Retro Futura Tour, Part 2: Howard Jones Talks Live Shows, Videos, Mummies, and the Upcoming Remake of “Everlasting Love”

Howard Jones plays at the sold-out Rewind Festival.  Picture: Universal News And Sport (Scotland)

Howard Jones plays at the sold-out Rewind Festival.
Picture: Universal News And Sport (Scotland)

The synthpop sound of Howard Jones was hard to escape in the 1980s: a fully realized, bouncy, bright smile of a sound that propelled Jones to the top of the MTV rotation and Billboard charts with hits like “New Song,” “What Is Love?” “Things Can Only Get Better,” “Life In One Day,” and the multiplatinum ballad “No One Is To Blame.” We caught up with Howard Jones just before the launch of the Retro Futura Tour with friend Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins (see that interview here), Midge Ure of Ultravox, China Crisis, and Katrina (minus the Waves).


What’s the story on this “Everlasting Love” video project that you want people to learn the dance steps for when they see you in concert?

Well, there’s a few things to say about it. Firstly, I’ve been wanted to rejuvenate “Everlasting Love” for quite a while, and bring it just a bit more up to date from the original recording. And on the visual side, I wanted to reference what the original video was about, which was this crazy idea of a pair of mummies in love going ‘round London. My son has turned into a very talented photographer and video creator, so we sat down and came up with ideas for the video. We thought it would be great to have a dance in there that the audience would do, because I’m really into this interactive thing. My new project I’m involved in is called ENGAGE, and it involves a lot of audience participation. It’s a small way of reflecting that on this tour.

Well, I’ll be there, probably not dressed as a mummy, though.

(Laughs) I didn’t have the nerve to ask people to come dressed as mummies, but I hope there’s a few. That would be such good fun.

It’s funny that you also asked people to dress in orange, which is funny because orange was very much the color palette for you in “Things Can Only Get Better” video. Some performers try to distance themselves from 80s fashion sense.

I wasn’t actually referring back to the videos. I’m often at festivals and I’ll go on in the middle of the afternoon. To make an impact in broad daylight, you can’t beat a bright orange suit. I brought a pink one as well. People love to be involved.

Well, I still think that if some orange mummies show up, that might freak you out.

An orange mummy would be perfect! (laughs) I’m always very conscious of the audience, because they invest so much of their time, and it’s a commitment on their part to come see me. I want them to know that I am thinking of them all the time. I am really aware of them. Any sort of engagement like these things just makes the bond stronger. That’s really important. Artists really have to do that, and really look after their fans. You have to respect them, otherwise you wouldn’t get to do what you do for a living.

Your web presence is really impressive, especially having everything from your entire volume of 80s fanzines to every music video you’ve ever made. You really seem to value your connection with the audience as a priority.

I think that has really changed with the times. Back then, we had a fan club, and if you wrote in, you’d get a letter back. That sort of connection still holds as significant, because there was no email, and it was a response. Yes, from the early days, that’s been a big part of it. With the website, we established that very early. I have gotten more engaged with the online communication the past few years, with web chats and Facebook and Twitter. I try to make it special for the fans so they know that, for one thing, I’m still around (laughs) and I’m with them. As an independent artist, it’s different. In the old days, you had a record company to do some of the work, but now it just comes down to me. Nobody else is going to do it. That’s part of being an artist now. You can’t just create your art, you have to help create the pathway for fans as well.

Speaking of playing live, Tom Bailey is playing on this tour with you, and he told me a little about what convinced him to come play these shows for the first time in nearly 30 years is that it was you who asked, and you’ve known each other for a very long time. Were you asking him for the hundredth time and the time was just right for him?

It was actually the first time I’d tried, but I know he’s been asked many times. I sat down with him, and I’d done a short version of this tour last year with Andy Bell (singer for Erasure) and we had a really good time. It was fun, and I just conveyed that to him. “You’re really going to enjoy it,” I said, “and people would really love to hear those songs of yours again.” And even after the meeting we had, I wasn’t convinced he was going to do it, but he is, and it’s great. I think that he found that putting his show together got him really excited about it again, so I’m really pleased for him.

