One of Liverpool’s most distinctive characters, the man known as Howard Be Thy Name celebrates his 50th birthday, Getintothis’ Peter Guy is given a lesson on life and how to live it.
Cards on the table time: the first time this writer happened upon Howard Ashley Storey we were suspicious to say the least.
To put in context, here was a slightly cynical young punk of a writer who’d stumbled across a whirlwind of a creature in a tightly-fitting mustard-yellow leather jacket, striped pantaloons (they could have been purple and tangerine), crash helmet all the while gesticulating wildly. The crash helmet had a cymbal on top of it – allowing friends to bash it. To which they did. Repeatedly.
Here was a dandy, a fool, a jester and very much the centre of attention – someone completely at odds with his surroundings and everything he was involved in appeared to be a parade. A giant fantastical game in which only he were playing. The ringleader of the ridiculous.
‘Who – or what – was this joker?‘ we speculated, as an eyebrow raised so highly it almost fell off the top of our face.
Yet over the course of several weeks in the summer of 2009, particularly when frequenting bars, clubs and gigs around the Wolstenholme Square area of Liverpool city centre – we grew to watch and fall in love with this hooter and a’ howler, who’s spirit was no contrivance – but a wild, untameable, almost visible aura which seemingly rubbed off on everything it came into contact with. Infectious and insatiable, Howard is the kind of person who only needs one name.
For there is only one, Howard in Liverpool. Howard Be Thy Name.
As The Kazimier and Mello Mello unfurled from underground word-of-mouth hang outs to the all-consuming culture quarter in the city, so did Howard’s reputation.
Nearly all their special productions included Howard’s secret ingredient.
Birdman, magician, pop up pop-artist, wizard, elf, nymph, master of puppets, master of ceremonies, jack-of-all-trades and cannon ball kid – he was equally at home clad in full leathers on the back of a motorcycle as he was in Edwardian costume pretending to prance about on a stallion. Sometimes, he’d be strapped up with a jet-pack clad in PVC silver ala Bowie-meets-Barbarella.
Othertimes, he was simply a 5’6″ alien usually with a harem of fellow UFOs all dancing along his extended laser beam.
For many these outfits would be part of the show – but for Howard, he’d merely dipped into his wardrobe and pulled out what wasn’t at the dry cleaners.
As time passed we’ve seen Howard front bands, read poetry, serve us coffee and lasagne or merely sit off in a Garden listening to his stories. As it transpires, he’s a good listener too.
In 2014, when we moved The GIT Award to The Kazimier, it seemed only natural to invite him to host the evening – and he did it in his own inimitable fashion – on the shoulders of his contemporaries while dressed as minstrel and regaling stories about 70s glamour and dark magik.
He even paraded his side-kick burlesque dancer, Mimi.
However, away from the stage, there’s a multitude of worlds inside this fascinating Liverpool chameleon’s mind; he’s fiercely intelligent, always thirsting for knowledge, a bit of tech whizz (in his own fashion), well read and equally keen to impart his wisdom, an arts scholar and the type of person who looks out for his friends as much as they look out for him.
Embedded in the Kazimier, and now Invisible Wind Factory, collective, he’s teamed up with former Mello Mello creatives to launch a Radio Caroline-style radio-show (listen here) set-a-drift on the North Docklands and based in the Wind Factory.
They broadcast their 50th show today – which is timely as it happens to also be Howard’s 50th birthday.
And with a special party planned on Friday, we thought it timely we caught up with the man himself and delved a little deeper into one of Liverpool’s much-loved artists…
Getintothis: So Howard – congratulations on this special of birthdays. If anyone epitomises the spirit of having a lust for life, it’s surely yourself – how does it feel to be reaching 50?
Howard Storey: Fifty years old. Damn. I suppose when you say it loud it does seem quite a land mark.
I know some pretty cool people who are in their 70s. They said that they feel like they’re still in their 20s. It’s only when they catch their reflection or see themselves in photos that they realise they’re not. I kind of feel the same. In truth I’m not really doing anything different now to what I was doing in my late teens.
I love dancing, climbing trees and acting the fool. I’m hanging with people half my age and still seem to be getting away with it. Maybe it’s time to stop wearing drainpipe jeans.
Getintothis: Let’s go back to the start – when did you land in Liverpool – tell us a bit about your early days in the city and what you were doing?
Howard Storey: I’d come over to Liverpool first for visits in the early 90s hung out with The Stairs (years later their rehearsal room would be my studio on Wolstenholme Square).
I’d be running round in 1991 telling anyone who’d listen that there was a revolution coming that would make the sixties look like the eighties.
We played gigs with an outfit called Ringo’s High at places like Keith Curtis‘s Temptation as a mystery band. You’d be behind a screen on a stage then start playing and the screen would rise to reveal you.
Getintothis: The start of the Kazimier, Mello Mello and everything that followed must have felt like something special to yourself – describe what it was like and how you got involved…
Howard Storey: Mello Mello was very special – a beautiful genuine place to be.
A kind of peace hard to find anywhere. An honour to be part of her family. That incarnation of Mello Mello would have been ten years old this merry old month of June.
When the Kazimier landed I’d been sleeping for a decade. Then Suddenly jolted awake I expanded my wardrobe. And my family circle. And at 40-years-old had my 20s all over again with the beautiful people.
