Reissued and Revisited

Howard Eynon: So What If Im Standing In Apricot Jam

Dec 12, 2014 By Frank Valish Bookmark and Share


 

In 1974, a little known album was released in Australia that, while making few waves outside its native land, might be the great unheralded masterpiece of the 1970s. Howard Eynon, born in the small British town of St. Ives, Cambridgeshire, spent his formative years living with his family on a dairy farm in Tasmania, Australia. Nurturing dreams of becoming an actor, Eynon moved to Melbourne at the ripe age of 17, where he did some work in theater. But Eynon was also writing music. He won the Australian New Faces talent competition in 1971, and while working with the Tasmania Theatre Company, was asked to compose a guitar piece for a play, which led to studio time and his one infamous album. So What If Im Standing In Apricot Jam (lack of apostrophe intentional) is by all accounts an acid folk gem. Finally reissued after 40 years, Eynon's only album combines the fantastical, whimsical, cerebral, snide, political, and keenly bizarre in a manner that is utterly engaging and entrancingly odd. Beginning with the strange tale of the "Wicket Wetdrop, Quonge and Me," So What If Im Standing In Apricot Jam is folky, orchestral, and instrumentally vibrant in turns, with Eynon's singing echoing tones of Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, and Donovan.

The album is startlingly diverse but cohesive in its mystical vision. "Village Hill" is a seven-minute orchestral folk composition with spoken word narrative extolling the virtues of nature. "Commitment to the Band" presents Sartre's call of the void, its protagonist standing on the edge of the precipice with the overwhelming inclination to jump, combined with an eschewing of societal constructs and abandonment of earthly responsibility.  "Happy Song" is straightforward '70s Cat Stevens-esque positivity, presented so un-ironically that it defies you not to sing along; "I'm a happy person today/And I've got a good habit of staying that way," Eynon sings. "Now's the Time" is folk-pop with a sweeping string arrangement and "French Army" is an aggressively-sung political statement wrapped in a horn-filled march, while "Gone to the Pine Tree" is a fast-paced nonsensical jumble in perfect melody, and "Hot B.J." is brilliant whimsy.

Eynon never did receive the accolades that he deserved for his music when it was released. Regarding his acting career, after spending time working mainly in theater, Eynon found himself with small roles in 1979's Mad Max and 1982's The Man from Snowy River. But by the '80s, he had for all intents and purposes disappeared. Until now. Don't sleep on Eynon's joyous masterpiece. You will be rewarded in spades.

Howard Eynon took some time via email to discuss his youth, So What If Im Standing In Apricot Jam, and his current pursuits with Under the Radar below.

 

Frank Valish (Under the Radar): First, thank you so much for doing this interview, Howard. I'm absolutely in love with the album, so I'm delighted that you will take some time to answer some questions for us. I want to start at the beginning. What enduring memories do you have of your formative years in rural Tasmania?

Howard Eynon: The school bus trip - 5 miles on the dirt road from Weetah, where our farm was located to Deloraine High School.  Harry Whitely, the old bus driver who never cracked a smile. The bus itself, held together with tin and fencing wire and maintained by Harry to keep costs down. Clouds of smelly dust would permeate the interior and we would all exit coated in it. Rainy days were great as long as you weren't seated under a leak. One day half way down the steep hill into Deloraine, either the brakes or the steering failed and we drove into a Telegraph pole in order to stop. Fortunately not going that fast. Harry disappeared under the bus for a while with some pliers and wire, fixed the problem and we continued on unscathed.

The farm was like living in a 'boys own manual'. You could do anything as long as you didn't hurt anyone or damage property. I would wander off for hours by myself in any direction to hunt rabbits or hares, or to set deadlines in a creek. Knowing your way through the bush in any direction was an empowering thing. I don't remember my mother ever expressing concern about me disappearing for unspecified amounts of time at age 12 on with rifles, traps, ferrets, fishing lines - whatever the order of the day was.

My family loved music and singing. When good friends came over a guitar would often appear and my dad would sing a few bawdy or amusing songs.  My mother loved drama and was active in the local community in various productions. I played with my Dad's old guitar from 12 on. He had a strange tuning which I still use.

You won the Grand Final of Australian New Faces in 1971. Did this award create more opportunities for you in theater rather than music per se, because it was another three years before So What If Im Standing In Apricot Jam was released? It sounds from the bio like you were still concentrating on acting pursuits rather than specifically musical ones at this point.

The win gave me $3000 and a TV contract. With part of the 3k I bought a 750cc Norton Commando. Channel 9 employed me on their Sounds of Music show as one of 6 singers. I couldn't read music, but had a good ear. Mondays we'd rehearse the songs and harmonies. Tuesdays we'd record in Col Joye's studios. Wednesdays we'd learn the choreography moves along with 6 pro dancers and Thursdays we'd tape the program at the 9 studios in Sydney.

