There’s nothing like a brass section to bring a song to life. Local horn legend Jack Howard knows this well, as for most of his adult life he’s been involved in one of Australia’s finest rock brass sections with the mighty Hunters & Collectors. He’s also laid down brass lines for many other iconic Australian acts such as Midnight Oil, The Models, Living End and You Am I to mention a handful. A few years ago Howard came up with the concept of dedicating a whole show to the legacy of great horn work in Australian recording history in a project he calls Epic Brass. Featuring the great horn hits and hidden gems of Australian rock – from Hunters and Collectors and the Oils to The Saints, The Laughing Clowns and Wet Taxis, the show has played to many packed houses in Melbourne and now finally comes to Sydney.

The Epic Brass band is sensational and features a mighty four-piece horn section. Jack is joined by a terrific cast of guest singers – Ron Peno (Died Pretty), Steve Lucas from X, Penny Ikinger (Wet Taxis) and Melbourne sensation, Fiona Lee Maynard, bring their style and their energy to this uniquely powerful show. Also just announced to be included in the Sydney show are Steve Kilbey from The Church and Midnight Oil’s Rob Hirst.

Ahead of the show on Saturday June 2nd at the fabulous Factory Theatre in Marrickville, we caught up with Jack Howard to chat about Epic Brass, the Midnight Oil world tour he was part of and more.

Hi Jack. When last we spoke to you, it was about the launch of Epic Brass in 2014. Tell me about the show’s journey since then … any developments?
Well I keep looking for slightly older, more obscure tracks that we can do but I mean, we only do this every now and then and we do have a core set list. It’s a little dependent on who is singing too. We have Steve Kilbey coming up in Sydney. Paul Stewart is unable to do it and Steve is jumping in for us, so I am looking for a Church song that has some brass, of which there area few and he’ll also do a Hunters’ song. Steve Lucas does some X songs as well as some others. With Ron Peno, I have done a brass arrangement for DC, the Died Pretty song, which works a treat. This is an act that has 15 people involved and many moving parts and it’s a big ship to steer, so we can’t just go, hey let’s try this tonight. It all takes a bit of work in advance. I’m always looking for new stuff though and that’s part of the fun of it. When I first put the show together, I did an awful lot of research to track down a few people who used to be in bands like Equal Local from Melbourne and the Hot Half Hour with Bryce Perrin. He was one of the early Hunters & Collectors horn players before I got going. Then I discovered an all-female horn section up in Sydney. There were a couple of well known ones like Glad Reed, who played a lot with Midnight Oil on trombone and Louise Elliot who played with Laughing Clowns and Ed Keupper. Then there were also horn players like Kath Weymss and Di Spence from The Wet Taxis, Jackson Code and Midnight Oil at various times. In a way they were this parallel horn section in Sydney to us in Hunters and Collectors in Melbourne. Michael Jeremy and myself played with Painters & Dockers, The Models, Harem Scarem, all sorts of people down here. It was a nice discovery, the lineage of this Sydney horn section, so we do some Wet Taxis in the set, some Jackson Code. We do Laughing Clowns, some Saints of course. One of the things I really love about it is having different singers like Steve Lucas and Ron Peno, Penny Ikinger, singing material that they are not known for and it’s bringing a different twist to the songs.

What songs have gone down the best in the shows you’ve done before?
Probably two of the more obscure ones. The very first Hunters song that I played on was Rendering Room. It goes back to my first gig supporting The Cure back in ’81. Bryce Perrin showed me the line to that song 5 minutes before we went on stage. It never made it onto an album, so it only exists as a Youtube obscurity and we do that. It’s almost become this disco epic and it had that early Hunters’ funk beat and we open it up to solos. Another unexpected development has been that I have had both Steve Hadley and John Archer regularly as our dual bass section. They play together on Rendering Room and I have also had Greg Perano, the Hunters’ original percussionist play on it, so it has this touch of history about it as well. Having Greg there playing the old gas cylinder and hub caps and things, is so great. The other one is my song, Losing My Mind, which is probably one of the least known songs in the set but the band love playing it and it has been going down really well. Of course everyone loves the more obvious ones too but they appreciate the obscurity, they’re not just in it for the hits.

Have you had to reconsider the set list for the Sydney audience?
It’s a very strong Sydney lineup anyway. Between Ron Peno, Steve Lucas, Penny Ikinger and now Steve Kilbey, it’s a very strong Sydney line up. The other thing is that the Sydney scene was much more of a garage rock scene, from Hoodoo Gurus to The Johnnys, Lime Spiders,Stems, Falling Joys, so I found the Sydney scene to be a little more jangly rock and garage rock. We’re doing Wet Taxis and Jackson Code, who were Sydney bands, so we didn’t have to think too hard about adjusting the set to get a Sydney flavour to it.

Hows the trumpet holding up? You’ve been all over the world with it on the Midnight Oil tour recently.
I got a beautiful road case made for my trumpet and flugelhorn and that just travelled in the semi trailers with all of the other gear. I just took my very old Bach Stradivarius as my practice trumpet for the hotel room. It’s hanging in there but I reckon it’s a solid ten years that I have been using my latest Bach Stradivarius and it gets played every day. I don’t know that I would branch out from the Bach Stradivarius but I wouldn’t mind trying something else.

With the Oils tour, what percentage of time were you on stage?
In a 22 song set, it averaged between 10 and 14. The most I got to play on any night I think was 16 but that’s not just brass, I was their multi instrumentalist. I played trumpet, flugelhorn, a variety of percussion and keyboards as well. I also sang backing vocals and I got to play Rob’s drum kit on When The Generals Talk. I had a really enjoyable time on stage because they changed the setlist up so persistently, it was never the same set twice. We did a couple of shows in New York and the first ten songs of each night was completely different. I had a lot of fun. It was much better than going along and just being the trumpeter on all the hits and twiddling my thumbs backstage for the rest of it.

What else is coming up for you?
I had a really great gig recently with the Black Eyed Susans at the Recital Centre the other night. We’ve got a gig with The Break up on the Gold Coast on May 26th. I’m doing a couple of Man in Black shows. I’m playing with X at the Corner Hotel in May. We had a terrific Bacharach show at the new caravan club the other night, a beautiful room. The good thing is that I am getting to do my original stuff every month. We have a couple of nice regular gigs at the Dogs Bar in St Kilda with (Australian Musician’s) Rob Walker on bass. Hopefully I will get another record out at some point, at the end of this year. I have about 8 songs that I am working on that I will probably put out in a modern way on bandcamp or Spotify. I enjoy the teaching so its a good solid musical life. With a bit of luck there will be some more Oils, more Hunters and Collectors but I won’t hold my breath on those big things.

SAT 2 JUN @ 8:30PM
(02) 9550 3666
Tickets on sale now @ The Factory Theatre & Ticketek