Interview: Howie Reeve – 'There's a trust and generosity of spirit, which we lose in adulthood if we're not careful '
- Matt Evans
- 17 May 2017
Howie Reeve talks about the meaning of life, as seen through music
'What I do as a musician is such a holistic thing. I go on tour and I fall in love with people and places. I bring that back to Glasgow and I love Glasgow more.'
For Howie Reeve, it's all about connections and communities. It's there in his live gigs, full of nimbly anarchic acoustic bass, gentle humanity and obscene chat. You hear it in his records – the fourth of which, Not So Secret Garden, is almost upon us. And it infuses every softly spoken word.
'I'm a middle-aged man … I want life to be about discovery, about a meeting of hearts. When I go on tour, it's about much more than the music – it's watching people with nothing feed each other. Not that they'd have me, but I'm not part of the music industry – it's a lifestyle thing. It's a fierce, passionate, loving and violent decision to do it in this way. If I compromised my art, I wouldn't discover things about myself, let alone the world around me.'
Five years ago, after many years of low-end service for exploratory bands such as Maxton Grainger and Tattie Toes, Reeve and his bass ventured into the world alone. His poignant, funny, inventive and impressionistic songs brought a little joy to around 90 venues in the last year, in the UK, Europe and Japan.
'It's been life-changing. I'd even go so far as to say it was healing. When you're a child, you're hungry for life, you trust, and you're hungry for connection. Surely that's the right of any human being? On tour, you see maybe 50 people doing something really positive. I tour a lot of exclusively punk and DIY community places, and they operate with a different vocabulary to the mainstream. There's a trust and generosity of spirit, which we lose in adulthood if we're not careful.'
Not-So Secret Garden is Reeve's most musically confident and lyrically astute album yet, bolstered with collaborations with the likes of folk singers Alasdair Roberts and Debbie Armour, experimental pianist Matthew Bourne and kora player Will Newsome. For Reeve, the title, artwork and fragments-of-life lyrics all convey a yearning for a (slightly) better world – a revolutionary act in an era when kindness is mistaken for weakness.
'The idea is that if you went through the fence to another world of imagination and possibility, it shouldn't be exclusive and secret. I'd like that garden to be accessible to all. I'd like the world to be a little bit better, but in a realistic way, not a magic wand way.'
Reeve is pretty unique as a solo artist who plays bass – not normally an instrument foregrounded or known for its expressiveness. But his inventive, adept though eccentric style makes the bass sing, growl and laugh. Why adopt such an unconventional approach?
'Such a simple answer: it's my instrument. I got one when I was 18. It's just my instrument.'
Not So Secret Garden is out on Mon 22 May via Redwig and Mon Cul.