Friday, 6 February 2015

Interview - Howard Jones

EIGHTIES pop star Howard Jones has pushed the technological boundaries throughout his career. His latest project which he will debut at the Indigo2 aims to go even further

IF the pop music scene of the 80s was dominated by one instrument it was the synthesizer. And right at the forefront of it was singer songwriter and multimedia maverick Howard Jones.
It was in 1983 that he first burst onto the contemporary music scene with his catchy and thought provoking lyrics and infectious tunes.
His seminal song New Song which challenged listeners to "throw off their mental chains" was followed by a series of albums and a host of hits including Things Can Only Get Better, Hide And Seek, What Is Love? and Like To Get To Know You Well.
Technology has always been an important element of his career and 30 years on from New Song he is continuing to write, record, tour and experiment.
He is about to embark on his most ambitious project to date - Engage - which will be officially launched at a special one-off show at the Indigo2 on February 20, and he says he is both nervous and excited about how it is received.
"I'm going to be 60 in a few weeks and a couple of years ago I thought I really must push myself to do something really special to celebrate the fact I'm still going," he tells me.
"I've been lucky enough throughout my career to do lots of things but I wanted to do an ambitious project that combined all the things I love with all the things I have learned in the last 30 years.
"Engage was born out of that and it's going to be really exciting though it's a bit complicated to explain," he adds laughing.
It's certainly ambitious, combining apps for smart phones, audience participation, live music and visuals in a multi media CD and DVD.
The package will embrace electronica, contemporary classical music, cinematic and pop music influences which are fused with ballet and modern dance, all the elements of the arts that Howard says he has loved and been influenced by during his career.
"For me it's all about the live experience but I didn't want to do just another studio album or a DVD of a concert," he says.
"I wanted it to be different so it's a mix of films we made during one of my recent gigs as well as music both new and old.
"I also wanted to imagine what it would be like to be at a gig and see it from the audience's point of view - to make it a fully imersive experience. I want the audience to be involved in the show and have a role to play."
One of the ways in which he hopes this will be achieved is for everyone to given an app, which has been specially developed by a life long fan, to be downloaded on to their smart phones when they arrive at the gig.
The app will enable them to get images and clips from the concert onto their phones.
"The use of the apps will be exciting because it will be interesting to see what people do with it," says Howard. "It's ground breaking stuff and I'm super excited about it."
As well as ground breaking in its use of technology, the gig is also going to be fun.
"In the foyer we have make up artists for anyone who wants florescent make up so their faces light up. We've also florescent gloves to give away and people can get their clothing customised - I'm always thinking of different things," he says.
The gig itself will be in two parts. The first will be a live performance with the audience participating with their apps, florescent gloves and make up. It will be performed behind a kabuki curtain onto which there will be state of the art projections of films and images he has put together and will feature classical elements as well as sub base, dance and pop music.
The second half will be a retrospective live set with Howard performing his greatest hits.
"I love the Indigo2 - it's one of my favourite venues," he says. "It's got a really good sound system, one of the best in fact, and the space is just right.
"It is the perfect place for what I hope will be an incredibly imersive and interactive experience."
But is there not a danger that with all this participation, the audience might miss the music?
He laughs and says: "Yes I suppose there is though I hope they don't.
"However, if you go to any gig these days people are invariably taking photos or videos. A lot of the time when I'm on stage I see people holding up their phones recording it or taking pictures and so they aren't really there in one sense because they are looking at it through a camera.
"What's exciting is that I don't think anyone has done this before and it will be interesting to see what happens on the night and the crowd's reaction."
That Howard is still pushing the boundaries with technology in his music should come as no surprise given he's been doing it throughout his career.
In the early days he was an exponent of the Roland Juno 60, the Jupiter 8 and the Moog Prodigy and he pioneered the classic Roland 808 drum machine and worked closely with Roland on the development of Jupiter 80.
When he first started out he was triggering sequencers live on stage whilst playing and singing, something that had not been done before.
"I suppose my thing was always to use technology in a way that really engaged people and was breaking new ground with sound," he says.
"At the root of it though is music. I don't want to get so distracted by the technology that the messages of it being about communicating news and ideas and what it's like to be human are lost.
"I was born in an age where technology was developing so fast and it has been great to be involved in a way that I can use it to bring people together through music.
"When I started, artists could sometimes seem remote but these days we need to form a connection with our fans and a bond because there are so many other things competing for their attention.
"I hope what I'm doing with Engage, to keep that strong connection and break new technological boundaries, will excite and interest them as much as it has for me."

Howard Jones plays the Indigo2 on Friday, February 20. Visit for tickets.

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