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Stewart Copeland

Interview - Mike Howlett

The story of the Police began with a man, who asked the three boys to join him on a project he had in 1977. This man id Mike Howlett, and here is an interview he made for LiSting some weeks ago.

Mike Howlet is now a lecturer in Music Technology nowadays at two universities - University of Glamorgan in Cardiff where he teaches his own module on Record Production to 3rd Year students, and at Thames Valley University in London where he teaches MIDI and Synthesis to 1st Year students. Mike is also in the final year of his PhD which is an analysis of five of his hit productions. He's also currently Chairman of the Music Producers Guild, which represents producers in the music industry.     

Mike Howlett-How long have you been into music ?
I started playing the guitar when I was 11 years old and formed my first band in Sydney, Australia when I was 12.

-How did you meet with Sting and Andy Summers ?
I met Andy first when he came to visit Gong in 1974 = we were living on a farm in Witney, Oxfordshire by then, having moved from living in a hunting lodge in a forest near Sens in France earlier that year. I first met Sting in 1976 when I accompanied my girlfriend at the time, Carol Wilson, Manager of Virgin Music Publishers, to check out Last Exit in Newcastle. Sting, of course, was the lead singer and bass player. Carol liked the band and tried to persuade them to move to London where she could get record companies to see them more easily. She signed Sting as a songwriter to Virgin and helped to fund his move to London - the rest of the band didn't want to move.

Strontium 90-How did you start the Strontium90 project ?
I saw Andy again at a party in London in January 1977 - he had been in California for 2 years studying classical guitar and said he didn't understand what was happening in the London music scene then, because the Sex Pistols and The Clash were exploding over the country and the new Punk scene was really kicking off. I told him I was recording a demo for Virgin Records of my songs and did he want to play on them - he said yes! I had already asked Sting to sing on the demo - I had been helping him move into his London flat in Notting Hill Gate with his wife Frances and new baby.

-Was it supposed to be a "oneshot" band, I mean you only performed once...
Actually, we did three gigs - the first was a Gong reunion at the Hippodrome in Paris - that was the first time Sting, Andy and Stewart played together on stage - some of those tracks are available on the CD "Police Academy" on Sting's Pangaea record label. After that we played a couple of clubs in London.

-How did Sting convinced you to recruit Stewart Copeland, after the choice of Chris Cutler ?
I didn't need convincing - what happened was Chris Cutler was going to play on the recordings, but Henry Cow (his group) had a gig in Czechoslavkia (I think) at the last minute and Sting said why not use Stewart - I said yes straight away.

-Why the name "Strontium90" ? Is that about the result of a nuclear fusion of various musicians ?
The idea was that we were "hot" and dangerous!

Mike Howlett-How many songs did you record with Sting, Andy and Stew ?
We recorded five songs in the studio in London and one extra song by Stewart at the Gong gig at the Hippodrome.

-Then, "Radio actors" Could you tell us more about this other project ?
This was a project started by Harry Williamson to make a protest song about nuclear missiles - I had been playing with Nik Turner from Hawkwind on a project called "Sphinx" and invited him to play and I asked Sting to sing on it - we just made the recording and I don't think we did any gigs.

-Did you happen to jam with Sting these last years ?
I have not spoken to him since 1989 when I met him at a music awards show in London. I went to see The Police at Twickenham stadium in September last year at the invitation of Andy. I spoke to Andy and Stewart, but Sting said he wanted to see me but by the time I had seen Andy and Stewart backstage before the show he sent a message apologising but he had to get ready to play. After the show I spoke more with Stewart but Sting and Andy didn't come out to the Green Room party.

-You also had producing activity - French fans may not know about that, but you produced Julien Clerc...
Yes, I enjoyed working with Julien, Francoise Hardy sang some extra vocals on that album "Les Aventure a l'Eau", which was exciting for me! I also had a number 1 hit in France with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark in 1980 and in 1981 with "Souvenir", and another hit with Valerie LaGrange in 1978 or 79. I also won a Grammy for A Flock of Seagulls in 1982 and had other hits.

-Gong is one of the most well known progressive rock band. How long did you play with them ?
I joined Gong in 1973 and left in 1976, then played at the Hippodrome reunion in 1977. I didn't play with them again until the 25th Birthday Party reunion in London in 1994. Then in 1995 I had a dinner with Andy Summers and he told me about an American agent who I contacted and he set up a US tour for Gong in 1996 - between 1996 and 2001 we toured the US four times, Japan three times, and Europe six times. Then we played in Amsterdam in 2006 - a three day Gong Fest at the Melkweg with many Gong family groups and finally Gong with the 1973 line up - except for Pierre Moerlen, who, sadly, died in 2005. We will be playing in London on June 14 this year at the request of Massive Attack, who are curating a series of shows at the South Bank Centre - it is called Meltdown, and every year a famous artist chooses their favourite bands for this - recent years have been curated by Jarvis Cocker, Pattie Smith, Morrissey, David Bowie, Jeff Beck... Gong is also playing on June 15 at the Forum in London.

Mike Howlett-What are your favorite instruments ?
My favourite instrument is my original 1962 Fender Precision bass guitar - I never recorded a better sounding bass, and I worked with a number of fine bass players over the years as producer - Tony Levin and Pino Paladino among them. I also like synthesizers - AMS Synthi-A, Mini Moog, ARP 2000, Juno Alpha 2 - and now I like many virtual synths - Sculpture, Maelstrom, Nord Modular - and the Hammond B3. Any instrument that is played well - Jimi Hendrix' Stratocaster...     

-What are your current projects ?
I have a band called House of Thandoy - www.myspace.com/houseofthandoy - we always improvise funky space jazz groove thing and record the jams in my shed studio and have played mostly at festivals like Glastonbury and Eastern Haze. We are available for anything in France if you like!

I also play every two weeks in a country rock band called The Deputies - we have a regular night called Club Acoustica at a pub in Twickenham - http://www.myspace.com/thedeps

Thanks to LiSting forum member for being involved in this interview !

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