fan of his for some time, and John had appeared on piano on Darren's 2007 album, Darren Hayman & the Secondary Modern.

Tell us a little of his story? What about it resonates with you?

RL: Before the story it was the music. The first thing I got was his 2005 album As I Was Saying, which has a great title for a comeback album! I was just beginning to write a lot on the piano at this time, and there was a serendipity in Darren pointing me to John's work. It was the song 'Taking It All To Heart' which knocked me out. These huge sweeping chord changes and big vocals, but somehow so direct and unfettered. People compare John to Elton John and Paul McCartney but he's somehow a bit more human than that - and I don't think it's to do with stature - I think it's just different. Also lyrically, it resonated. It had the depth and substance I needed at that point.

The story really is one of those lost classic stories. In 1973, while playing at London’s Troubadour he was spotted and signed by then-Head of Pop at Chappell Music, Stuart Reid. By the end of the year, John signed to CBS Records and was commissioned to write and record the theme song, 'Casting Shadows' for the Peter Fonda/William Holden movie, Open Season. For a while in the early 70s John was the next big thing, as far as songwriters went. After it was released on CBS, his debut Kid In A Big World sank without a trace. Various events seemed to have conspired against it, possibly the changing fashions, certainly the biting lyrics which saw Radio 1 refuse to play songs they thought 'too depressing'. Possibly the industry wasn't ready for a flamboyant, openly gay singer-songwriter. John went on to cut singles with Trevor Horn and the band that would become The Buggles/Art of Noise. But by the early 1980s, feeling disillusioned with lack of success or recognition, John locked his piano lid and walked away from unrealised ambitions, only occasionally recording material when producer friends asked him to. Through the 80s and 90s John carved out a career in marketing and A&R at various record companies. In 2001, after retiring to Pembrokeshire John began performing again, at local pubs and in the piano bars on the cruise ships.

And then something amazing happened… the long-deleted Kid In A Big World started to create interest on the internet, discussion sites were abuzz with talk about it. The album was featured in the book In Search Of The Lost Record, and John started to get e-mails from around the world enquiring about the album he thought had long been forgotten. In response to this new-found interest, RPM Records reissued Kid... at the end of 2003 and in early 2004 it got a five-star review in Uncut magazine. In April 2004 John gave his first London concert for 25 years, at the Jermyn Street Theatre, and that too received a five-star review in The Guardian.

How did this event come about?

RL: Last year I released an EP called The Gift. In the press release I mentioned the influence of Bill Fay and John Howard. This found it's way to a website called Neon Filler. I think John then read the review or something and Joe Lepper who runs the site connected us in an e-mail. Since then, Robert Rotifer (the Austrian broadcaster, journalist and songwriter) and I got talking about flying John over for a show. And since then Robert, Ian Button (ex-Death In Vegas guitarist and producer of Darren Hayman, Go Kart Mozart, etc) and I formed a label called Gare du Nord and released a compilation album called Ebsfleet International with John on it, so we thought we'd do it as one of the first Gare du Nord Presents... nights.

John has this to say about how it all came together: "The Gare du Nord label reminds me of the creative entrepreneurial spirit of the late 60s when labels like Island and Immediate Records were formed. It was during their rise that I became fans of bands like Traffic and The Small Faces, which led to me following my own muse. Being a part of Gare du Nord’s recent Ebbsfleet International album was a real blast. The fact that my own new album Storeys is released the same week as the SJQ gig is another piece of coincidental but fortuitous serendipity."

What can people expect on the night?

RL: Darren is going to open the night solo, John is playing with a band comprised of Andy Lewis (Paul Weller/Acid Jazz) on bass, Robert Rotifer on guitar and Ian Button on drums. There's a new piano at the Servant Jazz Quarters which John and I will be making full use of! John's still got the most fantastic voice and is quite the showman. I'm playing with my full band which has expanded to a five-piece and includes Jack Hayter (Ex-Hefner) on Pedal Steel. I'll be previewing almost the entirety of my debut album, which is due out next year. So, you know, a night of great songs from people brought together by happenstance.

Storeys will be out on November 25 via Kid In A Big World; head to Howard's website for full details. Head to Gare du Nord Records' website for further details on Ralegh Long and to get hold of the Ebbsfleet International compilation