Like most UK kids of my generation, I grew up listening to daytime Radio 1 and watching Top of the Pops which were both largely centred upon the Top 40.

For a long time I believed that the best songs were at the top end of the charts, and anything that failed to chart couldn’t be any good, such was my youthful naivety.

Briefly catching The Tube or the Chart Show, particularly on their Indie week, whilst changing channels always seemed a bit weird and I carried on flipping (which didn’t take long with just 4 channels).

But once I’d grown out of the Top 40, that all changed one week when switching to Channel 4 to see if Bewitched was on, but it was The Chart Show and they flashed up “Indie Week”.

Not having a remote control to hand, I got out my seat to change channels, but fortunately a music video stopped me in my tracks.

A shouty punk with a sheet over his head, playing an ace tone keyboard and crooning like Frank Sinatra, covering a David Essex song may not instantly tick anyone’s musical boxes on paper, but in an era of dull polished Stock Aitken Waterman pop with identikit beats and dodgy blokes with long hair doing dull soft metal, “Rock On” by The Dave Howard Singers was one of the most exciting things I’d ever seen! And it opened my eyes and ears to a whole world of exciting music beyond the confines of what the BBC Radio 1 playlist committee thought we should be listening to.

High street chains HMV and Virgin looked blank at me “The Dave Howard Who?” when I tried to buy the single, but eventually I also discovered my new favourite record shop, Ripping Records in South Bridge Edinburgh who impressed me by not only having heard of the single, but were even able to recite its catalogue number off the top of their head. I think it was the first 12” single I ever bought.

Edinburgh was a bit of an outpost in the pre-trainspotting era with a lot of bands never making it that far north, so I never did catch Dave live, and despite being my favourite artist for a good 3 or 4 years, and still having a soft spot for him all these years later, I don’t really know a lot about him, since there was no internet in those days, so if you missed an issue of a magazine that wrote about your favourite artists you were left in the dark.

With his new album “Dark and For Boating” released recently, which he claims to be 40 years in the making, now billed as The Dave Howard Singularity, I thought it was high time to catch up with Dave and find out more.

Live Music Pix Hi Dave, many thanks for agreeing to do this interview. 18 year old me would have never believed I’d be doing this! How are you?
Dave Howard I’m fine thanks John. Cheers for asking.
Live Music Pix I believe that you grew up in Canada, moved to London, England in the 1980s (Camberwell?) moved to Germany in the 90s? and then moved back to Canada to build a career in advertising. Is that right?
Dave Howard Not quite. Yes I grew up in Canada. In the Autumn of 84 I moved to London after having spent a month at Dave Formulas (Magazine,etc) home in Herne Hill that summer. The following winter I relocated to Camberwell into a squat with Nick Smash where I lived until 92 when I returned to Canada. No Germany although I did enjoy touring there a few times. In the late 90’s / early 2000’s I joined my buddy Geoff Marshall’s post production house CHROMACIDE doing all matter of things in animation, sound design, composing for some national news programs and yes, a few commercials.
Live Music Pix How did you come up with the name “The Dave Howard Singers?” am I right in saying there never were any backing singers? I have a very vague recollection of reading once that you had backing singers in Canada but couldn’t afford the air fare to bring them over. I might have imagined that though!
Dave Howard I had been in a 3 piece called the Diners Club with my pal Brian Ruryk (DEADLINES) when our drummer quit right when we had agreed to open for a renowned local band The Kinetic Ideals. We made attempts to make it work as a duet but it wasn’t even close. Not wanting to do the gig Brian recommended that I do it as a solo act. He’d heard me playing songs I’d written in the basement of the house we shared and encouraged me that they were good enough to perform. After I calmed down to the idea he asked what are you going to call it?  I said I wasn’t sure but that it should probably have my name in the title like The Dave Howard Show or The Dave Howard Orchestra, but not those because they weren’t the right idea. He immediately replied with,” Well, you’re a singer… Why not then call it The Dave Howard Singers?” That was the right idea.

