Dylan Howe chats with Kevin Cooper about working with Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey, his inspirational father, his new album Subterranean New Designs on David Bowie’s Berlin, and his forthcoming tour of the UK.


Dylan Lee Howe is an English jazz drummer, bandleader, session musician and composer. He is the eldest son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe. Named after Dylan Thomas, the Yes song, Clap was written for him by his father.

Being primarily a self-taught drummer he went on to be the in-house drummer for weekly club nights in London including ‘Songwriters’ at The Orange in West Kensington, London, backing many artists including Chaka Khan and Howard Jones. He was also house drummer for the Channel Four series “Packing Them In” hosted by Frank Skinner in 1992.

Having been involved in a plethora of projects, and having joined a number of other artists on tour and on their albums, more recently he has replaced Steve Monti as drummer in the Wilko Johnson Band, with Johnson on guitar and vocals, and Norman Watt-Roy on bass. He features on Johnson’s recent albums: ‘The Best Of Wilko Johnson Volume 1’ and ‘The Best Of Wilko Johnson Volume 2’.

Following on from this he joined Wilko and Roger Daltrey on their successful album, Going Back Home. More recently he has been involved in producing and releasing a new album; Subterranean New Designs on David Bowie’s Berlin, and is about to embark upon a tour of the UK later this month.

Kevin Cooper caught up with him during his busy schedule, and this is what he had to say:


Hi Dylan how are you?

I’m fine thanks Kevin, how are you doing?

I’m good thank you, and thanks for taking the time to speak to me.

It’s my pleasure and thanks for doing this for me.

So how is life treating you?

It’s very good thank you Kevin. It’s a very busy time and there are a lot of good things happening so yes, I can’t complain at all, its great (laughter).

So a silly question to start with, knowing who your dad is (Steve Howe guitarist with legendary group Yes) but how did music start for you?

(Laughter) well I suppose that was seeing dad playing at a whole lot of gigs when I was really young. I was going to gigs when I was three years old, so it just sort of seemed like a thing that other people did that didn’t feel out of the question really (laughter).

For you was it always going to be the drums; did you never feel like following in dad’s footsteps and play the guitar?

It’s funny that, because I think that I seemed to gravitate towards drummers because I could see what they were doing was a bit easier than the guitarists (laughter). It just seemed to me to be a natural thing to go to the drums, and I didn’t really feel that much of a pull towards the guitar. So that is just how it happened really.

Who were you listening to growing up?

Well Kevin I have to say that there were a lot of people, because I was kind of always surrounded by a lot of music and so I have got quite an eclectic taste and collection; but I suppose in my teen years I got into Jazz. I had also gotten into 80’s pop, people like The Police, Stevie Wonder, Prince; just everything that was kind of around at the time, together with everything that I could find in my dad’s record collection (laughter). So really it was just a question of riffling around and then just sort of experimenting with things really. I suppose that is much the same as anyone; it’s the charts and then it’s groups who you have seen, and then I started getting into Jazz, and then everything that was to do with American music from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. Then it was a case of finding out who had been everyone else’s influences; who the artists that I liked were into, and who the drummers that I liked were playing with. It was simply a case of starting with the era that I was in and then working my way backwards and then it all kind of opened up. I just wanted to know what the bands that I liked, what were into (laughter).

It’s interesting to see who has influenced the people who have influenced you.

Absolutely Kevin, yes. And then you see that there are lots of innovators and originators but everyone is trying to sound like the people who they liked, but you can’t actually do that. Everyone is an individual and have their own style of playing and their own way of doing things, and so they then start to create something that is their own. And so you end up with lots of tangents and offshoots so it’s a lifelong investigation Kevin (laughter).

So testing your memory what was the first record that you bought?

That would probably be something that was in the charts and I think that it was Einstein A Go Go by Landscape (laughter). I remember going down to John Menzies and being really happy that I had bought that single; playing it like mad and then thinking ‘ok, is it really that good’ (hysterical laughter).

So did you swiftly move on from Landscape?

(Laughter) well Kevin, after that I really started to get into The Police; Stuart Copeland who was their drummer did some amazing stuff, and then it was Yes and after that I started getting into Soul and Funk and listened to a lot of James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Prince. However after that I very soon got into Jazz after buying a late 80’s Miles Davis album. After buying that album I started working backwards and soon found myself getting into John Coltrane and everyone else who was associated with the Blue Note label and that was it then, I was off (laughter). There were thousands of albums for me to find, to check out and to study and stuff. So the journey simply continues.

