MAGNET Classics: The Making Of Graham Parker & The Rumour’s “Howlin’ Wind”

The making of Graham Parker & The Rumour’s Howlin’ Wind

By A.D. Amorosi

One thing Graham Parker appreciates when discussing his earliest work is to not call him or his lyrical output “angry.” It’s a word never uttered by this writer in regard to the now-66-year-old, East London-born Parker’s writing: a cliché forever bandied about by hollow critics who probably haven’t really listened to Parker beyond his often blistering vocal delivery.

“When I’m writing, I don’t write angry or think angry, so I appreciate that you noticed this, and thank you,” says Parker. “Sadly, all critics see or hear is anger. Not me, though. ‘With a little humor, always with a little humor,’” he says, quoting the Dr. Yen Lo character in cinematic Cold War drama The Manchurian Candidate with the evil intonation.

There are many such laughs to be had talking with Parker, guitarist/bandleader Brinsley Schwarz, organist/pianist Bob Andrews and drummer Steve Goulding: most of the team behind Howlin’ Wind, the smart, snarling, roughly soulful and reggae-tinged 1976 debut by Graham Parker & The Rumour. “When you have a good time, you get a good record,” says Andrews, talking about not only the laughs shared with longtime friends in Brinsley Schwarz (the band named after the man, which ended in 1975 only to become the Rumour later that year) but also recording with Nick Lowe, Howlin’ Wind’s producer and one-time Brinsley bassist/singer.

You can’t get to Parker’s grouchy, skanky, literally horny Howlin’ Wind, with its smugly sarcastic lyrics, scuffed-up vocals and scorched-earth soul-garage demeanor, without the Rumour. And the Rumour remains dormant without Parker, a great backing/collaborating band without a front. “I think back, and yeah, it was, and is, a pretty symbiotic relationship,” says Parker. The Cajun-Jamaican flavoring of the Bontemps Roulez rhythm section was the cherry on top.

Post-pub rock and pre-punk (a matter of months in between; mid-1975 to January 1976), Howlin’ Wind closed the door on one relaxed-fit movement and popped the top on the ragged, spiky rage of another, with topics such as lousy schoolmasters, God, social justice and bad romance on the tips of their lips. “Punk rock in England doesn’t really occur without pub rock,” says Schwarz. “If we hadn’t pushed these places to be available for gigs—because there wasn’t anywhere to play save colleges and arenas then—where would punks have built their nests?”

The aggressive rebellion of punk, its untutored musicianship and its anarchistic everything, was never really a draw for Parker and the Rumour, as Howlin’ Wind wasn’t recorded by a bunch of snot-nosed youngsters. “No, no, when punk really hit and those kids were spitting out of so-called appreciation, I wasn’t having that,” says Parker with a laugh. “I didn’t get that far to be spit upon.”

Considering Schwarz and Lowe were in bands since 1966 such as Sounds 4+1, which morphed into Kippington Lodge, the immediate predecessor to the epic Brinsley Schwarz; that Andrews played organ for U.K. soul/pop songstress P.P. Arnold around 1967-68 before joining Kippington Lodge, etc.; and that Goulding and Rumour bassist Andrew Bodnar met in 1970 before becoming Skyrockets, then the reggae/Cajun-inspired Bontemps Roulez before hooking up with Schwarz, Andrews and Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont, this crew of seasoned vets had been around the block.

Maybe they were seasoned but not well-trained. “We definitely always needed to get much better, until we actually did,” says Schwarz, recalling the debacle of a disastrous, over-hyped Manhattan gig at its start and hauling his namesake band into one house where they rehearsed all day out of necessity.

“We studied album sleeves closely, but we weren’t trained musicians at all,” says Goulding of playing with Bodnar in Islington and forming local bands. “We spent most of our time playing along to records and lusting after expensive instruments.”

Still, when it came to 1975, the just-broken-up Brinsleys—as musicians—were well-worn-in with their chops handsomely sharpened, and known for their abilities (and propensity for having a good time) in the pubs of London. Lowe even told GQ in 2011 that manager Dave Robinson “saddled (Parker) with this band that had just broken up and came with all their in-jokes and were fully formed in a way.” That’s Lowe’s dour outlook. (Lowe declined to be interviewed by MAGNET for this story.)

