John Howard grew up in Heywood and Bury, Lancashire, training as a classical pianist from the age of seven, though he began playing piano when he was just four years old. John first performed his own material at a college charity concert in March 1970 and for the next three years he played at universities, folk clubs and Bolton’s Octagon Theatre where an early incarnation of Iron Maiden asked John to be their lead singer! He declined the invitation.
In 1973, while playing at London’s Troubadour he was spotted and signed by then Head of Pop at Chappell Music, Stuart Reid. By the end of the year, John signed to CBS Records and was commissioned to write and record the theme song, Casting Shadows for the Peter Fonda/William Holden movie, Open Season.
His debut album, Kid In A Big World, produced by Tony Meehan and Paul Phillips, and featuring Rod Argent and Bob Henrit, was recorded at Abbey Road and Apple studios through 1974 and launched in February the following year with a concert John gave at The Purcell Room for radio, press and TV luminaries. Two singles from the album were released, Goodbye Suzie and Family Man, the former reaching No. 23 on Radio Luxembourg’s Power Play Top 30. Radio 1 though, refused to play either track, saying Goodbye Suzie was ‘too depressing’ and Family Man was ‘anti-woman’!
Searching for a hit single to promote John further, the label shelved the follow-up album he and Paul Phillips were working on, Technicolour Biography, before it was completed, putting John in the studios instead with Disco maestro producer Biddu. The resultant album, Can You Hear Me OK? spawned one single, I Got My Lady, which got plenty of Capital Radio play but still couldn’t break through onto the Radio 1 playlist. CBS decided to shelve the album and in early 1976 John left the label.
For the next few months John performed in fashionable London clubs such as April Ashley’s Knightsbridge eaterie AD8, Morton’s of Berkeley Square and Company, but this new stage in his career was brought to a sudden halt when he was involved in an accident at home, breaking his back.
After a long period of recuperation John met Trevor Horn with whom in the summer of 1977 he recorded his first single for two years, I Can Breathe Again, released in February 1978 on Ariola Records. The backing band comprised what would later become the nucleus of Buggles and The Art of Noise – Geoff Downes, Anne Dudley, Linda Jardim, Louis Jardim and Bruce Woolley. Over the next few years John made more singles with Trevor Horn, and with Steve Levine and Nicky Graham, and recorded several tracks with Kenny Everett’s hero, the late Chris Rainbow.
But by the early 1980s, feeling disillusioned with lack of success or recognition, John locked his piano lid and walked away from unrealised ambitions, only occasionally recording material when producer friends asked him to.
Through the 1980s and ’90s John carved out a career in marketing and A&R at various record companies, working with Elkie Brooks, Maria Friedman, Connie Francis, Hazell Dean, Sonia, Gary Glitter, The Crickets, Lonnie Donegan, Madness, Barry Manilow and Sir Tim Rice. He even found time to write the occasional song for other artists and in 1992 Des O’Connor recorded John’s Blue Days for his Portrait album which received a silver disc for 100,000 sales.
In 2001, after retiring to Pembrokeshire with his partner, actor Neil France, John began performing again, at local pubs and in the piano bars on the cruise ships. And then something amazing happened…
John’s long deleted Kid In A Big World album started to create interest on the internet, discussion sites were abuzz with talk about it. The album was featured in the book In Search of The Lost Record, and John started to get emails from around the world inquiring about the album he thought had long been forgotten. In response to this new-found interest, RPM Records reissued Kid at the end of 2003 and in early 2004 it got a five-star review in Uncut magazine. In April 2004 John gave his first London concert for 25 years, at The Jermyn Street Theatre, and that too received a five-star review in The Guardian. Later that year, RPM released Technicolour Biography in its unfinished state, 30 years after it had been shelved, and it too received glowing reviews. More gigs followed, a new audience for John’s music was building and after Can You Hear Me OK? was released in May 2005 by RPM, receiving again rave reviews, John finally issued his first new album since the 1970s.
Alexis Petridis in The Guardian gave The Dangerous Hours, a collaboration project with the poet/lyricist Robert Cochrane, a four-star review along with similar praise by Max Bell in Uncut. At the end of 2005 Cherry Red Records released As I Was Saying, featuring a brand new set of John Howard songs. Accompanied by guitarist Andre Barreau and bassist Phil King, the album proved a big hit, with Plan B magazine’s reviewer Dickon Edwards making it his Album Of The Year and Chris Roberts in his Uncut review writing that John ‘is a British Jimmy Webb’.
John’s third new album, Same Bed, Different Dreams, released on Disques-Eurovisions, received fantastic reviews in music magazines such as Les Inrocks and Magic, opening a new market for John’s music in France.
In 2006, John performed two shows at Manchester’s Briton’s Protection which were recorded for the live albums In The Room Upstairs and More From The Room Upstairs.
John moved to Spain in the summer of 2007 and signed with Bilbao-based label Hanky Panky Records which released his album Barefoot With Angels, his first to be recorded in his home studio. John followed this in 2009 with his first Best Of collection, These Fifty Years and also Navigate Home, featuring songs John wrote during his move to Spain.
Since 2011, John has issued another four studio albums, including his best-selling Storeys in 2013, as well as several E.P.s which feature covers of songs written by Scott McKenzie (‘What’s The Difference’), Paul McCartney (‘I’m Carrying’) and Joni Mitchell (‘Michael From Mountains’), among other songs written by Roy Harper, Laura Nyro, Alex Highton and Darren Hayman.
A live album recorded in London at the end of 2013, Live At The Servant Jazz Quarters was released in the Spring of 2014 and began an association with songwriter/musicians Robert Rotifer, Ian Button and Andy Lewis, who accompanied John for the gig. During 2014 the four of them collaborated on writing 10 new songs together and recorded them at the end of the year for an album, John Howard & The Night Mail, which was signed up by Hamburg-based Tapete Records and released in August 2015 to a raft of terrific reviews in magazines such as Q, Mojo, Record Collector and Shindig, as well as extensive media coverage in Germany and Austria. At time of writing (September 2015) the album is in the Top 10 of Austria’s Indie Album Chart.