The O2 Academy, Birmingham, 30th November 2013.
As a young teenager in 1983, I queued in line at the old Birmingham Odeon, eagerly waiting to see one of my pop idols of the time. Howard Jones was taking the world by storm, leading the way in the electro-pop revolution. The bushy-haired musician was touring with a mime artist named Jed, pioneering the use of drum machines and sequencers in ways that made him stand apart from the early synth-pop acts of the time such as The Human League, Gary Numan and Depeche Mode. Fast forward to tonight and once again I was getting that little buzz, waiting in anticipation to throw off the mental chains on this, one of three shows marking the 30th Anniversary of the release of his debut single ‘New Song’.
With no support, Howard’s set would be split into three parts – acoustic, multimedia then full electric set. Dressed in a dapper brown checked suit, Howard took to the stage for the first set of acoustic songs. Sitting behind a single keyboard and accompanied by percussion and acoustic guitar, Howard easily weaved his way through the set, interjecting witty banter with the crowd in between tunes, which included the melodic ‘Tomorrow is Now, Straight Ahead’ which was dedicated to his late father, and the crowd-pleasing ‘No One is to Blame’. The second, multimedia set was truly spectacular. Hiding behind a semi-transparent curtain suspended over the full length of the stage, Howard could just be seen stood at his trademark bank of synths and keyboards. The projected animations and graphics introduced everyone to Howard’s new project is entitled ‘Engage!’. Then the curtain fell to reveal Howard, backed up by a drummer and keyboard player, thus allowing him to occasionally escape his own keyboards and wander down to the front of the stage to engage the audience. Prior to the show, ticket holders were invited to download a number of free phone apps to use during various parts of the show as well as to wear a coloured glove. In addition, lashings of ultra-violet make up was liberally applied to the most adventurous. Every ticket holder also received a free limited edition Howard Jones 30th Anniversary CD that comprised a personal selection of Howard’s favourite recordings over the past 30 years.
After a quick costume change from mad scientist persona to a more darker leather jacketed look, Howard hit the stage for the final full electric set, celebrating his best known songs such as ‘Like To Get To Know You Well’, ‘Life In One Day’ and ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, culminating in a tremendous encore with ‘What Is Love’ and ‘New Song’. After thirty years, Howard is still proving he is yet another 80’s icon who refuses to give up and has proved that he is one of the most talented writers and performers of recent times who is still willing to take risks to ensure that he continues to operate on the cutting edge of today’s music.
See the full picture set here:
Words and pictures by Stephen Turner