|A Short Account of the Dark Prince's Existence|
by Harry Howard
Rowland S. Howard was born in October of '59. His blood was red, he had lots of digits on his hands and feet and moved about in a suitable manner. So they let his mother, father and sister take him home.
'...walk me home'
He was soon kicked out of the pram to make way for his younger brother.
For running about purposes Rowland was clad in the standard issue Howard boy garb: thick cord trousers and a flannel shirt. It was possible to see that his ears did in fact stick out and that his nose was mildly pronounced. It would have been unfair to compare him to an aye-aye at this early stage though.
The Monkees were big with the Howard kids.
Rowland drew like a fiend.
He took up guitar lessons in the early '70s. I guess he was inspired by progressive rock, glam, Barrett, Roxy, Eno and lots of David Bowie. He may have also been subliminally influenced by his parents' musical evenings at which his father played recorder and his mother played guitar and sang.
Rowland read like a fiend. He's read two books a week for many years.
As time went by he found an interest in U.S. underground sounds like the Velvet Underground and The New York Dolls. Next thing I knew The Stooges and Iggy Pop exploded onto our lounge room.
'...will you still place your bet, against the neighborhood threat'
Rowland had been learning sax and dabbling with bands. There was Tootho and the Ring of Confidence with school friend Simon Mclean and a bit later The Obsessions.
There was punk too, of course. Suddenly we had "Anarchy in the U.K." and "(I'm) Stranded", both of which I remember him preferring the B to the A sides.
'...no time for messin around wid you'
I couldn't possibly say how it worked after that, but he was a voracious consumer of vinyl, had all the punk stuff of note, and was always very knowledgeable about what was going on. Didn't like The Clash much.
Rowland met the Boys Next Door at a party somewhere. Nick Cave accused him of being a "poofta", but Rowland was more than witty enough to deal with that unimaginative missive, and they probably found themselves amusing one another. They are both very funny.
Soon they were in direct competition. Rowland's band, the Young Charlatans (with Ian "Ollie" Olsen sharing vocals, guitar and songwriting), began playing live. They were instantly applauded as a less punky and more arty alternative to the Boys Next Door. People (well, the Melbourne post-punk scene) loved them. It was here Rowland launched the song "Shivers". Written at 16, it will probably make him more money than any other single thing in his career.
'...even mother couldnt tell, that my baby's so vain' etc etc ...
I might say that his mother insisted that she could tell - but what she could tell exactly, I don't know.
Rowland dressed in tight, mainly black clothes; his hair was short; he wore armbands saying 'THE MODEL OF YOUTH' and a badge which said 'OCT', part of a date set he removed from a bank. His white socks alone were enough to get you a beating in the sunny suburbs of Melbourne. Rowland looked so extreme for the time that I don't think people could visually register him... and so he got away with it.
The Young Charlatans imploded upon Ollie's unwillingness to share a band.
By this time, Rowland's friendship with Nick, Mick Harvey, Tracy Pew and Phill Calvert had grown. The Boys Next Door admired his abilities and saw Rowland as a possible way to help out with their slowish songwriting. So he took that role played by quite a number now: that of friend, helper, collaborator and inspiration to Nicholas Cave. He was assured he could do some singing, so he was happy.
The Boys Next Door were transformed overnight.
See side 1 vs. side 2, Door, Door.
I've been asked to comment on Rowland's Fender Jaguar. Rowland's first guitar of note was an Ibanez Fyrebird copy. It was a very stylish guitar - used by Phil Manzanera and Brian Jones and Johnny Winter most notably. However, he had always been impressed with an old Fender Jaguar that Ollie Olsen had briefly owned. Rowland found his Jaguar in a shop in the centre of Melbourne. When he asked to see it, he was informed by the shop owner that if he expected him to get it down from the wall, then he would have to buy it. I saw it at his house the next day. My request to have a turn wasn't overly welcome and I felt like a crippled gorilla as I delicately raised it from its case to place on my knee.
It is a post-1966 model (I don't know the actual age) with 'block inlays' and 'bound neck', but I'm really getting nerdy now and it has fuck all to do with the way Rowland 'plays' guitar.
P.S. It was always matched with a Fender Twin Reverb with a veritable malaise of reverb dialed in.
Rowland once described his fingers as sluggish and slow - (praise the slug, I say. Who ever knew they could sound so good) whatever limitations he may have had, they contributed to the style he wound up developing and a gorgeously terrifying sound that he clubbed, coaxed and bled out of that strung-up electrical-thing. He did what many fail to do - found a unique combination of elements and touch which sounded like himself.
I think that eventually Rowland and Nick just grew apart. Rowland was writing his own songs and singing, playing, etc., so it was natural for him to be able to go off and pursue his own career. He already had songs earmarked for the purpose. Although he basically always loved what The Birthday Party did and achieved, from what I understand, he was envisioning leaving at some point when Mick stepped up and temporarily parted ways with Nick. The band folded. We all know the splendid Blixa Bargeld filled Rowland's shoes in Nick's next project and Rowland bided his time with Crime & The City Solution before launching his own band - These Immortal Souls.
These Immortal Souls had a lot of potential from the start. They immediately had an audience in Germany, Austria and Denmark. With a little help from Sonic Youth they became the first non-American band to sign to SST. They could have quite easily gone a level or two higher in popularity but remained unorganised throughout their career. Rowland was as creative as ever, but he would involve himself in side projects (an LP with Nikki Sudden, for example) and there would go half the tracks for our follow-up LP. Eventually we did make that follow-up, but we left it too long between LPs, so the impact was really depleted (and the production a bit weak).
Rowland was very inspiring musically, but he didn't give much encouragement or recognise the importance that plays in a group effort. It was soon clear that he intended to call all the shots in the band, which was frustrating for the rest of us... Everything seemed to fade away until eventually we broke up. Everyone was probably mildly dissatisfied at this point. It seemed that we had just missed out on doing quite well for ourselves.
Rowland came out of it in great form. His solo albums are really powerful and focused achievements.
Rowland seems to have a thirst to prove and differentiate himself generally which, along with his passion for music, seems to be what keeps him working. I would guess that he knows himself that at his best he is as good as anyone you can name, and the longer he can do that, the greater his achievement is.
Rowland's quest is to banish banality from the kingdom.