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The Birthday Party (band)


The Birthday Party (band)

The Birthday Party
Circa 1983, clockwise from top left: Harvey, Cave, Howard, Pew
Background information
Also known as The Boys Next Door
Origin Melbourne, Australia
Genres Post-punk, gothic rock, art punk
Years active 1978–1983
Labels Missing Link, 4AD, Shock
Associated acts Tuff Monks, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Crime and the City Solution, These Immortal Souls, Honeymoon in Red
Past members Nick Cave
Mick Harvey
Tracy Pew
Phill Calvert
Rowland S. Howard

The Birthday Party (originally known as The Boys Next Door) were an Australian post-punk band, active from 1978 to 1983. Despite limited commercial success, The Birthday Party's influence has been far-reaching, and they have been called "one of the darkest and most challenging post-punk groups to emerge in the early '80s."[1] The group's "bleak and noisy soundscapes," which irreverently appropriated elements of blues, free jazz, and rockabilly, provided the setting for vocalist Nick Cave's disturbing tales of violence and perversion.[2][3][4] Their music has been described by critic Simon Reynolds as gothic, and their single "Release the Bats" was particularly influential on the emerging gothic scene.[3]

In 1980, The Birthday Party moved from Melbourne to London, where they were championed by broadcaster John Peel. Disillusioned by their stay in London, the band's sound and live shows became increasingly violent. They broke up soon after relocating to West Berlin in 1983. The creative core of The Birthday Party – singer and songwriter Nick Cave, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mick Harvey, and singer, songwriter and guitarist Rowland S. Howard – later went on to acclaimed careers.


  • History 1
    • Early years and The Boys Next Door (1973–1978) 1.1
    • Name change and relocations (1978–1982) 1.2
    • Final years (1982–1983) 1.3
    • Post-breakup, legacy and influence 1.4
  • Members 2
  • Discography 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


Early years and The Boys Next Door (1973–1978)

The nucleus of the band first met at the private boys school Caulfield Grammar School, in suburban Melbourne, in the early seventies. A rock group was formed in 1973, with Nick Cave (vocals), Mick Harvey (guitar), and Phill Calvert (drums), with other students John Cocivera, Brett Purcell and Chris Coyne (on guitar, bass and saxophone respectively). Most were also members of the school choir. The band played under various names at parties and school functions with a mixed repertoire of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, among others.

After their final school year in 1975 the band decided to continue as a four-piece group, with friend Tracy Pew picking up the bass. Greatly affected by the punk explosion of 1976 which saw Australian bands The Saints and Radio Birdman making their first recordings and tours, The Boys Next Door, as they were now called, began performing punk and proto-punk cover versions, such as "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Gloria", and a few original songs.[5] By November 1977 their set was dominated by fast original new wave material, such as "Sex Crimes" and "Masturbation Generation".[6]

The Boys' second guitarist, Rowland S. Howard, joined in 1978, and about this time, the group's sound changed dramatically. The addition of Howard's guitar was certainly a catalyst (his later use of audio feedback being a hallmark of the group) but there were other changes, as well: their sound drew upon punk, rockabilly, free jazz and the rawest blues, but defied concise categorisation. Many songs were driven by prominent, repetitive basslines and frenetic, yet minimalist, drumming. Though the band was tightly rehearsed, the instrumentalists often sounded as if they were on the verge of collapse, this quality only emphasising the newfound mania of Cave's singing, and his expressionist lyrics. In producer/engineer Tony Cohen they found a willing accomplice to their experimentation and their refusal to repeat themselves; and in manager Keith Glass they found an enthusiastic financial backer. Glass' label Missing Link Records released all of the early Birthday Party records.

