One of ‘The Bandwagon’ boys is back in town this week. Remember The Stands? Course you do… but we’ll bet there’s loads reading this who will also remember Telefone and Blueseed. Howie Payne is the common denominator and these days the singer/songwriter is a melody maker who’s very much in demand. With an imminent re-release, new music ready to go and tour dates planned, the Dylan-esque song and dance man has decided to turn the spotlight back on his own music. By Alan O’Hare.
Ten brand new songs appeared online late last year. The work of Howie Payne, the tunes fell from the sky and went into the ether for those of us who were paying enough attention to do what we liked with. Such is the music game these days. The music itself? That can still be timeless. ‘Evangeline’, the song that opens ‘High Times, Home Recordings’, is timeless. Based on a revolving acoustic chord sequence, rasping harmonica and Payne’s trademark languid delivery, the song is a gem.
There are half a dozen or so more just like it on the ‘official bootleg’ and it’s worth searching out. Payne’s own ‘The Basement Tapes’? Maybe. It’s no secret that the ex-Stands singer/songwriter was Dylan-mad in the past. Indeed, a couple of gigs at The Zanzibar when he was thinking about following up his early noughties success saw him dressed up like ‘Desire’-era Bob and playing an unplugged acoustic guitar. “We had a ball in The Stands, but I was kinda’ on auto pilot just after – I’d been on the road for years without a break and what happened with the label had been a real shit show,” he reveals. “On one hand, I needed to keep playing just to keep my head straight… but I also really needed to take a break to get my head straight! I still had some contract stuff going on that meant I couldn’t make a record, so I went travelling instead.”
Since then, Payne has found a place to call his own in the music industry. Contributing hits to debut records by the likes of Jake Bugg and Ren Harvieu, the Scouser became a songwriter for hire. “I’ve been working with other people, writing songs, producing tracks, had a few hits and had a lot of fun doing it,” he says. “Ren’s producer called up and asked could they cover a bunch of my songs they’d heard floating around on demos… she’s a cool girl, has got a very special voice and has become a good writer herself. Working with Jake Bugg is more like hanging out, drinking tea and making up tunes – he’s a talented guy and a great guitar player.”
However, it’s Payne’s own music that we’re all interested in in this city. His debut solo album, ‘Bright Light Ballads’, has been reissued on vinyl and he’s hitting the road this week to play those songs live, alongside some old favourites and brand new tunes. Here he comes again, then…
How did this re-release come about? It’s become a special record to people since it arrived…
I was out on tour last September and a lot of people asked me if it would be out on vinyl… to be honest, I hadn’t given it much thought so I was surprised and very pleased to discover how influential it’s been to people. The timing was more just chance than design, but it’s turned out to be pretty cool in terms of other stuff that will be happening this spring.
It was recorded in a way that makes sense for vinyl wasn’t it?
It was a pretty special session, yeah. None of the band had really played together much before the recording. I had a place on Rodney Street and we’d met up a couple of times over there… but that was it. We arrived at the studio on the first day, had a brew and a quick chat about who could play what, set up and then got to it.
Just like that?
We’d run through a song in the day, finish it, then do another one or two in the evening…
Brilliant. Is the follow-up far away?
It’s coming along great, thanks. I’m excited about it and I’ll be playing new songs at these gigs – alongside tunes from The Stands, ‘Bright Light Ballads’ and other stuff I’ve written.
How about ‘Do Right By Me’? That’s great – were you ever tempted to keep that one and record it yourself?
I’m glad you like that one, man. Me too! I’ll probably record that at some point.
Can you talk a bit about giving songs away…
Interesting question. I’d have to think about that.
You can get back to me! What do you remember of that Channel 4 ‘Bandwagon’ show all those years ago?
It was a cool day… you know, we weren’t originally booked to perform, but all the other bands petitioned the C4 people to get us on. We met Dean there – who ended up playing bass for us – so it was a pretty important day for The Stands.
A transitional moment, perhaps. Do you miss Liverpool?
I miss my friends, my family, people you bump into and all that. I miss the river. When I come back, I can see the changes… it’s cool. It’s pretty happening there now.
What about those early days: The Windmills, Telefone, Blueseed…
I look back on it fondly. Most of it! Good times.
I heard that you also spent time in New York as a kid, too. Tell us a bit about that…
I learned to play guitar, wrote my first songs and discovered a lot of the music I love there. I’ve only been back a few times since, but I love it and feel like I’m part from there… which is cool, because it’s a great town.
You’re often working with brand new artists these days. Who’s grabbed you the most?
I discovered a very cool band called Neon Waltz, who I co-manage with Marcus Russell and Ignition. Check them out, they’re properly great.
Howie Payne with special guest Lee Southall
Thursday, February 9th 2017, 8pm
Buyers Club, Hardman Street, Liverpool
Pic courtesy HowiePayneMusic