Dawn After Dark: Album Launch Shows + New Interview with Howard ‘H’ Johnson


Dawn After Dark launched their debut album over the weekend by playing not one but two shows in the historic city of Bath. Both for the band themselves and their incredibly patient fans December 4 2021 was a date to remember as more than thirty years since they started out it was possible to walk into a bricks and mortar record shop and come out with an album that captures what DAD are all about. New Dawn Rising has already received some terrific reviews (not least from our very own Peter Dennis http://www.themidlandsrocks.com/dawn-after-dark-new-dawn-rising/ ) and this most unlikely of comebacks is really starting to gather momentum. Although to call it a “comeback” does the new line-up a disservice. This is very much a current and vital band that also happens to have an interesting history; something that vocalist Howard ‘H’ Johnson has documented in a fascinating new book – What We Are: The Story of The Band.

The afternoon set took place at Chapter 22 Roots and Records; the retail home of the bands record label that offers vinyl old and new plus a very appealing selection of plants. This was another first as the band performed an acoustic session that ran for around 20 minutes and showcased stripped back versions of ‘Nothin’ Can Fulfil Me’, ‘Crystal High’, ‘Her Sleep’ and ‘Maximum Overdrive’. These streamlined arrangements came across well and hopefully is something they will revisit in the future, even if it meant drummer Tony Henderson had to rein in his more pugilistic tendencies.

A few hours later and it was back to more familiar territory as the Dawners took to the stage at The Bell for a full electric set that consisted of the entire album in running order and kicked off with the monumental riffing of ‘Maximum Overdrive’. New members Drew Gallon and Ollie have immediately gelled with H, Tony and Russ Frame and the quintet were brimming with confidence and bravado. A vibrant ‘The Day the World and I Parted Company’ kept up the pace before they shifted gears with ‘Dead on Time’. Something of an unfinished idea back in the day, ‘Dead on Time’ has been revamped into much more rounded song where the melody and groove are now fully realised. And talking of groove, the stuttering intro of ‘The Groove’ followed with guitarists Ollie and Russ sharing some back and forth interplay.

As they moved through the rest of New Dawn Rising, including calling card ‘Crystal High’ and the psychedelic infused ‘Her Sleep’, it is evident they are very much back in business. Their loyal following are still turning up in numbers and with the right exposure their brand of high energy rock can certainly attract a lot more admirers. The album release is just the pushing off point and a potentially exciting journey lies ahead. After an hour or so of jumping bodies and displays of sheer joy, a raucous encore of ‘Is There Time’ and ‘No Shame’ sent everyone out into the cold with a spring in their step.

To round off the weekend, MR’s Dean Pedley caught up with H for a chat about all things Dawn After Dark including the recording of the album, their plans for 2022 and how much the band are enjoying being active again after all these years.

You ran a pledge campaign to cover the recording costs of New Dawn Rising. It’s fair to say that the bands loyal fans really came through and supported this…

Yes they certainly did. It was one of those weird situations where we didn’t quite know what the best way to go forward was. As you know these days it’s a whole different world because of the way that streaming has undercut the ability to sell products and so if you are a relatively smaller band it’s hard to make ends meet. Getting the offer to make the album from Chapter 22 Records was a great thing for us because we knew they understood the history of the band and what it was we were trying to achieve. The deal proposed was that they would take care of everything except for the recording costs which would be for the band to organise. From our point of view we didn’t have the opportunity to go out and raise the money from touring because almost immediately after we got back together COVID hit which meant we lost the opportunity to drive some revenue from playing live. So we felt that that was the most sensible way to go about it and also judge peoples appetite for it. And as you say thankfully a lot of people stepped up and chipped in to make it possible.

And with the advances in technology you were able to get the whole thing done very quickly and efficiently. When you are in a recording studio it’s a very different world now to the challenges you faced first time around. How did it compare?

We did ‘The Groove’ back in 1988 at a place called the Slaughterhouse where The Mission used to record and it took five days to get one track done. This time around, eleven tracks done very efficiently and to a very high standard in the same timeframe. It was hard in the 80s because there was no technology available that you could put onto a computer. And the idea of finding a way to record to a level that was going to be equal to the top bands of the day was just a pipe dream. It used to cost so much money and take forever to get the right drum and guitar sounds and was a very difficult process. Which is why, when you look back, bands would spend months and months in the studio and the reason for that is that things were so complicated. From that point of view while streaming hinders bands because making money is so difficult, producing top quality sounding material is much easier than it was back then.

