It would be a synth to trash 1980s

Howard_Jones_by Simon Fowler_
Howard_Jones_by Simon Fowler_
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IT is easy to get the impression Howard Jones doesn’t get cross that often.

But something seemingly guaranteed to have the mild-mannered muso fuming are people who slag off his beloved ‘80s.

Howard Jones where the hair was a little more wild

Howard Jones where the hair was a little more wild

“I can still get very angry about people criticising a whole decade of music,” confirms the brain behind such hits as New Song, Hide & Seek and What Is Love.

“I do, because you’re criticising a whole decade of people, disrespecting all those people who held that music as precious...I’m so glad we’ve largely got past that now.”

Not least because Sheffield, of course, sports a strong legacy of music built in the ‘80s, still enduring today through Heaven 17 and Phil Oakey’s ever-touring machine.

“Sheffield was central to a lot of the electronic stuff of the time,” concurs Howard. “Human League were and still are probably one of the most iconic bands of that time.”

And with arguably his most famous hit – New Song – clocking up nearly 30 years since release, this elder statesman of electronica is back in a synth frame of mind having spent a while semi-acoustically touring a stash of hits larger than casual observers might imagine.

“It’s unbelievable,” he says of the time lapse, but swiftly nods towards modern acts incorporating electronic traits for fuelling fresh ‘80s tolerance, if not a resurgence.

“In recent years people have been looking back to that era with affection and incorporating it. Take Lady Gaga’s first album, very ‘80s influenced, and The Killers. It’s started now to become an influential decade, at least the synth side of it.”

And if what goes around truly does come around then Howard could be onto something again. He has re-mastered his two biggest and most influential albums, Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action, and is heading to Sheffield on a tour playing them in their entirety, back to back.

It’s quite a musical gauntlet he has thrown down for himself.

It’s challenging, yes, but they were from the same era. And it was what the fans were asking me to do.

“It’s been a massive amount of work to go back to the multi tracks and meticulously recreate them, but it’s been very enjoyable. Half the songs I never really performed live at the time because they were concoctions and I couldn’t translate them to live, but now the technology is there.

“What was available to me then was limited. I didn’t even use a computer, it was all drum machines plugged up to sequencers, but it’s just moved so far forward.

“I’m not using any of my old keyboards, though, because they’re too precious - I can’t take them out on the road because they’d just get trashed so I’m using software. But I have the old gear next to me when I’m programming the new as we didn’t just want to make it approximate.”

The mission is in stark contrast to previous tours, such as one that took him to Sheffield University’s Common Room, drastically revamping his hits as semi-acoustic takes.

It was testimony to the original arrangements and subject matter of the songs that they could withstand a different treatment.

“I did three or four years of that and now I’m really back into the electronic side of it and want to develop that. I still really enjoy it, getting my head round new things.

“I can always go back, sit down in a room, play the piano and sing without any of the props of production. I feel I can fully commit myself to singing them, which might not have been the case. I still believe those things, especially New Song and What Is Love. I wouldn’t write them the same now but I still believe in the principles so that makes it easy to sing with conviction.

“Also I’ve worked on my voice. I started singing because I had to; no one else was around. It was what it was then. So I’ve worked on my singing during the years to make it better and stronger, more in tune. Hopefully it’s gone that way rather than backwards.”

The same might be said of Howard’s fashion outlook. Now a father of three maturing kids, one a New York theatre director, gone is the dodgy knitwear and electrified hair of his Top Of The Pops heyday, in favour of smart togs and a healthy, mature look.

He is still one man with a lot of gear, although his April 12 O2 Academy show will see him sharing the stage with a band playing electronic instruments right down to a bespoke drum kit to replicate beats from the records.

“Fashion was part of the deal, the creativity,” says Howard. “It was a break from rock ‘n’ roll, a break from the established form of rock and pop music.

“That’s what is often missed. It drew a line for something new and different. We were using different instruments. It was proper revolution and that should be remembered by the pop historians.”

Plenty will also remember Jed Hoyle, the mime artist come dancer who shared the TOTP stage with Howard for his first number one.

Some people had it in for him, just didn’t like him being there. So it’s maybe just as well the curious mover isn’t hitting the road with his former master.

“It’s good to be controversial. It’s just what we were doing live. When we did TOTP for the first time that was the live show. We set out to do something different.

“This time there are videos for every song that run synced up to the music. And Jed does play a role in the video part of the show; to recreate some of the original things we filmed him for Equality and Assault & Battery. I will ask him if he’ll make a guest appearance at one of the shows, but I’m not sure if he wants to. Obviously he’s not as in shape as we were in those days and dancing does require that really.

“I will ask him and he’ll probably say he needs a few more months to get ready.”