Jack Howard certainly is the definition of a bloke you can trust. Earning his stripes as a trumpet player in various orchestras and brass bands, Jack went on to become a defining sound of Hunters and Collectors, one of the country’s best known road worries for their nonstop touring. I remember first hearing the Hunters in a Big M commercial when I was nine. While Hunters is no longer on the road Jack is always round St Kilda and beyond doing gigs, with Nicky Del Rey, the Long Lost Brother and a Sister and his wonderful Bacharach show and also getting up with a wide variety of acts playing his specialty brass instrument. 2016 saw Jack start Epic Brass, a show featuring a group of amazing singers playing a collection of classic Australian tracks, some that feature brass and others that ave had brass added for the show. 2017 Jack hit the road for Midnight Oils comeback tour, which also gave birth to Lightheavyweight, his latest solo recording featuring songs bout the cities he visited on the Oils tour. Me and Jack met at the Bakery on Tennyson Street pretty much half way between both our places. I kept drooling over the Fall seven inch he brought down, Lie Dream of a Casino Soul with the brilliant B Side Fantastic Life.
Munster: you of course are known for being a brilliant trumpet player, and you also sing, play keyboard and percussion, is there any other instruments you play?
Jack: I attempted guitar when I was younger, but failed miserably. I did play bass guitar on a Hunters track, on the Fireman’s Curse I think.
Munster: was trumpet the first instrument you learned?
Jack: it was trumpet. My dad was involved with the Brunswick brass band. He was playing drums and we started going together, and they had a junior band as well as the main band. Brass bands are a big thing in Australia, they have competitions and you compete all over the state, it’s very very serious. So I joined the junior band and the instrument that I played was the flugelhorn, up the corner. In a brass band the corner to the violinist are doing the flash fast stuff, where’s the flugelhorn was more a nice solo melodic instrument, which suited me really well. Physically playing a brass instrument is a very physical thing, you need the right mouth set up, the right lips. But it suited me really well, I was involved with brass bands for about eight years, then started playing in orchestras and in school bands. Really the traditional par for a young classical musician did all my grades, my A and B grades and theory grades. It really was trumpet for a while. I did take piano lessons for a while but just didn’t take.
Munster: What was it that lead you to the trumpet?
Jack: well both my parents where right into their music and my sisters play piano, so I was always going to be guided, not forced, but guided to some kind of instrument. I don’t know the initial connection to the Brunswick Brass band was but it’s still a connection that’s lasted a long time, I teach with a fellow who was in that band when I was ten years old, so connections go back a long long way. I think it’s a little different for guitarists because trumpeters, as a young musician, well Herb Elbert I listened to a lot, but it was kind of inadvertent as opposed to right I’m going to be like Herb Elbert, but when I was that age he was the trumpeter which was the most visible trumpeter, where’s obviously in rock bands, guitar is a more common instrument, so I think it works a little different from classical musicians to rock musicians.
Munster: So playing in the Brunswick Brass Band, playing trumpet what was your style of playing, where you a star, like a flash full forward or where you a contributor keeping things along?
Jack: I was keeping it going, with the Brunswick Brass band, I was a good player but I was no star. I was asked back years later to play with the Footscray/Yarraville Brass band who are a very famous band, who in fact won world championships. And they had an incredible trumpet/corner section. And I was recognized as a very good player but not a star. I was no Tony Locket recruit. Even though I played like him on the footy field (laughs).
Munster: When you joined Hunters and Collectors started, what did people think of the horn section? Because it’s not a set of instruments that rock pigs usually associate with.
Jack: I think what people liked about early Hunters was the spectacle. You had the gas cylinders you had this really unique sound, then you had anywhere between four and six horn players. So they were getting a show, not four scrubbers just getting up and thrashing through four chords. They were getting something very different and unique at the time. And we didn’t play on everything. We’d play probably four or five songs which grew as time went on. Those early days it was Talking to a Stranger, Rendering Room, Boo Boo Kiss, and Loinclothing, off the first EP which we performed on Nightmoves, Lee Simons Nightmoves years ago, But six horn players is gonna make it a bit of a show and people loved it.
Munster: even when the Hunters took off where you still playing in brass bands?
