2017 – The Year In Review

2017 has been an eventful year in the world of electronic music, particularly here in the UK which saw some of the classic acts back in action. But it also saw the emergence of some talented contemporary electronic acts as well. Here’s TEC’s review of the year along with our contributor’s lists of songs and albums that they rated in 2017…


2017 started off in a strange place for The Electricity Club as it found itself in a position to discard the accumulated baggage of many years and give the site a ‘soft reboot’. With an agenda that was focussed purely on music, it was a foundation that provided a sturdy structure for the months ahead.

January saw Austra make a triumphant return with their third studio album Future Politics. Along with lead single ‘Utopia’, the album was a reflection of our times as we entered into a turbulent period in global politics. TEC’s review summed up the album as “…a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings”.

TEC favourites Lola Dutronic also made a welcome return, first with a sequel to their classic ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’ (now updated to reflect some of the losses music suffered in 2016 such as Lemmy, David Bowie and Prince). We interviewed Lola Dutronic to get some gain some insight into how the globally distant pair produce their music. The duo also managed to bookend the year with a further release when they released the wonderful ‘My Name Is Lola’.

Vitalic came back with the stunning Voyager album. Pascal Arbez’s crunchy flavour of muscular beats and hook-laden melodies was present and correct on his new outing. Tracks such as ‘Waiting For The Stars’ suggested an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs with a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder. Meanwhile, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ offered up a homage to The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’.

TEC’s Lost Album series delivered some eclectic choices from the vaults for consideration. This included U96’s Replugged, Kon Kan’s Syntonic and Gary Numan’s 1994 album Sacrifice, a release which Barry Page suggested held the keys to the future: “Whilst the album often suffers from its use of some rather unimaginative and repetitive drum loops, the album put Numan firmly back on track.”

Sweden’s Sailor And I, meanwhile, offered up brooding, glacial pop on debut album The Invention Of Loneliness. TEC also spoke to musician Alexander Sjödin, the brains behind the outfit, who summed up his methods thus: “I use music as a kind of meditation. I get into this mood where I turn everything else off and just run as far as I can every time”.

In March, Goldfrapp returned to the fold with new album Silver Eye. While it was a serviceable outing of the glam synth workings that the duo had traded on previously, it was also bereft of many surprises or challenges. A return to Felt Mountain glories seems overdue.

Throughout the year, we were won over by a whole host of emerging electronic acts that caught our attention. This included the “ruptured melodies” of Jupiter-C (a duo championed by the likes of Clint Mansell). The “multi-utility music” of Liverpool’s Lo Five drew our focus to the wonders of the Patterned Air label. Elsewhere, the electro-acoustic sounds of Autorotation provided their own charm while the crunchy qualities of Cotton Wolf also suggested an act worth keeping an eye on.

With the 8th March traditionally being International Women’s Day, we thought it was time to add a twist to it by suggesting an International Women In Electronic Music Day. While the commentary of the likes of Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches) and Claire Boucher (Grimes) had blazed the trail for a level playing field for women, it was still depressing to see tone-deaf blog articles that were essentially ‘Birds With Synths’ being offered up as support.

One of our choices for that esteemed list, Hannah Peel, managed to deliver two albums of note in 2017. The personal journey of Awake But Always Dreaming (inspired by her family’s encounter with dementia) and also the magical world of Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia – an album which our review summed up as “a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.”

Hopes were high that Basildon’s finest could deliver a solid return to form with their 14th studio album Spirit. But the album divided critics and fans alike on a release which TEC’s review summed up succinctly: “…as impressive as it is lyrically, it’s an often challenging and unsettling listen that doesn’t quite meet up to its billing as “the most energized Depeche Mode album in years.””

Despite the controversy, Depeche Mode still managed to put on their biggest ever UK show, with over 80,000 attendees at London Stadium in June this year.

Elsewhere, another of the old guard was also facing a productive year. Marc Almond released new compilation album Hits And Pieces, which spanned his extensive career from Soft Cell through to his more recent solo work. Although not as comprehensive as 2016’s Trials Of Eyeliner, TEC’s review suggested “…the new compilation offers a more concise selection of music that still manages to cover Almond’s extensive musical career in fine style”.

