By Steve Spears
If you think playing the show lounge of the Celebrity Summit is the most unusual gig in the career of Howard Jones, then maybe you’d like to get to know him better.
“I played in Gorky Park once, in Russia, the weekend of the Gorbachev-Reagan summit,” Howard told me during a 2010 interview. “That was really amazing because the audience actually knew my songs, and the band that had been on before me had been hunted by the KGB. That was pretty amazing.”
There will be no KGB on The 80s Cruise, unless someone is dressing up as characters from the movie “Spies Like Us.” (Come to think of it, that’s a good idea.)
Who is Howard Jones?
The English musician and songwriter was a hit machine during the 1980s, scoring 10 top 40 singles, including tunes like “New Song,” “What Is Love?,” “Like To Get To Know You Well” and “No One Is To Blame.”
At perhaps the height of his career, he was invited to perform at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid. It’s a memory he’s always happy to recount.
“I was very, very happy to be a part of that,” Howard told me. “I know I only played one song — “Hide and Seek” — but that song is me. I wasn’t one of the ones pushing to get hold of the microphone. I was just happy to be there and share the stage with those amazing artists.”
Go into the bedroom of the most devoted ’80s fans and you’ll likely see that classic poster of Live Aid’s closing moments, with Howard right at the front of the stage, grinning with complete satisfaction toward the monstrous crowd assembled that summer day.
“It was a euphoric day,” he says now. “I don’t think you could ever surpass that day in the sense of occasion.”
A little help from Phil Collins
Live Aid catapulted Howard’s career forward both in the UK and in the United States. An earlier song that hadn’t attracted much attention, “No One Is To Blame,” was re-recorded in 1986 with the help of Phil Collins, who also added his own backing vocals and drum work. The result was the first of Howard’s two No. 1 hits on the adult contemporary charts and a video for MTV that highlighted the charismatic singer and his signature spiky hairdo.
“I think my hair might have helped, but it wasn’t a contrivance,” Howard told a British interviewer in 2015. “I always attracted more boys than girls — they loved the technology and the lyrics.”
These days, Howard’s signature spikes have evolved into a more closely cropped gray do, but his voice and enthusiasm during live performances remain just as strong. Now 61, Howard is a regular fixture on the road. He’s appearing this summer, along with Barenaked Ladies and OMD, on the Last Summer on Earth tour.
Bringing back the hits
The songs he’ll feature on that tour and during The 80s Cruise will continue to demonstrate his contagiously positive outlook on life.
“When I started out, I’d been working in a factory a year before I got signed,” he told me back in 2010. “I’d been working on the shop floor. Obviously, my dream was to be pursuing my music. I said to the guys there, ‘One day, I’m going to leave here, because I got to pursue what I really love.’ And they kind of shrugged their shoulders. But one day I did walk out. And I think a lot of the momentum of my career was about wanting to encourage people to realize their own dreams as well. I wanted to put that in the music — the idea that you could influence your destiny by deciding you wanted something different.”
At the end of my interview with Howard, I confessed I had once published a ranking of the happiest songs of the 80s and had dubbed his tune “New Song” as the No. 1 pick.
“I’m thrilled!” he exclaimed to my surprise. “I’m actually thrilled about that!”
But of all his life-affirming gifts to us, had I picked the right one?
“Yes, I think so,” he said. “It was me, first time in the studio. I was so excited about getting to do what I wanted to do. ‘Don’t crack up. Bend your brain. See both sides. Throw off your mental chains.’ It is my manifesto.”
How can you go?
Steve Spears is the creator and co-host of the Stuck in the ’80s blog and podcast. Steve also is the co-host of the Big Eighties Trivia Challenges on board The 80s Cruise. Parts of this interview originally appeared in the Tampa Bay Times. Listen to his podcasts at www.sit80s.com.
Catch up with Howard Jones during The 80s Cruise. Make your reservation online or call 844.384.8080.