Interview: Howard Jones

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Howard Jones
A prominent figure on the synth-rock scene in the 1980s, Howard Jones has continued to make groundbreaking strides ever since. We chatted to him about Live Aid, his 2017 tour and the Jimi Hendrix of keyboards

Howard Jones does not sound like a man who’s spent 35 years in the music business – his voice is far too fresh and enthusiastic for that. Perhaps it’s thanks to his daily Buddhist chanting, his clear passion for his art, or a mix of both, but Howard’s excitement for his work – and, in particular, his upcoming tour – is infectious, and, before long, we’re happily discussing everything from Howard’s influences to his performing at Live Aid – a show which he describes as ‘the most significant event of that decade.’

As his surname Jones may suggest, Howard hails from a Welsh family – one he says was very musical. ‘Music was very important,’ he explains, ‘not only to my parents, but to my uncles, aunts and grandparents. Everyone sang, or played an instrument, or recited poetry. When we visited our uncles and aunts, we were expected to play the piano for them or sing. My parents were really keen for me to learn the piano – I resisted it at first.’

Howard eventually yielded and took piano lessons. ‘It became my thing,’ he enthuses. ‘I became obsessed – I would practise four hours a day and I’m really grateful to my parents for pushing me.’

When our talk turns to Howard’s influences, one name immediately springs to his mind. ‘From the age of 15, I was really into Keith Emerson,’ he says. ‘Before Emerson, Lake and Palmer, there was a band called The Nice who I absolutely loved. When you went to see them, Keith was the front man – the Jimi Hendrix of the keyboards – instead of the keyboard player being shy at the back of the stage, Emerson was the full extrovert and I loved that. He was always my biggest hero on keyboards. I used to strap a Moog Prodigy round my neck to become mobile – I’ve always been into any way to get away from that static position behind the keys.’

When the talk turns to his career progression, Howard is quick to debunk the story that he booked the Marquee Club in London and invited record companies to come and see him. ‘We didn’t actually hire the Marquee,’ he explains. ‘They allowed us to do a residency of four Mondays in one month, and we invited all the record companies and publishers down. Nobody wanted to sign me at the time, except one guy who got it, and that’s why I ended up signing with Warner Brothers.’

In the summer of 1985, Howard played Live Aid at Wembley – a show he remembers with great fondness. ‘There were 100,000 people in Wembley,’ he recalls, ‘and about a billion people watching on TV. It was the most pressure you could ever feel – I did the performance just at the piano and so did a song called Hide and Seek. I got to the chorus and the whole of Wembley joined in with me. That was a pretty special moment and a pretty special day. I don’t think anybody will play a bigger gig, no matter who you are. It really did unite the world to help a country where people were dying – it saved thousands and thousands of lives. It was a brilliant thing to be involved in for that reason.’

Throughout the 1990s and through into the new millennium, Howard has continued to tour and experiment with the boundaries of his music. His new tour – Howard Jones – An Intimate Evening of Songs and Stories – takes him away from his usual full-band set-up and sees him create an intimate atmosphere by playing solo piano and singing, while telling the stories of his songs. This isn’t the first time Howard has done a tour like this and it’s clear he’s excited about it.

‘I’m trying to make this an annual thing when I do a month of shows around March where I just focus on the piano and the songs,’ Howard explains. ‘I create an intimate atmosphere in smaller venues. I love doing these shows – it’s something I really enjoy and it’s a chance for me to play stuff that I wouldn’t be able to play with the band. I’ll play the big hits, but I’ll be covering my whole career. I’m really looking forward to it.’

Howard will be playing the following dates in the North East:

23 March – ARC, Stockton
24 March – Playhouse, Whitley Bay

www.howardjones.com

Published in: February 2017

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