What have you been doing since last years interview ? ‘Vicky Price and I took about 5 month to put together an old fashioned 60’s show band, The Blue Flamingos. We had all the backdrop’s made and all the prop’s to make it look really good. The first half of the show was British 60’s and the second half was all American 60’s. But 60’s song’s only last 2 minutes so by the time we had committed ourselves we thought we’d have to do 40 songs haha. So we got a video up on the back wall and do a bit of patter cos it was a 2 hour show. We decided to go out of the way and try it somewhere new so we looked at The Westovian Theatre in South Shields. First night sold, so added the second night. People were singing along, yeah went really well’.
How did the gig at Westovians come about because it’s not known as a music theatre ? ‘That’s right I believe it was the first music show promoted there. It’s a small theatre that holds 260 and at first I was thinking of putting a rock show on there but I thought this 60’s show would be better suited. So we went down and paid the booking fee for 27th and 28th July. I was surprised how well it went down so we are taking it to The Phoenix Theatre in Blyth then hopefully moving it around the country. We are in the process of doing that now ourselves rather than using agencies although Steve Lloyd Promotions, a big national agency have just picked us up. He said he can get us on festivals with bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers, Amen Corner and The Merseybeats. I said yeah go ahead and do it. So he’s working on creating some national links for gig’s next year. We are a revue band we aren’t a tribute band like a Bobby Vee or Billy Fury, although we sing those songs we aren’t trying to copy. I still have the Howard Baker Band working with some really good musicians so really busy. We’re all older and wiser than before’.
Can you remember any gigs when you weren’t older and wiser ? ’We (Warbeck) were on part of a tour with Argent in the early 70’s. I remember playing at The Locarno in Sunderland and Argent had just brought out their single ’Hold Your Head Up High’. I was watching them from the side of the stage waiting for this song, they eventually played it and it went on for about 20 minutes…talking about stretching out the favourite haha. I talked to him afterwards he was a really nice guy I think he wrote ‘I Surrender’ which Rainbow recorded also ‘God Gave Rock n Roll To You’ a Kiss number so yeah he wrote a good few tunes. When I was in Warbeck we were playing at the Marquee in London and we were supporting a band called Upp. It was a project that Jeff Beck had put together. They were a sort of rock fusion, great sound – out of this world. He came in the dressing room, he is only a small, slim guy, he said to me I like your vocals, good band, keep at it. I don’t remember much from then but that was good of him to say that’.
What do you think about the current covers and tribute bands scene ? ‘I played support to a famous singers son – I won’t name him. But he sung in the style of his father and he was so bad. You sort of recognise the songs but they weren’t anywhere near his father – and he was probably on a couple of grand. At that point I was thinking I must be doing something wrong’.
Is that the fault of the agent pushing them out when he should have more control over the quality ? ’Of course, but if your father is that famous it definitly has more clout. Karaoke singers might be good for a couple of songs but the agent tells them they have to do 2 sets at 45 minutes each. They say ’What I only know 3 songs’. Some of them get out to the club’s and die on their arses. Problem is some agents don’t go and watch them beforehand. I’ve had a few on with me and the agent say’s ‘What were they like Howard ?’ I’m like ‘Don’t go there with me mate, I don’t want to get loaded up telling you about someone. Get out there and find out for yourself’. One girl was so bad she came off stage and said to us ‘I’m thinking off doing cruises you know’. Somebody under their breath said ‘Aye, Titanic’ haha’. One night at The Latino in Sunderland a singer was on before us and some of the audience had been putting beer mats on the stage, with messages on. The singer thought they’d say ‘We love’ ‘You’re great’ and ‘Can you do this song’ all that you know. Well when it was our slot, I was in Warbeck then, I picked up some of the beer mats and they had written ‘Get off, you’re rubbish’ and ‘Don’t come back’ and a few others with shall we say choice language ha ha. I remember doing a show with Tom Jones and his band The Squires, also Bobby Thompson now these people were real pro’s and you could understand why they were at the top of their game. It’s their calling in life, it’s their gift’.
How much work do you put into performing ? ‘In my repertoire I’ve got about 4 and a half hour’s worth of songs. In my head I can possibly remember 200 songs. I done a lot of writing with Warbeck, Nightwalker, and for the cd I put out in 2016 The Paris Files I done a lot. The single off that was number one in the Reverbnation European chart, off and on for 44 weeks and the album got to number three. I got an email from a band called Red Cadillac in Kentucky wanting me to go over their and play. Well that’s difficult to do that because at the time I had 22 shows in 29 days in the UK. It would be great to go over their but I didn’t want to drop the other musicians in the shit. They would have lost 22 days of wages which add’s up to a lot of money. Yes it’s a full time job we gotta pay the bills’.