April saw TEC looking at the dark wave delights of Dicepeople, whose ‘Synthetic’ offered up “brooding gothic synth melodies against a burbling electronic background”. But their cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’ showed the outfit could also deliver muscular electropop that still retained their own unique style. Speaking to Dicepeople’s Matt Brock in an exclusive interview, TEC discovered the band’s strong cinematic touchstone. “Cronenberg’s Videodrome is another huge influence for us with its exploration of very dark themes involving control, voyeurism and the nature of reality as shown via layers of screens (a recurring theme in Dicepeople).”

Marnie released her follow-up to 2013’s Crystal World in the form of Strange Words And Weird Wars. The album demonstrated the Ladytron member’s knack for tunes, which our review summed up as “…a solid album of contemporary electropop that listeners will find intelligent, engaging and yet also fun. Strange Words And Weird Wars is a continuing demonstration on why Marnie is one of electronic music’s most precious assets”.

The emerging generation of electronic artists kept producing new acts of interest throughout 2017. Pixx (who cropped up on our radar after supporting Austra) released The Age Of Anxiety, which our review described as “an album that offers up a combination of smart pop tunes married with thoughtful lyrics”. Hannah Rodgers, the talent behind Pixx, also addressed the surge of nostalgia and retro acts with a philosophical quote: “There are a lot of people who are just trying to recreate things that have already been done, because they’re almost scared of the way modern music sounds, but we do have technology now that allows us to make quite insane-sounding music. And… we are in 2017”.

Kelly Lee Owens was another emerging artist who released her eponymous debut this year. The TEC review summed it up: “At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions”.

AIVIS, a new act that had come to TEC’s attention via The Pansentient League’s Jer White, delivered their debut album Constellate. As with acts such as Lola Dutronic, AIVIS consists of a duo located in separate countries – in this case Aidan from Scotland and Travis based in Ohio. Their use of harmonies and warm synths led us to conclude that “Constellate is a smooth collection of subtle electropop”.

Irish outfit Tiny Magnetic Pets had a good year in which they released a new album and went on to support OMD. The 3-piece unit had made their UK and European live debut back in 2015 championed by Johnny Normal. Now in 2017 they brought new release Deluxe/Debris to bear. TEC’s review gave the album an honest appraisal: “They’ve got the chops to push the envelope, but there are times on this album where, arguably, the band appear happier playing from a safe position. When they introduce their more experimental side, or opt for a more dynamic approach, Tiny Magnetic Pets shine brightest”.

Voi Vang’s powerful voice and dancepop sensibilities made her one of the star turns of 2017. Meanwhile, Twist Helix woke us up with their “dramatic tunes and big, euphoric vocal melodies”. Our Teclist reviews also had good things to say about Elektrisk Gønner, OSHH and Russian outfit Oddity.

Elsewhere, the classic synthpop acts still had a strong showing this year. Erasure released the downbeat World Be Gone, a more reflective album that was heavily influenced by the troubling political climate (a persistent theme for many other releases this year). OMD returned with the follow-up to 2013’s English Electric with The Punishment Of Luxury. The album wore its Kraftwerk influences on its sleeve for a lot of the tracks, while the title number offered a commentary on commercial culture.

German pioneers Kraftwerk brought their 3D experience back to the UK and TEC’s Rob Rumbell offered his thoughts on their Nottingham concert: “…sensory overload… which left you awe-inspired and breathless”.

Blancmange presented a superb compilation of their first three albums titled The Blanc Tapes which we summed up as “the perfect archive for Blancmange’s often-overlooked musical legacy.” Neil Arthur also delivered new studio album Unfurnished Rooms, which prompted an honest critique from TEC’s Imogen Bebb: “whilst as an album it isn’t always easy to listen to, it makes for a welcome new chapter in Blancmange’s ongoing story”.

