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Rowland S. Howard was a pivotal figure on the Australian punk and post-punk music scene, helping to give birth to a fiery, original sound as a member of the Birthday Party, Crime and the City Solution, and These Immortal Souls along with a wide variety of collaborations and solo projects. Howard's blunt, reverb-drenched guitar sound gave his music a dramatic impact that few could match on the instrument, and he was enjoying a resurgence of interest in his career when he died in late 2009 at the age of 50.
Born in 1959, Howard began playing guitar and writing songs as a teenager, and in 1975, he formed the band the Young Charlatans. They played little more than a dozen shows before breaking up, but in 1978, Howard joined the Boys Next Door, a Melbourne-based act led by singer Nick Cave, and brought a number of songs with him. The Boys Next Door cut a 1979 album, Door, Door, for the Australian Mushroom label that included Howard's song "Shivers," which became an underground hit. As Howard introduced a more aggressive sound to the group, they relocated to London and changed their name to the Birthday Party. The Birthday Party's feral sonic attack, dominated by Howard's jagged guitar lines and Cave's howling vocals, went beyond the boundaries of early punk rock, and they earned a passionate following in Australia and the U.K. But the band lived as hard as they music they made, and in 1983, they broke up amidst personal squabbles and mounting drug abuse.
Several members of the Birthday Party joined Cave in his new band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but while Howard contributed to a few of Cave's recordings, he opted to strike out on his own. He formed the group Crime & the City Solution in 1984 with singer Simon Bonney, Mick Harvey (another Birthday Party alumnus), Epic Soundtracks (ex-Swell Maps) and Harry Howard, Rowland's brother. Howard cut a pair of EPs with the group (The Dangling Man and Just South of Heaven) and an album (Room of Lights), as well as appearing in the film Wings of Desire, before Howard, his brother, and Soundtracks left to form their own act, These Immortal Souls. These Immortal Souls cut a pair of memorable albums, 1987's Get Lost (Don't Lie) and 1992's I'm Never Gonna Die Again, before they began to unravel; by this time, Howard was already in demand as a sideman, having recorded with the likes of Lydia Lunch, Fad Gadget, Jeremy Gluck, and Barry Adamson, and he continued to work with like-minded artists such as Nikki Sudden, Epic Soundtracks, and Henry Rollins; he also contributed to a pair of Nick Cave albums, Let Love In and Murder Ballads.
In 2000, Howard released his first solo album, Teenage Snuff Film, and continued to record and tour on his own and with a variety of collaborators. However, later in the decade Howard began experiencing serious health problems, and was eventually diagnosed with liver cancer. He didn't let the grim diagnosis stop him, and recorded a second solo album, 2009's Pop Crimes, while he was in treatment (in one interview, Howard said he was motivated to finish the album quickly after thinking that he didn't know when or if he could record again). However, the advance of Howard's cancer prevented him from touring extensively in support of the album, and he was enjoying a new interest in his work thanks to enthusiastic reviews for Pop Crimes when he lost his battle with cancer on December 30, 2009.
Rowland Stuart Howard (24 October 1959 – 30 December 2009) was an Australian rock musician, guitarist and songwriter, best known for his work with the post-punk group The Birthday Party and his subsequent solo career.
Rowland Stuart Howard wrote "Shivers" at the age of 16 while in the band The Young Charlatans. Howard gained acclaim after joining Melbourne-based band The Boys Next Door, when the song was released as a single. The band changed their name to The Birthday Party and Howard's discordant guitar remained a major factor in their sound.
The Birthday Party relocated from Australia to London in 1980 and subsequently to West Berlin which they found to be a cooler version of Melbourne (and preferable to London) and came complete with inspiring Berlin types.
The Birthday Party's live performances were wickedly gleeful romps. They drew on a very wide span of influences; from The Stooges to Jacques Brel and often to frightening effect fueled by drugs and alcohol. They were considered hugely influential on the world music scene before their self-destruction and the rifts occasioned by Nick Cave's ever expanding artistic diversions.
The Birthday Party's early records were released by Missing Link Records in Australia and 4AD Records in the UK. They later became associated with Mute Records in Europe. Howard and Cave suffered 'creative differences', and Howard left the Birthday Party as they transformed into The Bad Seeds. He soon became a member of Crime & the City Solution, a band led by Simon Bonney. Later he formed These Immortal Souls with girlfriend Genevieve McGuckin, brother, Harry Howard, and Epic Soundtracks.
Howard also collaborated with Lydia Lunch, Nikki Sudden, Jeremy Gluck, French electro group KaS Product, Barry Adamson, Einstürzende Neubauten, guitarist Chris Haskett, The Gun Club singer and songwriter Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Fad Gadget, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Henry Rollins, and A.C. Marias. He was described by Sam Agostino as 'one of the most influential indie guitarists ever'.
Lydia Lunch and Thurston Moore recorded a version of Howard's song "Still Burning" ('I catch most things in my blood you all lose between rooms') for Lunch's In Limbo (1984) mini-album. "Still Burning" had previously been recorded as a bass-heavy track with Howard on vocals, during the Honeymoon In Red recording sessions (1983–1987).