The fully formed vibe Lowe spoke of is what gave Parker’s prickly poignancy a sage authority, its weight, its “soul shoes” glide when set in the company of the then newly anointed Rumour. This team of players’ well-rounded, often sloppy, brutal but buoyant, genre-babbling musicianship gave Parker’s debut—from the stinging groove of “White Honey” to the confessional gospel of “Don’t Ask Me Questions”—might and bite. “Pub rock” as a tag was nothing more (and nothing less) than combine-churning boozy music boiled into one frothy, funky mess—the Band meets the Meters meets the Wailers meets the Famous Flames meets the Faces—made by hungry men no longer at the beginning of their careers. “I didn’t know anything about pub rock, but I did know that these guys had been around,” says Parker of his collaborators.

Parker, however, was also no spring chicken (25!) when he got to the soon-to-be-rechristened Rumour and Dave Robinson, Brinsley Schwarz’s manager. “Morocco, Gibraltar, Channel Islands, the whole of Europe; I’d been all over by the time I was 18, as that’s what you did at 18, because you didn’t need money to live,” says Parker of his restless youth. When he did need cash, he worked while home at his parents’ house in Sussex at the Chichester rubber-glove factory, or breeding mice and guinea pigs. “Between traveling and odd jobs, I had a fantastic time meeting people and harvesting ideas,” he says. “Then I’d fuck off and go to Morocco because that’s where Burroughs and Kerouac went; hippies, too, the whole Marrakesh Express.”

Though Parker had instruments as a kid, he’d never thought much of music. Suddenly, though, buying an old acoustic guitar in Guernsey, totaling up the sum of his experiences in squats and sands, allowing the youthful influences of Eddie Cochran, the Supremes, Van Morrison (“a true poet who happened to be a phenomenal white soul singer”) and the latter-day inspiration of Bob Dylan (“honestly didn’t get into him until Blood On The Tracks”) to take root turned his head around.

“Something came out the other side, and nobody of my generation was doing that particularly, or at least I didn’t hear it: the soul, the rock, the poetry,” says Parker. He confesses a love, too, for “the early singer/songwriter types” such as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Neil Young. “That’s the only thing that I took from the hippies,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t like their noodling music, but some of their writers were devastating.”

Parker got the writing fever and, by 1974, songs came pouring out. To him, the melodies were based on old tunes that he loved, that mix of which he speaks. Along with his then-fresh feel for Dylan (“I was upset with myself for not getting him sooner”), Parker was inspired by elements of social justice and class in his U.K. homeland and began developing a lyrical style and subject matter. “I had no interest in politics, per se, but I knew what justice—and injustice—looked like when I saw it, being part of the working class and with England being a classist country,” he says. “It’s still based on class there—if the ruling class could break the working class, they would.”

Parker sought to integrate the poetry of disgust, discrimination and inequity into his first tunes such as “Back To Schooldays,” which wound up on Howlin’ Wind. “Even the love songs, I wanted them to have that taste, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it, really,” he says. “What I came up with was ‘Don’t Ask Me Questions,’ which I think makes love into a social issue.” As for the burgeoning Dylan influence, Parker insists that you can hear him grappling with that on “You’ve Got To Be Kidding,” with its compact chords and emotional output.

Parker wanted to point fingers, but he did not want to preach. “I can’t stand that,” he says. “Preaching is the last thing I wanted to do.” Caustic humor, often subtle, became his guide, a lyrical flip he’s used ever since. “I still don’t think that people get the jokes, but there you go,” he says.

Either way, Parker believed that he was truly on to something in 1974, as at that time (the era of prog rock and post-glam), “there were certainly no new acts doing something original with this,” he says. In this case, something tough, soulful and social.

“That felt good,” he says. “I just had to make the right connections, meet musicians who weren’t hippies. Go to London.”

This is where Brinsley Schwarz, Bontemps Roulez and Dave Robinson come in.

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MP3 At 3PM: Brother Roy

New York City’s Brother Roy just released debut solo album Last Man Standing, and we’re please to bring you the second track on it, “Mary,” today. Roy spent a number of years touring in various bands before planting his roots in Brooklyn, only to leave to study classical Indian music in India, only to return back to NYC hell bent on cutting his own rock ‘n’ roll record. Paid for with $50 local gigs, the 11-track Last Man Standing was made with a group of devoted friends, and despite the modest budget, features strings, horns and the like. Download and/or stream “Mary” below.

