For three decades, electronic pioneer Howard Jones has been a regular presence on the international touring scene. He’s been performing his arsenal of hits and fan favorites, like “No One Is To Blame,” “New Song,” “Hide & Seek,” and “Things Can Only Get Better” in various band configurations, including his high-tech electronic setup.
But perhaps there is no better way to appreciate the foundational impact of Jones’ music than when it’s stripped down to its barest of bones. Jones will do just that when he brings his acclaimed Acoustic Trio Tour to The Sellersville Theater at 8 p.m. Feb. 20.
Joining Jones on stage that evening will be two of his longtime friends, Nick Beggs and Robin Boult, for an evening of musical fellowship.
Jones will certainly have no shortage of stories to tell. Since bursting onto the contemporary music scene in 1983, he’s sold more than 8 million albums. His monstrous 1985 album alone, Dream Into Action, went platinum in the US and featured four smash hits, including the aforementioned “No One Is To Blame” and “Things Can Only Get Better.”
A few of his other credits include performing solo at the piano at the Live Aid festival in 1985 and touring as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.
I recently spoke with Howard Jones about this and his upcoming performance in Sellersville.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from your upcoming performance in Sellersville?
Howard Jones: We had been halfway through an original run of the trio tour when COVID struck. Everything was being canceled and we had to get home pretty quick. These dates are fulfilling the ones we didn’t get to do. It’s the trio tour with Nick Beggs on the bass end (he plays an instrument called the Chapman Stick and double bass), Robin Boult plays guitar and I’m on piano and vocals. Nick and Rob are two of my best friends in the world. Touring with them is a total pleasure and I hope that gets reflected in the music that we present. It’ll be the three of us enjoying ourselves on stage.
Those who know me will tell you that I’m one of those people who’s stuck in the Eighties.
Admittedly, I do love my hair metal and wish that I could somehow get inside of a time machine and go back to those carefree days of youth. To be able to use the confidence and knowledge I’ve gained through years of being an adult to make up for the lost opportunities I missed because of my shyness and lack of social interaction.
Some days I’ll take a trip to the Palmer Park Mall and remember all of those Friday and Saturday nights thirty years ago. A time when the only thing that really mattered was the usual excursions to Orange Julius, the arcade, Waldenbooks and topping it off with a visit to Listening Booth to check out the new albums by by Night Ranger, The Hooters and Bon Jovi.
But I don’t think I’m “stuck” in the Eighties. It’s just that every once in a while you need to go back to those times if for no other reason than to remember who you were.
Last night I had the chance to do just that.
Singer/songwriter Howard Jones – who many of us MTV nuts will remember for his big hair, monster songs as well as a multitude of synthesizers, performed an acoustic show at a local theater in town. What I thought at first would just be a typical trip down memory lane instead turned out to be something much deeper.
When Howard came out, gone was the arsenal of keyboards, the colorful fashion and the big eighties hair. In it’s place was a simple keyboard, a microphone and small MAC laptop. For the next hour, Jones performed many of the songs that a teenaged me listened to. Songs that were the soundtrack of summer pool parties, trips up and down the “Strip” on Northampton Street and background music in the Palmer Park Mall.
But it also felt different. These stripped down, acoustic versions of “Life In One Day,” “What Is Love,” “Things Can Only Get Better” and “No One Is To Blame” took on a new meaning. Every nuance of every word resonated. It wasn’t just music. It was therapy.
For a moment, I was no longer the middle-aged man who worries about bills, health and his family’s future. Instead, I was the wide-eyed, shy boy hanging out at a record store in small town America.
Fans of 80’s new wave music, rejoice! This summer’s star-studded Retro Futura Tour promises to be one epic proportion! Kicking off this August, the co-headlining tour will feature synth pioneer Howard Jones and Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey as well as sets from Ultravox’s Midge Ure, China Crisis and Katrina (ex-Katrina And The Waves). In addition to it being an extraordinary evening of live music, Retro Futura 2014 will also mark the first time Bailey will perform Thompson Twins hits live in nearly three decades!
Howard Jones first burst upon the scene in 1983 with his inspired songwriting and engaging synthesizers. His first album, “Human’s Lib” reached #1 in the UK and featured the hits “New Song” and “What Is Love?” Jones would follow-up his debut with 1985’s “Dream Into Action”, an album which quickly became a platinum best-seller in the United States with smash hits like “Things Can Only Get Better” “Life In One Day” and “No One Is To Blame”. To date, Jones has sold more than eight million albums worldwide and continues to make new music and tour the world.
