Fop Of The Pops

Overlooked 1975 album from Lancashire balladeer with overtones of Bowie and Elton

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Kid in a big world was released to considerable CBS fanfare in February 1975. It received favourable reviews and sold 15,000 copies to lovelorn students in bedsitland. And then, nothing, although ever since that sole album from Howard has acquired a certain cachet on the record collector circuit. The awesomely effete creature in the pinstripe suit with the sunken eyes, ashen skin and bri-nylon hair, caught in a derelict building leaning against a dilapidated window box on the LP sleeve, like a closeted gay bank clerk from some early ’60s grim northern film scenario, is the ultimate cult curio.

And yet he could have been a contender. Kid In A Big World is a magnificent collection of rococo balladry and florid vignettes from a singer-songwriter who might have rivalled Elton or Bowie had his record company managed to market him right during that strange nether-period between glam and punk. Trained in classical piano at the age of five, Howard’s interest in pop was piqued by “Strawberry Fields Forever”, so he sent a tape of demos to Apple. He was invited to join an early version of?get this?Iron Maiden before making the transition from denim-clad hippie to Biba’d fop. The garishly decadent press photo on the left was taken in Park Lane by Dezo Hoffman (he shot everyone back then, darling). After providing music for the 1974 Peter Fonda film Open Season, CBS’ brightest hope was unveiled at an industry festival in Cannes.

That, however, was that. Kid In A Big World, recorded at Abbey Road with The Shadows’ Tony Meehan, is bathed in the wan light of romantic failure. Even Nyro-esque show tunes like “Deadly Nightshade” and “Spellbound” have a sepia-tinted poignancy. But it’s the lightly orchestrated ballads that devastate. “Goodbye Suzie” is a darkly ravishing tale of a girl’s suicide. “Gone Away”, featuring the actual Mellotron used by Lennon on the aforementioned “Strawberry Fields Forever”, is absolutely heartrending. For “Missing Key”, Howard’s voice is multi-tracked for harmonic richness, like a one-man Bee Gees circa Mr Natural. On “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”, he’s more arch, the missing link between Noel Coward and “tender pervert” Momus. Sessions included here for a projected second LP, Technicolour Biography, indicate no decline in quality. “Small Town, Big Adventures”, in particular, is amazing, like a gossamer MOR “Seven & Seven Is” by Love. “There’s a real soft sound from the other side of town”, Howard warns against gently thunderous rhythms, “it controls your soul”. If there’s a more surreally evocative line in mid-’70s pop, Uncut has yet to hear it. What a discovery!

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