RIP Paul Howard
On October 17 2021 Punk, Punkbjort, Pombere, Pinkie, or Paul Howard as some people knew him passed away, leaving an irreparable void in our lives. Just prior to that tragic event, he wrote his own profile to add to this website. It seems fitting that we share that with you in celebration of his life.
Our tribute to our greatest friend will be the new material we are currently working on, which we plan to release in the not too distant future
Paul Howard - in his own words
Born in Salisbury, Rhodesia in 1957, as it was named then, I enjoyed a carefree, happy childhood that could be considered remarkable in that there was nothing remarkable about it. At the age of five our family was gifted an old Spanish guitar by some neighbours that had immigrated to New Zealand but I only started to learn to play it when I was about thirteen. This coincided with me taking clarinet lessons provided by the school at the Bulawayo Academy of Music and learning the classical approach to music and its theory. My informal approach to the guitar was guided by a few of my friends who played the guitar, whilst the clarinet involved playing for the school orchestra which was a pre-requisite to having formal lessons. I continued my clarinet tuition up until grade 5 when I was fired from the orchestra. In hindsight this was fully deserved as, with most things at the time, I did not take it too seriously, often seizing the opportunity to play other member’s instruments and generally not taking a constructive role in the performances to put it mildly. My geography master once commented ‘the orchestra’s rendition of the Mission Impossible theme was a self-describing performance’. He was right and I was glad to be freed from this burden, although in retrospect an extra couple of years in classical training would have served me well for what was to come with Gutter in the years ahead.
My musical influences, to begin with, were shaped mainly by my elder brothers with Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull, the Who, the Beatles and the Stones being staples of my musical ingestion at the time. I had also developed a strong affinity for Bach, from my classical training appreciating his command of melody and structure. I had also been introduced to the Bach interpretations of Jacques Loussier, a French jazz musician, whose ability to rework classical pieces fascinated me.
My first introduction to Gutter was a failed impromptu audition. For some reason I was at a band practice where Mark had stormed out of the room. Someone asked if I could sing and after a quick demonstration, the prospect of a new lead vocalist position was quickly abandoned. Still, I liked the atmosphere and remained as a hanger-on and part-time manager for a couple of years. Strong bonds formed with the band during these years that would last a lifetime. We socialized, played music, developed our own language and generally had a fantastic time.
After high school, we all completed our national service and headed off to university, I went to Natal University in Durban for a couple of years, Mark went to Rhodes University in Grahamstown and Tony went to the University of Cape Town. The separation didn’t last too long however, Mark completed his Journalism degree and moved to UCT to do law while I transferred my studies to UCT to complete my Computer Science degree.
By this time a few of our songs had been recorded professionally and we had charted a number of times in Zimbabwe. We undertook to back these up with live performances and started to play in pubs, clubs, universities and the like. This is when I was included in the line-up for the first time playing rhythm guitar, some keyboard parts and even the clarinet in some songs. Our repertoire was mainly lively cover songs sprinkled liberally with our own compositions. Possibly the highlight of this time was performing at the UCT fresher’s ball where we had an audience numbering in the thousands, the acoustics of the hall were horrific but that didn’t stop the students having a night to remember. Another stand out during this period was the band being featured on a South African television programme called Video 2. At that time we had been doing some recording on an Oberheim synthesizer which was one of the earliest programmable instruments, and it was this angle from which we managed to inveigle our way onto the show. After hitch-hiking 1500kms to Johannesburg we mimed a version of It’s Your Life which seemed to go down remarkably well and we were surprised at how many people commented that they had seen us on TV.
Whilst on one of my many excursions to Johannesburg I was given the opportunity to experiment with a Fairlight CMI digital synthesizer, sampler and digital audio workstation. This really intrigued me, as having a computer science background, I had imagined the future digitization of music and now the technology was starting to make it possible. This was a wonderful machine and really set the bar for what was still to come. The potential of this machine made a very deep impression on me and I was determined that one day I would own something similar. At that time it was a very expensive instrument and was certainly out of reach to most musicians. Little did I know that 30 years later my home studio would have several orders of magnitude larger capability at a fraction of the price.
