British pop musician Howard Jones is coming to town to heat things up in July. The author of such hits as “No One Is to Blame” and “Everlasting Love” plans on reliving his hey day by performing his two early albums back to back for eight venues. Chicago is one of the lucky ones selected where fans can see Jones perform in a small intimate space. Nunn tracked him down on the road to see what has been cooking with the artist recently.
Jerry Nunn: Hello, Howard. You are coming back to Chicago. Didn’t you just play here last year?
Howard Jones: Yes, it was in October.
JN: You are performing at the Mayne Stage. What set list do you have planned?
HJ: It is going to be the two albums Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action, so those 24 songs really.
JN: How does it feel playing those two albums back to back like that?
HJ: It is quite challenging. With that many songs it is two and a half hours of singing and playing. I have to keep concentrating (laughs)! Obviously I wouldn’t want to do it forever but I am really enjoying this year. This will be the end of this phase and I will be moving on to something else. It is really good fun to present these songs to people because a lot of them I never performed in the old days. They were just studio pieces. To actually go out and sing them and play them is quite new. I have done it quite a lot and I am getting better at it. It is a difficult set to play I have got to admit. I mustn’t lose concentration. I have to keep my wits about me on this one.
JN: If you forget a song the fans will get mad because they know the next track coming! Several groups are performing their entire albums similar to this. I saw Weezer play The Blue Album and The Pixies did Doolittle in concert.
HJ: Right, I know it’s not an original idea but the original bit is that I am doing two albums.
JN: I got it. Nobody is doing two albums back to back.
HJ: That’s right (laughs)!
JN: How has this tour been going?
HJ: It is going really well. We were here in America last year then we went to Japan at the beginning of this year. Then we were in the UK in April then a tour there. Obviously we are here now then going to Australia in September. That will be it then for the two albums show then I will be working on something new for next year.
JN: I listened to your latest album Ordinary Heroes and it sounded so personal.
HJ: Yes, it is. I had a collection of songs that were very personal to me. They were very intimate thoughts and feelings so I thought that was the best way to do it would acoustically, with strings and piano. I didn’t want to make it a big production but make it a simple way of getting the songs over. I’m pleased the way it turned out.
JN: Since then you have released box sets that have sold out.
HJ: Yes, I managed to do a deal with my old record company that is Warner Brothers to license back my first five albums so that we could re-master them and put them into some nice packaging. A lot of the stuff was not available. Even the full version of Dream Into Action was not available on iTunes and you couldn’t get it in the stores. What I am pleased about is that I have made my work available again. We put it in some really nice packaging and took some care with it. It is going very well. I have put a lot of extra tracks on an extra CD that goes in with the set so people are really pleased about that. They could only get it on vinyl before but they can now hear it properly. That has taken a while to get together.
JN: How is it hitting those high notes on songs like “Things Can Only Get Better?”
HJ: Actually I can still hit them because I have been having singing lessons with a really great guy, an opera singer. He’s taught me how to preserve my voice on tour so I don’t wreck it all the time. I can easily do songs like that one still. I’m very pleased about that and feel very lucky.
JN: That is good to hear. You were trained as a classical pianist so you have a strong background in music.
HJ: Classical music was never my first love. It was always pop and rock that I loved but I thought learning to play the piano properly was a good idea to help with all sorts of things and it was really important in the end. I was glad I put all of those hours in. It all worked out in my teenage years!
JN: You haven’t really stopped touring after all this time.
HJ: That’s because it is what I do. I don’t go into long times of retirement. That is crazy. I just don’t want to do that. I like playing live.
JN: “Things Can Only Get Better” is such a positive song and may have helped listeners thinking about suicide and now with the anti bullying campaign “It Gets Better.”
HJ: I have always thought it was important for music to play the role of cheering people up and cheering them on. Life is tough for everybody. Everybody has troubles, difficulties, and obstacles. You never know what is around the corner and need to be strong. You need to have a positive attitude about your own life to overcome things. I like to write songs that say that. I think we all need it at certain times.
JN: Well, it definitely helped me growing up gay in the 80s’. I have been a long time listener.
HJ: Oh great, thank you.
JN: Let’s give a big shout out to that red hair back in the day! That was a trademark for you.
HJ: (laughs) Yeah, I wasn’t going to work in a bank so I fought very hard to do what I was going to do. The hair was a great opportunity for me to express myself fully. So I took whatever came with that. It was such fun to be constantly changing the hairstyle. I have always been into style and fashion and presenting yourself in an interesting way. That is part of the artistic drive so I don’t know why people get so hung up about it. It is fun. We are supposed to enjoy our lives, aren’t we?
JN: Totally. Have you ever thought about making a musical?
HJ: It is interesting you should ask that because there is a guy named Peter Michael Marino who did a musical called Desperately Seeking Susan.
JN: Based on the movie?
HJ: Yes, it was successful on Broadway then transferred to London but do so well there. He has been contacting me and we have been thinking about doing a musical together. So it is an idea that is simmering.
JN: How do you want fans to keep up with what you have cooking?
HJ: I do twitter, especially when I am on the road, I am much more prolific, then it goes through to my Facebook page. Twitter is my favorite because you can do it wherever you are on the phone and you have a short amount of characters to play with.
JN: Well, I look forward to seeing this show and will be there with bells on.
HJ: See you then, cheers!