Howard Jones, English singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about touring Australia with Kim Wilde, having his album Engage funded by his fans, meeting Princess Diana at Live Aid and his forthcoming An Intimate Evening With Howard Jones tour
Howard Jones is an English singer, and songwriter. He had ten top 40 hit singles in the UK between 1983 and 1986, including six which reached the top ten, and his 1984 album Human’s Lib.
In the summer of 1984, he released Like To Get To Know You Well, which he said was dedicated to the original spirit of the Olympic Games. Although it was not an official Olympic anthem for the Games in Los Angeles that summer, it was a worldwide hit reaching number four in the UK singles chart.
Jones continued to play large venues in the US during the late 80s, and the Cross That Line tour played major outdoor venues during 1989. With his ten year tenure on the Warner Music label at an end, a greatest hits compilation The Best Of Howard Jones was released in 1993.
Jones also had success as a songwriter for other artists in the early 90s. He co-wrote the dance music hits Heaven Give Me Words and Your Wildlife with the members of Propaganda.
Whilst taking a well earned rest from touring, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Howard good morning, how are you today?
Hello Kevin I’m fine thanks how are you?
I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Not at all, it’s a pleasure.
And just how is life treating you?
To be honest with you it has been a very busy few months. I was over in Australia just before Christmas, together with Japan and America. So at this moment in time I am feeling a little like a yo-yo to be honest with you (laughter). I managed to catch the flu whilst I was away which was annoying. Oh, and I forgot to mention the Caribbean and Florida too (laughter). I honestly feel like I need a break (laughter).
Sorry to have to break the bad news to you but there is simply no time for a break as you are going back out on the road here in the UK with your Intimate Evening With Howard Jones.
(Laughter) I know and to be honest I am really looking forward to the tour. I just hope that I am prepared enough for it.
So you are currently collecting more air miles than Alan Whicker (laughter).
Oh god, yes I am. The thing is that I have just started managing myself with my wife Jan and we are both now in charge of planning everything, so we are now having to start thinking a huge amount of time ahead especially when you are trying to plan just what you will be doing next year and in some cases the year after that. So what I am trying to say is that I have got no one to blame except myself (laughter). I really do find it so hard to plan that far ahead. I need a rest (laughter).
I was recently speaking to Mark King (Level 42) and he was saying that they are trying to book theatres for 2019 already, it’s crazy.
I know and I think that partly it is because we are all becoming such a rare commodity, that being the people from the eighties who are still standing (laughter). So we are all finding that people are asking us to commit to things years and years in the future. The reason is that they know that everyone else will want us as well. Having said all of that I suppose that it is a nice position to be in. However, I can’t be thinking that far ahead, I mean 2019, whoa (laughter).
What you have to remember is to look after yourself because without you there is no tour.
Well yes that’s right. I suppose that we really do have to ensure that we are in good shape. Anyway I’m sure that I will be totally fine by the time that the tour comes around, fingers crossed (laughter).
Before we move on let me just ask you what it was like over in Australia. You were there with Kim Wilde weren’t you?
Yes that’s right, we both wanted to go and we realised that the only way to do it was to combine our bands and for Kim and I to do it more as a collaborative thing. That’s the only reasonable way to do it as there is such a lot of gear to take over there with you. So we decided to do that and I have to say that it was a brilliant success. Not only did we play some amazing shows over there but we also had a lot of fun. With the two bands together it was just non-stop laughing the whole time. I don’t think that I have laughed so much in the last decade, it was just brilliant. It was really good fun.
But now you find yourself back here in the UK with the cold and the rain (laughter).
(Laughter) to be honest we don’t get much bad weather down here in the South-West but it is the UK so you never know.
We have briefly touched on the forthcoming Intimate Evening With Howard Jones Tour, are you looking forward to it?
Yes I am; I am really looking forward to it. I am trying to make it an annual thing really because I did it last year and had such a great response plus I very much enjoyed it myself. It takes me back to playing the piano and singing. It takes me back to the core of what I do which is writing songs. I always enjoy the intimacy where I can talk quite a bit, and this tour gives me that time. I love having the chance to tell a few stories that surround the songs. It is totally different for me as I am not in the middle of a big stage surrounded by loads of musicians. Whenever I play intimate gigs it is a very different experience for me. I find it to be a good antidote to all of the bigger gigs that I play.
You mention being surrounded by other musicians on stage. Are you at ease being up there on your own?
I love playing with the band because we can make a big racket and have fun getting the audience up dancing and excited but I also love the solo shows because they are the complete opposite. It’s about making that connection with every single person in the audience and revealing myself a little more really. The audiences likes to hear what makes you tick, why you wrote things and who you really are. For me it feels very cathartic for me to do that. It’s like baring your soul and it feels good for me to do that.
And you have got Rachael Sage opening for you.
Yes I have. I was very impressed with all of her work both previous and current and thought that having her along would be a great combination. She is getting some great airplay on the radio so I just thought, why not.
