Mojo #180 - November 2008

Rowland S Howard and The Birthday Party

They set out at Bananas Disco, but came to grief when a curtain caught fire.

I was in Melbourne, in a band Called The Young Charlatans. I would see Nick [Cave] at parties, where he'd be incredibly aggressive and rude. I remember him once being on acid and grabbing me and demanding to know if I was a "puff or a punk". I said punk, not wishing to be beaten up. He apologised profusely next time we met. My band disintegrated and Nick asked me to play with The Boys Next Door. By that stage Nick was one of my best friends and it seemed like it would be fun. We played a lot of shows in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, down by the sea. The place was full of these amazing buildings from the late 19th century - all this faded grandeur... But the place had a bad reputation - there were street people, drugs. We'd play at The Seaview Hotel or Bananas Disco. The name Boys Next Door was never much more than a bad joke. We decided to move to London and it seemed a natural time to get a name we actually liked. The name The Birthday Party came up in conversation between Nick and myself. There's this apocryphal story about it coming from a Dostoevsky novel. It may have had various connotations, but what he and I spoke about was a sense of celebration and making things into more of an occasion and ritual.

The Birthday Party ended in installments. The final show was in Melbourne, but [drummer] Mick Harvey decided he didn't want to come and we had a replacement drummer. So, in some senses, the last gig was in England, with Mick. That English show was very memorable - at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. We were supported by SPK, who accidentally set fire to the curtains at the back of the stage. The last gig of all, in Melbourne, was pretty pathetic - mainly marked by the enormous amount of drugs consumed. After that we finished the Mutiny! EP. Was it a bittersweet time? No, just bitter. At that stage Nick and myself weren't communicating very well. I remember working on the track Mutiny In Heaven. Nick just kept telling me what I was doing wasn't very good. After about six hours, I just said, "I can't keep thinking up something different for every take." Blixa [Bargeld, future member of The Bad Seeds] was around and Nick sent him in to play guitar on the track. I walked out thinking next day was the last day of recording. But there was another week. I thought I was shoing my disappointment by not turning up for one day. In fact it was a big deal, because I didn't turn up for eight days. Then The Birthday Party was over. Most of my friends were from the band, so it was like a divorce. I felt pretty betrayed. We'd been living in poverty for years. Then, just when we were starting to get some kind of pay-off, we threw it away. That wasn't unusual in The Birthday Party. I spent the next year watching videos and TV. Eventually, I joined Crime & The City Solution with Mick Harvey. Life goes on (laughs).

As told to Roy Wilkinson