These Immortal Souls released their first album Get Lost, (Don't Lie!) in 1987 and played shows in Europe and America, returning to Australia for a short tour in 1988.
After the release of These Immortal Souls' second album, I'm Never Gonna Die Again, (1992) and another Howard/Lunch collaboration Shotgun Wedding, Howard, Lunch and members of The Beasts Of Bourbon performed live on tour in Australia and Europe. Shotgun Wedding was re-released with a second compact disc of live recordings. Shotgun Wedding was a swaggering rock 'n' roll album featuring cover versions of "In My Time of Dying" and Alice Cooper's "Black Juju".
Howard sang backing vocals on the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Let Love In (1994). In 1995 These Immortal Souls contributed their version of "You Can't Unring a Bell" to a Tom Waits tribute album Step Right Up.
He left London to return to Melbourne in 1995.
Paul Godfrey a.k.a. Epic Soundtracks, the drummer for These Immortal Souls, was found dead in his London apartment on 5 November 1997, shortly after a relationship break-up, a successful tour, and the release of the third of his solo albums.
Howard lamented in a 1999 television interview (Studio 22, ABCTV) with Clinton Walker that people still asked him about "Shivers", a song he wrote when he was sixteen years old which first became well-known when it was sung by Nick Cave. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7ChSy6FhxQ
Howard released a well-received solo album called Teenage Snuff Film in Australia in 1999.
The Birthday Party song "Release the Bats" was used in the true crime film Chopper (2000).
An unofficial Rowland S. Howard fan website was established as the amount of Rowland S. Howard related information and file swapping grew steadily on the internet from the mid-1990s. Howard made a cameo appearance in the 2002 vampire movie Queen of the Damned as a musician in a vampire club band. French label Stagger Records released a double CD tribute album to Howard in 2007 featuring Mick Harvey, The Drones, The Holy Soul, Penny Ikinger, Loene Carmen, Nikki Sudden, Noah Taylor and many more.
In September 2007, Howard joined with Magic Dirt and Beasts of Bourbon for a tour of the east coast of Australia. Howard appeared at the All Tomorrows Parties rock festival in Australia in January 2009, curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. He was backed by Mick Harvey on drums, and JP Shilo on bass. Howard's second solo album, Pop Crimes, was released in October 2009 to acclaim from the musician Robert Forster (musician). He appeared on the Magic Dirt EP White Boy playing guitar and supplying vocals on the track "Summer High".
Rowland S. Howard died of hepatocellular carcinoma secondary to liver cirrhosis on 30 December 2009. He was 50 years old. His public funeral was held at Sacred Heart Church, St Kilda, Melbourne on 7 January 2010.
In an October 2009 interview, Howard said that the forthcoming album he was working on (Pop Crimes) was recorded quickly: "I contracted liver disease a while back and I've basically got liver cancer, I'm waiting for a transfer, if I don't get it things might not go so well...so..." .
His Birthday Party band mates reflected upon his death: Nick Cave told WENN, "This is very sad news. Rowland was Australia's most unique, gifted and uncompromising guitarist. He was also a good friend. He will be missed by many". Mick Harvey remarked, "Sometimes people are ready to go because they have been sick for a long time, but Rowland really wanted to live. Things were going well for him outside his health and he wanted to take advantage of that, and he was very disappointed that he wasn't well enough to do so".
In October 2011, filmmaker Richard Lowenstein (Dogs in Space) and Lynn-Maree Milburn (We're Living on Dogfood - documentary maker), released a 110 minute documentary film on the life of Rowland S. Howard titled Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard which had a limited release for cinema. On April 24, 2013, Port Phillip Council approved a proposal to name a St Kilda laneway Rowland S. Howard Lane to honour Howard's contribution to the St Kilda music scene.
Band history Tootho and the Ring of Confidence, with band members including Simon McLean and Clint SmallThe Obsessions, with band members including Simon McLean and Graham PittThe Young Charlatans, with band members including Ollie OlsenThe Boys Next Door: members Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Tracy Pew, and Phill CalvertThe Birthday Party, with the same band membersHoneymoon In Red, released as a Lydia Lunch album, Lydia Lunch, Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, J.G. Thirlwell, Thurston Moore, Murray Mitchell, Tracy Pew, Genevieve McGuckin (Nick Cave and Mick Harvey are uncredited on the album)Crime & the City Solution, with band members Simon Bonney, Bronwyn Adams, Mick Harvey, Alexander Hacke, Epic Soundtracks, Harry HowardThese Immortal Souls, with band members Genevieve McGuckin, Harry Howard, Epic SoundtracksNikki Sudden and the JacobitesTeenage Snuff Film, (Rowland S. Howard solo album featuring Mick Harvey and Brian Hooper)Pop Crimes, (Rowland S. Howard's second solo album featuring Mick Harvey, JP Shilo and Jonnine Standish of HTRK)
Film roles Wings of Desire, 1987In Too Deep, 1990The Queen of the Damned, 2002
Documentaries:We're Living on Dog Food, 2009Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard, 2011