Gig Review and Photography by Ken Harrison

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It’s thirty years since Howard Jones asked us to “throw off our mental chains”; to challenge our preconceived ideas. How time flies by. And now, in celebration of this milestone Mr. Jones is here to entertain us with a tri-part set as part of a unique three-date series of shows taking place across the UK.

Howard Jones was one of the pop synths idols of the mid-eighties, hitting and succeeding in the commercial side of pop, alongside the likes of Nik Kershaw. His first album ‘Human’s Lib’ went to number 1 in the UK charts – a platinum seller. Second album ‘Dream Into Action’ made No 2 and went gold. He continued to sell for a while, but the scene moved on, and Jones found himself on the outskirts of the industry. That hasn’t stopped him, he continues to record and perform, self-publishing and promoting.

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Tonight’s set is split into three parts. Part I is an unplugged acoustic set featuring some rarely performed tracks and B-sides. Part II – ‘Engage!’ a performance of a brand new composition for the very first time, with multimedia, new technology and audience participation. Part III – we’re back to his greatest hits including “What is Love,’ Hide and Seek,’ ‘Like to Get to Know You Well’ and of course, ‘New Song.’  And if you were going to tonight’s gig and the London show every ticket holder will receive a FREE limited edition Howard Jones 30th Anniversary CD (C3LEBRATI0N) that features a personal selection of Jones’ favourites from the past thirty years.

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Howard’s manager takes the stage to announce the show and to direct members of the audience to “Christine”, who is at the side of the stage applying Ultra Violet make-up and tape to clothing….more on this later.

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The equipment on stage is covered in black cloth. This is covered up for the main electronic set later. Set 1 is an acoustic set including some rarely performed tracks with Jonathan Atkinson on percussion and Robin Boult on guitar. Howard appears with a checked jacket and a tie, wearing his customary headset. The set opens with “Tomorrow is Now” written with Jane Wiedlin (of Go-Go’s fame) followed by a dedication to Jones late father who passed away a few weeks before the show. “City Song” is about being lonely in the big city and “No-one is to Blame”, with Jones recounting how Phil Collins (Genesis) got involved with the recording. The set closes with “Everlasting Love” with Jones introducing the song and talking about the producer Chris Hughes, who finally managed to bring the song to life and closing with “then we’ll clear off and get onto the exciting stuff”

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As they “clear off”, a fine gauze-like curtain drops at the front of the stage. More correctly, this is known as a “Kabuki Drop” and has been developed by Jones Lighting designer, Tom Wagstaff and similar to that used in the recent Joy Division-Reworked orchestral performances.

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Set 2 “Engage” is all about the participation with Jones’ new music. Prior to the show, ticket holders were invited to download a number of phone apps (Torch, Fireplace Live and LEDit, all free I might add!) to use during various parts of the show as well as to wear a coloured glove. This is in addition to the Ultra Violet make up and stickers liberally applied to the audience pre-show.

Jones and band play behind the curtain, “Seize the Day” up first with the audience being counted down to the slogan “Seize the Day” whilst waving phone torches in the air as pulsating graphics dominate the screen.. “The Walk” begins with the curtain ablaze, and the silhouette of a woman, then two and three silhouettes appearing as the song progresses. The audience wave their phones again, this time with the Fireplace app activated, as the flames on the app are almost identical to the flames on the screen. During the set, video footage is recorded of the show and the audience, with the audience now being part of the show!

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“5 Pianos” sees a piano keyboard displayed across the screen with multi-coloured hands playing along with the music, this is where the audience raise their hands and play “air piano” with their gloves glowing in the UV light. “Sister and Brother” has a boy and a girl gracefully dancing on the screen and “Joy” follows, with “Human Touch” bringing “LEDit” (a scrolling text banner app) into play, so the audience can put messages in the air. The final songs of the set  “Human Touch” and “Hold on to your Heart” the crowd are lit up in the UV light and coloured faces are aglow whilst a set of Umbrella /Kaleidoscopic images are projected on the screen.  The crowd are having a good time and so is Jones. This is an innovative and fun way of getting the audience involved in the show whilst Jones plays new music, and the beautiful graphics are a perfect and glorious accompaniment.