The bands logo rising above the city centre skyline makes for a very striking image and of course you recorded here in Birmingham and used a local producer in Andy Taylor…

We did the album in kind of a hybrid way, a mixture of using the technology but also doing it in a proper studio with a proper producer who knew what he was doing in Andy. He is very good at being able to work under pressure and being able to get great sounds at source, and is also extremely good at mixing. One of the things that has been really noticeable from the people who have heard New Dawn Rising is that apart from the quality of the songwriting they always point out that the production quality sounds really high, and I think that is a great tribute to Andy and also that we worked very hard to make sure we were really match fit by the time we went in to the studio.

In terms of personnel yourself, Tony and Russ were joined in the studio by John Wilcox and Felix Henderson. I know they both made very important contributions to the album…

It was one of those things where the likelihood was that John and Felix would not be able to stick with the band because they are much younger than us and are at very different life stages. It was always a very open-ended arrangement with them, they were there primarily to help us out with the gig in 2019 and then they had such fun doing it they wanted to do the album.

In terms of his guitar playing John was able to lock in to exactly the right vibe, straddle the heavy rock tendencies that came from me and my background and the more alternative stuff that came from Dave and Rich. John was probably one of the few guitar players that would have been able to do that and I think it helped that his Dad had been around in the 80s and he understood those two scenes really well because he had grown up around them. Felix once said he is the only guitar player he knew who could produce a Killing Joke record and a Queen record at the same time. And that really appealed to me.

Drew and Ollie are the new members and they seem to have slotted in effortlessly and at the same time both bring different backgrounds and experiences to the band…

It was obviously an issue to make sure we got the right people in. You go on gut feel and certainly from the first time we got in the rehearsal room with Ollie and Drew the band sounded right. Ollie did a lot of touring with a band called blew in the early 90s and Drew is also very experienced and they are in the same position as us in that they are at a certain life stage where they want to be out there playing and enjoying it again. I think that both of them understand both sides of the spectrum of the heavy rock world and the alternative world which is where the band sits. We’re looking forward to playing these gigs in December and it will be great to get a run of shows under our belt.

I don’t want to miss him out because he is a lovely guy so say a few words about Russ, who has been around DAD for a few years now and has a long history of playing in bands with Tony…

Russ is a godsend. The reason why I think that the band sounds so much better now is primarily down to Russ. I think he has brought that rhythmic swing to the band that makes us get the best out of the songs. He is a great guy to work with, really easy going and loves playing. I can’t speak highly enough about him. He’d like to think he’s an alternative to Malcom Young and that’s certainly not a bad place to be!

The band members no longer all live in Birmingham and in your case you aren’t based here in the UK. Logistically this makes everything very different from what it was like in the 80s. How is it working out?

It’s a very different thing from two points of view. Firstly, communication wise it’s much easier to be separate from each other because you can ping recordings here and there. The second part of it is that when you are in your early 20’s as we were first time around the gang mentality is a very important part of it and you feel that you want to live under the same roof. As you get older you realise that a band functions more efficiently when there is space because people are different; they have different attitudes about how they want to live, how they want to work and I think it’s important that when we come together we are motivated to work. I think back in the 80s one of the things that contributed to the demise of the band was that we were spending too much time under each other’s feet. We had the added pressure of feeling that we were always on a knife edge financially and trying to earn more money which wasn’t happening; in the end it was inevitable that it all imploded. Whereas now we are much older, much wiser and have different things going on in our personal lives which is much healthier. And the idea that a bunch of guys in their 50’s would all want to be living together in some kind of Young Ones house is probably not a good idea!

You and I spoke at length about the history of DAD a couple of years ago when you first reformed. (http://www.themidlandsrocks.com/back-in-the-groove-the-return-of-dawn-after-dark/ ). You’ve recently published a book that tells the story warts and all. Was it an enjoyable experience to revisit those times?

I had two primary goals when we restarted the band. One was to make the album and the second was to have a record of what it was like to be in a band in the 80s. Like I say at the start of the book most people write about success and whatever you thought about our band it wasn’t a huge success. We got to a certain point and then imploded but there was never really a groundswell of support for us. From getting the deal with Chapter 22 to me getting kicked out was less than two years so we didn’t do it properly for all that long. Writing the story itself was interesting and also Tony had collected so much amazing memorabilia that needed to be seen; you don’t find that anymore because everything is digital. I’m really proud of the book and we were lucky because I have friends who are designers and my wife is a production editor so I had people who could take care of those things and enable us to produce something of really high quality.

Paul Hutton, your manager back then, mentions in the book how rock music was regimented and that hard rockers were turned off by pyramids that were part of the alternative scene. I think thirty-odd years later people are far less precious about labels being placed on bands they enjoy. Would you agree?