Jack: oh yeah. So just out of school I was playing in the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, was a founding member of the Victorian Youth Chamber Orchestra. I was going to National Music Camp every year which is where every aspiring classical music player went. In fact, the other two Hunters horn players where following the same path, Jeremy Smith and Michael Waters, so that’s where we all met. But Hunters at first was no full time occupation. My first year playing in 81, and I went back to my journals recently, and there were a lot of gigs in 81, my first gig was at the Ballroom supporting the Cure, and the next night was at the Oxford Hotel. So we got on a roll quickly. At first we didn’t get paid but eventually we got $10 a night for the six horn players. But I was playing in local musicals, like the National Theatre, Sweet Charity, West Side Story stuff like that a fairly traditional like I say young classical musician/horn player’s life. I wasn’t teaching at that time and I played in small groups I played in a Melbourne University Brass quartet with some very good players. I looked at the journals and one year early on, 81 or 82, I reckon I had maybe 20 nights of the year when I had nothing on. Whether it was a rehearsal, a classical gig or a Hunters show. I also started getting up with other bands and doing a song, Dockers, Models as time went on. But if I could find the time I would still be in an orchestra, I love it.
Munster: You went on the road with Midnight Oil in 2017 for their massive world tour, how did that come about? Did you expect to get a call?
Jack: I wouldn’t say I was expecting it, but I was hopeful. I’ve done a lot of stuff with Rob Hirst over the years, I’ve played with his band the Backsliders. I’m in a band with him Jim and Martin and Brian Richie called the Break, psychedelic surf band so I’m the psychedelic surf trumpeter. And I’d done a lot of recordings with Rob where very good friends I go up to Sydney with the kids and Fiona and stay at his place. I had a lot of conversations with him and a lot of band conversations. Because Hunters had a big year five years a go, we went on tour, did the Grand final, Rolling Stones and Springsteen all that kind of stuff. The Oils guys where very intrigued, they were asking how did it go? What was it like being back on the road? They were intrigued, and I guess of all the Australian bands, and I may be getting to big for my boots, but Hunters and Oils where the two biggest bands that had stayed out of the spotlight, I think. So they wanted to know how we went. So I was quietly hopefully I would get a call. I thought it was a matter of when then if. One day in March Rob Called, I still remember the call very vividly. It was a Thursday morning before I went to school, he called, and of course I said yes. He mentioned it was a world tour, lasting the better part of a year and away for most of the time, American, Brazil, Europe and my jaw dropped, I was in. As you could imagine very exciting.
Munster: being gone for most of the year, was it gruelling or good fun?
Jack: 99% of the time it was good fun, it was a really good adventure. And also we weren’t sleeping in vans lugging our own gear. We travelled well stayed in good hotels. We had a good crew that looked after all my trumpets and keyboard stuff, I had it very good, and they do interesting things. Because of the kind of band they are, there a bunch of smarts guys and very passionate about the environment and the state of the earth, so we’d so interesting like playing for Greenpeace, and interesting side adventures, we’d go to a lot of galleries and just wonder. And the gigs were great, the best part of it for me, and Fi was with me for most of this, was the European festival tour. Playing these big festivals with great bills. You know here it likes festivals of just JJJ bands or just heavy metal bands, these festivals had all kinds of stuff, you have rap and metals and Italian crooners on the same bills. It was a fantastic experience, and beautiful places like the French lakes and the Alps, with sensational France catering, so not a lot of downside. In terms of Homesick we had a bit of home time, but Fi was with me for a long period, all of Brazil and most of Europe. If anything I missed my dog Jet the most, so yeah I could have kept going.
Munster: and of course your new LP Lightheavyweight came from that tour.
Jack: as anyone that knows anything in the music business probably knows its 95% down time and 5 % high excitement as you do the live show. So you need to find constructive ways to fill that time, whether its going to galleries or seeing the local sceneries, you can’t exist on going to cafes and restaurants and watching TV you don’t understand.so you got to be very proactive I believe. I got out an awful lot to see things. I did a lot of Facebooking but I didn’t want it to be just photos, you know here’s me at a French festival. I thought I’d do something a bit different so I wrote some music. I threw together some beats some basslines, a bit of trumpet with the laptop open. And I came up with these bits of music with photos too, like travel logs. People seemed to like it, then I started to write a blog which was a good creative outlet. I got permission from management, they loved it, thought it was good. Had to be careful with the Oils, like most big bands you have to be careful, there very protective of their property, brand and music. I didn’t put up a single photo of the oils. I got a million Photos of the Oils and they ended up using a lot of them as I had a good vantage side of stage. And management found em very useful and they put the blogs and some of the pics I took on the Oils website, and again there very protective they don’t slap anything on there. So it became a good side project to do the music the photos and the blog, time really well spent. When I got home I really wanted to do something with that music. I didn’t want to put out a band album, a Long Lost Brothers LP for the moment, as it’s really hard selling anything these days in this environment and cost a lot of money. I kept working on it and it came out in October.
