Tag Archives: Mike Howe

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listen and buy: https://www.realmusic.com/artists/mike-howe/island-anywhere
Enjoy clips of every song on the album in the order they appear.

 

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Approaching Storm

Photo: Mike Howe
Photo: Mike Howe

On a trail out of the Grand Canyon in stifling heat the storm approaches…and then passes by to the west

Apparently They Play This On Delta Airlines…Hopefully It Helps…

“A Long Way To Go” from the album “Round River” by Mike Howe

“Hope” – the great photographs of Dorothea Lange

My fourth album “Heading West” is an interpretation of the landscape and peoples of the American west through the senses of a travelling Brit.  I wanted to express the emotions of my experiences and to convey the character of the places that I visited, although some of the music I composed turned out to be more abstract than that.

One example of this is my song “Hope”.  I’ve had some really lovely comments about this song which is always nice because you never know whether or not what you are doing is perhaps a cliche – the listener always decides this of course.  “Hope” is not easy to describe, which is why I gave the song that title after I had composed and recorded it – if one word can describe an abstract thing like a piece of music, then “Hope” was it in this instance.

When it came to putting together a video for this song, I started trawling aimlessly on the internet looking for inspiration.  It wasn’t long before the amazing photographs of Dorothea Lange jumped out at me as the perfect representation of what the song is about.

Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965) was an amazing American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her depiction of the Great Depression era which affected the world in the decade immediately preceding World War II.  Lange’s photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression in the American west and documented the migration of so many people intent on finding work and a place for themselves and their families.

In 1941 Lange was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her excellence in photography.

The picture on the video thumbnail is entitled Migrant Mother, and the woman is Florence Owens Thompson.  Look her up on wikipedia, the story of how the picture came to be taken and of her life is fascinating.  I hope you like the video and the music.

Inspirational places….

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

This is the place, according to Welsh legend, where the red dragon of the Celts fought with the white dragon of the Anglo-Saxons.  Both fell into the lake, but only the red dragon emerged, and this is why the red dragon is the national emblem of Wales and appears on the national flag.  But that’s only a story, albeit a nice one.  I have written the management plan for this place and this will hopefully help to conserve the wonderful wildlife and the cultural landscape for the future.  And it in turn has inspired some of my music.

Spring on the Pembrokeshire Coast

Marloes Sands smaller

After 6 months of perpetual grey skies and torrential rain, spring has finally arrived on the Pembrokeshire Coast, and today our local beach looks like this.  It’s so nice to finally feel some warm sunshine, although admittedly there is still a chilly north-easterly wind coming down from the arctic.

Puffins on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire       Photo: Mike Alexander
Puffins on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire Photo: Mike Alexander

The sea birds have arrived back from the South Atlantic to breed on the offshore islands of Skomer, Skokholm, Grassholm and Ramsey.  These puffins nest in dis-used rabbit burrows on the islands, which are free of predators like rats and foxes, although the threat from the Great Black-backed Gull is still very real for the offspring of these little fellas.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

The gannets have returned from their winter feeding grounds in the south to breed in huge numbers (32,000 nesting pairs) on Grassholm Island, and can be seen diving into the sea wherever they spot shoals of fish on which to feed.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

In the next few weeks all of the spring flowers will emerge as the land awakens from its winter slumber.  The most familiar birds to be seen from the cliff tops are razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars and various species of gull, as well as shags, cormorants and the rarer choughs and peregrine falcons.

A 6000 year old submerged forest that reappears from time to time

Although it is rarely seen, the remnants of a past forested landscape, where there is now sea and beach, is a very interesting feature and teaches us about past sea level rise and our recent glacial history, and makes sense of some of the archaeological remains we find around our coastline in West Wales.

At the end of the last glaciation the sea level was much lower than it is today because so much water was still locked up in the ice sheets to the north of Britain.  As the climate warmed forests became established on land that had been tundra for thousands of years, and this forest extended far out beyond where sea level is today.  Gradually as temperatures rose, the sea ice to the south of the arctic circle melted and sea levels rose, submerging much of the coastal forests.

In some places this action was very rapid and sand covered and then preserved the remains.  After heavy storms and at very low tides, peat or the stumps of these forest trees may be seen at places along the Welsh coast, particularly, in Pembrokeshire, at Newgale and Freshwater West.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander – The remains of a Scots pine trunk on the beach

The remains of animals and Mesolithic tools have been found in these deposits.  These include an Auroch, which is an ancient cow and is the ancestor of all modern cows, a pig, a roe deer, a red deer antler and a brown bear jaw.

At Lydstep Haven, a pair of broken flint microliths were found by the neck vertebrae of a pig.  This pig may have been injured, but not caught by its Mesolithic hunters and subsequently died in the forest.  A tree trunk fell on its remains, preserving it, and the microliths in situ.  This find has been dated to about 6000 BC.

Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales ) noted the uncovered submerged forest, during his tour of Wales in AD 1188.

‘We then passed over Newgale sands at which place a very remarkable circumstance occurred.  The sandy shores of south Wales laid bare by the extraordinary violence of a storm, the surface of the earth, which had been covered for many ages, reappeared, and discovered the trunk of trees cut off, standing in the very sea itself, the strokes of the hatchet appearing as if made only yesterday.  The soil was very black and the wood-like ebony.  This looked like a grove cut down, perhaps at the time of the deluge, or not long after.’

