John Howard: Collected (Kool Kat Music)
Thirty-eight tracks would sum up most careers, an entirety; pop being studiously ephemeral. In the case of English singer-songwriter John Howard, that only scrapes the surface of an incredible outpouring of refinement, astute song-craft, and good grace.
A particularly English late contender of the "Glam" period, he was a northern boy with bright ideas and talent aplenty. An elegantly suited maverick his debut album Kid In A Big World recorded at Abbey Road, made enough of a splash, full page music press adverts, and respectable sales. A bright future seemed guaranteed, but fate often wears an unpredictable aspect.
Unlike his American contemporary, Jobriath, John Howard wasn't stirring any cause, he was simply being himself, something that in those days came at a hefty price. His majestic debut single "Goodbye Suzie," an appropriate opener to this double disc set, concerned itself with a girl who takes her own life. Deemed too depressing by a power to be reckoned with at the BBC, then a perfect kiss of commercial death, it sank in a traceless fashion.
The same fate befell its successor "Family Man" -- an uptempo commercial piece of froth that was ludicrously deemed by the same source to be "anti-women." A radio silence consumed its fighting chances. Only in this century was John Howard learned that his nemesis was a closeted gay man who had no interest in promoting his songs in case it resulted in guilt by association.
After various label management twists he found his career marooned by circumstance. Two albums went unreleased, one produced by Biddu, and he was dropped. He soldiered on with various singles until in the early '80s he threw in the towel despite being produced by the now legendary Trevor Horn. He became an A&R man at MCA Records.
It was only with the re-issue of Kid In A Big World in 2003 that the music press began to recognize a missing link to Glam. A fedora wearing Jimmy Webb with shades of Bowie and Noel Coward. Since then he has managed a dazzling revival via a gaudy confetti of albums, at least one a year, whilst remaining a well kept secret, a by word for quality and lyrical concision.
Edward Rogers via this sensitively compiled selection has become an expert of Howard's endings, beginnings and the rest. Some tracks have never even seen their place reserved on compact disc before. It is the perfect introduction to a talent that is ludicrously undervalued, but presents an introduction, especially in America, where his albums have only been previously available as expensive imports. John Howard is officially no longer an American virgin.
There are wonderful cover versions from Bill Fay's languid "Be Not So Fearful" to a laconicly effortless rendering of Roddie Frame's "Small World," apparently a demo but a take requiring nothing more at all. His nod and glittering eyelashed wink to Glam arrives in the bejewelled form of "Dear Glitterheart" and a paean of remembrance to his fallen piano comtemporary Jobraith in "Stardust Falling." If you like unfussy elegance with a dash of baroque and roll you need quest no further. "Injuries Sustained In Surviving" exudes the church-like moodiness of David Ackles whilst "Favourite Chair" is a psychedelic delicacy.
A delightfully palm court feel swishes through like a sun-edged breeze "Maybe Someday In Miami" and "These Fifty Years" is a directly honest surmising of a career that has never gone according to plan.
John Howard remains a subject awaiting the long overdue attentions of Sunday Supplements and glossy magazines, not to mention an audience much greater than the one he presently commands. His anecdotes betray a sense of fun without any need to impress. He remains proof thet talent gifts a shortage of reward.
It can only be hoped that this perfect visiting card gets the due attention it so richly merits. Introspective without ever being self-indulgent, a wit devoid of cruelty, with an lightness of touch that is both expansive and precise, this should be a listener's beginning to a long, endlessly rewarding, adventure.
Cool and most definitely, collected.
Thank you Robert for the well-thought out review of "Collected" For those who still prefer physical product, CDs of "Collected" are available via John's website and here: