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The Shy Dr. Robert Rocks With a Wail

August 5, 1986

LONDON (AP) _ Dr. Robert, lead singer with the Blow Monkeys, might be shy but his lyrics let the public in on his religious feelings and domestic tragedies.

The rock group’s second LP, ″Animal Magic,″ is full of lyrics about the breakup of his marriage.

″I wrote the songs for the album about the time that my wife and I separated,″ said Robert Howard, 25, who calls himself Dr. Robert. ″A lot of the songs deal with loss and guilt.″

Nearly every song on the album refers to God or makes a religious reference. In ″Burn the Rich″ he refers to the ″constant clawing of angels,″ and in the Top 40 hit, ″Digging Your Scene″ there’s this line: ″Every day I walk alone, and pray that God won’t see me.″

″I’m not really religious,″ Howard said. ″I don’t belong to any given team, but I do believe in God. I don’t know why I do, but I do.″

Howard picked up the nickname Dr. Robert when he was a youngster.

″It doesn’t have anything to do with drugs,″ he said. ″I think it came about because I’m quite shy and prefer to listen to other people rather than doing all the talking,″ he said in an interview.

As a teen-ager Howard became interested in the Northern Soul movement which influenced other British bands such as Dire Straits and New Order with an American rhythm and blues type style.

″Northern Soul was just going to a disco and listening to obscure soul records. Marvin Gaye was my all-time favorite. Me and my friends would pile into a bus and go to Blackpool or Liverpool. We’d take lots of speed and dance all night,″ he said.

In 1976, Howard’s family moved to Sydney, Australia, where he attended university and planned to become a writer. On one assignment, he interviewed an Aborigine band who had a song called ″the Blow Monkeys,″ which became the name of his band after he returned to England and was sidetracked from writing into music.

In South London he met saxophonist Neville Henry, 27, and the two began writing songs. They were joined by bassist Mick Anker, 29, and drummer Tony Kiley, 24, who were already members of a jazz group.

″I wanted more of a jazz feel to the music, and Mick and Tony added that,″ Howard said.

Their first LP, ″Limping for a Generation,″ made little impact. However, the recent ″Animal Magic″ is creating a stir with the success of the single, ″Digging Your Scene.″

A mix of pop, jazz and soul is the winning combination in the Blow Monkeys’ tunes, and it doesn’t hurt to have a dynamic, charismatic lead singer.

At a recent London concert performance, Dr. Robert finished by smashing his guitar onstage, a demonstration which is in contrast to his shy off-stage persona.

″I really am quite shy, but I couldn’t go on stage like this. Everyone would leave. Besides, all of that is for entertainment’s sake. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek,″ he said.

″My mother and father were Elvis (Presley) fanatics, so I grew up with his music. Grew up hating it is more correct. I didn’t like his music until after he died, and then I really started listening to it. His music still gives me a lift when I need it.

″I think he was really misunderstood during his time. He hijacked black music and made it popular, and I think that’s far more revolutionary than punk ever was.″

The Blow Monkeys have already begun work on the follow-up to ″Animal Magic,″ and Howard has definite ideas about the lyrics.

″Hopefully they won’t be as morose and personal, but the problem is that I’m not very good at writing lyrics that tell stories about other people. I can’t just make a song up, because I’d feel like a fake when I sang it onstage,″ he said.

″Still, I’m going to try to write less in the first person. I can say that now, but when I sit down with my guitar it always turns out that it’s either me or God.″

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