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Folkadelphia Session: Heyward Howkins

Heyward Howkins might be a fairly new addition to the City of Brotherly Love’s music scene, but front man and songwriter John Howkins is certainly no greenhorn. Howkins gained attention in the early aughts playing lead guitar with The Trouble With Sweeney and he is also a founding member of The Silver Ages, the Philly-centric men’s choral group that puts on notable performances (especially during the holidays). As Heyward Howkins, Howkins and his band have released two impeccable albums – 2012′s The Hale & Hearty and late 2013′s Be Frank, Furness. What continues to draw us here at Folkadelphia back to Howkins’ music is his immense storytelling powers, wrought with detail, witty wordplay, clever turns of phrase, and, the best in my opinion, references that give a wink and a nudge to Philly. Plus, we like the “Be Frank” part, as we formerly ran a record label of the same name.

What can we say about Heyward Howkins that WXPN & The Key’s John Vettese has not already written in his excellent review of Be Frank, Furness? Vettese wrote that The Hale and Hearty caught our ear “with both evocative word choices and clever imagery laid gracefully atop breeze acoustic-rooted instrumentation” and that “Howkins is a musician who likes to give his listeners a thing or two to chew on.” On this latest album, the music end of things is fleshed out, nearly as expansive as the lyrical content. As for me, I often seem to get the line from the title track stuck in my mind, “Even cut brandy is carefully fortified, but our actions still mortifying. And the orange line nags with champa and a twist cap wine, but above we’re all mortified.” That’s how this record works on you; pictures become ingrained in the imagination.

It was fresh off the release of Be Frank, Furness that we welcomed Howkins and his band – Josh Newman (bass), Vince Tampio (melodica, trumpet, vocals), and Erik Schmidt (drums) into the WXPN Performance Studio to track song for the latest album and more.

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More wicked deeds by Willie in “Banks of the Ohio” and Heyward Howkins’ lyrical session, tonight on Folkadelphia Radio

Illustration by Rebecca Dart
Illustration by Rebecca Dart

In many ways, Joan Baez was my gateway to the larger folk music world and the traditional songs that are fodder for inspiration and performance. I recall in particular dropping the needle on her early 1960 records over and over. Joan Baez, Vol. 2, released in 1961 on Vaguard Records, introduced me to many staples of the folk world (and features a great backing band in The Greenbriar Boys). Among the songs is the tragic murder ballad “Banks of the Ohio.” Despite the popularity of the song, neither its origination or authorship is known, except that it dates back to the 19th century. Interestingly and probably not coincidentally, the song dates back to the same period as another murder ballad “Pretty Polly,” which we previously covered. Both songs relate the story of the narrator, a scorned lover named Willie, who ends up brutally murdering “the girl I loved the best” (or Polly in the case of “Pretty Polly”). From the first recording of the song by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers in 1927 (for the Victor label) to Vandaveer’s recent rendition for their murder ballads album, the song continues to inspire with its tragedy, drama, and bloody passionate conclusion.

Tonight on Folkadelphia Radio, we will also premiere a session from local Philly group Heyward Howkins, led by John Howkins. Continue reading →

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Hear Heyward Howkins’ “The Raucous Call of Morning” in a beer commercial with South Africa’s hipsters

Photo by Kate Harrold | kateharrold.com
Photo by Kate Harrold | kateharrold.com

There’s one is every crowd: the whistleblower. However, in this case it’s a harmonica-blower. Because, per the cliché, a whistle would be too normcore and definitely not counter-culture enough for this typical hipster crowd.

Check out Heyward Howkins’ “The Raucous Call of Morning” in this Internet ad for Limited Edition Pale Ale by Garagista Beer Co., a brewery in South Africa. The ad features patchy-bearded guys coming from all directions simply because they’d heard that a new beer is “limited edition.” They show up in droves on single speed bikes wielding vinyl records, hard shell suitcases (did the create a new “hipster” cliché?) and typewriters – likely to draft a letter to send home to the source of their trust fund (going along with this exhausted hipster theme), only to fight each other for a bottle of the brew.

There’s a long shot of a bearded guy wearing dark shades taking the time in the middle of the fray to take a selfie as someone’s trying to take a bottle of Limited Edition Pale Ale out of his hands. Because let’s face, no one would believe that he was there at the scene of the theft of this “limited edition” beer if it wasn’t documented on Instagram. But selfies seem like a platitude that a hipster would be above in 2014, right? If not and selfies are a cliché that belongs to only the hippest, well, that’s news to this mustached writer.

The juxtaposition of “The Raucous Call of Morning,” from The Hale & Hearty, in this scene is a little difficult to line up though. It’s an awfully sparse moment in the song and a pretty much mellow number from start to finish for a shot of a stampeding mob such as this one, at least. But maybe the folks over at Garagista simply think The Hale & Hearty, Howkins’ first album, is his best and have three bearded hipster fingers pointing back at them. Well, us at The Key are fans of Be Frank, Furness, as well.

