Carl Howard
Carl Howard
CARL HOWARD  
Bass/bass pedals  


The Early Years

I started playing bass when I was still at high school, which was sometime during the late Jurassic. My earliest influences were '70s rock bands such as Alice Cooper and Roxy Music. I started playing just for fun as many of us do, with a few schoolmates, murdering covers with varying degrees of success. It wasn't until after I'd left school and started college that I met a guitarist by the name of Chris Stones, which was to be the start of a friendship and musical collaboration that would have far-reaching consequences. Chris was much more into the progressive bands, such as Yes. One day, sometime around 1978 or '79 I think, he played me an album by a band he was seriously into but I'd never heard of; the band was called Rush. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Matrix Years

Some years later, around 1987 I joined a band called Matrix (considerably before the films of the same name, I should add!), along with Dave Whittaker (with whom I'd played previously in another band with Chris Stones), singer Jo Glynn and guitarist Phil Craigie. I was drafted in at short notice to replace their existing bass player who'd gone AWOL, and I had only a couple of weeks in which to learn a set of covers for a competition the band had entered. Suffice it to say, we won the competition and, spurred on by that success, we decided to continue as a band.

Those were the years in which I paid my dues as a musician, playing probably hundreds of gigs over the band's six year run. The material was intricate, guitar-orientated rock with the focus heavily on musicianship and live performance: think Heart meets Rush and Steve Vai/Yngwie Malmsteen and you're somewhere in the ball park. My role was bass, bass pedals, live keyboards and the odd bit of backing vocal. I was also the band's lyricist. We achieved some success, some favourable press reviews and airplay, and a bit of a fan base on the rock club circuit. But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end (I've never agreed with that sentiment!) and in 1993, following the departure of guitarist Phil, the band called it a day.

The Wilderness Years

After Matrix shuddered to a halt, I played in a couple of other bands for a few years on and off but to be honest, I wasn't really "feeling the love" any more. Around 1997 I decided to go into hibernation. I shoved my bass under the bed and there it lay, gathering dust (apart from the odd foray out for old times' sake), for close on fifteen years....

Fast forward to the autumn of 2012; Paul was planning a gig as a fundraising event for a local action group. It was to be a low-key acoustic affair with a set comprising mostly covers. Jo (now Jo Whittaker, Dave's wife) was to join the line-up as a second singer, alongside Steve, Bob, and Dave from Strangefish who themselves had been on a six year hiatus. Once again, they were short of a bass player and asked if I was interested in stepping up (funny how history tends to repeat itself!). I agreed, and we did the gig. That proved to be a catalyst for us; I think we were all beginning to miss the buzz of writing, recording and live performance. Shortly after, over a beer or two in a Cadishead pub, we decided to make the arrangement permanent. Thus was born the latest incarnation of Strangefish!

 

 


The Present - what should I bring to the party?

It's quite daunting to join an established outfit like Strangefish. As one of the "new guys" I'm mindful of the need not to tinker too much with the previous body of material. So, for the back catalogue of songs from "Full Scale" and "Fortune Telling" I've tried to be more or less faithful to Julian Gregory's original work, for which I have the greatest respect - if it ain't broke, don't fix it! But I've also given the songs my own bells and whistles here and there, wherever I feel it's appropriate and the song can take it.

For the new stuff though I plan to open up a bit more; my heavier, rather brasher style of playing is quite different to Julian's more measured and precise approach, so I'll probably be bringing a harder ambience to the fishpond. Hopefully I can bring an injection of fresh blood and contribute to venturing into new sonic territories for the band.

Influences - no prizes for guessing...

My single biggest influence as a musician has to be Geddy Lee. I remember listening to Rush's seminal "A Farewell To Kings" album for the first time and not quite being able to believe what I was hearing; the odd time signatures, the booming bass pedals and of course, those trademark clanging Rickenbacker bass lines!

Up to that point, my approach to the bass had been rooted very much more in the traditional, viewing it as a supporting, rhythm-section instrument whose role, along with the drums, was to provide an anchor for the band. I still firmly believe this; if a band's bass and drums don't knit together you're likely to end up with a very loose sound. But Geddy's style opened my eyes (ears?) to playing the bass in ways I hadn't considered before - to provide that solid foundation but at the same time be a melodic instrument in its own right, capable of bulldozing its way to the front of the stage and grabbing its own share of the 'Limelight' (pun intended).

Other players began to register on my radar at the same time, such as the "lead bass" approach taken by Yes' Chris Squire and, much later, by Billy Sheehan's bass pyrotechnics.

For rehearsing and writing new stuff, I aim to play at least once a day to keep the muscles active, but it usually pans out around 4 or 5 days a week. When I'm not actually playing, my musical tastes are eclectic to put it mildly. It depends what I'm in the mood for; anything from Dream Theater on a sunny day with the car roof down to uplifting vocal House music on a laser-lit dancefloor on a Saturday night.

 

 


Equipment

For the gear-heads among you, my tools of the trade are as follows:

Rickenbacker 4001 JetGlo (1980)

This is my primary bass, which I've had since 1980. We've been through a lot together over the years; it's got a few dings here and there and has a severe case of "buckle rash" but it plays a dream. I had it re-fretted a few aeons ago, and all the lacquer taken off the fingerboard, by Gordon Whitham (co-founder of Gordon-Smith Guitars). It's retrofitted with a Badass I bridge because the original Rickenbacker bridges are, umm, how shall we say? - crap.

Fender Jazz 70s Classic Reissue (2013)

I picked this up mainly as a backup. I love the old 'Clickenbacker' to bits, but Ricks can be a bit of a one-trick pony, so the Fender alsocomes in useful when I want a fuller, punchier sound. It has a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard and pearl block inlays. It's the 70's reissue model so the bridge pickup is slightly further away from the neck, giving it a toppier, growlier tone than the other Jazz models. It's retrofitted with a Badass II bridge - the original Fender bridges are even crappier than the Rickenbacker ones!

Galveston Custom Double Neck 5 String Fretted / 4 String Fretless (2015)

This is a very recent addition to the stable, for when I want those low B's and fretless sound.

All basses are fitted with Rotosound RS66LD strings (RS665LD on the 5 string) and Schaller strap locks.

Other stuff in the toybox:

  • Samson Airline 77 wireless system
  • Tech 21 SansAmp Programmable Bass Driver
  • MXR M76 Studio Compressor
  • BOSS Bass Chorus
  • Hartke HA3500 amp head
  • Hartke 4.5XL cabinet
  • Hartke 215 cabinet
  • Roland PK5 midi bass pedal controller
  • Moog Minitaur

And that's pretty much it. If you've got this far then you deserve a medal but if there's anything else you want to know, feel free to email me.