“Mary” (download):

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Film At 11: Field Trip To The Moon

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The name Steve Barron might not mean anything to you, but you are certainly familiar with the director’s work. He is the man responsible for three of the 1980s’ most iconic music videos: a-ha’s “Take On Me,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing.” as well as films such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Coneheads. Now he’s back behind the camera for the latest video from Field Trip To The Moon (a.k.a. singer/songwriter and actress Angela Christofilou and guitarist Dan Cross). The clip is for “YOU,” off the duo’s self-released Something Owed. Says Christofilou of the track and video, “‘YOU’ came from a relationship I was in and from a place of anxiety and panic attacks, which is what the theme of the video is sort of based around. Running away from one’s self. The sort of fight-or-flight response. We didn’t have much of a budget for the video, really. Everyone who worked on it did so as they loved the song, and Steve Barron came on board to direct it which was great. I met Steve at an audition for an acting job, we talked about music, so I later just sent him the song and asked if he would do a video for it, and he was up for it. It was filmed in two days.” We are proud to premiere “YOU” today on magnetmagazine.com. Watch it now.

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From The Desk Of Cold Specks: Paradise Playlist (John Maus’ “Hey Moon”)

Ladan Hussein, the woman who records and performs as Cold Specks, is quietly intense. On Fool’s Paradise (Arts & Crafts), her third album, Hussein’s music is stripped down to the essentials. Soft, mournful synthesizers drift through a melancholy space, with elusive percussion accents in the background. Her hushed, jazz-inflected vocals are full of passionate yearning, the sound of a soul on the verge of tears or explosive anger. “This is a deeply personal album,” says the Toronto-based Hussein. “It deals with a variety of topics from self-love, identity and diaspora dreaming during the apocalypse. I wrote most of the record in a period where I was feeling as though I needed to detach from the world, for the sake of my own sanity. The album is a brutally honest document of it all.” Hussein will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature on her.

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Hussein: Apathy during the apocalypse is the goal. Switch it off and sigh. Here are songs to keep you warm during the disconnection process. (You can keep up with my Paradise Playlist on Spotify.)

Anyone who knows me well is painfully aware of my obsession with this song. It was my anthem for a number of years and probably is on every playlist I’ve made in the last five. It’s a pretty simple lo-fi pop song that moves beautifully. I listened to it a lot when I was attempting to disconnect from toxic people. I don’t know what it is about this song, but it really helps me turn ex-lovers into ghosts who never linger.

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Film At 11: Deerhoof

While you continue to enjoy Deerhoof‘s latest album, Mountain Moves (Joyful Noise), be sure to take a look at the band’s newest video for “I Will Spite Survive” (featuring Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner). Directed by Geoff Hoskinson, the animated clip is an engrossing depiction of Republican/Democrat conflicts. Check it out below.

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MP3 At 3PM: Moonsville Collective

On December 8, Moonsville Collective will release Moonsville IV, which will mark the final installment of the Southern California band’s four-volume EP series. Moonsville Collective’s 2017 endeavor led to the release of 20 new songs that enter into the band’s self-described “California good-time” canon, though IV, says multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Ryan Welch, “is different than the rest in that we really relied and leaned on our acoustic instruments to guide the sound and feel.” We are proud to premiere IV track “Bright Eyed Stranger” today on magnetmagazine.com. Download and/or stream it below.

“Bright Eyed Stranger” (download):

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Essential New Music: Bash & Pop’s “Friday Night Is Killing Me”