Howard Jones also went down the compilation route with the comprehensive Best 1983-2017 which the TEC review suggested: “this 3-CD set will have a special appeal not only to loyal Howard Jones fans, but also perhaps a new audience keen to experience the appeal of this pioneering electronic musician”.

While there were bright moments in the year, the music scene also saw tragedy in 2017 with the loss of Can’s Holger Czukay, trance DJ Robert Miles and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi.

Barry Page provided some long-form features which took the focus to Norway’s a-ha, particularly the side projects that the likes of Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy have embarked on.

Speaking of a-ha, although the idea of an acoustic album by an electronic act seemed absurd, it was a concept that the Norwegian outfit embraced for Summer Solstice. The breath-taking arrangements for classics such as ‘Take On Me’ and ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ proved that a-ha still had the chops to surprise people.

Meanwhile, Midge Ure’s own orchestral-inspired approach for Ultravox and his solo numbers resulted in the release of Orchestrated later in the year. TEC’s Jus Forrest summed things up: “As an album, Orchestrated is diverse enough to pique interest. It’s contemporary enough to be relevant, and there’s enough classic tracks to reach out to fans”.

The soulful tones of Fifi Rong returned, this time with a bolder electronic sound on ‘The Same Road’. TEC’s review concluded that the new song “…demonstrates that Fifi Rong is capable of adding plenty more colours to her musical palette”.

Kasson Crooker, formerly of Freezepop, also provided some gems throughout 2017. There was the Gishiki album released under his Symbion Project banner – a release that we summed up as “one of the standout electronica releases of the year.” Meanwhile, he launched new outing ELYXR which was designed to be a collaborative project introducing different singers for each subsequent release. This included the warmth of ‘Engine’ as well as the punchier (and lyrically timely!) ‘Godspeed’.

2017 also delivered a diverse selection of electronic music events that showcased a multi-line-up of diverse acts. May saw Synth Club Presents, which included the ever-excellent Vile Electrodes as well as the sultry delights of The Frixion and the energetic pop of Knight$.

Culled from their 2016 album Ath.Lon, in June Greek duo Marsheaux unveiled a new video for ‘Now You Are Mine’.

Meanwhile, July delivered one of the bigger events of the year with Liverpool’s Silicon Dreams. Combining established artists with newer acts, this year’s event pulled together an all-star schedule featuring Parralox, Avec Sans, Future Perfect, Berlyn Trilogy, Caroline McLavy and Voi Vang. As TEC’s review stated: “The 2017 incarnation of Silicon Dreams serves not only as an evening of entertainment, but also as an example of the importance of grassroots electronic music events. By showcasing both up-and-coming talents alongside more established acts, it’s an event which demonstrates a legacy in action”.

August presented the Electro Punk Party which offered up some of the more alternative acts on the scene. This included Dicepeople, Microchip Junky, Hot Gothic, the dark surf guitar of Pink Diamond Revue and the anarchistic LegPuppy. In fact, LegPuppy demonstrated an impressive schedule of live performances throughout the year as well as releasing songs such as the wry observations of ‘Selfie Stick’ and dance-orientated ‘Running Through A Field Of Wheat’.

The regular Synthetic City event returned, this time at Water Rats in King’s Cross. The evening brought with it some superb performances from the likes of Hot Pink Abuse, Eden, The Lunchbox Surrender, Train To Spain and Parralox (marking their second UK live show this year). The weird and wonderful Mr Vast topped things off and the whole affair was superbly organised by Johnny Normal.

Susanne Sundfør, who released the superb Ten Love Songs album back in 2015, brought a much more challenging release in the form of Music For People In Trouble. The album weaved in acoustic touches, spoken word segments and often unsettling soundscapes. But the epic ‘Mountaineers’, featuring the distinctive voice of John Grant, had an almost physical presence with its hypnotic tones.

The mighty Sparks returned with new album Hippopotamus and delivered a superb live performance in London back in October. The same month, the 22rpm electronic music festival took place. Showcased by record label Bit Phalanx, the event featured the likes of Scanner, Derek Piotr, Digitonal, Coppe and a truly stunning performance from Valgeir Sigurðsson.

