Q&A with British drummer Dylan Howe, best known for leading his jazz groups and many recording credits as a sideman

"I miss the great grooves, chord changes, smart heartfelt lyrics and feeling of what happened in the 50-70’s - especially in black America. I’m not sure if music will really be that important again. Also, the middle 8’s and the virtuosos - where have they gone? (!)"

Dylan Howe: A Cultured Drummer

Born in London in 1969, Dylan Howe is a British drummer, best known for leading his jazz groups since 2002 and tenures with Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Steve Howe and Wilko Johnson, coupled with extensive pop and rock session work since 1990. Alongside many recording credits as a sideman, Dylan has released six albums as a leader – the most recent; Subterranean - New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin – gained worldwide acclaim. Downbeat Magazine gave it 5 stars, including it in their Masterpiece / Best Albums of 2014, with four-star reviews in Mojo, The Guardian and Uncut amongst others. David Bowie also sent a message with his approval, calling it 'Top-notch’. A National tour followed culminating in sell out shows at the London South Bank and Berlin Jazz Festival. In 1989, Howe ran nights at (now-defunct) jazz club The Shack on Tisbury Court, Soho and started playing regularly at West End jam session/house band club nights at venues including The Limelight. It was around this time that he joined flautist Philip Bent's group. Howe was the in-house drummer for weekly club nights in London including 'Songwriters' at The Orange in West Kensington, London, backing many artists including Chaka Khan and Howard Jones.                               (Dylan Howe / Photo © by Alice Bellati)

Howe joined Yes as drummer, along with Alan White, on their 2017 Yestival tour. He worked with: Ian Dury And The Blockheads, Wilko Johnson, Roger Daltrey, Ray Davies, Paul Mccartney, David Gilmour, Steve Howe, Hugh Cornwell, Beth Gibbons, Nick Cave, Damon Albarn,  Mick Jones, Gabrielle, Alison Moyet, Chaka Khan, Viv Albertine, Marc Gauvin, Sam Moore, Ben E King, Edwin Starr, Leon Ware, Tom Jones, Yes, Lewis Taylor, Miles Kane, David Mcalmont, Curtis Steigers, Tony Hadley, C4's Light Lunch, Andy Sheppard, Gilad Atzmon, Robert Wyatt, Get The Blessing, Denny Ilett, Lillian Boutte, Ronnie Scott's All Stars, John Etheridge, Jazz Sabbath, Theo Travis and many others.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the music influenced your views of the world? What is the role of music in today’s society?

It’s hard to imagine my life without the close bond I’ve always had with music - it’s shaped so much of who I feel I am. With regard to a view of the world; it opened everything up. Really early on it made me realise and gave me access to so much more than my immediate surroundings. I was lucky to travel globally a lot from an early age but even if I hadn’t, I would know through music that the planet is so full and varied and so many nationalities helped shape it.

Today's society - in my view - is not really using music so much as a channel for real political or emotional expression and it's much diluted because of that unfortunately. The 'baby-boomer generation' and the ‘jazz age’ songwriters before had much more purpose and meaning coming through in the music.

What characterize your music philosophy? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

My personal philosophy for music comes more from an approach to a craft or martial art I suppose. Daily repetition / practice, preparation and a constant cycle of learning and growth - sounds a bit serious and worthy (!) but how else do you get good / better and stay match fit?

Technique to me is just a way to get out what you hear inside in the moment without messing it up or other people you’re playing with. It’s more about having good taste and feel than anything else and adding to a kind of language that you’re always building inside that you feel confident enough with practice to use.

Being soulful in your playing is really just properly listening to the whole picture of what's happening, being passionate but selective in your actions.

"Today's society - in my view - is not really using music so much as a channel for real political or emotional expression and it's much diluted because of that unfortunately. The 'baby-boomer generation' and the ‘jazz age’ songwriters before had much more purpose and meaning coming through in the music." (Dylan Howe, best known for leading his jazz groups and tenures with Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Steve Howe and Wilko Johnson, coupled with extensive pop and rock session work / Photo © by Serge Sluyts)

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

As I got older a few truths kind of dawned on me and I’ve adjusted my settings a little with that in mind about how this business really works and operates and how people can be inside it. I’ve been fortunate with the past 35 years in music and its hard to pick highlights, but I suppose it would be when the chemistry of a new situation is special and everyone is gelling and, depending on how long that lasts, you can really connect back to the pure reason you first started playing.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the great grooves, chord changes, smart heartfelt lyrics and feeling of what happened in the 50-70’s - especially in black America. I’m not sure if music will really be that important again. Also, the middle 8’s and the virtuosos - where have they gone? (!)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Hard to make a shortlist… As Bob Dylan would say; 'Know your song well before you start singing' (!) - prepare and try to get your 10K hours in before you launch yourself on a scene to get gigs. Be organised / on time / self sufficient.

Know unfortunately that most people out there are only interested in themselves - it’s a totally unregulated shark tank and you have to get street-smart very fast. Focus on what you really would like to happen - it may take a long time if at all.

Have almost no ego and be nice. You have to work on the complex calibration of enough positive personal ego to be able to get up in front of people to do what you do with the smarts and heart to know that you are not above anyone and your downfall from hubris is just a moment away. Always reverse the picture and see how you’d like to be treated. You’ll not be young enough for that long to know everything (!).

Life is more than just music, is there any other field that has influence on your life and music?

So much of what I like in music has its exact parallel happening in another outlet, so movies, fiction and art from all the good 20th Century and late 19th eras is always what I go to.

"My personal philosophy for music comes more from an approach to a craft or martial art I suppose. Daily repetition / practice, preparation and a constant cycle of learning and growth - sounds a bit serious and worthy (!) but how else do you get good / better and stay match fit?"

(Dylan Howe / Photo © by Jerry Tremaine)

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

You are how you play and play how you are. Music can give us real everyday meaning and solace and often connection to something you can’t see or properly explain. Living for those rare moments when you’re in an altered state of consciousness whilst your motor skills function and everyone on stage plays together like one, is a lot of why we might put ourselves through all the uncertainly and nomadic life. Also, you can stay in some nice hotels.

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