Name change and relocations (1978–1982)

The Boys Next Door's best known song, "Shivers", written by Howard, and first performed and recorded by his band The Young Charlatans, was banned by radio stations because of a reference to suicide. After recordings and moderate success in Australia (including hundreds of live shows) they headed for London in 1980, changed their name to The Birthday Party and launched into a period of innovative and aggressive music-making. Some sources say the band took its new name from the Harold Pinter play The Birthday Party;[7] others (including Ian Johnston's Cave biography) state it was prompted by Cave misremembering, or intentionally misattributing, the name to a non-existent birthday party scene in the Dostoyevsky novel Crime and Punishment. In a 2008 interview Roland S. Howard gave his own recollection: "The name The Birthday Party came up in conversation between Nick and myself. There's this apocryphal story about it coming from a Dostoyevsky novel. It may have had various connotations, but what he and I spoke about was a sense of celebration and making things into more an occasion and ritual".[8] They resided in London, with trips back to Australia and tours through Europe and the U.S. before relocating to West Berlin in 1982.

Above the barely-controlled racket, Cave's vocals ranged from desperate to simply menacing and demented. Critics have written that "neither John Cale nor Alfred Hitchcock was ever this scary,"[9] and that Cave "doesn't so much sing his vocals as expel them from his gut".[10] Though Cave drew on earlier rock and roll shriekers—especially Iggy Pop and Suicide's Alan Vega—his singing with the Birthday Party remains powerful and distinct. His lyrics also drew on Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire.[11]

The single "Release the Bats" came out during the emergence of the gothic scene.[12] This song about "vampire sex" was promoted by an advert with the words "Dirtiness is next to antigodliness".[3][12]

Their 1982 album Junkyard was inspired by American Southern Gothic imagery, dealing with extreme subjects like an evangelist's murdered daughter.[3]

Final years (1982–1983)

For the Birthday Party, things had changed. Calvert was ejected in 1982; he was reportedly "unable to nail down the beats for 'Dead Joe' to everyone's satisfaction",[13] and Harvey moved to drums. When Pew was jailed for drunk driving and petty theft early in 1982, Chris Walsh, Barry Adamson and Howard's brother Harry replaced him for live appearances and brief studio work. Pew rejoined the band in July.

The Mutiny EP contained lyrics evoking blasphemy, words which were as dark as the gothic poems of Lautréamont.[3] The title track portrayed a dirty heaven with rats and trash.[3]

In 1982 a spin-off group with Lydia Lunch, Honeymoon In Red, recorded an album which was eventually released in 1987. Harvey and Cave were reportedly so unhappy with the mixing and overdubbing done after their involvement that they requested their names be withheld from its liner notes. Howard and Pew apparently had no objections to being credited by name.

A tour in January 1983 found the group return to a five-piece, with Jeffrey Wegener playing drums and Harvey returning to second guitar. Wegener did not remain with the group, however, and they returned to a four-piece soon after. Later this year, Blixa Bargeld from the German band Einstürzende Neubauten played guitar on the track "Mutiny in Heaven". Tension between Cave and Howard soon came to a head, but it was Harvey who first left the group – their final tour saw Des Hefner on drums. The Birthday Party disbanded in late 1983, due in part to the split between Cave and Howard, as well as work and drug-related exhaustion.

Post-breakup, legacy and influence

Several groups rose from the Birthday Party's ashes: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (featuring Cave, Harvey, Adamson, Bargeld and briefly Pew), Crime and the City Solution (featuring Harvey and Howard, later just Harvey) and These Immortal Souls (featuring Howard).

Pew died from injuries caused by an epileptic seizure in 1986.

Due in part to their legendary status and to the continuing success of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party's back catalogue has been re-released on CD several times. Mick Harvey has overseen releases of rare or previously unissued recordings ("Live" and "John Peel" CDs).

The Birthday Party's initial impact was on the Gothic rock genre. According to New Musical Express, "The Party have been indirectly held responsible for the rise of a visceral new hardcore, ranging from The Sex Gang Children, through Danse Macabre to March Violets."[14] Rock acts that have cited The Birthday Party as an influence include My Bloody Valentine[15] and LCD Soundsystem.[16]

In October 2007, Cave alone was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. During his acceptance speech, Cave took it upon himself to 'induct' the Australian members of the Bad Seeds (including Harvey), plus Howard and Pew from The Birthday Party.

