Roland S. Howard – Six strings that drew blood

January 26, 2010

Some seismic events need be experienced once only to feel their full visceral force. An erupting volcano; an exorcism; a Birthday Party gig.

I was lucky enough to witness the terrible beauty of the latter in Camden’s Electric Ballroom in the early 80’s. Nick stalked centre stage, howling, prowling. At his left Tracy Pew, swagger and stetson. Crouched to his right, cigarette dangling, murdering a guitar, Roland S. Howard.

Black clad, chalk white, drainpipe thin, the ‘guitar thug’ attacked his instrument with the subtlety of a lunatic chopping wood. Listen to Blast Off or The Friend Catcher and you’ll know what I mean. Listen in the dark. With yours eyes closed. Is that a guitar, or a chainsaw?

The first two Birthday party albums hit the world like a tornado. No band could sustain such aural carnage. They disintegrated. Nick mellowed (eventually). Roland did some interesting stuff with Crime and the City Solution and These Immortal Souls; collaborated with kindred spirits including Jeffrey Lee Pierce and notably with Lydia Lunch on a haunting, abrasive cover of Some Velvet Morning. He even joined the King Ink occasionally to belt out some old Birthday Party tunes live.

In December 2009 he died of liver cancer. He was 50. Another loss.


One Response to “Roland S. Howard – Six strings that drew blood”

  1. Great tribute to a seriously underrated musician. Although his new fantastic solo album got a lot of local play on community radio stations here in Melbourne, Howard was still largely unknown around Australia. I am kicking myself for not seeing him play live when I had the chance. My nephew and his girlfriend did, less than a year ago, and said he was fantastic.

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