HOWARDS WAY- interview with North East musician Howard Baker

‘In Warbeck we were playing Germany for seven weeks doing 4 x 45 minute sets a night, and 5 on a weekend, that’s how we learnt our trade. In ’85 we got a record deal with EMI. But that went tits up. More of that later’.

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Howard has spent most of his life in the music business from performing to owning a studio. From early influences, gigs, experiences in recording studio’s, high’s and lows, to the present day – this interview uncovers most of the stories in his career – but some of the riskier one’s might never make print you’ll have to go and see him he might tell you. ‘I still do a lot of gigs a year and continue to work over in Tenerife and France. Currently we are working on pulling together a show with songs from the 1960’s, not a tribute as such more of putting our own stamp on the tracks. So really looking forward to taking that out to the theatres’.

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 Who were your influences ? ‘When we were young everybody liked Elvis Presley but I was more of a rebel, I liked Little Richard. I just loved his antics, I loved Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino a bit bluesy you know. But my voice was always geared up to the likes of Coverdale and Rodgers, more rocky, that style you know, my tones were that way. When I was in Warbeck we toured with Free and Argent. Our friends Beckett and Brass Alley were the same, you’d also have John Miles Set on the bill at the Locarno or The Mayfair. I remember playing the Mayfair and supporting Back Street Crawler. I loved that time. I remember recording at Impulse Studio with Warbeck and after the session Keith Satchfield leaving his black beauty Les Paul guitar outside, it was there all night. Luckiest guy in the world because it was still there next day !’

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What venues did Warbeck play? ‘We worked through Mel Unsworth Agency then, it was not uncommon for us to do ten shows a week, clubs like Annabels, Zhivagos, Dontino’s in Hexham. You were doing workingmens clubs, three half hours and finishing half past ten. Then on stage in Hexham for 12.30 or Julies up in Sunderland.
For the support work the agent was Ivan Burchill he had all the contracts for Mayfairs and City Hall’s. I remember supporting The Pink Fairies, a strange rock punky sort of band. (Nerd Alert: While still a member of the Pink Fairies, in May 1975 Larry Wallis joined a new band, Motörhead with Lemmy and Lucas Fox. In September 1975 Fox left the band and Motörhead recruited a new drummer, Phil Taylor. Wallis recorded an album with the band, ‘On Parole’. It remained unreleased until 1979 when Motörhead had established some reputation for themselves. In February 1976 Wallis was joined by Fast Eddie Clarke on guitar. Later in the same month Wallis left Motörhead.)

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‘The best laugh was doing the City Hall with Alvin Stardust and it was the craziest line up ever. We were a full on rock band supporting the pop star. His single out at the time was My Coo Ca Choo. Anyway we were in the dressing room while 2,000 kids were screaming outside wanting Alvin. We were worried but he came up to us and said just do your show lads, and don’t worry the fan’s are screaming so loud they can’t hear what you’re playing anyway haha. Afterwards he came back to us and said that was brilliant lad’s. Then I watched him and the way he controlled the whole show was completely different from us, we were head’s down rock you know. I must admit he was really good, a great showman’.

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‘Around 1975 a guy called Roberto Donova came up North from London to see us play. He was interested in signing us. We were playing the Barmston Club in Washington and he turned up in his Rolls Royce and parked it outside. He wandered in, heard us play five songs, bought us a round of drinks and said see ya in my studio in a couple of weeks’.

‘We had a big monitor system, four huge bins we bought off Jethro Tull. First club we played it in was so loud we blew the polystyrene tiles of the ceiling. It took a few gigs to get used to it haha.
We had some pyro to put on a bit of a show. We used to put the bombs in two small waste paper bins, but one gig we forgot them so went outside in the backlane and got a big rubbish bin. We put both bombs in there and set it up behind Craigy (Alan Craig) the drummer. End of the first set the roadies set it off and a big boom ! But they never cleaned the bin out first so there was rubbish, banana skins all sorts all over the stage, haha’.

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‘Another pyro story was we were playing Usworth Social Club and we forgot to bring smoke flares. We liked a bit of smoke around the stage. So we went out and bought some flares nearby. These were for boats, like distress flares. Again they were set up behind the drums and were set off at the end of the set just as we played Smoke on the Water. Well at first they didn’t look much but the smoke coming out of them just kept on coming until it filled the concert room. Our eyes were streaming, the concert chairman was up in arms but the worst thing was the smoke was orange. There was so much smoke we couldn’t see a thing, they rang the fire brigade who eventually found the bin and hoyed it outside. The concert room was covered in orange stains, all over the chairs, everywhere. Ended up we never got paid just a massive cleaning bill’.

