It seems like an age since I listened to a live album. Was it The Woodentops’ Live HypnoBeat or perhaps U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky? The mists of time have been cruel to my memories of the art form.
So after a couple of decades hiatus it’s been a revelation to once again enjoy a live album and remember just why they can be so good. The artist to drag me back is John Howard, who had a couple of decades long hiatus of his own between his 1970s singer songwriter career and a critically acclaimed comeback around a decade ago.
Recorded at the Servant Jazz Quarters in the heart of hipster East London late in 2013 this features his gig supporting emerging songwriter Ralegh Long, who is a fan and recent collaborator of Howard’s (see our review of the whole night here).
With a set list spanning both his 1970s and recent catalogue he has carefully weighted the performance to appeal to both fans and those catching one of his rare gigs for the first time.
The overwhelming reaction from both camps must surely have been that Howard is, for want of a better phrase, a proper artist. He plays and sings seemingly the right way. I don’t mean that other newer acts are not good or can’t sing, or are somehow not right. But Howard is a rare beast in being classically trained with a vast breadth of experience from playing 1960s folk clubs to recording in Abbey Road. This experience oozes across the performance, especially his stunning vocals in the set’s only cover version, David Bowie’s Bewlay Brothers.
As the set progresses another collaborator, Robert Rotifer, joins him on stage to play guitar and provide backing vocals for Don’t It Just Hurt. This track was covered recently by Rotifer on a compilation for his Gare Du Nord label, which he set up last year with Long and Ian Button.
Button also joins the set midway through on drums, along with bassist Andy Lewis, and the trio, with just one morning’s rehearsal, give Howard’s songs a welcome full band feel.
Some on stage banter remains on the album and is all the better for it, with Howard’s north west of England accent sounding endearing and friendly as he jokes about Radio One shunning him in the 1970s and reminding Button that if in doubt do a drum roll.
This intimate gig is a great example of how the live album still has an important place in our music collections. This is specially the case for an artist like Howard, whose performances are such a rare treat.
by Joe Lepper