L. Howard Hughes/Steve Betts
Early on From the time I was four years old I wanted to make music. I was born in Cornwall in 1952. My parents liked music and both played a bit. We used to have big Christmases with relatives around the piano, playing and singing. I started piano lessons when I was seven and improvising when I was eleven. I grew up listening to The Who, Terry Riley, Vaughan Williams and Memphis Slim, passed through Roxy Music, mid-period Bowie, Eno, Kraftwerk and on to Berg, Poulenc, Bruckner, Cornelius Cardew and Jonathan Harvey. For me, music is big lumps and little bits. Sustain and decay. A Career in Pop If you've come here because you've listened to Pete Murphy or The Associates, then you'll be familiar with my role in those bands. Here's what led to that: I got into the music business after I left College in 1978. I formed a band called The Books and we signed to Logo/RCA records and Virgin Music. Three singles and an album, Expertise all produced by Colin Thurston, one tour of England supporting The Skids. Here's a picture of the Cassette version http://www.discogs.com/release/715624 I floated about a bit after that and then decided to adopt the stage name Howard Hughes because I was fed up with people not remembering my name. Some time around 1981, a journalist called Jessamy Calkin did an interview with me for New Sounds New Styles Magazine, and then recommended me to Peter Kent at 4AD who was involved with putting the Associates touring band together. The tour didn't happen but I got another call inviting me to Basing street studios to do the piano session on a track called Breakfast for their new album and that's how I started working with Billy Mackenzie. It was great. Billy was radical and exciting and funny. You can read all about him and how it all was in Tom Doyle's The Glamour Chase. Also around this time Peter Kent rang me again to say that Peter Murphy from Bauhaus was embarking on a solo career and would I be interested in meeting him. I went to his flat in Holland Park where he lived with his choreographer wife Beyhan. From there we worked together and wrote the songs for his first solo album, Should the World Fail to Fall Apart. Another book, Dark Entries by Ian Shirley, will give you the dope on this episode. While all this was going on I formed another band myself, Howard Hughes and the Western Approaches. We signed first to Abstract records, released two singles: West of the Pecos and Buffalo Bill part one then EG records, where we released two more singles: Paleface and Say Western. To my eternal regret, we never actually released any of the other 100-or-so songs that I wrote for this band on an album. This was due largely to the prevailing psychology at the time of there always being a bigger and better deal just around the corner. If ever a man has learnt the wisdom of the expression 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush', it is I, after that experience. I was signed throughout to Warner Chappell Music (Great support from Chas De Whalley). We played scattergun gigs all over the UK and Europe thanks to the unstinting efforts of Martin Hopewell at World Service (Now Primary Talent). There's no book about this band unfortunately, so if you really want to know about it, drop me a line. At the end of the 80s, as all this music was superseded by a new generation, I started to get into production as well as continuing session work. I worked with all sorts of bands, some well-known, some in development. Highlights include: The 'Romo' Movement of the mid nineties - Plastic Fantastic, DexDexter et al; Nancy Boy (Keyboards and re mixing for Shel Talmy), Amanda Normansell (Best British Country album!), Patricia O'Callaghan, The Dear Janes, Boy George, Roch Voisine, Ron Sexsmith, Eurythmics, Tears for Fears and Echo and the Bunnymen (a rehearsal for a TV show so they could line up the cameras before the real keyboard player arrived back from the States!) A Post Pop Trajectory From the beginning of the 90s, I wanted to change the way I wrote music. I had always been ambitious to try and make pop songs that were interesting musically, and I really wanted to develop structure and harmony in my compositions. But gradually I realised that there were two problems. First, I didn't know enough about harmony and structure to do it, and second, when I tried, it stopped being Pop. So after a long period of trying to eat soup with a fork, I gave up and broke with pop-writing altogether. I learned new techniques and broadened my sensibility (I like to think) and since then I've written and recorded in what I consider to be a much more spontaneous and honest style. It's mostly instrumental; there are still pop elements in it, but also contemporary and formal influences. (There are CDs you can buy from this website if you want.) Some of my stuff has been in the last three 60X60 New Music projects in New York and London, and Vachement Bath will be playing lots of it live. It took me a long time as a musician/writer to extract myself from the shadow of the music industry. That loaded question 'What are you doing?' hung over me from youth until my mid-40s. I've dined out on my modest career often enough and compared to some, I've been relatively successful. There are lots of musicians/writers like me. Not 'A' list successful, but in the orbit, occasionally finding ourselves in the hippest band at the hippest party. But that kind of success is fleeting for most of us. The real point is the music. That's the juice. Booyah! Back