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INTERVIEW – HOWARD JONES – October 2016

| 29 November 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW – HOWARD JONES – October 2016
By Shane Pinnegar

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A raft of worldwide hits in the ‘80s paved the way for a stellar career in pop and dance music, which saw him last in Perth in 2007. Recently back in Australia for a co-headlining tour with fellow ‘80s popstar Kim Wilde, SHANE PINNEGAR pinned Jones down for a chat.

“We know each other well,” Jones says of his tour mate, “because we do a lot of festivals in the UK and gigs, so I see Kim a lot. She does some charity events, and I support that and play with her band and stuff. We have crew and some band members that play with both bands, so this is why we’re able to come to Australia, by collaborating, and making it work.”

Wilde has told 100% ROCK MAGAZINE in the past that having a close-knit family around her when she became famous helped her keep her grounded through her big wave of 80’s stardom. Jones cites a similar trajectory, having married before fame struck, and being a dedicated Buddhist from a young age.

“Yeah, I really think it [helped] because I had my feet on the ground and I was 28 when I got signed, so I wasn’t very young. I’d lived a bit, before it all took off. I was married really happily to Jan. Also, all the people that supported me when I was playing clubs and pubs, before I got signed, they all came with me when everything took off. We were playing the Nag’s Head [pub] in High Wickham together and then we’d play at Madison Square Garden in New York together. I had that stability of friends and family around me that knew where I came from, so they kept my feet on the ground.”

It’s certainly a bit different from trashing hotel rooms, and similar rock star antics.

“Yes, that’s right. There was none of that – none of that,” Jones declares earnestly, before practically gasping in shock when I ask if he was ever tempted to throw a TV set out of a hotel window. “Never. Never. I would never, in a million years, do anything like that.”

The ’80s, however, were notorious as a time when the music industry had all the money in the world, and drugs and groupies were everywhere. It was the decade of excess, yet Jones remains adamant that he didn’t have a problem keeping his head together when all of that was going on around the record industry.

“I didn’t find it difficult because of the people I had around me. It’s just the company you keep, isn’t it? I always felt like a little bit of an outsider in the [music] business. I was just kind of getting on with it. I didn’t want to subscribe to that rock and roll lifestyle, it just seemed so destructive to me. It wasn’t the message I was putting out in my songs. If I was going to live like that, it would’ve been very hypocritical. It just didn’t seem interesting to me. I just love doing what I do, when I’m playing music and touring and making albums. I didn’t want to be a rock and roll cliché.”

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As a young teen at the start of the ’80s, I noticed that Jones’ songs always had something to say – they were always talking about something a bit deeper than, ‘let’s go party all night,’ or the like. He says it’s always been important to him for his music to carry a message.

“I felt that if I had this platform of being a songwriter, and somebody who made music that was going to be heard on the radio, and for people buying records, [I should] make it so that there’s something good in there – so people can get something from it that will hopefully be useful to them, or encouraging to them. Because I always felt that that’s what culture and art should do. It should be inspiring and helpful. I don’t expect everyone else to have that view, of course, but for me, it was important to do that. It’s always been my thing.”

More than music from any other decade, it seems like the pop music of ’80s just transcends generations, and remains so very beloved to this day. The music of that time was such a big adventurous melting pot, both in terms of the technology that was making the sounds, and also in terms of what people were doing musically.

“I think it’s a big mix of things,” Jones opines. “The explosion of the new technology, in terms of drum machines, synthesisers, and the way that people recorded music digitally – that was all exploding. There was MTV and video. The very first single of mine, I made a video, which was a complete departure from previous generations. With that came fashion and the way you looked and hair styles and clothing and that was all part of the creative experience.