During this time we were really burning the candle at both ends, either rehearsing, recording demos, or performing every night of the week. I had just started my first job at this time and it was a good thing I was young or else I would never have been able to cope, yet at the time we did not see it as anything out of the ordinary. The remainder of the professional recordings during this period were done during vacations when Mark and Tony would travel to Durban or Johannesburg. I was not considered (quite rightly) to have sufficient proficiency for studio recordings so I stayed behind and focused on my early programming career during those periods. My lack of proficiency was largely due to my inability to keep time. My clarinet teacher used to beat me over the head with a conductor’s baton in an attempt to help me keep time, as did Tony in later years with his drum sticks. This is strange since I can hear the time correctly in my head but translating this to my playing is difficult. It must be some kind of co-ordination issue which is quite weird since I was a capable gymnast and useful scrumhalf at school where co-ordination was never an issue. This timing superpower has earned me the nickname Big Ben in the band and has been used extensively to keep my ego in check. [Legal1] [PH2] Fortunately, modern technology has a multitude of tools to remedy timing issues so this is no longer an obstacle. In fact, a few times I have had occasion to correct the timing of the others on the band, (they will never admit to this).
My other superpower is that I have a condition known as synaesthesia. This is a neurological condition in which information meant to stimulate one of your senses stimulates several other senses. In my case I associate colours with just about everything, sounds, chords, people and numbers. I am not really sure if this helps me in any way but it does provide me with an alternative mechanism of memory recall. If the truth be known, I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t have this.
Towards the end of university (for Mark and Tony) was the time that we disbanded. A myriad of reasons that don’t require elaboration, suffice to say that life got in the way and the dream was over. I was very despondent at the time as I thought we had so much to offer and we had not even vaguely achieved the potential that I firmly believed existed in the band. There was little I could do about it, I had a decent job and the others had the right to carve out alternate careers for themselves. I could not and did not stand in their way but still it didn’t ease the feeling of a job left undone… at least until my mid-life crisis some 30 years later when technology provided the mechanism and opportunity to continue our quest. I now had the chance to acquire my own version of the Fairlight, for that memory of my brief encounter with the beautiful machine had remained with me all these years.
I threw myself into music production, high speed internet and recording software , now being affordable, provided a mechanism whereby we could start to record some of our back-catalogue material even when the members of the band were spread around the globe. My background in computer programming meant that it was relatively simple to learn the software but learning the art of music production was another kettle of fish. This needed lots of effort and many hours behind the desk in order to produce something that was commercially viable. Fortunately, the other members of the band were ruthless in their criticism and patiently provided comments on mix after mix until the results started to manifest themselves and once we all had the belief that we could produce music that we could be proud of, the ball started to roll.
I encouraged the others to setup home studios with the same software as I had and after a process of teaching them how to use the software we developed our own methods and processes for recording remotely. We employed the services of a mastering engineer in England to finesse the final mixes and to master our songs to commercial quality. So we now had the whole recording and production process covered. Distribution of the album to on-line stores and streaming services is a relatively simple process and we quickly found a suitable partner to provide this service.
The missing part of the puzzle was now the marketing of the album. Early on we realized that we would need a website, so I developed one using readily available software and we have been updating and refreshing the content on it ever since. We also required videos to help promote the songs on the website and over social media, so I set about learning to do this, again with inexpensive software on the internet. This has also been quite a stiff learning curve, but the results are starting to show and although I think I still have some way to go, I have been able to produce content that I feel proud of. Although the new world of social media and digital marketing is still a mystery to us, we are starting to make some progress. We have enlisted the help of a friend from way back, Max Mason, who has had plenty of marketing experience and who is pushing us in directions that we would not previously have envisaged. Another learning curve to master while we would rather be making music, but I guess we have no-one to blame but ourselves!
But it does mean that we have developed the capabilities to manage the whole creation process of our music within the Gutter environment, from composition, recording, production through to marketing and distribution. It has taken a while but has been worth the effort.
And this is where we are right now, planning our next album (/film score). We now have the tools skills and motivation to produce whatever we like, limited only by our imaginations. It’s a great position to be in so let the games begin …