I would like to think that is the case because it always frustrated the hell out of me back in the day. People always wanted to go “this band is this type of a group” and it never sat very well with me. From my point of view we were a rock band, it was a really straight forward idea but an awful lot of people couldn’t accept that and wanted to put us in a specific box, hard rock, alternative, goth whatever it was. I never felt comfortable being pigeon holed in that way and I suppose having reformed and made the album to my mind if you wanted a more definitive description would be to say we play like a heavy rock band that has listened to some alternative music.

You came on stage to Aerosmith and covered ‘Sin City’ so there was never any question in my mind that you were first and foremost a rock band.

Much as I enjoyed that tour that we did with the Nephilim in ‘88, and that it helped us develop a following, in some ways it was probably a drawback because people immediately thought we must be a goth band and that is about as far removed as it could get. And yet when we went out with bands like Living Color and Wolfsbane we didn’t get people thinking we were a metal band. We just felt our performance and music would stand up in any environment where people enjoyed rock music.

Looking ahead to next year festivals would seem to be an ideal way to bring the band to a wider audience; is this something you are hoping to do?

We would love to play festivals. If you are involved in the music business you need to have contacts with agents and people that can push you. We have probably two inbuilt advantages in that I have some personal contacts through my music writing, and also Dean Brown from Chapter 22 works as a promoter with the likes of Balaam, Theater of Hate and Craig Adams. It’s in everybody’s interests to promote New Dawn Rising and festivals would be a great opportunity. I think we will probably find out once the albums out and we’ve done a few shows what the appetite is for that. We want to be out playing but it has to be viable. We did that thing back in the 80s of travelling in a van and playing shows for 50 quid and I’m not sure that is the most effective way to get the word out. We want to concentrate on really good support slots, doing festivals and playing shows where we know there will be an audience.

Assuming you go on to make a second album have you considered what other songs from the past might be reworked at some point?

I think there is still some stuff in there that is interesting and could work. The way that we approached New Dawn Rising was to decide amongst the old songs which ones needed a bit of a spring clean and which ones needed an overhaul. I think there is probably a lot of material that is in a less finished state but has the bare bones of very interesting stuff. There is an instrumental tape from 1991 which was after John Stevenson left that never got worked up and has some really interesting ideas. So yes, there is stuff there and certainly at some point in the future I would like to look at those. But the most important thing for us right now is to introduce people to the band and the album that we have waited thirty years to make

I suppose if there was one that I was surprised didn’t make the cut it has to be ‘Wild Wild Love’; this was a song you seemed to play every time I saw you.

There was a debate about it! I have mixed feelings about that song. It was always a good live tune, very fast and gets the adrenaline pumping. I personally think that DAD is a better band when a song is based around a groove and the faster songs are not as true to the spirit of the band as the ones where we lock into a groove. But that’s just one opinion out of five. Tony comes from a background where he has played in punk bands so I suspect he quite enjoys the ones that are played at breakneck speed!

I was always very disappointed with the two songs that were the B Sides to the original release of ‘Maximum Overdrive’; I though the songs were good but the production was rank. So those are two songs that have a lot of potential, particularly ‘Dreamstress’ because Ollie has a slightly psychedelic vibe to his playing and that would be an interesting song to see what he could do with. From our point of view we have got plans to write new material and make new music but there is a lot of life in an album. We have got at least 12 months of work before we would even think about the next one. The good thing is there is an appetite within the group to do it.

So after more than three decades with New Dawn Rising you finally have an album that looks great, sounds great and is set to launch Dawn After Dark into a very exciting new era…

The big question we asked ourselves was not if we could record material that sounded better than it did back in the day; it was whether we were going to be as good as we wanted to be. My main aim was that I was able to produce something and could go “this is a really good representation of what DAD is all about”. And to be able to do that after so long away is really satisfying.  It’s a record I am really proud to stand behind and I think as a rock record it stands up to anything else that is out there.

Dawn After Dark play the following shows:-

18th December, 2021 Hope and Anchor

London (SOLD OUT)

28 Dec 2021 O2 Institute2

Birmingham (very special guests of Balaam & The Angel)

29 December, 2021 Esquires

Bedford (very special guests of Balaam & The Angel)

30 December, 2021 Patterns

Brighton (very special guests of Balaam & The Angel)


Photos from Acoustic Gig by Jae Taylor

Band Promo Photo by Chris Hill 

Many thanks to Dean Brown of Chapter 22 and Angel Promotions