For Tom, he’s been out of the scene for a while, so he’s revisiting these songs and the meaning of the songs’ lyrics sometimes changed. Has the meaning of some of your songs changed for you?

Yes, I’ve had a few. One of the most profound moments was for a song called “Hide and Seek,” which I may do on this tour. And the chorus goes, “Hope you find it in everything.” And someone said to me that they really enjoyed the line “Hope. You find it in everything.” And I’d never ever put the emphasis on hope, rather than “hope you find it” as in “I hope you find the answers.” But this meant finding hope in everything. It was one of those moments, you know? How many times had I sung that song, and then some person reveals that to me? And now I actually sing it with that emphasis, because that is more of the meaning I intended than before.

Speaking of “Hide and Seek,” that’s the song you performed at Live Aid. What do you recall from that performance?

It was pretty scary because in 1984, I’d only had two albums. I didn’t feel as established as Queen or the Who (laughs), so I was a realist about it. I chose to do it on my own, also, just a piano, which was even more of a challenge. I was very nervous and scared. I got out there and started playing a bit faster than I normally do, and when I got to the chorus, the audience were singing and it was they were holding me in their arms. It was a very profound moment for me, feeling that these people are supporting me and are here to support what this day is about, this cause. It was a fabulous experience and a cherished memory, one I’ll never forget.

Another moment was a performance you were a part of at the Grammys. It was Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Thomas Dolby and you, all on keyboards jamming together.

They saw the rise of the electronic keyboard, and they seemed to want to announce or signify a new era for the keyboards & synthesizers to be taken seriously. With two veterans and two new kids on the block, and I do think that something happened there too. Really, the four characters are so different, and us all being on that stage together was amazing. I’m really proud of that.

Did you get a chance to talk shop with the veterans?

I hung out with Stevie in the studio when we were putting the song together. I jammed with him, just him, for about 20 minutes, just trading licks, like a musical dialogue of sorts. Stevie wanted to keep going, so I took that as a good sign, because he wouldn’t put up with it otherwise. We had the most brilliant musical dialogue, it was so great. And Herbie was there, and I’d done some stuff with Tom in the UK. It was just brilliant.

Was it a pinch-yourself moment?

Absolutely! Especially being an Englishman, and here I am in L.A., hanging with Stevie, one of the gods of popular music, and he’s enjoying jamming with me. (laughs)

I spoke with director Daniel Kleinman about the “What Is Love?” video, he said he enjoyed the concept of you controlling everyone’s actions, and it turned into an exercise in editing because you’d do the action, and then the people in the video would mirror it. What do you recall from the process of creating that video?

To start with, it was a fantastic privilege to work with Danny, because he really was one of the most talented video directors of that era, and I love his work after that, especially on the Bond movies. He’s a really wonderful man, and he explained to me how he wanted me to do these actions that would be repeated by the actors, and we were surrounded by this beautiful city in Paris. It was great being directed so positively by Danny. He really knew it, he could really see it in his mind what the finished result would be. I’ve always admired people who have that really strong vision, and you feel you can really trust them with the project, and you don’t have to worry about them. You just have to give it everything you’ve got for the camera.

Because Daniel was originally a storyboard artist, I think that informs his vision, and he’s able to write a blueprint for the idea and explain it quite easily.

That’s right, he’s good at telling lovely stories. It’s funny, when I look at it now, I can see Danny, because he moves the way I’m moving and I don’t, really. Danny had a specific way of showing me and I just copied it.

You worked with Wayne Isham on some videos. You were interviewed on a British television show about that, and you said many people would not have put you two together, but you got along great right away.

We actually did, and I don’t think anyone could have predicted that we would get on like a house on fire. We just wanted to do the craziest things, and one time he had me hanging upside down in a studio. The shot was never used, though! He just brought this crazy energy to everything. For “You Know I Love You, Don’t You?” I told him that I’d always wanted a keyboard that flies, but not just flies, it flies around and then back to me like a boomerang. He organized to have it built, and it was hung by fishing line from the top of the studio. I could literally run with the keyboard while playing it. And I got to drive a Corvette Stingray at the end, which was cool too. But that was what it was like working with Wayne. Absolutely crazy fun the whole time.