That’s the attraction as there is something new to check out every day.

Yes that’s totally right Kevin. It is always a good feeling when you find a rare or unreleased album by an artist who you had previously thought that you had got everything ever released by them (laughter).

Who did you first see live in concert?

Well that would have to be Yes. I remember going to see them at the Rainbow Theatre in London when I was really young and that was the very first time that I saw my dad on stage. I remember seeing him playing and thinking ‘hang on, what’s my dad doing out there on stage’ (laughter). The amazing thing was that everyone was totally into it, and he was playing the guitar really well and I thought ‘this is quite unusual, I wonder if everyone else goes to see their dad perform on stage?’ (Laughter) so that was probably my very first live concert. After that I just went to loads and loads of gigs over the years and I feel so lucky that I have managed to actually see most of the greats.

Is there any one experience that you would say has changed your life?

Well Kevin that would have to be going along to Ronnie Scott’s with my parents when I was 13 years old to see Buddy Rich play; that simply was a live changing experience. I had been playing the drums for about three years and I was happy just to be able to keep a beat, but then I saw this guy and he was off the scale. I just thought ‘what the hell is he doing, it’s amazing. I’d really like to do something like that’. So you just get small milestones along the way don’t you that are really inspiring. Seeing him play was like watching someone performing magic; you don’t know how they do it but you have to investigate it. And I have now spent the rest of my life learning how to do it (laughter).

Who has been your biggest musical inspiration?

That’s a very good question Kevin. Everyone who I have ever met or listened to is a little bit inspiring, and it’s kind of like understanding that everyone is doing their thing, and then they get to a point when they are good at it, and then it grows from there really. So what I find is that everyone is always observing everyone else trying to understand how they got there or exactly what they had to do and it is always a lot of hard work together with hours and hours of practice (laughter). It has a lot to do with personalities, as you meet all of these very dynamic and individual characters who also happen to be very creative. But in answer to your question Kevin, obviously to see and to be around my dad has been really inspiring so he is probably number one really. However, to have been lucky enough to have seen all of the great people live and then to work with some very interesting people as well, makes it hard to put it all into perspective but I think that everyone has got an interesting side to them or some interesting talent as to how not to do something (laughter). As with everything I suppose that we are all checking each other out, and trying to take the good bits (laughter) and make use of them for yourself, and to understand how to do things.

You have played and recorded with some fantastic artists, is there anyone left who you would like to do something with?

(Laughter) do you mean a kind of ‘hit list’ who I would like to play with? Yes Kevin, there are still a lot of people out there who I would like to work with. I have always wanted to play with Yes, together with people like Sting and Stevie Wonder. However a lot of people are no longer with us anymore, as I would have loved to have played with Miles Davis.   You have to be around these people or you have to make a huge impact somehow and then that can translate into something. But yes there are a lot of people who are still around who it would be great to play with.

And the music business being what it is then I suppose that it is mostly about logistics’ isn’t it, being in the right place at the right time?

Well yes, I mean that logistics has a lot to do with it, together with luck and as you say Kevin, having to be in the right place at the right time, and a lot also depends upon who you know. Also one gig that you play can spring on into the next, and everything can change out of the blue in one telephone call. That is just the nature of it I think Kevin.

The new album, DYLAN HOWE’s SUBTERRANEAN New Designs On David Bowie’s Berlin; I have to ask you why Bowie?

The simple answer Kevin is that I always really liked him (laughter). I especially liked his mid-70’s period which I found to be very interesting. I suppose that I got into Bowie through his album that was a hit at the time, Let’s Dance and then I started to get into his earlier stuff. I think that those middle period albums, Station To Station, Low, Heroes, Lodger and then Scary Monsters have stayed with me all of the way. So I would always go back to playing those albums over any others. Then as I got older and began being a bandleader I found that instead of writing new stuff, it was, for me, far more interesting to rearrange or adapt other people’s music. So that is how Subterranean evolved really. I had always thought that it would be good to try that ambient period of his and see if it would work opening it up but still keeping its original spirit, and it seems to have worked. It took a while to do it and it was a large undertaking together with a lot of layering, and it took a lot of energy to do it, but it seems to have gone down really well actually.

It’s a good new chapter for me as a bandleader and it seems to have struck a chord with lots of people. I think that a lot of people were into those albums and to do something interesting with that one and to give it another spin and another element, well, it is an album that I would have liked to have heard, but no one had made it and so I thought that I would have a go and see if I could do it (laughter). And despite a lot of energy and trial and error and stuff, it’s finally come through. I’m really pleased that it has been getting good reviews and a lot of people have been buying it; it’s great.