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‘Around ’78 Warbeck travelled down to London in our own transit van to support AC/DC at the Marquee. Bon Scott was thin as a rake then and Angus was just a tiny fella but you could just tell they had something about them. A great sound with a solid rhythm section for Angus to play with. They had a real presence. We also supported Whitesnake up at Ashington. I remember it was a November, absolutely freezing and the place was chocka block. Our dressing room was tiny with a little radiator and Coverdale’s room was all soft chairs, heaters with lobster thermadore. I knew him from when he was in a band called Government and he said hello. I thought I need to be at that level. We got close but through bad circumstances, didn’t quite get there. There was a lot of talent up here in the North East. Some of them should have made it bigger you know. Really good writers and great players I worked with, some wonderful performers up here’.

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‘All the Northern rock bands have worked bloody hard but a lot got ripped off. Some had a self destruct button though, it’s part of the make up. When we were signed suddenly we thought we were rock stars, but we had no money. The record company drove us from the house to the recording studio in Roll’s Royce’s. It was called RG Jones’ studio in Wimbledon. A guy I mentioned earlier Roberto Danova, he was composer, arranger, the producer there. In the studio next door was the Average White Band recording, across the hall was Queen. But we were missing recording sessions, the producers saying what’s going on here you know. The studio was £1,000 per day. But it was a case of self destruct from one of the band, drinking was involved. There was a tour with Whitesnake lined up. That should have happened. I had worked to get that far but I left in the end and opened a studio’.

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‘I had a record deal with Warner Bros in France with my band Nightwalker that was around 1990. A friend of mine called Guierc, he was a big shot in a private hospital, manager I think, but he was a rock star at night haha. He was in a music shop in Paris and there were two guys talking one of them was Dominic Ruiz who amongst others, wrote songs for rock band Krokus. He was saying he could do with an English singer and my friend Gieric butted in and said I know just the guy who can help you. Within two days I had plane tickets to fly to France. When I got there I met Dominic Ruize, he said I like your voice do you want to do some writing. All this through an interpreter because he only knew a few English words, and two of them were McEwans Scotch and Brown Ale haha’.

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‘We came back to my studio Baker Street in Jarrow and wrote together for five weeks, we done about about fifteen songs. He went back to France and set up some recording sessions with some really top players. It was brilliant, a great experience. It was all going well. I thought hey all the North East bands Warbeck, Brass Alley, Lucas Tyson all them bands who worked their socks off and thought we knew our stuff, but I learned a whole lot more when I went to their studio. I worked with Vanessa Paradis, she said Howard never start a song with a letter P, because it pop’s on the mic and using an S in lyrics. Just little things like that, they were a big help’.

‘We done a video and the single was ready for release. Our producer, John Ducusse who worked out of Harrison Studio, was with Warner Bros who had just been taken over by Sony. He had an album out, it was doing really well in Europe and he asked for another 25,000 copies of his album, they said no. He had been with the company for years. After a big row they said John, you’re sacked and you can take your bands with you. Well we were one of his bands. So they called us on December 23rd to say they had dropped us. I thought the call was going to be about the release of the single because they had already sent the acetates to radio stations. It’s a horrible feeling because I’d worked for years to get to that point. I was gutted’.

‘Around that time we put together a track and entered it into the Eurovision song contest. Sadly not succesful but reached the final 20. We recorded a few sessions with notable North East musicians, Ted Hunter and Shaun Taylor. I played in a band with guitarist Steve Dawson for about three years, that was Riff Raff. I was also in Ramm with Arthur Ramm from Beckett. Then the JPM Band with a guy called Mark Taylor who went on to play with Simple Minds.
When I had the studio a few people came in and recorded bits and pieces, former Hellanbach members Kev Charlton and Davey Patton came in for a session. The band Pariah came through here, Russ Tippins and Shaun Taylor he ended up in Nightwalker with me. Also guitarist Dale Carson who is now playing with Borderland. All really good players.
Some did go on to bigger things like Steve Robson he’s wrote stuff for Take That, One Direction, Christina Aguilera, a long list of them, now he’s head producer at Northern Sky Studio’s in London’.

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Bringing your story up to date what are you doing now ? ’I released a blues album in Summer 2015 The Paris Files recorded in a studio in Montmagny, north of the French capital.   Now I record a lot in Richmond Studio in Durham then send it to producer MrHardearly in Paris who gets in good musicians. This new album is more laid back and bluesy compared to my rock voice. That went really well. I’m still very busy doing nearly 200 gig’s a year, we’re currently putting a new sixties show together to tour. I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of the musician’s, producers, promoters that I’ve worked with through my career. The likes of Eric Moutard, Kevin Twedddle at Richmond Studio, Shirly Teasdale who was with me in Riff Raff for 17 years. You know, music, I would do it all again. It’s given me a house, a lovely lifestyle, yes I would do it all again’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2017.

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