Munster: Its funny you say that because I’ve spoke to a lot of people who say when they go on tour they find it impossible to write new material, and you’ve managed to write and record most a whole LP on the road and do the blogs and photos, that’s a pretty amazing achievement.
Jack: well I was in a fairly unique position I was not in the band. My day to day press activities or band involvement activities where minimal. I didn’t need to be on hand for an interview at 2:15pm. I had none of that. I didn’t need to any of that I didn’t need to promote myself or anything like that. Also I’m a generally clean living man so I was generally in a decent state majority of the time, sleep deprivation notwithstanding. So it was a unique position, all the musical stuff I was very much involved, always there for sound check, new songs to learn, the story of learning every song they ever played, as well as unreleased tracks, so we rehearsed everything. I think they played over 100 different songs on the tour, which is unique for a tour like that. And I think I learned 50 or 60 of those, it might have just been cowbell in the chorus but for Rob it was important for that percussion there. And knowing those little keyboard parts and there were crucial parts I had to play like keyboard parts in Wedding Cake Island and Outside World. I had important parts other than the brass, but there was a lot of down time hopefully I used it well.
Munster: so when you recorded on the road was it pretty much playing the music down the laptop?
Jack: funnily enough in the hotel room the garage band stuff is all contained when I played the trumpet I blew it straight into the laptop, which isn’t the greatest mic in the world, having said that I liked all the bits that I played so much I did my best to tweet all those sounds with various effects and reveres and compresses to make it sound good when I played it into the laptop and most of the trumpet on the record was played into the laptop. It was very low technology but it worked.
Munster: I interviewed Penny Ikinger and Don Walker recently and asked them what it was like going from being a member of a band, where they never sang to going solo where they had to sing which they had never done before and took them time to get there voice on stage down. What was your experience like when you went solo after leaving Hunters?
Jack: I was the main backing vocalist in Hunters, but anyone will tell you going from a backing singer to lead is a very big step. We used to joke in Hunters I was very slowly edging my way to the centre of the stage to hip and shoulder Mark out of the way. I had these conversations a lot with Rob Hirst and Paul Hester because we all went from going to being in a big band to going solo. We had this like union of side guys, of course those guys where more than sidemen they were big parts of the bands they were in, but that was our joke going to the front of stage. I think the thing that frightened me the most was the audience interactions which is a common tale. As a backing singer I think I said about five words. Mostly cut that out. As times gone on I feel I’ve gotten very comfortable, so much the last Hunters tour I did perk up quite a bit and talked a bit, it’s good to have a voice. Bands when they come back, as the old song says Love is lovelier the second time around, everyone’s more relaxed and it’s like hey we have this fantastic thing going on. Everyone still likes us and the songs sounds great. So it did take a while, singing was fine but getting the front man shtick down was a long haul (laughs)
Munster: Epic Brass, how did that come about and was it originally meant to be a one off?
Jack: Definitely not a one off. When I had the idea it was a real light bulb moment, I thought it was a really good idea. It got to the point with the solo stuff and it’s a familiar tale with mid-level acts in Melbourne like where are we gonna play now? Let’s get a gig at the Retreat on a Tuesday. Or the Union. And it doesn’t add up to much. You’re out there doing it you put a record out but it stays at this fairly low level, and you not making any money, not much anyway. It’s a familiar tale. And I wanted, because I have this big background with Hunters I thought there’s got to be something I can do that yanks me to a bigger stage. I’ve done the Bacharach shows and that was really good, and Bacharach’s wonderful but it’s a different thing. Took me a while to narrow down the cast members of the show, and that’s how it feels like a cast now, four or five different singers, all unique singers and characters, there like an Adams Family of singers, because there not traditional singers, Penny Ikinger, Steve Lucas, Paulie Stewart, Ron Pena, Fiona Lee Maynard. Was a unique cast of singers and I certainly thought it had legs. It’s a very large outfit to put together. To attempt to tour it, we did it in Sydney, great band, Steve Kilby got up, but it’s not cheap flying ten people up. It’s got legs but it’s a special event show. I’d love to get it on a festival, it would be great for a Meredith or a Queenscliff. One of the benefits is it has this combo of post punk thread but some big hits, like the Hunters and Oils stuff and the Saints, there very well-known songs. The last one we did was even bigger, we had seventeen musicians on stage. Maybe even some reginal shows on the cards. It’s a very St Kilda show and want to keep pushing it.