We cannot be sure whether the marks he saw were made by a stone axe.  It is certainly possible, since stone axes were in use before the forests were submerged between about 6000 and 5000 BC.

He made these observations 800 years ago and similar observations are the basis for medieval traditions about the Cantref Gwaelodd – ‘the lost lands of Wales.’

This is what the beautiful coastline looks like today….

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

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How a road trip, John Steinbeck and Charley, Hank Jones and another Charlie, Pat Metheny and a book called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee inspired my new album Heading West, by Mike Howe

Quite a long time ago I fulfilled a long held dream and traveled all across the USA in an old Buick Skylark with a friend of mine.  We traveled 11,000 miles and visited more states, National Parks, cities, state parks and rest areas than you can shake a stick at (a favourite saying from the trip that, being from England, we’d never heard before and it made us giggle).

For me it was an unforgettable experience, as I traveled to places with names that had held a deep fascination for me since I was a young boy, Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, California, Nebraska (the list goes on, sorry not mention them all, no offence intended to residents of Connecticut and elsewhere).

My fascination started watching western films as a kid.  I couldn’t believe the incredible wide open spaces and big skies, the beautiful forests and deserts and mountain ranges, with their amazing wildlife – bears for goodness sake!  We get excited if we see a squirrel (and most of them are from N. America and not native to the UK at all, but that’s another story).

And as I grew older I started reading more and more about this wondrous land.  I read the Lewis and Clark journals.  What an incredible story of an expedition sent out by President Thomas Jefferson to see what lay beyond the great Mississippi River, because back then few people knew, it was literally the wild west.  And what did they find?  They found an incredibly rich land roamed by enormous herds of buffalo, native people in numerous tribes, wolves, bears, forests and prairie, incredible.  Imagine climbing up a ridge and finding yourself looking down upon the geysers and steaming hot springs of Yellowstone, a primordial landscape?  In fact the whole landscape was on a par, if not better than, the great plains of Africa for all round natural splendour, and it was still largely intact only 150 years ago.

Then I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.  What a heart breaking but deeply fascinating account of the history of Native Americans in the American West in the late nineteenth century.  He describes the people’s displacement through forced relocations and years of warfare waged by the United States Federal Government.  Much later I read two books by Kent Nerburn, Neither Wolf Nor Dog and The Wolf at Twilight which explored the story of the American Indians in a much more intimate and real, and ultimately far more complex way.  Both books beautifully written and compelling, I’d recommend them to anyone.

So you see I’ve got quite an interest in the American landscape.  If you add in the influence of the great North American nature writers such as Rick Bass, Doug Peacock, Edward Abbey, David Rains Wallace and of course the greats, Aldo Leopold, Thoreau and John Muir (ok he was Scottish), then that interest has developed into a passion.

Of course I listened to a lot of music, I’ve been doing that since I was 3.  Of all the many musicians that were able to speak to me about the American lands through their music (and not their words), Pat Metheny stood out for me.  In particular his album with Charlie Haden, Beyond the Missouri Sky was a sublime interpretation of an open, prairie like landscape of big skies, huge fields of wheat and corn, and small farms.  That album showed me that you can paint quite specific pictures with simple music, you don’t need an orchestra, as so many of the great film soundtracks have got.

Of course Pat Metheny is a genius and can make his guitar say pretty much anything he wants it to.  And Charlie Haden is a master of the understated, delivering warm, folky bass lines focusing on purity of tone and texture.  His Oklahoma roots can be heard in the playing of a double bass, now that is a mark of great musicianship.

Later when I heard the album that Charlie Haden made with Hank Jones the penny dropped.  They released an album called Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs which is a soft, gentle masterpiece and the title tells you all you need to know about the style of the music.  Here we had a simple blend of what I’d call ‘woody, blocky’ piano reminiscent of old churches and school rooms, and bass that sounded beautiful to me.

Finally I read John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and when I finished I thought how good it would be to write a similar account of my travels, before realising that I ain’t no author.  And then it hit me, why not write songs about it instead?

So I started to work with piano, double bass, guitar and drums, and became totally immersed in the whole project as it began to unfold.  The more I worked, the more the songs and melodies would come to me.  It was as if they had been stored up just waiting to be released, which in a sense I suppose they had.

What resulted is something that I am very proud of because it was such a challenge to compose, arrange and perform the music so that, at times, it sounded like a four piece folk/jazz band.  It wasn’t easy to play all of those instruments to the standard that I required so that, hopefully, the listener would be able to hear the emotion and the depth of each composition, and most importantly, feel the wide open space and atmosphere of the landscapes.

I guess it’s for others ultimately to decide how successful you have been as a writer and performer of the music, but all you can ever do is be honest with yourself and ask, did I do that with all my heart and to the best of my ability at that time?  My answer is yes, and that’s all that really matters.

Mike Howe

Website: https://mikehowe.com/
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The Last Buffalo – a story of loss and revival

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.

Photo:  Mark Sisson
Photo: Mark Sisson

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.