KajaFax interviews Austin Howard
KajaFax interviews Austin Howard
Ellis, Beggs & Howard (EBH) were made up of Simon Ellis (keyboards & programming), Nick Beggs (Bass Guitar & Chapman Stick) and Austin Howard (vocals). Their debut single Big Bubbles, No Troubles was a hit all over Europe and their debut album Homelands was simply the best album of 1988. The group got the support slot on the T’Pau tour, and universal opinion is that they stole the show and were themselves worth the ticket price alone!
KajaFax is very proud to present this exclusive interview with the man whose vocals made EBH so special…Austin Howard.
Austin, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to speak to KajaFax.
May I begin by asking about your career prior to ‘Ellis Beggs & Howard’? I know that you did some work with ‘Stock, Aitken & Waterman’ back in ’86. What other projects had you been involved with prior to working with Nick and Simon?
Well, I was studying drama and theatre design in central London. After dropping out, I found myself working within the fashion industry as a model. It wasn’t long before the shine came off what I can only say was a pretty unglamorous lifestyle and I wanted to do my own thing. Singing and writing was something I loved to do, and I had been asked many times to sing and write for other people. It was around that time when an old friend from my modelling days, YAZZ, asked me to help her form a group which we did called The Bizz in 1983. We had a single called ‘Falling’. This was the first of a string of working relationships with other artists and producers leading up to my meeting with Nick and Simon some years later.
So how did Ellis Beggs & Howard come to be? Had you known Nick prior to forming the band?
Simon and I had been involved with the same management company in Camden called Park Music, where we had been working on ideas for songs. It became apparent to us that what we had was itself a great formula, and that we should put a band together. At the same time, Nick (Beggs) had popped into the company offices and Luxy Lux, our manager, pointed him towards our studio. We met up with Simon who played him some stuff, and the rest is history.
I only knew of Nick from hearing Kajagoogoo on the radio and thinking that the bass player was a bit of a show off!
I loved ‘Big Bubbles, No Troubles’ and think that your vocal on that track ranks amongst the best vocals that I have heard on any other song. Who and what first inspired you to sing?
Thank you! The artists that first inspired me to sing are people like Otis Redding, Jimmy Cliff, James Brown, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson Five to name but a few.
Could you tell us a little about the recording of the Homelands album? Are there any particular things that stand out in your memory from those sessions?
We recorded those tracks in a studio setup in the lower part of a Church tower. Nick, Simon and I threw ourselves into some pretty intense writing for around six weeks before recording the crucial elements. About 80% of the album was recorded onto an 8-track Tascam reel to reel recorder. That whole period with EBH was one of the most memorable of my career…it just clicked between us right away. We knew that we were building a ship that would sail the world and we became very protective of each other…and our ‘baby’. Another memorable occasion was just sitting in the roof area of the studio with our manager, and hearing Nick come up with the bass line for ‘Big Bubbles’. It was awesome; we all just froze for a while, looking with wide-open eyes at each other. It was a riff that he would often warm up with whenever he pulled that (Chapman) Stick out!
When he put it to the rhythm track, we all knew we had a hit on our hands…He’s a GREAT player, I call him “The Wizard”.
Ellis Beggs & Howard did not achieve quite the level of success in the UK that they did elsewhere in Europe. Do you feel that the Kajagoogoo association may have contributed to that?
No, I don’t think so, although there may be some people who are sceptical about artists going from one genre to another. But that’s what eclectic musicians do when they want to fulfil a musical desire. I think the two bands (EBH and Kajagoogoo) were worlds apart. Ellis Beggs and Howard had more than enough great talent to stand-alone.
The Europeans certainly saw it straight away.
How and why did Ellis, Beggs & Howard come to an end?
There were so many elements that seemed to not be coming together during the recording of our second album; we just went into meltdown…
My highlight of your recording career since EBH is a recent one – the track ‘Heaven Knows’. Which part of your solo career are you the most proud?
That’s simple…I’m most proud of still being able to do what I love. It could have been very different for me. I was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 1991 during that difficult period with EBH. I suppose I’m most proud of Simon and Nick for sticking by me, along with all the others who believed in me.
‘Heaven Knows’ was a great opportunity to express just what it’s like to lose something, but in the process find hope. That’s its message.
Moving on now to your current band, ‘Ruff as Stone’. How did you guys get together?
It was through an old guitarist friend, Tom E Morrison, who I had met through my old management company Park Music some 20 years previously. We happened to bump into each other in a blues bar in Crouch End, London, and he asked me to come for a jam session with some friends. Again, we just clicked.
Ruff as Stone have a distinctive rock edge, quite different from Ellis Beggs & Howard. Have your musical tastes changed over the years, or was the rocker in you always trying to get out?
There’s always been a rocker in me. My first ever band was with my three brothers when I was 13 and was a rock pop covers band called ‘Silver Mist’
I know that the music industry is very different now from what it was 25 years ago. What is the long term plan for Ruff as Stone? I know that you are playing a whole bunch of live dates. Where can we see you in the UK?
The plan is to take ‘Ruff as Stone’ to the masses. You can see where and when we’re playing via our web presence www.ruff-as-stone.com and on Facebook (ruff as stone).
Do we have an album to look forward to? The samplers on the website would suggest that maybe we should!
Most definitely! You can expect an album or maybe an EP very soon. Hopefully, in the later part of 2011.
Finally, would you ever consider working with Simon and Nick again for an Ellis, Beggs & Howard reunion if you were ever asked? Do you still keep in touch with the other band members?
I would work with Simon and Nick in a heartbeat. They are two of the best musicians I have ever been blessed to work with. I love them both.
Austin, thank you for speaking to us. It has been a pleasure!
And you, guys!
A huge thanks to Austin for such a great interview!
KajaFax encourages its readers to check out Ruff as Stone on their website.