Have you as yet received any feedback from Mr Bowie?

Well Kevin I have got like one degree of separation from him now, and I know that he has got a copy of the album. His Manager and the guys who run his organisation are all really into it (laughter). They have kindly been plugging it for me and featuring it on their websites. And of course the most important thing for me was that I received the approval allowing me to release it. And I have to say, yes, I have just received this message from David himself ‘Dylan, that’s a top notch album you’ve got there. Really, David Bowie’. How fantastic is that!

My favourite Bowie track from that period is V-2 Schneider off the Heroes album.

Wow Kevin, I did do a version of that; I did try that one earlier on but it didn’t really work as it is too much like a song. It didn’t really come off but I still do have an earlier version of it which I didn’t release but yes, I love that one too.

I have to ask you, what was it like when you recently worked with Roger Daltrey and Wilko Johnson?

It was great and it was a really interesting thing that came totally out of the blue. I have been working with Wilko for a few years now and we have been talking about doing something with Roger. Wilko then spoke to Roger at an awards ceremony and they had both said that it would be great to do something. However it then seemed to stall for a couple of years but then we finally got it nailed down, and then everything just seemed to happen really fast (laughter). The nature of these things is that you have to wait for ages and then you almost think that it is not going to happen and then suddenly it is like ‘alright, next week’ (laughter) and then everyone turns up at the studio.

What surprised me was that the album came out really quickly too. It sold very well and then we did some gigs and stuff and it was a great thrill, it was really great. Just playing with Roger Daltrey is amazing; when you hear his voice you realise that this is the sound of a lot of people’s adolescence. It is the sound of English music in a way, it’s in his voice. It was a real thrill and hopefully we will be doing some more. It was good because everyone at the label had low expectations about it, and they weren’t really sure as to what was going to happen; but the way that it seemed to gather a real head of steam and then just exploded, well, it was great. It just goes to show that you can do something in a real old fashioned kind of way and if you have got the right people on there, together with a group of people who have got an affection for Wilko and Roger, it makes for a really good combination.

And let’s not forget Norman Watt-Roy of course.

Of course Norm, I mean everyone has got a lot of affection for him too. So you get all of these things together and it’s a really great combination isn’t it; all of the ingredients are there for something good and it worked. It was great and it’s been a really good year. It was really interesting and the good news is that Wilko is going to be around for the foreseeable future now which is something that everybody is still trying to wrap their heads around. Every time I saw Wilko and every time that I played with him I was thinking ‘is this the very last time that I will see you’ or ‘are you suddenly going to get ill’, but he has now had an operation which he didn’t think that he could have, and now he is recovering. It’s going to take some time but he is ok; he is clear. It is now just a case of his body adjusting to all of the changes that have happened to it. So I think that we will have a good year next year. We have got lots of things in the book that if Wilko is ok and everyone is in the right spot then it will be exciting.

Well you gain one and then you lose one, as Roger has announced that this will be the final Who tour ever.

It’s interesting that one, and yes from what I am hearing this will definitely be the last Who tour ever.

Although saying that I have at least 13 Who Farewell Tour t-shirts in my wardrobe at home.

(Laughter) have you really, have they really done that many Kevin? That is really funny (hysterical laughter). This is definitely looking like the last one as let’s face it, everyone is getting older. Roger is in really good shape but this year is a landmark for them, it’s their 50th Anniversary so an ideal time perhaps, but you never know (laughter). I do know that Wilko has offered to support them on the tour and that would really be a lot of fun. If we can do that then that would be great.

Later this month you are going out on your own tour, are you looking forward to it?

Totally yes, I mean it’s great because we spent so much time in the studio working on this album so to finally do the whole thing live with the recording being in your mind so that you have a definitive version, and music is all about playing it life so I really can’t wait.

Do you enjoy playing here in Nottingham?

I’ve had many good gigs over the years at the Bonnington Theatre with my groups and some great shows with various others such as Wilko Johnson, Ian Dury and The Blockheads, so I always like coming back to Nottingham.

Is there any one single ambition left for you to achieve?

(Laughter) just to keep on keeping on really, and just hopefully to improve as I go. I think that is all that anyone can really hope for.

Dylan, good luck with everything that you do.

Thank you very much Kevin, you take care.




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11th      NOTTINGHAM BONNINGTON 0115 956 0733

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