“There were people like David Bowie who were cheerleading that whole movement. I think when you mix all those things together, you get a very interesting music culture. It wasn’t just synths and synth pop – there was U2 and indie rock and there was reggae and soul… there was something for everybody, and it was all co-existing at the same time. I think it was a very fertile time for pop music culture, and everyone took it seriously. Everyone knew what was number 1 in the chart and things like that. Now, I don’t think anybody knows!”

Jones says it was a very clear path from childhood piano lessons to playing in a prog rock band, to becoming a pioneer of synth pop and early champion of that ultimate symbol of eighties-ness, the keytar!

“Anything that had keys on it, I was interested in! I played piano since I was seven, so that was my main instrument. [Then] anything that had keys attracted me – I didn’t want to make music in the same way as the heroes I’d grown up with did from the seventies and sixties. I wanted to use the technology of the time I was living in, and not be some sort of retro throwback to another era. I still feel like that now. It’s like, well, we’re living in this time, we should use the technology and the developments that are available to us now and not trying to recreate something from the past that people have done really well. I always felt like my role was to be a bit of pioneer with that stuff. I still feel like that now.”

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Being a very influential and groundbreaking musician at that time, it’s easy to hear reflections of Jones’ work in modern music, but you rarely hear him cited as a huge, pivotal influence by a lot of people. Does he feel he gets the respect he deserves?

“I really don’t crave that in any way,” he states. “I know from anecdotal evidence from people that I meet that they drew a great influence. The fact that I was a frontman and I was a keyboard player inspired a lot of young guys and girls to go and buy their first synthesiser and then become great artists in their own right. To be writing this history of pop music, it’s a joke really, isn’t it? It’s so distorted by rampaging reviews, I don’t even think about. The only thing I think about is getting on with your own work, and doing it as well as you possibly can. Trying to be really original and no to re-create what somebody else has done. I think that’s what artists should do.”

For a period of time Howard Jones was, literally, a one-man band, having every sound he needed at his fingertips. He says he rarely performs like that any more, though.

“Not in the same way – it’s too lonely. I did it for a long time, and I much prefer having a band around me and friends on the road. It’s just so much more enjoyable. I could do it, but I choose not, because it’s much more fun when you’ve got people with you.

“I still do my acoustic shows, which is just piano and voice, but that’s a whole different thing,” he elaborates. “That’s like an intimate thing where I talk a lot and explain myself a bit and tell stories and play songs that were never hits, but are very special to me. I tend to balance the more high energy hits sort of gigs that I do with the electric band, with my solo shows.

“The electric shows are very interactive, but the solo shows I talk for at least half an hour in a two hour set. It’s much more explaining yourself, and giving people a bit of an insight into where the songs come from and why they were written and who you are as a person. It’s quite cathartic, really.”

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I’d imagine that performing to a huge audience would be the ultimate intoxicant, really, and there were very few audiences bigger than 13 July, 1985’s Live Aid. Can Jones recall the feeling he had walking onto, and then off that stage, in front of perhaps the biggest global audience of all time?

“It’s funny,” he chuckles, “I don’t think of myself as having the best memory in the world, but I remember pretty much every moment of that day. I think it’s something to do with, when you’ve got that much adrenaline flowing through your body, it seems to imprint itself in your brain. As I walked onstage, Phil Collins had just been on and he said to me, ‘watch out, Howard, for the piano – there’s some malfunctioning notes down at the bottom end of the piano.’ I was already the most nervous man in the world, and then he tells me I’m going to be playing a dodgy piano!

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“I go out, and I’m very nervous, and I start the song slightly fast. It’s Hide And Seek – it’s supposed to be slow. I’m a little bit pacey… then I get to the chorus, and then the whole of Wembley joined in. It was just incredible. I still remember that feeling, like, ‘oh, wow, these people are really with me. They’re really supporting me.’

“From that moment, on, I kind of really enjoyed the whole day. It just felt like such a privilege to be involved in an event like that. I’d thought to be part of it because I realised how important it was to support something that good. I’m so glad that Geldof agreed to have me on the bill.”

Shane

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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