Munster: you mentioned that you had this platform with Hunters and why not use it and I agree why not use it if it’s there, but while your happy to use that platform and throw in the odd Hunters song you seem like you don’t want to be someone that lives entirely off the back catalogue, and Lightheavyweight kind of shows that as its different to all the other music you’ve made over the years and your always trying to do something new as well.
Jack: well Lightheavyweight we do a few of those songs with the Brothers but it’s not the same sound as the record, it a more electronic LP, I described it as Gorillaz with brass. It’s got that drive to it. Lot of different projects, it took a while to come up with the Hunters songs, Holy Grail I was singing in quite a few different guises, and also I had quite a bit of involvement writing footy songs over the years. In 98 as Hunters was finishing I wrote this song called Thank God the Footy’s Back. It was about getting to the end of the footy season and it’s like ah the footy’s over what am I gonna do, what am I gonna watch on TV on a Friday and Saturday. Channel 7 loved it and used it as the opening for the 98 or 99 season. I got interviewed on Today Tonight, to myself I thought this is gonna be my post Hunters career because I didn’t know what I was gonna do, I was thinking this would make me a fortune I got this football thing, of course none of which happened. I also wrote a song for the EJ Whitten Legends game about Teddy. Also wrote a few songs for Carlton so I had a bit of football involvement so it ended up being a natural to perform Holy Grail, so I’ve done a big band arrangement sung it at the Carlton Grand Final Eve lunch a few times, that was a regular in my bag for a while but never did that in my own band, but now we’ve done a few bigger shows, and I’m quite happy to do them and their fun as well to play. In Epic Brass Ron Peno does Do You See What I See and Sean Kelly does Talking to a Stranger, feels easier and natural to throw a few in.
Munster: Holy Grail was of course used as the theme to Channel 10s football coverage, was that a surprise that years after the song was released it would go on to become a sporting anthem?
Jack: pleasantly surprised to be honest. Since Hunters have broken up we’ve become more recognisable and more successful when we do make a comeback then when we were together in some ways. And Holy Grail and football is a big part of that. We did it in 2013 at the grand final with Hunters and Marks done it a few times. So yeah having it on Channel 10 every Saturday night was fantastic. I’m a director of Hunters so we all got a spilt and some money out of that. And it’s also nice an older song is still recognized, in a way you feel you’ve moved on to another life, but its kicking goals and still making us a buck and keeping us in the public eye. When we came back at Sound Relief in 2009 at the MCG and when we did the grand final that was a big part of it. So no complaints.
Munster: was playing the grand final in 2013 a career highlight?
Jack: aside from the fact that it was a Hawthorn Fremantle grand final, so a nothing grand final, yes it was a mega career highlight. Hunters had done a few things at the G for a night grand final, we did an Ansett Cup Final. And we also did a match between Melbourne and Geelong in the mid-90s which was a anniversary of Melbourne and Geelong. So we’ve been on the ground before but the Grand Final was something else. I did my best to soak it all in. And as we left the ground I did a backwards umpire run to leave the ground through the gate so was quite pleased with myself (laughs).
Munster: Hunters went into the ARIA Hall of fame in 2005, did that mean anything to you guys?
Jack: yes. In my mind it was a bit of a career rehabilitation. There was a bit of a negative spot in my life, when Hunters broke up it was a bad year and I had negative thoughts from Hunters I just wanted to move on. The Channel 10 using Holy Grail happened so that was a positive. And when we found out we were being inducted we had to play. We hadn’t seen much of each other I saw a bit of Michael I see Barry and Jeremey time to time. But when we got back in the room everyone relaxed, the sound, the mega sound was fantastic to be back in. Most gigs I’ve done since Hunters where small gigs with a vocal PA, fold back if you lucky, you’re doing your own mixing. So to be back in the big environment big sound big production was great. We had a wonderful night, so it was a glittering occasion, Peter Garrett inducted us so was pretty spectacular but nothing much happened after that. Then the Sound Relief opportunity came up. It was also the Oils first gig in a long time and Peter had some negative press due to being in the Labour party, so him being on stage in his natural environment, he had a ball. So the Hall of fame was a significate moment.