I understand that you toured with Hunter S. Thompson. Do you have a favorite story from your time with him?

It was all a bit weird. There were 2 gigs, in the Sydney and Melbourne Town Halls. This was 1976, a gig organized by a JJ McRoach, who I never met.

I remember going to a party after the Melbourne gig - a chaotic assembly of would-be's hoping to get high with the icon of Gonzo. A large glass bottle appeared at one stage full of white fluid supposedly containing cocaine which was passed around as an offering to the masses. I dutifully took a suck of it, noted no effect, hopped on my bike and left.

What sort of reception did So What If Im Standing In Apricot Jam receive at the time of its release?

A sort of stunned silence...

So What If Im Standing In Apricot Jam is so flush with ideas, whimsy, introspection, wit, humor, fantasy, emotional intensity, and even political commentary. Why did you not release another album? All I do is listen to the album over and over again and wish there was more.

Probably because the first one didn't get off the ground so funding would have been an issue - we were living from day to day.  But I kept on writing stuff - my main thought was instead of a collection of songs, I wanted to make an extended piece. I'm still carrying that idea around with me so it might even get done one day...

Did the album make it much out of Australia at the time?

I have no idea. But I was contacted one Saturday morning by a guy who was organizing gigs for me in Melbourne at the time of the first Rolling Stones tour of Australia. He asked me if I'd just heard Mick Jagger's radio interview, which I hadn't. He was very excited as he told me that at one stage the interviewer asked Jagger where he might visit while in Australia. Apparently Mick said he didn't know but he "might go to Tasmania to check out the Apricot jam"!

Do you think that the album was too, for lack of a better word, weird for people at the time? 

Yes...and it had the "f" word in it which was a bit extreme in the day and made it unsuitable for children... 

I love the philosophical implications of "Commitment to the Band," which seems to deal with Sartre's call of the void, the freedom inherent in the urge to throw oneself over the precipice. Was that something that inspired your writing of the song? Do you feel Sartre's call of the void so to speak?

I'm not a well-read person in philosophy, even though the big question has always fascinated me. I read Kafka, Camus, and a few other so-called existentialist writers. Found Sartre too opaque and nihilism sadly disturbing. In my humble opinion, some intellects become a little too inflexible to the extent that they dismiss anything that doesn't compute within their own world of reason. Perhaps we are too often foiled by our own hubris.

I think the best guide ever written for the human condition was Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Did you have a particular inspiration for the poor sap in "Good Time Songs" who is ignored at the bar but thinks he's having a good time with the boys?

Yes, I remember the guy. It was exactly as the song describes him and what he said to me is pretty much word for word in the lyrics. Names, wife, age, job, salary, aspirations and insecurities... we were in the Richmond pub playing 8 ball. Air was thick and smoky and I was at the bar when this guy began talking to me. You sort of engage for a while and then gently detach ... but his story stayed with me. 

Did you continue to write music after the album's release? Did you record anything else, even just for yourself?

Yes - writing was what it was all about for me then, but found some of my stuff was getting a bit dark, and I became suspicious of myself - of what was happening within. Have been carrying around a lot of unfinished ideas for decades. Sounds silly - and yet I find the mind-space-time you occupy in certain creative activities to be not linear - it's always there, unchanged when you relocate the entrance. In other words, when the "door is open" you're back in the same place. It's like meeting an old friend after many years.

How did you spend your 80s and 90s, after your acting roles, and how have you spent them since? 

Looks like my life has been divided into thirds. The first one came to a close as my first relationship drifted apart. We had 3 children and to his day I rue the disruption you bring to the lives of children in a separation. Fortunately we are all close again now.

The middle one began in the eighties along with a new relationship and my life turned towards more practical issues of making a living. After about 4 years with my new partner, we started a small business together based on her actual skills and my impudence. In effect, what I had done without realizing was commence the longest and most difficult sustained acting role of my life. But there was great value in what it taught me about life, people and myself.

The third one is just beginning and fortunately does not involve any relationship change.

When did you find out about the interest in reissuing the album? Were you surprised?

Yes - I wasn't really sure if it was reality or just an idea until Scotti Henshaw (Buttercup Records) over here and then the UK Earth Records guys started their activity.

What's a typical day like for Howard Eynon these days?

 I get up in 43 acres of heaven, drive 10 minutes to the beach and swim for 30-40 minutes in the ocean. Come back and do my curator role looking after the place. Check the interminable lists that one makes. Tend the veggie garden. Listen and watch the birds, many and varied. Meditate in many moments. Say thank you a lot.

The recent interest in the old album has taken me out of a vacuum and back into the studio. Last Saturday night was a long jam session from midnight to 5:30 am outside with 3 muso friends, a fire and a bottle of scotch. Recovery takes a bit longer these days.

(earthrecordings.tumblr.com

 

 



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Nova Science Publishers
December 13th 2014
8:13am

That is something that we could really be looking forward to which would make it a lot interesting.