Do you find it hard to switch off and rest your voice ? ‘It’s hard to do that. I’m lucky that I sing in 3 or 4 keys. So if I have a problem I can always change, if any the first thing that goes is my bottom end. My middle and top are no problem’.
Is charity work something you do ? ’Not for the Cancer charities and the big one’s because they get a lot of donations and special nights put on for them so I stick more local like Feline Friends who are struggling so need more help. The owner Lynn works hard on it and she has a full time job. It’s a really good cause’.
When do you have a holiday ? ‘My wife, god bless her. I’d booked to go to London cos my son lives there. I’d booked 4 days. We saw a couple of shows went for a few meals but I get it in little bursts like that. I play a few weeks in Tenerife. When I was recording in Paris she’d be there for a few days but it’s no fun for her as I’m working. But she goes out with (producer) Eric’s wife so that’s ok but normally for holidays I have to book a year ahead. Last real holiday 7 days it was, we were in New York and went to this club, I ended up singing with the band haha’.
What type of artists come from the North East ? ‘Well you’ve had people like Marcus Brown keyboard player with Madonna, then the like’s of Sting, Johnna (Brian Johnson), Coverdale, Rodgers… it’s a bit like in the United States the North is more supressed than everywhere else, you know doom and gloom. Detroit and Bruce Springsteen the places that have a bit depression bring out the best in singers. I remember going through Middlesbrough in the 70’s and you ended up with a film of red dust on the car from the chimneys in the chemical works. Hartlepool was similar, but now them places are picking up. You had people like Chubby Brown, very controversial comedian lot of people didn’t like what he was doing, but it was a way out for him’.
Are you saying that they fight harder ? ‘Yes definitly, from here the rock bands like Raven fought like hell to get out and do something. Some sort of made it. Bands like Avenger look back and say at least I tried. I had a band Nightwalker in the 90’s with Ted Hunter on guitar, Shaun Taylor on drums we done a few gigs in France we were a cracking band, great musicians again from the North. The like’s of Ditchy (Dave Ditchburn) should of got further, I heard some of his original stuff – really good. Pete Barkley from Lucas Tyson, bands like Cirkus were all great players. They all had deals but it just fizzled out for one thing or another. I could cry that some of these didn’t get the right platform. We (Warbeck) were in there, in the veins of the Whitesnakes who we supported, but it was down to managements screwing the whole thing up’.
With the amount of pubs and clubs closing down where can you see the work coming from ? ‘Basically with the work the strong will survive. The good acts will always work. The work is really tight and the good acts are moving further afield. You’ve got to be more diverse. I do a full Irish show, a full swing show, full out and out rock, 60’s and 70’s and a ballad show. Luckily I saw that 15 year ago and that’s when I started diversing. It takes a couple of years to learn those type of shows, to bed it down. So if you’ve only one type of show your pigeon holed. Funny I done a solo show not long ago in Northumbria University and it was a 60’s night. 800 students came dressed in their tank tops, loons and wigs. Kids of 18-19 year old coming up to me asking for Herman’s Hermitts or Wayne Fontana haha’.
How important is image ? ’ Style and image are very important. The main difference now is being either a great singer or a great singer and good showman. You’ve got to make the effort. If I go on it’s shirt, waistcoat depending on the show sometimes a suit. Some people come into the club, set the gear up and go straight on stage. As a punter you should expect something a bit different from the artist, not the guy offf the street. I remember an agent called Andy Green I was doing the Jubilee Club for him, we were in a trio called Riff Raff. We were doing a 10 night run for him. Well Andy had been a Highland Guard or something, big strapping 6 foot 2 guy. He also used to put Wrestling events on. Anyway this Welsh girl came in, we were all set up she was going on first and Andy said on the mic ‘Ladies and gentlemen put your hands together for this young girl from Wales.’ Then it was ‘whoa hold on, hold on get off and get yersel dressed you’ve had that on since you’ve got here’. While the audience waited she had to change her dress and that’s what Andy was like. He only wanted really smart looking acts that looked the part because they are up on stage performing for the audience. And that’s what it should be’.
Do you listen to current music and how do you think the internet has affected music ? ‘No not really doesn’t really impress. Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran…couldn’t go and pay to see those guys. I know old school people who like their vinyl or cd’s because they haven’t a clue about downloading. Some bands are limited if they only release downloads but their expense is much smaller not having to make the product but advertising still costs. You can lose a lot more on vinyl or cd than you can on download. There is millions of songs out there on You Tube and young bands can use it as a calling card. The Amazons, Spotify’s, You Tubes are always making money and you might not – but that’s business’.
Interview by Gary Alikivi 2018
Trevor Sewell, Still Got the Blues, 21st June 2017.
Howard Baker, Howards Way, 17th August 2017.
John Verity, (ARGENT): Blue to His Soul 7th November 2017.
Dave Ditchburn, Man for All Seasons 1st February 2018.
BECKETT , Music Matters, 9th April 2018.