If I ever said that I ‘couldn’t afford the air fare’ which def. sounds like something I would have said, I said it as a joke. The embarrassing truth is that there certainly was a time when my management was trying to groom me into something I was not and I actually had backing vocalists on stage with me. To be clear, they are all very talented performers in their own right. I was very fortunate to have worked with them. One I became quite close with and continue to call a friend. But had I not had my head up my ass at that point I would not have spoiled the irony of the name, Singers by actually having backing singers.

Live Music Pix What made you come to London? Did you enjoy your time there? Any particular memories jump out?
Dave Howard Damn. I was hoping you would’ve asked what brought me to London so I could have answered, “A 747.”
Live Music Pix Chuckle!
Dave Howard My manager MADE me come to London. LOL. Peter Noble though a photographer, was my manager a year before leaving Toronto and for 4 of the 8 years that I lived in London. As a photographer he had met and left an impression of nearly every pop star, Top 40 or Indie that the 80’s had to offer. He visited London often so on one occasion he took my cassette demo with him and handed copies to people like Formula, J.J. Burnell and Dave Stewart. Formula reacted first, we flew him to Toronto March of 84 for a few weeks where he convinced us that we should try things in the UK. My Grandfather was born there and at that time this entitled me to live and work there, so…
Live Music Pix Yes, the music world was very London-centric in those days, perhaps it still is?

I never did manage to catch you live, but from memory, reviews of your gigs made them sound quite chaotic affairs, can you tell me more about the typical gig you played? Any highlights/low lights?

Dave Howard For The Dave Howard Singers every gig had some sort of malfunction that even continues to this day. My gear is old. That’s what gives it such an awesome sound. But it tends to fail at times especially when you’re quite physical with it. One time Nick and I were performing at Bay 63 (?) under the Westway (A40) by Ladbroke Grove Station. I was throttling the Ace Tone so aggressively that in an act of self preservation the Ace Tone literally walked away from me off the stage and dove a header into the audience. Another time on my own I opened for Jazz Butcher at the Leeds Warehouse where I was sliding my hands across the keys with such vigor that I hadn’t noticed that I had snapped a piece of one of the keys imbedding it into my palm and began smearing my own blood all over the keys. I did however notice how easily I was able to slide my hands across the keys. Earlier in that same set one of the keys got stuck and so I had to improvise a song in the key the note got stuck in while I got out my screwdriver and proceeded to take the Ace Tone apart until I got to the problem. Also the promoter had mistakenly billed me as Dave Howard Fingers.
Live Music Pix I thought I was the only person who managed to get band names wrong on posters!  On a few occasions I’ve misspelt a band’s name, only noticing when posters come back from the printers and had to get them re-printed, once not noticing until the artist confronted me!

Was it exciting seeing your music videos on The Chart Show and The Tube? Or is it just something you took in your stride?

Dave Howard Sure…. And yeah. I mean you make videos to be seen, but I was certainly well chuffed to have Yon Yonson chart as well as it did. The Tube was a riot. Nick and I had a blast doing that. I still have my copy of the TV Times with that mentioning it.

Live Music Pix I seem to recall The Stranglers J.J. Burnell was involved in Rock On somehow? Did I imagine that, and if not, how did it come about?
Dave Howard Burnell could have been the first musician to be my 1st producer but my demo cassette was stuck in the tape deck of a car that he totalled in some car accident he was in so we didn’t work with him until Rock On. He was the producer, he was our host, he put us all up at his place, he fed us and he had a sizeable kilo of ****** (not heroin) that added to the fun. He was a gracious host. It should also be mentioned though that much of the studio magic came from our then 18 year old engineer Owen Morris later to go on to produce bands such as Oasis and the Verve.
Live Music Pix How did you come to cover a David Essex song? Do you know if he’s ever heard it and what he thought?
Dave Howard Nick and I were touring Spain, we had talked about playing around with that song but naturally with a DHS take on the idea. Honestly it just happened live on stage one night. The sound was so loud that a Doppler shift happened to the bass notes and even though my eyes told me I was playing the wrong bottom note for the bass line, my ears told me otherwise. I wasn’t until the next day hearing back a cassette of the gig that I could hear what I’d done but I loved it so it became the way we played it. I did hear from someone that they heard Essex responding to having heard my take on his classic, which I do love. His reaction I was told was not very enthusiastic though. I guess I couldn’t blame the guy. He probably thought I was taking the piss… though I was not. Burnell for the life of him couldn’t understand why I didn’t call it by another name as it was so different but I wanted everyone to know that it was Rock On.
Live Music Pix Ah that’s a shame that he didn’t like it, I thought your version was much better, but don’t tell him I said that if you ever see him!