Apparently, Tommy Stinson fancied himself a songwriter—just not under the auspices of his cantankerous Replacements CEO. So when a frustrated Paul Westerberg cut out unexpectedly early during a poorly attended European show on the band’s funereal All Shook Down tour in 1991, Stinson threw down his bass, headed back onstage and strapped on Westerberg’s guitar. The song he performed, “Friday Night Is Killing Me,” became the title track and deserving centerpiece for his 1993 post-Mats debut as the leader of Bash & Pop. With next to zero support from Warner Bros., the album stiffed—and that’s a damn shame because it remains the best batch of songs by any Replacement since 1987’s Pleased To Meet Me. Like its title track, Friday Night’s overall vibe is cathartically autobiographical. “I was just 13, and my head was learning as my heart was racing/And I sold myself for next to nothing,” sings Stinson on “Fast And Hard,” hammering out a relentless bottom end with the help of late-period Mats drummer Steve Foley and his brother, Kevin. A magnificent tension is achieved when Stinson’s streamlined songwriting runs headlong into Bash & Pop’s burly swagger, which recalls the Faces and, more recently, Keith Richards’ X-Pensive Winos. And you might argue that Stinson—with his reedy, personable rasp—is the Richards to Westerberg’s Jagger. Don Smith’s production is punchy but unobtrusive. Hooks come in bunches, and Stinson’s ear for a sophisticated melody amid the well-orchestrated chaos is impeccable throughout. That makes “Tiny Pieces” the best hit single that never was, its nimble guitar line impossible to shake. On slapdash leadoff “Never Aim To Please,” Stinson snarls, “I shoot at nothing, gaining nothing’s all I do.” Given the overwhelming evidence here, his aim was spot on.

Hobart Rowland

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From The Desk Of Cold Specks: Paradise Playlist (Massive Attack’s “Dead Editors” And “Safe From Harm”)

Ladan Hussein, the woman who records and performs as Cold Specks, is quietly intense. On Fool’s Paradise (Arts & Crafts), her third album, Hussein’s music is stripped down to the essentials. Soft, mournful synthesizers drift through a melancholy space, with elusive percussion accents in the background. Her hushed, jazz-inflected vocals are full of passionate yearning, the sound of a soul on the verge of tears or explosive anger. “This is a deeply personal album,” says the Toronto-based Hussein. “It deals with a variety of topics from self-love, identity and diaspora dreaming during the apocalypse. I wrote most of the record in a period where I was feeling as though I needed to detach from the world, for the sake of my own sanity. The album is a brutally honest document of it all.” Hussein will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature on her.

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Hussein: Apathy during the apocalypse is the goal. Switch it off and sigh. Here are songs to keep you warm during the disconnection process. (You can keep up with my Paradise Playlist on Spotify.)

Rob is probably the most talented person I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and Roots Manuva so cool it hurts. (Flashing light years flashing right here.) I did some arrangements and vocals for Massive Attack a while back. The creepy choral arrangement on “Dead Editors” is mine. A great deal of the sounds on my new record came to life after working with Rob and getting a glimpse into his working process. Massive Attack are one of my favourite bands, and I probably listen to “Safe From Harm” once a day. Endless love and respect.

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Film At 11: METZ

This month marks the start of METZ’s highly anticipated tour in supported of the great Strange Peace (Sub Pop). To celebrate, we’re sharing the group’s new video for “Drained Lake.” In this clip, a muffin tray floats around the kitchen, while a female vampire turns into a black cat. Check it out below.

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From The Desk Of Cold Specks: Paradise Playlist (Poly Styrene’s “Trick Of The Witch”)

Ladan Hussein, the woman who records and performs as Cold Specks, is quietly intense. On Fool’s Paradise (Arts & Crafts), her third album, Hussein’s music is stripped down to the essentials. Soft, mournful synthesizers drift through a melancholy space, with elusive percussion accents in the background. Her hushed, jazz-inflected vocals are full of passionate yearning, the sound of a soul on the verge of tears or explosive anger. “This is a deeply personal album,” says the Toronto-based Hussein. “It deals with a variety of topics from self-love, identity and diaspora dreaming during the apocalypse. I wrote most of the record in a period where I was feeling as though I needed to detach from the world, for the sake of my own sanity. The album is a brutally honest document of it all.” Hussein will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature on her.

YouTube Preview Image

Hussein: Apathy during the apocalypse is the goal. Switch it off and sigh. Here are songs to keep you warm during the disconnection process. (You can keep up with my Paradise Playlist on Spotify.)

As a young black girl creating strange sounds, Poly Styrene was my hero. When I found out she was Somali, my whole world changed. I found a familiar face in a sea of offensively mediocre, boring white dudes. In fact, she is a part of the reason I call myself Cold Specks. I even had a pseudonym behind my stage name for a while (Al Spx), which was an homage to her band X-Ray Spex. (The Al was for Allah.)

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