Set 3, is the “Electronic set” where the curtain falls away to reveal Jones in leather Bikers jacket and a T-shirt decorated with a large heart on the front. Jones and his keyboard rig is flanked by the returning Jonathan Atkinson on the electronic drum kit, with Robbie Bronniman on sequencer and effects and large projection screen at the rear of the stage. This set opens with “The Prisoner” from “Cross that Line” and includes “Dream into Action’s”  “Life in One Day” whilst a clock face marks time and the audience are invited to join in with the chorus. This being the O2, at times the acoustics are not great and at this point, Jones voice between songs was rendered almost unintelligible by the room, which spoilt things somewhat, but the audience didn’t mind, they just kept on singing.

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“Like to Get to Know You Well”, was treated to an extended spoken word/rap by Jones, with the audience joining in with the chorus. “You’ve got to get up in the morning, no matter how bad it gets is the cue for “Things can only get better” (I am so happy that the Labour party went for D-Ream’s rather than Howard Jones song of the same name), whilst the “Dream into Action” graphic of Jones leaning out of a chair projects behind, then followed by Jones face on screen with various UV make up applied and animated expressions. This is the set closer, and Jones thanks the audience.

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Back for the encore, “we get a great reception in Birmingham” and as a moon shines on screen “What is Love” begins. The audience sings along with Jones allowing the “what is Love” chant to roll on.  Jones straps on his “Keytar” as he talks to the audience about being “a wandering electronic minstrel) and how his leather jacket keeps getting caught in the “keytar” and thanking the audience for their “amazing” participation. Then it’s off with “New Song” which starts as a slowed down version, then speeds up to its uplifting super-catchy pop synth rhythm. Again Jones and co. leave the stage, for a moment, then Jones returns to a piano at the front of the stage to sing “Hide and Seek” as a show stopper.

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Howard Jones is yet another 80s icon who sticks in there. Chart successes may be a little way behind him, but he continues to produce new music and finds innovative ways of getting his message across. Tonight’s show was a testament to an extremely talented, creative soul who clearly has much more to offer, and freed from the constraints of the major record labels can steer his own course. Jones’ voice remains strong, but it was occasionally let down by the venue acoustics. The multimedia effects were at times beautifully artistic and graceful, and then bold, bright and colourful during the rest of the show. A true feast for the eyes and ears and well worth the £28.50 ticket price (including free CD), even if you went for the £50 VIP tickets which included an exclusive pre-show, performance. These “special” shows have clearly been successful, from both the artists and audience point of view and now “Engage!” should be seen by a much wider audience on a full tour to appreciate the spectacle that it is.

Discography:

Human’s Lib (1984)
Dream Into Action (1985)
One to One (1986)
Cross That Line (1989)
In the Running (1992)
Working in the Backroom (1994)
Angels and Lovers (1997)/People (1998)
Revolution of the Heart (2005)
Ordinary Heroes (2009)

Follow Howard Jones on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud

2 Responses to “Howard Jones 30th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Academy, Birmingham, UK – 30th November 2013”

  1. Neville Farmer Says:

    This is a tribute to the brilliant Stephen W Tayler, who not only engineered and mixed all Howard’s hits, but also designed, directed, produced and edited the visuals for this show. One of the great, unsung heroes of the music world. Hear his own beautiful album, “Ostinato” and you will see the sheer breadth of this man’s talent.

  2. Gig Junkies » Blog Archive » Preview: Let’s Rock London! The Retro Festival Clapham Common- Saturday 15th July 2017 Says:

    […] HUMAN LEAGUE, SISTER SLEDGE, HOWARD JONES, ROLAND GIFT, HEAVEN 17, IMAGINATION, T’PAU, BONEY M, CHESNEY HAWKES, KATRINA, TOYAH, HAZEL […]

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