Ever stopped to think how great a part brass instruments have played in the history of Australian music? For most people, I’d assume not. From Turn Up Your Radio and Western Union Man in the early 70s to Know Your Product, Beds Are Burning and Out of Mind, Out of Sight in the late 70s and into the 80s, brass sections have been the driving force behind many classic Australian hits. Then there’s Hunters & Collectors, whose brass section helped to define the band’s massive sound with songs such as Say Goodbye, When The River Runs Dry and Blind Eye. Jack Howard is the trumpet player who arranged and played on all of those Hunters & Collectors tracks. He’s also a guy who has been thinking a lot about the role of brass in Australian music. So much in fact that Jack has put together a tribute show of sorts called Epic Brass, in which he and a bunch of local legends will honour some of the aforementioned tracks and many more when they perform at Memo Music Hall in St. Kilda on July 9th. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips recently had a chat to Jack Howard about his Epic Brass concept.
Where did the Epic Brass idea come from?
I’ve been trucking around doing my own stuff for a while and it was just feeling like it was getting a bit stale, running out of places to play. It’s difficult in Melbourne at the moment trying to find gigs for everyone and the good ones are like gold. At the same time I felt like I had this big heritage of horn related stuff and I never quite figured out how to utilise it. Of course there’s the Hunters stuff which I wrote and arranged 99% of the brass but I have also been involved with an awful lot of bands from The Models to Midnight Oil and Painters and Dockers, either playing trumpet or arranging horns for them. Then one day the light bulb finally went on and my great byline for it is ‘the great horn and hidden gems’ of Hunters, the Oils, The Saints, Laughing Clowns. Then I did some research and went on a journey of discovery because there were other bands that I remembered. Equal Local was one, they were the very first horn section with Hunters before I started. They weren’t on any records but they were the first guys to play a little bit. In fact my first gig in 1981 with Hunters was with a guy named Bryce Perrin. He showed me the lines to a song called Rendering Room about five minutes before the show and that was my initiation into the chaos of rock ‘n’ roll. So I did some research to find out who actually played on and arranged Know Your Product and Power and The Passion and Beds Are Burning. It turned up a whole bunch of horn players all over the place. With us, the Horns of Contempt in Melbourne, our paths ran through a lot of quite seminal bands back in the 80s like Harem Scarem, The Models and X. I found a similar section up in Sydney, an all female section. I discovered Glad Reed, who did actually play on Beds Are Burning and she was involved in the Laughing Clowns and Midnight Oil and a whole bunch of bands.
Who is going to join you on stage at the Memo Music Hall to perform this show?
It’s a very, very good band. The rhythm section is a bit of a linchpin in all of this stuff. The Hunters and Oils were driven by fantastic rhythm sections. I’m fortunate to have Ash Davies on drums and Steve Hadley on bass. I wanted people who rocked, not session players. Guitarists are Nicky Del Rey and Jason Kain. Nick and I have been a team for a long time now. We’ve been doing a lot of duo stuff and he plays in my band The Long Lost Brothers. He’s a bit of an unsung guitar hero in Melbourne in my opinion. Jason Kain, I just sort of bumped into around the scene and I was talking to him at Memo Music Hall one night. I was surprised to hear his lineage and surprised to hear he’d played with the Wet Taxis and was involved with Ed Keupper and The Laughing Clowns. He’s a great player and done a lot of homework, which I have to say there is a lot of involved with around 21or 22 songs to learn. Some of them are three chorders but not a lot of them, some are really tricky songs to play. In terms of horns we have a couple of guys who play with The Horns of Leroy and do a lot of New Orleans stuff. They came out of the College of the Arts, Monash jazz system. Travis Woods and James Macaulay. On French horn I have a guy named Geoff Lierse who is a bit of local legend. They call him the Viking and he’s a bit of a punk French Horn player, he’s plays French horn in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra so he is a brilliant player. Then there’s a sax player Charlie Todd who is the genuine thing, he played with The Wreckery and Painters and Dockers, toured with the Violent Femmes back in the 80s. On top of that, for this show I have managed to secure a really fantastic guest list, a lot of them involved in horn stuff I have done over the years. There’s Paulie Stewart from Painters and Dockers, Steve Lucas from X, Sean Kelly from The Models, Penny Ikinger who is a bit of an unsung Australian guitar legend and played overseas a lot. There’s also Fiona Lee Maynard, another local legend who plays bass and sings and last but not least Ron Peno from Died Pretty.
When you think about it, there are a lot of tracks in Australian music which feature brass. How many great tunes did you have to leave out?
A lot actually. I imagine in the future we’ll be varying the set list quite a lot. Even the half a dozen Hunters songs and I’m not going to name them, but apart from the big ones there will also be obscure ones that have hardly ever been played. So there is a long list of Hunters horns catalogue that we can delve into. Then there’s Jo Jo Zep, Men At Work, Masters Apprentices, INXS that we haven’t delved into that we may get to as well. I guess I had to rationalise it and it’s kind of the era of post-punk, the new wave explosion of inner city Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, those inventive bands that we’ll be covering.
What trumpet are you currently playing? Do trumpets age well like guitars?
To a certain extent. The trumpet I am playing at the moment is a Bach Stradavarius 43. I have only been playing it for 7 years and it was a birthday present 7 years ago replacing my original Bach Stradavarius 43. I am a bit of a one trumpet guy. It’s not as if I have a store of instruments side stage that my roadie will throw to me half way through a song. I have been delving into some effects too. I have a pedalboard these days and have octave and pitch shifting stuff and delay. I use that with The Break when I play with them. A lot of guys still like to pick up a 50 year old trumpet but you wouldn’t play a trumpet from say a hundred years ago like a vintage violin.
Apart from the Epic Brass show, The Passing Parade is your most recent recording. Tell me about that.
That’s right. I took a decision to take a break from the Long Lost Brothers, who have been together for years. It’s hard getting a gig and making a buck. I haven’t paid myself in probably 3 years with my original stuff. I did want to put something out though, so I released this 6 track EP called The Passing Parade which was all recorded at home in Logic Pro. I got Nick to come over and put some guitars on it but I did all of the drums, bass, keyboards, horns and vocals myself. I’m really happy with it. I didn’t do a launch or anything, I just put it out there. It’s probably the best received recording I have put out for some time. You’ll be able to buy it at the Epic Brass show if anyone is interested as well as from my website.
Is the Epic Brass show something you hope to continue and tour?
Absolutely. I have an agency involved now. Normally I do everything myself but can only get things to a certain point. Yeah, I’d like to tour this show. I think it will be a lot of fun. It’s a bit of a historic journey too. There are some obvious big hits but also some interest things around the sides. I think this show is something with legs. All Australian material, it’s quite unique.