I wrote to you once! My best friend had come to my house with his then girlfriend and a load of her friends and I wanted to put some music on but as they were quite mainstream I didn’t want to put on anything too edgy, so I put on the original Ugly Man records release of Wonderful Life by Black. And they all burst out laughing, saying it was terrible etc etc. A couple of years later after he’d signed to A&M and it was near the top of the charts, I was sitting in the pub with the same group of people, when it came on the video jukebox, and I was just about to say “do you remember this” when one of them said “I’m surprised you like this, it’s so much better than the rubbish you listen to!”. For some reason, I thought I’d write to you about it, not quite sure why, would have probably made more sense to write to Colin Vearncombe, or indeed keeping it to myself! But there was no Facebook to post it on my wall, nor indeed Myspace, or the internet for that matter. Anyway, I think Nick Smash replied saying something like I didn’t know the half of the mad stuff that goes on in the music industry, and he’d sit down and tell me about it one day (he never did!) and on the envelope he did lots of drawings and stuck on a picture of Debbie Gibson with a DHS tattoo drawn on her arm in biro! Did you receive lots of weird random fan mail, and do you miss physical fan mail over emails?

Dave Howard That’s a funny story. Unfortunately Peter, my manager would get to the mail before I would. It all went to his address you see, not to mine. Sadly I so rarely saw much of the fan mail. I couldn’t even tell how much arrived. 🙁

I’ll forward this to Nick though. He’ll get a kick outta this. FYI, even if Nick did reply (and I’m sure he did) it was definitely Peter who pasted the Debbie Gibson on there.

Live Music Pix Ah it might have actually been your manager who replied, I just remembered it wasn’t you, and thought it might have been Nick, but can’t swear by it.  I kept it for years, but then an ex-girlfriend chucked it out.  Come to think it it, that might be why she’s an ex 😉

The first time I heard Wet Leg’s Chaise Longue, with it’s “all day long / all day long / on the chaise longue”, it kind of reminded me of the circular chorus of Yon Yonson. Probably just a coincidence, but do you ever hear a new tune and hear a bit that reminds you of something you’ve done, whether they’ve done it intentionally or coincidentally?

Dave Howard Once I thought I heard a drum loop from Yon Yonson but as you say, it could’ve just been my imagination. I would be flattered though.
Live Music Pix Are there any new artists you particularly like? Have you heard of Skating Polly?
Dave Howard I’m terribly out of touch I’m afraid John.
Live Music Pix I firmly believe that if more people had heard your music then you would have been massive, (though perhaps your music was too “out there” for mass consumption?). Looking back, do you think you’d have enjoyed playing big stadiums and arenas around the world, or do you enjoy the fact that you have an enthusiastic cult following and have made a living in other ways without all the crazy stuff that goes with the music industry? Watching the Elvis movie recently made me realise that few were more commercially successful than him, and yet his tale, if accurate, was quite tragic really.
Dave Howard I see what you’re getting at but I’ve played rooms of all sizes and while I get more direct feedback from a small “boutique” sized room, I attempt to treat all venues with the same engaging intimacy. Elvis was a great picture and everyone gave a terrific performance but movies tell stories “based” on actual events and must be put into context often with your own life experiences. Subtract the glitz and the glam and you have the story of someone who didn’t have the life experience to know that someone he trusted was taking advantage. That is something anyone can relate to.
Live Music Pix On balance, do you feel the internet has been a good thing or a bad thing for music, and why?
Dave Howard Neither, or both. It’s just a thing. Every age has some new element brought into play. If you figure out how to implement it it’s a good thing. If you haven’t a clue about how to use it I guess it’s a bad thing.
Live Music Pix Turning attention to your new album “Dark and For Boating” what motivated you to create another album?
Dave Howard The funny thing, other than an album in 90’s that was only ever released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland “It’s about time” that pretty much no one heard or knew about and the compilation CD “What your girlfriend threw out, or your friend never returned” of 4 of the EP’s I released in the 80’s then technically this is the first full album available world wide… but then of coarse it’s not The Dave Howard Singers but instead it The Dave Howard Singularity. I wrote and recorded a bunch of material. I thought it was good and wanted people to hear it. Nick was kind enough to want to be a part of that and get it out into the public. It’s extremely different from the The Dave Howard Singers in arrangement and choice of instrumentation but I’m told that you can still tell that it’s Dave Howard.
Live Music Pix IMHO the striking cover-art fits the tone of the album perfectly. To my eyes it has a bit of an AI look to it, was it created by AI, and if not, does it deliberately have an AI look? Or am I seeing things which aren’t there?
Dave Howard Yes I like the cover art as well. My good friend Alisdair Jones created it but I will confess that the black hole on the front is my handy work in photoshop.
Live Music Pix Much better than my photoshop skills!