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Cub Sport, Heyward Howkins, Joey Sweeney, Bootstraps tapped for May Communion Night at Underground Arts

CubSport
Photo via facebook.com/cubsport

The lineup for May’s Communion Club Night show at Underground Arts was just announced, and it’s a sweet one. Making the trek from Australia for their Philadelphia debut (unless you count the sorta-debut when they played on the Indie Rock Hit Parade during CMJ last October) is Brisbane indie pop five-piece Cub Sport. They released a delightful EP called Paradise back in the fall that, like Vampire Weekend, blends electropop beats with world music arrangements and infectious hooks.

Also on the lineup is this month’s XPN-curated Communion artist Heyward Howkins. His second LP, Be Frank Furness, was released in December via BITBY Records, and it saw his lyrical wit and knack for melody in top form. We featured it in an Unlocked spotlight at the time – read the interview here.

The show also features a set of lush arrangements from Joey Sweeney and the Long Hair Arkestra, alt-rock drama from LA rockers Bootstraps and much more. Get more information on the show at its Facebook event page, and check out music from some of the artists below.

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The Week’s Best Free MP3s, incl. Heyward Howkins, Old Man Luedecke, Dana Alexandra

Photo by Kellie O'Heron
Photo by Kellie O’Heron

Weekender brought their Spanish Peaks EP in for a Key Studio Session, recording the debut effort’s four tracks live.  The fuzzy psych / pop four-piece are currently working a full-length with Kyle Johnson set for release early next year, and they’ll be playing tonight’s Making Time $2 Bill show at Voyeur Nightclub.  Stream and download “Spanish Peaks” below and get more info on the show here.

This week we celebrated the release of Be Frank, Furness along with Philadelphia native Heyward Howkins.  The Unlocked feature on the local singer-songwriter produced a stellar review, an enlightening interview and a free download of “Praline Country.”  Stream and download the track below and check out the full profile on Howkins here.

Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Scenes and sounds of Heyward Howkins’ Be Frank, Furness release at Johnny Brenda’s

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

All week we’ve featured Be Frank, Furness – the fantastic new album from Philly’s Heyward Howkins – on Unlocked, our regular showcase of new and significant albums from local artists. Last night, Howkins celebrated the new record before a crowd of fans, friends and family, playing through most of its tracks with his backing band: keyboard player Meggie Morganelli, drummer Erik Schmidt, bassist Josh Newman and horn player / multi-instrumentalist Vince Tampio. The new songs sounded great, the selections from the first album (“Spanish Moss,” “Thunderin’ Stop”) were well-played and some surprises were in the mix as well. Howkins and the full band did a cover of “Lived in Bars” by Cat Power (from the album The Greatest), and he played a near-solo (with sleigh bells) holiday original called “Don’t Let Christmas Get You Down” (gotta love the references to Marah and the parking authority). Below, check out photos from the show in the gallery and watch a video of the Cat Power cover. After the jump, see Howkins’ perform his Christmas original, and listen to it on Soundcloud. And look for another appearance from Howkins this February at Boot and Saddle.

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Unlocked: Heyward Howkins on songwriting, personal discovery and the power of using interesting language

Heyward
via Handsome Lady Records

There’s a chuckle at the other end of the line when I ask Heyward Howkins about his iPhone demos – the raw, one-take early recordings of songs that went on to form his new album, Be Frank, Furness.

“Yeah, some of my friends asked me ‘Why are you doing that? Who’s going to listen to your record?,” he says. There’s a pause, and the auditory equivalent of a shrug. “Even if its a little rough, I like to get it down – I like to capture those moments where it’s fresh. Where it’s like like ‘this is awesome, I need to share it.’”

Doing this definitely served a purpose, or purposes – building momentum for the release of Be Frank, Furness, getting listeners familiar with the new songs in an early stage (something he also did in a few video sessions). And it also created companion versions of his new songs that exist in a different space and harbor different feelings than the finished versions – they’re the same, but they’re their own unique artifacts. Heyward sees it more simply.

“I just like playing music,” he tells me “and I like people to hear it.”

It took him a bit of time to reach this comfort zone as a solo artist. In the late 90s, he was the guitarist for The Trouble With Sweeney, with noted local musican, writer and editor Joey Sweeney. Before that, Howkins recalls, the only other he played in “was some Cure and Smiths cover band in high school. We did some originals, I wasn’t the singer but I wrote the songs.”

He remembers his time in The Trouble fondly, but when that group disbanded in 2005, he didn’t immediately think to pursue music. He got a regular 9 to 5 in Philly, he and his wife started a family. He would play guitar at home sometimes, and write songs when ideas struck him, but nothing super serious until he was between jobs in 2009 and decided to use his free time making demos. One was the song that became the title track of his first record, “The Hale and Hearty.”

“I had been working on that song for a few years,” he remembers.

The demos he initially kept to himself, sharing it only with his old band mate Sweeney – who told him he should, no question, do more. Continue reading →

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