Munster: How did the Hunters go in Europe and how where they received, because bands like the Hard Ons and the Go Betweens did really well in Europe and Hard Ons still are but they play to niche audience, where’s bands like Powderfinger and You Am I for most of the time play to Aussie backpackers in Europe. Hunters are kind of unique in the sense as they sold a lot of records but weren’t as mainstream as Powderfinger or the Countdown bands that tried to break Europe with no luck
Jack: we lived there in 83 for six months. We signed with Virgin off the back of Talking to a Stranger with the great video by Richard Lowenstein. But it went Pare shaped and we didn’t do much touring and we were in England with no money. We did the odd gig and the odd big gig but mostly playing to expats. We toured a America a few times through the 80s and that was great, that was on the back of Collage radio, we were with a really positive record label IRS who had bands like REM and Concrete Blond we had a great time and a good relationship. The first European tour was in 88, and Sweden we were a big deal. We played big shows and was a unique experience. In Australia people learn the sings seeing you live and the sing alongs they learn live. Where in Sweden they knew the words from radio, kind of like a pop sensation, which was astonishing for us. We toured with the Oils in 90 and a short tour in 94 which wasn’t a good tour. We didn’t capitalize in Europe and we should have done better I think. It was a combination of a financial thing and people getting more involved with their family’s more. That 88 tour and the 90 tour with the Oils, I figured on the back of those tours we could have gone back, done the big festivals go ballistic in Sweden, Germany and France. It didn’t happen for all kinds of reasons. From the mid-90s we figured we’re really strong in Australia we can still make records but we don’t know if we want the risk of going overseas because obviously it’s a business as well. It’s a funny one really, we never had that niche admiration, that people like Spencer P Jones, Kim Salmon, Died Pretty in Italy, Penny, Beasts of Bourbon had through Spain Germany and France, we never had that specific fanbase outside of Sweden in 88. Some ways its disappointing but its hindsight.
Munster: on a personal note, Athletics. You compete in shot put, hammer throw and discus and have done pretty well over the years from what I’ve heard.
Jack: still doing it, despite a dodgy back. I started athletics round the same time I took up trumpet. There the two twin things I’ve done through my life. I won school championships won Victoria Championships. Won the Australian Masters Championship about 8 years ago in the 50-55 age group in shot put and hammer. I still do it even though I’m not that serious about it, and I throw ok these days, it’s good to do, I pretend I’m still a sports person (laughs)
Munster: And you also teach music at Wesley Collage that must be a pretty rewarding gig.
Jack: I forget because I’ve been there so long and I run bands teach trumpet. Made some great records with former students making their mark in the record. I did a record a ten years ago Lost Horizon which was three ex-students, Kieron Jones, Jo Schocket and Jeremy Hopkins. Whenever I listen back I still really like it. The Bacharach band is with all teachers from Wesley. So it’s a very productive school to be part of, and to get to play all day which keeps me in practise. Brass players is different to guitarist, it’s a physical instrument and you need to keep your lips and face in shape.
Munster: what’s on for 2019?
Jack: a bit unplanned. I need to make a list, I love a list I’m a Libra love a good list. Lightheavyweight I’d like to do more with, would like to get some festival activity. Epic Brass will continue but not something we can do all the time. The Bacharach show will go on and also expanding doing Bacharach and beyond, we’ve added some Sergio Mendes and Herb Alpert. I’ve got the duo with Nicky Del Ray and that little Acland Folk trio I did the Stranger in Paradise at the folk club, and I lots of gigs on a semi regular basis, all these interesting bands asking me to play live or on their record. I’m sure there be more of that but it’s a bit unplanned. I hope for some bigger stuff for the second half of the year, I don’t know what but hope for some action. In the meantime I’ll be teaching, playing at Dogs every few months With the Long Lost Brothers and a Sister, at Claypots with Nicky once a month. So keeping my mind in play play play. Not to sound to fatalistic at 60 you’re counting backwards rather than forwards. You go how many years have I got left and how many years have I got making music left and I want to make the most of it.
Munster: and finally favourite Fall LP or release?
Jack: I’ll go with the single Lie Dream of a Casino Soul, but in particular as we talked before the B Side Fantastic Life.
Lightheavyweight out now. Jack launches the LP Thursday 24 at Memo, Acland Street St Kilda.