You two worked together on several videos – not just “You Know I Love You, Don’t You?” but “Like To Get To Know You Well” –

And we did a whole concert video as well, which is actually one of my favorite things we did, because he’d have this huge camera and be right there onstage, right in my face, capturing it all and falling over, risking his life to get the shot with this huge camera. He’s a wonderful man.

For “Life in One Day,” you worked with the late Terence Donovan, director of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” video.

It was a Godley and Creme production, but they brought in Terence Donovan to direct. The idea was that I’d appear on this television as someone was flicking through channels, and I’d appear on all the channels in different ways and different characters. Terence was a great commercial director at the time and was very fast, which was helpful because we were trying to do so many things one after another in the video. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some very talented people. I still think people see that video and don’t realize that it’s me playing all of those people. All the characters are me, the newscaster, the fellow in the chair. And the crazy thing was that the BBC wouldn’t show it because it had all the blackout parts and signal interference and flipping channels, and they said that people would think there’s a problem with their television. They sort of lost the point of it.

Sometimes the BBC just didn’t get it.


On “Things Can Only Get Better,” you worked with Nigel Dick, and you seem to be working with some on-camera performers that make repeat appearances in your videos.

Yes, Jed Holie was a mime artists, and did many different characters in my shows, up until about 1987. He’s the Charlie Chaplin character. But there’s another performer, a magician named Drake, and he did all the tricks with the cups, etc. There’s a lot of stuff going on.

Throughout your song catalog, you seem to have a very positive message and tone. On “No One Is To Blame,” it’s more somber. Was that a challenge in creating the video?

I think it’s one of the most beautiful and arty videos that I did. I just think it’s beautiful to look at and beautifully shot. That song has multiple interpretations, depending on how you feel that day or where you are in your life. When I wrote it, I was saying that you can’t have everything. If you have a cherished relationship, then you have to be true to that relationship. You can’t have it both ways. “And you want her, and she wants you, we want everyone.” You can’t play the field and have one special person. I think that’s the simplest explanation of what I started with. But it’s gotten more complex for me as time has gone on.

Do you look back at that time in general with a fondness?

Well, I’m not one of those people who thinks that the 80s were great and music now is not. I am not like that at all. It’s just different now, and there’s a whole new set of things that people need to be addressing. I mean, (laughs) back in the 80s, everyone was selling millions of records, so there were resources to make many things, like big budget music videos and extravagant tours. Now, very few people can do that, and you have to be much more creative. You have to do more, but with less, and I think that’s good. I loved being in that era then, and I love now too. With the technology, I’m doing things now I only dreamed of back then. Communicating with the fans right now is really the most exciting part, because you can get to them in ways you never could before now. You know, it’s so fortunate to have had so many hits on the radio that everyone knows, so you’ve always got your calling card. Everyone knows “No One Is To Blame,” even if they don’t know it’s me. It’s so hard now for a new song or a new artist to be noticed because of all the noise and what have you. Before you had access to a limited amount of music, and now, it’s totally unlimited. I’m very fortunate, but I would say that I’ve always loved radio, and from the time I was 9 years old, I wanted to be on the radio. I wanted people to hear what I was doing. For some, album projects were what they wanted more than hits, but I wanted to be heard, so I’m fortunate that the songs were hits.

The concerts must have some great moments for you every time, like during “Things Can Only Get Better” where the “whoa whoa whoa-ah-oh” chorus becomes call and response.

You know, I don’t go to shows and stand in the middle of the audience, but I saw Robert Plant a while back, and it got me thinking. Just what are we doing or thinking as audience members when we watch a performer? I think it’s talked about very much. What you’re doing is celebrating that the person on stage has overcome their fear and has become confident about himself. They are giving us the benefit of what they have to offer, without fear. I was thinking that THAT is what people are celebrating out there in the audience. It’s kind of what everyone wants to do in their own field, to declare that they feel really good about who they are and what they are doing.


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