John Guy Howell

Sometimes it can be interesting to take a look how a musician's work has evolved over time. Coming from a wine growing area, Waiheke, I've borrowed a viticultural term for this - a vertical tasting.

John Guy Howell (second left) is the main songwriter for self described "folk pop" outfit, The Broken Heartbreakers. I guess most other people would call them country. The band revolves around the duo of Howell and partner Rachel Bailey who sometimes play as a duo but prefer hitting the stage with their five piece band line-up. They've just released their second album which they pretty much regard as a debut, downplaying (and under-rating) the first as more like a glorified demo.

John hasn't always made music in this vein. In fact his musical history makes for varied and interesting listening. I first came across him in the early nineties in Dunedin as part of Tin Soldiers, a band who put out one release, Hell of a Time in 1993. They also have a song, included on the podcast, on the Dunedin music compilation But I Can Write Songs Okay ...

At around the same time John was in another short lived band named Too Many Daves. I haven't managed to track down any recorded material by them but a video clip of a live performance by the Daves at the best pub in the world ever, The Empire Tavern, is on the video page.

In 1995 Howell formed Alpha Plan, along with Victor Billot and Mark Orbell. The music was a bit darker and more political than Tin Soldiers, particularly on their first album, City of Bastards, recorded in 1997. I prefer this to their second, Stratford Workshop, which was recorded in the UK and released in 2001.

Since then John has taken a step away from angry boy guitar music. In fact at one point a few years back he told me he couldn't even stand listening to that type of stuff anymore. His first recorded venture in a quieter more laid back direction came when he produced, co-wrote and performed on the first album by spaghetti western instrumental Auckland band, Salon Kingsadore (named after an Invercargill hair salon that had a notoriously bad television ad that screened in the bottom of the South Island).

Then in 2002 The Broken Heartbreakers were formed. Howell's songwriting made a great match with Rachel Bailey's voice and the band have gone from strength to strength. They have a strong live following (for a taste take a listen to a live performance recorded for national Radio - stream) and with their second album have really come into their own. The band say they wanted to produce an album that could sit on the shelf alongside their musical heroes and they've achieved that. This is definitely a contender for my best of the year list. You should also take a look at their stunning website, listen to an interview with John on Plains FM, a community radio station in Christchurch, check out a live performance (stream) recorded for National Radio, or take a look at the live clip on the video page.

Download the Counting The Beat - John Guy Howell podcast


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent tunes. Thanks for plugging a gap in my musical education. It should be noted that two Broken Heartbreakers albums can be downloaded for free (at 128kbps) or higher bitrates for a few bucks.

Wish I could find that Alpha Plan album somewhere ...