My music is often derived from and about some of the lovely places and wildlife of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in West Wales, where I have worked as an ecologist for 20 years. I hope it is possible to hear the influence of this landscape in my song, which was deliberately written in a style evoking a kind of “national anthem for nature”, if that makes any sense? Anyway I hope you like it 🙂 The song is from my album “Round River”.
So I’m sure you’re dying to know how I came by the acoustic guitar that I composed and recorded my first album “Time Stands Still” with aren’t you? If you are reading this blog on my website it’s the guitar on the background image. For the benefit of those of you who are not reading this on my website it’s this one here…
So at the time I’m mid thirties (I know what you’re thinking and you’d be correct), I’d been working hard, I’d got a young family and I’m thinking, I need something for me, you know, I need to spoil myself a bit, and what I’d really like, after all these years of thrift and making do, is a really nice, expensive guitar. Not the budget, cheapo types I’ve been playing all my life, but something really special, one that’s gonna play like a dream and make me sound amazing 🙂
At around this time I get an invitation from my friend Arlene, who lives in Edinburgh (quite a long way north of where I live as it happens) to accompany her on an evening at Stirling Castle, hosted by none other than J K Rowling (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you who she is) and Warner Bros (the film people who made all the Harry Potter films) for a charity event to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres in Scotland. Arlene has done a huge amount of incredible work over the years to help people and to help charities and she had worked really hard to help make this event happen.
The castle was to be transformed into Harry Potters school Hogwarts for a Halloween charity ball and there’d be loads of special guests and magic and food and drink and stuff. Well how could I refuse?
So I thought that I’d kill two birds with one stone, attend the exciting charity event with one of my best friends, and buy myself a new, superdy duperdy, expensive acoustic guitar in one of Edinburgh’s finest music stores.
Now I know you want to hear all about what happened when I went to buy the guitar but I suppose I’d better tell you about the Harry Potter charity ball as well? It was pretty amazing. They did transform the castle into Hogwarts (wasted on me a bit, at the time I hadn’t read the book or seen the film, I know, I know, shocking) and we were greeted on arrival by witches, wizards and magicians, some breathing fire, while the music was supplied by pipers and flute players. My super friend Arlene introduced me to J K Rowling (they’re friends you know) but because I’m a plonker I didn’t realise who she was at the time (she’s not introduced to people as “JK” obviously), which I suppose was lucky because I didn’t get nervous, and I definitely would have done had I known.
And, just like Hogwarts, burning torches decorated the castle’s Great Hall, where a four-course dinner was served, before a charity auction was hosted by Ian Hislop (Stephen Fry couldn’t make it apparently). Thankfully the auction raised tonnes of cash for the charities and I got a little overwhelmed by the size of the bids, amazed at how much money some people have got, but at least they were spending it on the right things that night, which was good. I also got a bit drunk.
Anyway as it happens I had quite a bit of cash left over for the evening despite my best efforts to spend it all the day before on an expensive new guitar. I visited loads of music shops and tried the most expensive guitars they had, but I couldn’t get past this little cheap, relatively poor quality runt of a guitar that I’d tried quite early on because I liked the look of it, and when I played it, even though the action was terrible, I fell in love with its tone and sound quality. I desperately wanted to ignore it and find one that was at least 3 times the price, but I just couldn’t find a truly expensive guitar that I liked as much. And so, after exhausting myself with the whole sorry episode, I bought the cheap runty acoustic guitar and resigned myself to being useless at proper shopping.
So I took it home and, after straightening the neck and improving the action, absolutely loved it. The tone inspired me to start composing music for the first time in my life, another incredible revelation which I’ll write about someday, and I kept composing until, many years later (and that’s another story), I released my first album played exclusively on that guitar – “Time Stands Still”. Despite my harsh words, the guitar is actually a very lovely maple wood Art & Lutherie from Canada and although it was cheap, I do love it.
And so what did I learn from this (apart from the fact that Halloween parties in Scottish castles made to look like Hogwarts are ace)? The best things aren’t necessarily the most expensive, or best looking, or most well made, they can be the things that we connect with and love on a level that we may not understand but are lucky enough to recognise when they come our way. And so I’m grateful to my friend Arlene and to Harry Potter for inadvertently helping me to learn a valuable lesson and setting me off on a road I had no idea I was about to go down, but am so happy that I did.
Here’s one of the first tunes I ever wrote on this guitar…if you want you can buy it from the link above, it’s only 79p or 99 cents!
This song is about the destruction of the great buffalo herds of North America in the late 1800’s, which coincided with the final demise of the last remaining native Indian tribes at that time. Like them, a very small remnant of the original buffalo population survived in Yellowstone National Park, and they are still there to this day.
The song is on my new album “Heading West” released on January 15th 2013. The album grew out of reflections on an epic journey I once took across the North American continent. Occasionally it’s good to give oneself up to a particular landscape in your experience, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it and to listen to the people who made their mark on it. It isn’t simply the sublime thrill of moving through magnificent plains, mountain ranges, valleys and cities. It could be the sigh of the wind through juniper trees, or the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset, or the smell of an old wooden church on a quiet street. Distinctive music often defines cultures that have emerged from such a landscape, and so drawing on folk, gospel and jazz influences, the songs on Heading West are reflections and dreams from my journey.
Happy St Davids Day! Here is the Welsh landscape in all its natural glory….the song is the the title track from my “Time Stands Still” album from 2009
Lovely itunes customer review for “Time Stands Still”, thank you Brewmaestro 🙂
There’s something very unique and special about Mike Howe’s music and his sound. This is not your typical New Age guitar music. This music touches me instantly and continually. Beautiful, peaceful, and relaxing, yes, but there’s something more that seems so natural, yet very special. I learned (from RealMusic) that Mike is a Welsh national park ranger. “I hope that people can hear the deep-felt respect for people and wild lands in my music and that it helps bring peace, warmth and curiosity to a small part of their day.” I do, and it does. Thanks, Mike.