Again another gem unearthed by the good folks at Earth Recordings. Howard Eynon’s long out of print album “So What If I’m Standing in Apricot Jam” has just been released with two extra bonus tracks. Howard had just finished his first ever UK tour and we interviewed him prior to him opening up for Wreckless Eric at The Old Church in Stoke Newington.
First Howard could you tell us about your memories of living in England as a child and your subsequent move to Australia ? Where you born in a musical family?
Well my father was stationed in Irak in the middle east for huge stretches of time so when he came back the whole situation was a bit dysfunctional but at the same time he was a very passionate man, loved music. My mother played piano, she was into theatre. My sister played a lot of classical music. I have kid memories of England which are a mix of the following: creeks, streams, cow ponds, hedgerows, I use to love nature but there was also the things we used to do in the house: listening to music, the Goon Show on the radio and those great space shows that I used to follow.
You moved to Melbourne from the farm you were leaving in with your parents when you were 17 to become an actor and it’s only a few years later that you actually started recording. Can you tell us a bit more about how all of that happened?
Well I started writing songs when I was 16,17 but… What happened is that the farming bit was like “boys in paradise in Tasmania” episode. I stuck out a bit like a sore thumb because I had a nice plummy British accent which earned me the nickname of “Pommy Eynon” but it was a good school, I really enjoyed it. When I left school, I just wanted to know how everything worked. I just felt that I’d been in this protected zone in terms of society, not being in a city. I didn’t want particularly to be in a city but I didn’t how everything worked. I knew what I didn’t want do which was pretty much everything. The consistent thing was the guitar. When I left school I got a huge bunch of different jobs in a period of about five years. I didn’t go straight into acting and, I think I did almost 40 different jobs in that space of time. The turning point for me was this talent show called “Australia’s New Faces” for which I got a television contract and 3000 dollars with which I bought a really nice motorbike. We moved to Sydney and then I did this television thing for the best part of a year. It was a musical show on which I was a singer and dancer. I really was a singer but we used to have to all these moves, I called them “Sound of Mucus” which wasn’t really nice of me as they had given me a job. At the end of that I applied for “Jesus Christ Superstar”, NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) and Queensland Theatre Company and it was one of those times when you’re successful in all three so I had three options. I put NIDA out because that was another three years of school and I needed to make some money (I was married at that point). I put “Jesus Christ Superstar” out because that was in Sydney and I’d already been there for a year so I ended up going for Queensland Theatre Company which ended up being a huge year for me. I met some fantastic creative people. In my head I was still a boy from the bush and for the eight weeks I ended up living with all these theatrical types people like Billy Brown, Geoffrey Rush, Trevor Smith (who was in the show with me). It was like a university house really because it was right next to Brisbane university. It was an amazing eight weeks, I absorbed so much there. Then we went on tour and I got stoned for the first time which was a huge experience for me. It was a year of complete mind-bending stuff (I discovered God Top mushrooms too). After that tour ended I got a contract with the Tasmanian Theatre company. The whole of 1974 was spent doing repertory theatre with them. They asked me to do some backing music for one of the plays and that’s how I met Nick Armstrong who asked me if I wanted to do an album.
From what’s available on you on the web, I had the impression that there was a gap between the recording and the release of the album, is that actually true ?
Well I already had a few songs and we started recording it in March and wanted to finish it by the end of May the same year. I was already gigging and writing songs on a regular basis, it was a really creative period for me, I was hanging out with the right people. The guy who did the illustrations at the back of the album was called Luke Swan and he was so much a part of that company. We’d all just read The Lord of The Rings and in some ways it was like the world we were leaving in we made it a little bit fantasy, a bit unreal. Luke was actually living the dream of “middle earth” virtually. It was a nice thing to be on the edge of it but I was also in it. We found ourselves setting Tom Bombadil songs to music and stuff like that, it was quite flowery!!!
Did you record the album with the musicians you were hanging out with or was it done with studio musicians ?