Getintothis: To many people over the last decade or so, you were a central figure in the rebirth of the counter culture scene in the city; The Kazimier and Mello Mello to be specific – but you must have been involved in a lot more before then – tell us about some of your earlier work, projects and performances.
Howard Storey: After moving to America and playing characters like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Romero style zombies, Dracula and Freddie Kruger at a horror house in Florida I went quite mad and in 1998 came home to England, deciding to come back to Liverpool to see how ‘the revolution’ was coming on.
I had another music project on called ‘Triumph 2000’ we had three singles and an album out – Phased and Confused. We had a slight cult following in America.
I also had with me an American wife ‘Honey‘ she ran the Mathew Street Gallery dealing with rock and roll photographers.
I ended up doing projects with Mick Rock, Beatles photographer Robert Whittaker and for a very short time selling bag one art for Yoko Ono.
Getintothis: The Howard Be Thy Name ‘character’ is very much an intrinsic part of you – what draws you to the dandy / Warholian aspects of culture?
Howard Storey: The Howard Be Thy Name act was originally going to be an art installation walk through, like an immersive album; each room would have an art installation in it that came to life and ‘sang’ a song.
This culminated in a show at the Kazimier I did with film-maker Lee Isserow with a giant head that came to life and a mirrored carousel of Victorian robots – Project O.R.
It was supposed to be just an art installation for 50 minutes but my friend Laura Brownhill convinced me I should be on stage with it singing.
This was the first in a triptych of shows – the second being a history of a 80-year-old man who stopped ageing at 33, a kind of Forest Gump of rock ‘n roll.
The third show was a movie musical ‘The Carney Ball Run’ which four acts – Zombina and the Skeletones, Lovecraft, Jimmy Lightfoot and the Disciples and Howard Be Thy name – we would play live in front of the screen showing the movie.
A logistical nightmare cured by feeding each drummer the original songs through headphones so to keep in sync with the three screen video back drop.
Getintothis: How marvellous. So, here’s the quick-fire round. You’re holding a dinner party – who are six celebrities (dead or alive, fact or fictionally) you would invite?
Howard Storey: Ahh six dinner guests…
Well as my date I’d choose Marilyn Monroe, always been drawn towards her even as a child, she’s a magical beauty that comes along once every few centuries.
Alec Guinness would be there. The perfect gentleman Genuine Class Ealing Comedy legend and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Tutankhamen the boy King, lifelong fascination.
“Ursula Sontheil better known as Mother Shipton a Yorkshire lass soothsayer and prophetess with a petrifying well. Theda Bara (the Vamp) silent movie star sex symbol and goth patient zero. Jean Cocteau – the French writer, designer, playwright, cartoonist,artist and filmmaker.
Getintothis: What do you eat for breakfast?
Howard Storey: For breakfast I eat a giant crumpet with a mug of coffee. Usually in the bath while catching up on the latest on the fool King Trump fiasco on my iPad.
Getintothis: If you had to pick a favourite artist who would it be – and what piece of art?
Howard Storey: My favourite artist, hmmmm?
So hard. I’m drawn to Warhol so much in recent years. I think he is so very now, like this is his time. Our love of celebrity, everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame,death and disaster.
That and the Velvet Underground connection of course. Favourite piece, Double Elvis I think. I love the story of Bob Dylan taking it as payment for the Warhol screen test he sat. From what I understand he used it as a dart board and later traded it for a couch.
Getintothis: What would your superpower be?
Howard Storey: My super power? Shapeshifter. Yeah. The ability to become different animals would be pretty far out
Getintothis: Do you remember your dreams – if so what was the last one?
Howard Storey: I have reoccurring dreams, a lot of walking across futuristic wasteland with my friends in disheveled states, pulling carts full of belongings looking for places to sleep, abandoned buildings with piles of analogue sound and vision equipment, bundles of old clothes and buckets of food.
Running record players off car batteries and the like. I blame the amount of future shock movies we were force fed as kids in the 70s.
Getintothis: If you were picking the three artists / bands to headline Glastonbury – who would you choose?
Howard Storey: Three bands at Glastonbury, well they’d have to be from another time.
I’d say David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, 1967 period Jimi Hendrix and T. Rex.
Getintothis: You’re now helping the Invisible Wind Factory folks with their radio station – tell us about that – what do you play?
Howard Storey: 1967 period… Yeah we’ve put together a radio station upstairs at the Invisible Wind Factory
It’s called IWFM – it works for me…
It’s more of a Mello Mello of the airwaves we would say. It’s me, Rob Longson and Laura Powers. All of Mello fame. We are creating a platform for everyone who wants to create interesting programs, talk shows, quizzes, comedy well just about anything you can think of. It’s been a long time in the making.
Our own show ‘Listen and learn with Howard and Rob’ reaches its 50th episode on Wednesday with a two hour live show. Which just ‘coincidentally’ happens to be my 50th birthday.
Getintothis: Grand chatting as ever, Howard, anything else to declare?
HS: I would say I’m pretty happy with my lot.
I seem to have had quite an adventure of a life so far full of beautiful creative people who are always up for a bit of a cavort.
Yeah can’t complain. I loved my 40s and look forward to my 50s with relish. I’m not thinking of growing old just yet so yeah. Bring it on!