Mick Harvey on Rowland S Howard and Pop Crimes

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - 15:21

This February we welcome Pop Crimes to Royal Festival Hall; a very special night in tribute to the legacy of visionary musician Rowland S Howard. Ten years after the release of Howard’s final album, and in honour of what would have been his 60th birthday, the concert will feature former bandmates of Howard among a number of special guests.

A key driver behind this event has been Howard’s former bandmate, Mick Harvey. The pair first collaborated when Howard joined Harvey, plus Nick Cave, Phill Calvert and Tracy Pew in The Boys Nextdoor, who would later become known as The Birthday Party. After The Birthday Party split in 1983, Harvey went on to work with Howard again in spin-off band Crime and the City Solution, and on Howard’s latterly released solo albums.

Ahead of Pop Crimes’ London debut we spoke to Harvey about his relationship with Howard, the origins of the Pop Crimes show, and how London audiences differ to those in his native Australia.



Mick, what prompted you to put together the Pop Crimes gig?

We played some Pop Crimes shows in Australia in 2004 and 2005 and had always been keen to try and bring it to Europe. I think the coincidence of Rowland’s 60th, along with the 10th anniversary of his passing brought the idea of the show back into focus. Then the prospect of the two solo albums being released in Europe and America came up and the whole undertaking really seemed to have a purpose.


Can you remember when you first met Rowland S Howard? How did he fit into the band?

I can’t remember the exact occasion, but I met Rowland in Melbourne in mid-1977, when the whole new wave scene was finding one another in the city. He joined the band about a year later and fitted in immediately. We already knew his playing and songwriting styles and that’s why we asked him to join.


What was your relationship with Rowland like? 

I’m not really sure how one can describe a relationship with someone else. We were good friends in the early days and then things were more strained after the break-up of The Birthday Party when Nick and I continued working together with The Bad Seeds. Over the years we had sporadic contact, but came back together to work on both his solo albums. There was a great respect there but also some resentment from his side and some wariness from mine. None of that really describes what it was like though; I’m not sure that’s possible.


Rowland S Howard - She Cried


Are there any stand out memories or moments that sum up your time together?

Probably the recording of Teenage Snuff Film. It was a very intensive collaboration on that record and we had a really good and productive time together. Also, when The Birthday Party was taking off; it was very exciting and we were very much on the same wavelength artistically. I guess that’s how one could sum up our time together - the central thing was always that creative connection.


The first performance of this Pop Crimes show was in Melbourne in late January; how did it go?

The Melbourne show was very exciting. Typical of a first gig after five years away there were many mistakes, but it hardly mattered as the feel of the songs and the energy and intensity of the music was just right. It was brilliant.


How easy was it to persuade other performers to take part?

Most people are very keen to take part, but unfortunately some people, like Thurston Moore and Jehnny Beth from Savages, are busy with other commitments. It will be great to have Lydia Lunch along, as she did many collaborations and recordings with Rowland; and Bobby Gillespie is an old friend of his and Epic Soundtracks, the These Immortal Souls drummer. The other guest performers like Jonnine Standish (HTRK) and Conrad Standish (The Devastations) worked with Rowland and were close friends. And hopefully Nick Cave will come along and sing a song or two as well; he has suggested that he may do if he is free.



I guess that’s how you could sum up mine and Rowland’s time together - the central thing was always that creative connection
Mick Harvey on his relationship with Rowland S Howard

Does a London gig audience differ from an Australian one at all?

London audiences are rather spoiled given everyone who can do plays there, but at the same time there is always a transitory population visiting the city. Melbourne is a bit similar in that most bands or artists will tour Australia and play there, and there is also a very healthy local music scene, so it can take quite a bit to impress the locals. But then maybe that’s a good thing. 

To be honest, in my experience, they do not differ that much; Melbourne and London, along with Berlin, are always like ‘home’ shows. There is always the potential for a huge guest list, and they are cities where members of every band I’ve been in have lived.


What can the audience look forward to hearing when you bring the show to Southbank Centre?

We will be performing a selection of Rowland’s music from These Immortal Souls and some of his collaborations with Lydia and others, and then presenting, basically, all the original songs from the two solo albums. The set-list runs to well over two hours of music and the core people involved are all people who worked with Rowland over the years, so the sound is very authentic. 

J.P. Shilo, who played on Pop Crimes has been tasked with playing Rowland’s distinctive guitar parts and does an amazing job; absolutely incredible. And of course Rowland’s brother, Harry Howard, and Genevieve McGuckin are there as original members of These Immortal Souls and play in the solo material, as well as acting as guest vocalist and keyboardist respectively.



Pop Crimes comes to Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday 12 February

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