It was a mix of both. On “Village Hill”, the violinist was a friend, he spent at lot of time at our place and we used to play together a lot, there was always music been played and jamming. We brought in other musicians, there was a guy called Ian Cugley who was working for the conservatory of music and who turned to be a fantastic help. I was a complete music ignoramus and he taught how to write stuff out and gave me some sort of structure and helped with instruments. He played mellotron on the album. At that time I was young and sort of charging off in my own sort out of space but he was a wonderful support during the recording. Unfortunately he died five years ago which was a real pity as it would have been so cool for him to be around for all the things that are happening now.
The record came out and just died on the spot. Was it the case of the label not having enough power to promote it properly ?
Yes it was exactly that. It was a small label which had a very good sound engineer with Nick Armstrong. He could do marvellous things with tape, you could ask him anything and he would manage to do it. He was quite special but you don’t realize that when your in Tasmania at the bottom end of the planet. You don’t have the confidence to think it might be a bit more than what you think it is, you think it’s just normal, just what you’ve done. So many times people have great creativity but no the ability to promote. It was an extraordinary shock for me when I started working with Fire/Earth and discovered these guys could actually promote !!! It’s remarkable what can be achieved when we people get behind something.
Did the lack of success of the album affect your interest in making music or was it that you just moved on to other projects ?
I did some quite good gigs that were well received but I think people couldn’t really work out what I was doing. The other thing I think was that I actively supported the use of mind bending substances (on a occasional basis) as I thought they gave you a view of who you are and where you fit in the whole scheme of things. That probably upset a few of the authorities, got me into a bit of a bad space (but a good one as far as I’m concerned). Me and my wife always fancied to leave in the countryside and in 1975 I decided to by a horse even though I had no place to live. First we thought we might wonder round the bush in a gipsy caravan but a place with 200 acres became available so we moved there with the horse. Over a period of 5 years I gathered more horses on this place and built stables but at the same time I was doing acting gigs and music gigs.
Did you spend most of the eighties acting or did you still wrote songs occasionally ?
No, no, no… I still wrote songs but… I had this almost kind of religious connection with the concept of the moment. There is only one moment, us human beings chop it up in our heads and get our heads confused. I used to apply that philosophy to my gigs which sometimes was absolutely fantastic and other times completely awful. As a human being you have to do a bit of back-up planning in case something goes wrong. I used to do a lot of improvisation, used to love that and I still do.
Have you got new material that you would be keen on releasing and if yes how different is from the songs on “So What If I’m Standing in Apricot Jam” ?
Yes I have quite a few songs stored up. I still enjoy performing the old songs, they were of their time. When you see smell or hear something it can take you back to a particular time and space. It’s the same for a creative space, it’s like you never left it. The furniture is still there and the old album is part of the furniture.
Could you tell us a bit more on how Fire/Earth got in touch with you to release the album ?
Well I think Alex from Fire was the catalyst. He’s got a lovely story about finding the album from somebody in Tasmania and then in turned up in the mail. The pre-catalyst was a chap in Australia called Scotti Henthorn. A few years ago he found me because I was buried away, really hard to find me even if you wanted to. He said the album had changed his life and he wrote me this letter with different coloured pencils and asked if he could re-release it because he’d been working with a record company in Melbourne for about thirteen years. I said why not so we came to a little agreement and he ran off and started doing it. He said it would probably take him 5 years to do it. At some point he wrote me another multicoloured letter apologizing and explaining he’d had some money troubles but still wanted to put the record out on his label Buttercup records. And then Alex found it via Buttercup.
Last question I had was on the origins of the two bonus tracks that are on the re-issue. Are they songs that were recorded for the album but left out ?
“Drury Lane” was recorded in the passage at Spectacle Recording Studios on a Saturday morning after a couple of very nice spliffs and thanks to a studio operative we managed to capture that moment on tape. I think the recording of “Mad Mike” on the reissue dates from 10 years ago but the way I play the song now is very different.