Rowland S. Howard died 30 December 2009 of liver cancer.[17] In 2012 Howard's early songs were played live as a tribute in Melbourne: a four-piece band played consisting of Harvey, Calvert, Ron Rude and Rowland Howard's sister Angela.[18]


Band members
Touring and guest musicians


The Boys Next Door
The Birthday Party


  1. ^ Thomas, Stephen. "The Birthday Party". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  2. ^ Thomas, Stephen. "The Birthday Party". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. London: Faber and Faber, 2005. pp. 429–431.  
  4. ^ The Quietus
  5. ^ "The Boys Next Door Concerts". Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  6. ^ Lethal Weapons" 30 Years On, by David Nicholls""". 22 October 2007. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  7. ^ "". Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  8. ^ Mojo magazine, November 2008. As told to Roy Wilkinson p.162
  9. ^ "Trouser Press". Trouser Press. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  10. ^ "Blast Off!". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  11. ^ Reynolds 2005, pp. 428–429.
  12. ^ a b Lewis, Luke (5 March 2009). "Release The Bats - It's The 20 Greatest Goth Tracks". 7. The Birthday Party – Release The Bats. Knuckle-dragging drums. Sickening, scything distortion. Barely comprehensible vocals in the Vic Reeves 'club style': here was a compelling sonic template for goth's lunatic fringe. Most gothic moment: Nick Cave's blood-curdling shriek: "Whooaaargh! BITE!" 
  13. ^ "Dead Joe". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  14. ^ New Musical Express, 25 December 1982. Cited in Jennifer Park, "Melancholy and the Macabre: Gothic Rock and Fashion," Gothic: Dark Glamour by Valerie Steele and Jennifer Park, p. 141, 143.
  15. ^ Guitar World, April 1993 by Alan Di Perna Kevin Shields: "The Birthday Party were also my favorite band at that time. They're pretty much why I formed a band. Them and the Cramps."
  16. ^ Thrasher Magazine, Sept, 2005 by Sarah Pulver James Murphy : « My first album: I got some birthday money, went to the record store and bought Siouxsie and the Banshees Join Hands, The Fall Grotesque, and The Birthday Party Nick the Stripper, all in one day. And all three of those records are three of my favorite things I've ever heard. »
  17. ^ "Bandmate pays tribute to Birthday Party guitarist - Entertainment (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". 31 December 2009. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  18. ^ "Watch: Rowland S Howard Tribute At Ballroom Reunion In News : Mess+Noise". 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 

Further reading

  • Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. London: Faber and Faber, 2005. pp. 429–431.  
  • "Inner City Sound", Clinton Walker (Wild & Wooley, 1981; revised and expanded edition, Verse Chorus Press, 2005)
  • "Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977-1991", Clinton Walker (Pan MacMillan Australia, 1996) ISBN 0-7329-0883-3
  • "Bad Seed: A biography of Nick Cave", Ian Johnstone (1996) ISBN 0-349-10778-5
  • "The life and music of Nick Cave: An illustrated biography", Maximilian Dax & Johannes Beck (1999) ISBN 3-931126-27-7
  • "Kicking Against the Pricks: An Armchair Guide to Nick Cave", Amy Hanson (2005) ISBN 1-900924-96-X
  • "Nick Cave Stories", Edited by Janine Barrand (2007)

External links

  • The Birthday Party official site
  • From The Archives: a site with discography, concert history, videography, bibliography, etc. Also features Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Einstürzende Neubauten and related artists.
  • Article on The Birthday Party from HowlSpace
  • The Birthday Party discography from Nick Cave Online
  • Inner City Sound Website: a site dedicated to Clinton Walker's book "Inner City Sound" which lists The Birthday Party and other alternative Australian bands of that era.
  • Record cover art at
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