I had the chance to speak with Jones about the upcoming Retro Futura tour, his music as well as some of his best 80s memories.
How did the idea for this year’s tour with Tom Bailey begin?
Last year, we tried out the idea of doing the tour and did ten dates, mainly on the west coast. Everyone had such a great time that we started thinking about who we would like to do it with this year. That was when the idea of Thompson Twins came up. I’ve known Tom for a long time, so I called him up and told him that it would be a great time. I guess it was my job to go and “persuade” him to come out – and he agreed.
Having played these songs for so many years, what do you do to keep things fresh?
I’ve always been able to do these songs in different ways and have also been evolving my set up. Our set does change and I also try to throw in some new things as well.
You’ve often mentioned that music from the 80’s faces a continuous struggle. Can you elaborate more on that?
Eighties music has had a bad rap for so long and as a result, it’s formed its own sub-culture. We now have huge festivals here in the UK every summer. I’m not sure if it’s the same in America, but we’re trying to change that!
What makes the music from that era so timeless and special?
I think that Eighties music really combined the arts and fashion more. Back then, everyone was thinking in a more visual way – especially with videos. It brought about a change in culture that wasn’t really so “rock n roll” as much as music in the 60’s and 70’s had been. That’s why it’s unique and why people who grew up during that era are very loyal to it.
Let’s discuss a few of your 80’s moments. In 1985, you performed at Live Aid. What was that experience like?
It was an amazing experience and a lot of money really did save people’s lives. I was obviously very nervous, because there were 100,000 people in Wembley and a billion people watching it on TV. I also performed solo at the piano, which was something people weren’t really used to hearing me do.
I came out and sat there and played the song “Hide and Seek” which is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. I remember when I got to the chorus, everyone joined in and supported me and started singing at the top of their voices. It was a profound experience and something that I’ll never forget. It was probably the most important event in my life during the eighties.
Can you tell me where you came up with the inspiration for the song “No One Is To Blame”?
I was doing some radio promotion with a record company guy in San Francisco. I remember he said to me “So, Howard? What do you think of all of the amazing women we have here in San Francisco?” I said “Yeah, they’re fantastic! But I’m really happily married to my wife Jan. We’ve been together ever since we were young, so I’m good in that area.” That’s when he said “Well, you can look at the menu but you don’t have to EAT!”…. That was it! That was the spark! I guess I should really thank him for it! [laughs].
Can you tell me a little about your musical upbringing?
Music has been in my blood ever since I was two years old. I started playing piano at the age of seven; was in bands at fourteen and got signed when I was twenty-eight. It’s really been music all the way. But even if I didn’t have music, I’d still be happy with who I am. If you were to take it all away I’d still feel good about life.
What other projects are you working on?
I’ve got a new project that I performed last November called ‘Engage’. It’s written as a live piece that integrates contemporary dance, ballet and cinematic soundscapes. It’s everything that I love, along with some philosophical themes. It’s a big project I’m in the final mixes of that will be out next year.
We spoke about your performance at Live Aid but are there any other moments from that era that stand out to you?
There were actually two. I remember one of them was doing the Grammy awards. I’ve never won a Grammy, but I was in something that was just as good. I was in a band with Stevie Wonder, Thomas Dolby and Herbie Hancock that performed together at the show. It was such a great moment. The other thing was getting to play Madison Square Garden, which was something that I had always dreamed of doing as a teenager. I got to do my own show there and it was absolutely amazing.
You took a lot of heat back in the 80’s for being a keyboard and synth pioneer. What are your thoughts on that now?
It’s amazing how much things have changed. Today, people have that stuff in their bedrooms and can even make records at home. I see it more as a badge of honor now, especially with the way music has evolved and developed and with the way people use technology and really see it for what it is. Back then, I didn’t want to be like the status quo. I wanted to do something that was different and unique. That’s why I was always drawn to technology, because it gives you the chance to do something new.
21 New York, NY Best Buy Theater
22 Philadelphia, PA Keswick Theater
23 Brookhaven, NY Pennysaver Amphitheater
24 Boston, MA Wilbur Theatre
25 Cleveland, OH Performance Arts Center/The Cleveland Masonic Auditorium
26 Toronto, ON Koolhaus
27 Chicago, IL Ravinia
29 Los Angeles, CA The Greek Theater
30 Saratoga, CA Mountain Winery
31 Sacramento, CA Thunder Valley Casino
3 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre
4 San Diego, CA Humphrey’s
5 Las Vegas, NV Mandalay Bay
6 Sandy, UT Sandy Amphitheater