In March 2015 you released Engage on interactive CD/DVD allowing fans to fully interact with the content. I have been playing it now for over a year and I have to say that I think that it is a great body of work.
Do you really, well that is great, thank you for saying that.
I really do love 5 Pianos and The Human Touch.
I wanted to do something completely different with that album and think of it more as a live show rather than an album that you would simply listen to at home. Obviously you can listen to it at home but I wanted to push the boat out really. I am so pleased that you like 5 Pianos because that is probably the most extreme piece on the whole thing. It’s very hypnotic isn’t it? The Human Touch I have been playing it as part of the set with the band and I have to say that it has been going down a storm. So I will be keeping both of them in the set list but I won’t be playing them on the acoustic tour (laughter). When I play them with the band they both do work really well.
Were you happy with just how well the album was received?
Yes I was, but what I was particularly happy about was that I only did four or five live performances of the album, but the reaction that I got was truly amazing and I thought that I had achieved what I had set out to do. Sometime in the future, when the time is right I would like to do it again together with the full live production. So when the time is right I will do it again.
The whole product was funded by the fans. Was that a good experience?
Yes it was good, it really was. I think that it is really good to try all the new ways of working and what I found was that it led me into areas that I never thought I would go into really. For example, we did a few days in the studio when we invited people to come along and hear how the album was put together, how the results were put together and how we mixed it. That was a totally new thing for me and I have to say that people absolutely loved that. I found myself getting into creating some of the artwork, writing out the lyrics and doing some calligraphy which I really did enjoy. However, the biggest thing for me was that when you do a fundraising campaign like that you feel very responsible to all the people who are pledging their money upfront for something that you are working on.
That really does make you want to do something extra special for them, make it really great and it really did make me feel very responsible for that. I very much did enjoy that side of the project, it bought me so much closer to the fans.
Taking on board the fans funding the project together with having your own label, do you think that is the way that the music industry is going?
I think that there has always been a core thing that if you want to have longevity within the music business then you have always got to look after the fans which is what we did right from the beginning. However, now you do it in a different way, through social media which generally keeps people in touch and keeps people interested. Whichever way you do it and whatever you do it will always come down to that relationship between the artist and the fans. If you cherish and look after that then you have got a really good chance of having a long career.
I know that we have laughed at just how busy you are but are there any thoughts on a new studio album?
Funny you should say that (laughter). I have currently got three tracks ready for the next album that I have finished. So that means that I am a third of the way through I suppose so I have got lots of ideas and sketchers but because I have been away so much I have not really had the time to finish them off. So I am going to have to find the time to enable me to work on them (laughter). I will have to address that problem (laughter).
Will you be playing any Festivals here in the UK this year?
I will be playing all of the Let’s Rock Festivals. I think that there are seven of them in total plus a couple of other ones around that. I now have a newly expanded band, which means that it is five people now and I am very excited about that. People will be seeing us throughout the summer and then we are to play a big headline tour over in America. So yes, there are lots of exciting things coming up.
And I just have to point out to you that you have made me feel really old this morning.
(Laughter) I’m so sorry about that but isn’t it good to feel that you have been around a while (laughter).
Well, there is a T-shirt currently for sale that says ’I may be old but at least I got to see all the best bands’ (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) that’s right I have seen that very T-shirt (laughter).
I was looking at your career and was shocked when I read that New Song was released thirty-three years ago. Just where did all of that time go?
(Laughter) I know its amazing isn’t it just how time flies by. You simply have to make the most of it.
In July 1985 you performed at Wembley Stadium as part of Live Aid. What can you remember about the day?
I can actually remember everything that happened to me on that day and I have a theory as to why that is. I think that when you have that much adrenalin pumping through your body it seems to create very strong memories, so I can pretty much remember the whole day. There were so many great moments for me on the day. There is one bit which I don’t talk about very much, which was that as soon as I flew into England I went over and did Breakfast TV, and at some time during the day I met the Royals; Lady Diana and Prince Charles. As I was saying hello to Diana she said “I saw you on TV this morning” (laughter). That was the kind of thing that happened during the day. So Princes Diana was watching me on the TV and now she is talking to me about it (laughter).
Then some time later in the day I met David Bowie who turned round to me and said “Hello Howard, it’s great to meet you and I see that you are doing really well over there in America” which made me think ‘oh my god, not only does David Bowie know who I am but he also knows that I am doing okay in America’ (laughter). On that day it was simply one thing after another. Playing the song Hide And Seek was obviously the biggest highlight; it truly was an amazing day.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Funnily enough I was watching a documentary about the Eagles Of Death Metal, the band that were playing at the Bataclan during the terrorist attack in Paris and I have to say that I cried pretty much the whole way through that. The music is not the kind of music that I would usually listen to but it is one of the most moving documentaries that I have ever seen. That was only last week and I would recommend that everyone watch it should they get the opportunity to do so.
On that note Howard let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been a pleasure and I will see you in Newark.
Thank you very much Kevin, it’s been brilliant. You take care and bye for now.