The Ace Tone keyboard was a key part of your signature sound, and yet the new album despite the lack of Ace Tone is still unmistakably you. Was that something you did deliberately, or does it just sound like you because, well it’s recorded by you 😊 ?

Dave Howard LOL! Yeah I kind touched on that earlier. I’m reading your questions as I go. True there is no Ace Tone in this album but in some of the tracks I’m currently working on makes use of the Ace Tone. To be clear, I am not abandoning the Singers for the Singularity, it’s just another thing. Neither am I abandoning the Ace Tone but I am demonstrating my music with other different sounds for this album. In following Singularity releases there will be Ace Tone. I think the line I’m drawing however is that in following Singers releases it will only be Ace Tone, Beat Box and vocal.
Live Music Pix On my first listen to the album I felt it’s great, but probably needs a lot more listens to fully appreciate. I plan to buy it on Bandcamp Friday (I have a bit of a backlog of Bandcamp Friday purchases, or I’d have got it last week) so far Swept Away, In Your Eyes and More Than Anything have jumped out at me as favourites, but I’m sure others will pop out on subsequent listens. Do you have any favourite tracks on the album, and if so, why?
Dave Howard Nope. I love them all. No favourites. My favourite songs are usually the ones I’m currently working on.
Live Music Pix “The Murder of your Smile” was originally on the EMI compilation of new artists “On The Dotted Line” which I bought back in the day because you were on it! Any particular reason why you updated that song and put it on the new album? Are there any other songs on the album that you’ve previously released?
Dave Howard No, Murder of Your Smile is the only cover (The Dave Howard Singularity covering The Dave Howard Singers) on the album. It was because I was working with orchestrated arrangements that I was reminded that I had always wanted to hear Murder of Your Smile performed this way. Oddly enough what prompted me to play it for Nick was his suggestion that I release a proper recording of the song to which I said, “Well then listen to this…”
Live Music Pix I believe you’ve done some small gigs to launch the album in Canada. Have you any plans to do a larger tour? Would you ever tour the UK again?
Dave Howard I would certainly tour this album if that became realistic (including the UK), but of coarse it would be me touring with a laptop as at this point I couldn’t afford a full orchestra.
Live Music Pix I couldn’t find your album on Spotify – is that a deliberate choice, or is it just not on there yet?
Dave Howard Just lazy. It’ll be up there at some point soon.
Live Music Pix What’s next for The Dave Howard Singularity? Do you have any more albums planned?
Dave Howard Yes. If this goes well you can absolutely count on me releasing more new material and if through some unfortunate turn of events this does not go well you can absolutely count on me releasing more new material anyway.
Live Music Pix Dave, many thanks!
Dave Howard Thank you John for all your questions. This was fun.

 

Dark and For Boating is available now from Bandcamp: