It’s not every day you get the opportunity to chat with a true musical icon but on May 22, I answered the phone to find the ’80s New Wave singer-songwriter-synthesist Howard Jones calling from his home in Somerset in the South of England. He began his career in 1983 and burst on the scene taking the music world by storm.

His first two albums, “Human’s Lib” (1983) and “Dream Into Action” (1985), were hits on both sides of the Atlantic and featured such songs as “New Song,” “What Is Love?,” “Things Can Only Get Better,” “Life In One Day,” “No One Is To Blame,” and “Like To Get To Know You Well.” Since then he’s sold more than 8 million albums worldwide and continues to make new music and tours all around the world.

He currently has released “Transform” on his own label and is about to begin a U.S. tour this month with one stop right here in Maine at Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery, at 175 Barrett Hill Road in Union and, to that end, an interview was arranged. I began by asking if he was touring in support of his latest 2019 release (his first studio album in nearly a decade).

Jones: Yes, yes!

Q: I’ve heard talk about your acoustic trio, is that the format you’ll be bringing to Savage Oakes?
Jones: No, I did a short tour a couple of months ago with the acoustic trio but this is the full-on, big deal tour with the electronic band — with the lights and the video and everything.

Q: Have you ever performed in Maine before?
Jones: I’m not sure if I have. I mean, I’ve done thousands of shows but I honestly can’t truthfully answer that.

Q: Well, I’ve never been alerted before that you were heading in our directions until now.
Jones: So maybe this is the first time, let’s say it’s the first time then, alright?

Q: Fine by me. And it’ll definitely be the first time in Union, so we’re safe that way; and I believe that that show is the seventh stop on your U.S. tour.
Jones: Right.

Q: And it takes you from coast to coast, correct?
Jones: Yes, that’s right. Yeah, I think we’re doing 33 shows in the States altogether. We’re starting the U.K. tour tomorrow night … we’re doing eight shows in the U.K. before we get to America so we should be on good form by then.

Q: Well, with a career that spans over 30 years, you probably don’t have much prep needed, one would think.
Jones: Yeah, I know what you mean — but I try to make things difficult for myself and challenge myself to do more than I’ve done before, so there’s always a certain amount of anxiety involved.

Q: Then I see where there would be, considering that.
Jones: Yeah, because I’m going to play eight new tracks from the new album. So that’s quite a lot getting all that together to make sure that they stand up to the others, the more well-known ones.

Q: How do you go about putting together a set list because you have so many songs to choose from?
Jones: Yeah, well now I do have to leave stuff out that I’m sure that the fans would like me to play, but I can’t do everything. Obviously I want people to hear the new album, so what I’ve done is go back to some of the heritage hits and have upgraded them to more in line with the sound of the new album — which is something you can do with electronic music. It is really great. I mean, if it was sort of a normal band set-up, a band sounds like a band, and that’s all well and good, but with electronic music you can kind of give the tracks a face-lift and bring them more into line with your current thinking.

Q: When I first listened to “Transform” it was like a breath of fresh ’80s air and a rush back to that era and that bold, synth sound you created, but at the same time, it sounded like what’s happening now, in a way.
Jones: Well, a lot of people have said that. It’s not really conscious on my part, because I can only do what I do. I love songs, and I love melodies, and I love synths, and I love groove. Really, it’s just what comes out comes out. I started working on this album when somebody asked me to write a couple of songs for a film — the “Eddie the Eagle” film — and because the film is set in the ’80s it got me thinking about how I used to create those songs and create that sound when I started out with the one-man electronic band back in ’82. So those two songs came fairly easily to me and I wrote them in a couple of weeks which is really lightning-fast for me; I take such a long time writing stuff. Also, I knew the fans really wanted me to do another electronic album, a full-on synth record, and so a combination of those two things really resulted in “Transform.” And of course I got to work with BT, as well … We collaborated on three tracks — that’s something I never do, I never collaborate with people — but I absolutely loved his work so much and he’s such an electronic pioneer of his own generation. So it was a really good mix, that, and those tracks really turned out well. I’m very, very happy with that.

Q: Now, is what one hears on your new CD pretty much what people can expect at the Savage Oakes show?
Jones: Yes, that’s right. Obviously it’ll be live versions, but we’ve been very meticulous in replicating all the sounds, working on it for months, actually. When you present an electronics show you have the chance to get a very hi-fi sound, there’s no excuse for it, really. So that means lots and lots of preparation in making sure it’s sonically right, and with our huge PA it’s like the album but on steroids, I suppose.

Q: At the beginning of our chat you said that this was the full-on electronic band tour. How many musicians make up the band?
Jones: Well, in the U.K. there are four of us, including myself — three of us on keyboard, sequencers and all that, and then my guitarist, Robin Boult, who I’ve worked with for decades.

Q: Another aspect of this show coming up is one of the opening acts—Men Without Hats—one of my favorite bands of that decade, for sure.
Jones: I’m a big fan, as well! I love this band … They’re just such fun to watch. And there’s another band, All Hail The Silence, that’s opening up, also. That’s BT’s ’80s-inspired band, and they just made an incredible record. I really want people to hear them, as well; they’re just so good.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the readers of this article, especially seeing you’ve never been to this area before?
Jones: Well, I’m always excited to play a venue I haven’t played before and bring what I do to the area. I’m very excited about the whole tour and the line-up is so cool. It’s a great way to spend the summer!

  

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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