The Sound Of Arrows brought out their newest album since 2011’s Voyage. Stay Free offered a much more grounded approach to electropop than the dreamy moods of their previous release, but still managed to deliver some cinematic pop moments. Their pop-up shop to promote the album was also a nice touch!

PledgeMusic has proved to be a vital lifeline for many artists in recent years. It’s a funding option which delivered for everyone from Ultravox to OMD. Gary Numan used the platform to fund his 21st studio album Savage (Songs From A Broken World) which provoked critical praise and which Jus Forrest suggested delivered “a flawless production of intrigue; a soundtrack that brings together the atmospheric, the lonely, the eerie and, in places, the added drama of colourful crescendo”.

Empathy Test, an electronic duo from London, also chose the PledgeMusic route and achieved such success that they decided to release not just one, but two albums together. The stunning Losing Touch and Safe From Harm revealed a band that could combine mood and melancholy in an impressive collection of songs. TEC’s conclusion that compositions such as ‘Bare My Soul’ demonstrated a band capable of delivery that was both “mythical and melodious”, also showed the heights that contemporary electropop can ascend to.

As the year drew to its conclusion, there were still some gems to pop up on the radar. Canadian sleazy synth specialist TR/ST teased us with ‘Destroyer’, a nocturnal affair that (along with the year’s earlier release ‘Bicep’) paved the way for a new album due in 2018.

Scanner, who had delivered a stunning performance at the 22rpm event, also unleashed The Great Crater, an album of mood and often brooding unease. Our review’s final conclusion was that “The end result is less listening to a body of work and more being immersed into a physical experience”.

Curxes brought us the hypnotic delights of ‘In Your Neighbourhood’, which paved the way for new album Gilded Cage.

As the winter months drew to a close, we took a look at Parralox’s latest release ‘Electric Nights’, which proved to be a euphoric floor-stomper. Meanwhile, Norway served up Take All The Land, the debut solo album by Simen Lyngroth which TEC’s review summed up as a “beautifully well-crafted and intimate album”.

Perhaps one theme that 2017 demonstrated time and time again is that electronic music continues to evolve and thrive, particularly at the grassroots level where emerging acts are less focused on being a pastiche of the bands of 40 years ago. Instead, there’s a fresh and dynamic scene which has seen a genre looking to the future rather than the past.

This doesn’t scribble over the achievements of decades of previous electronic acts. That history and legacy continues to exist, but perhaps the idea that acts don’t need to be beholden to the classic acts is a concept that younger artists are more willing to entertain.


CONTRIBUTOR’S LISTS

IMOGEN BEBB

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Gary Numan – My Name Is Ruin
Sparks – What The Hell Is It This Time?
Alphaville – Heartbreak City
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Never Alone

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms
Superdivorce – Action Figures
Brian Eno – Reflection

Favourite Event of 2017

OMD at Liverpool Empire in October.

Most Promising New Act

Superdivorce


JUS FORREST

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Among the Echoes – Breathe
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Control Me
John Foxx and the Maths – Orphan Waltz
Gary Numan – My Name is Ruin
Gary Numan – Bed of Thorns

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Jori Hulkkonen – Don’t Believe in Happiness
Gary Numan – Savage (Songs from a Broken World)
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia
Richard Barbieri – Planets + Persona

Most Promising New Act

Spaceprodigi


BARRY PAGE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – Ghost Star
Waaktaar and Zoe – Mammoth
Depeche Mode – Cover Me
Simen Lyngroth – The Waves
Alexis Georgopoulos and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – The Marble Sky

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Waaktaar and Zoe – World Of Trouble
Simen Lyngroth – Take All The Land
a-ha – MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice
Empathy Test – Losing Touch
Sparks – Hippopotamus

Favourite Event of 2017

Depeche Mode at London Stadium, June 2017

Most Promising New Act

Simen Lyngroth

Best reissue

China Crisis – Working With Fire and Steel


JER WHITE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Tiny Magnetic Pets – Semaphore
2raumwohnung – Lucky Lobster (Night Version)
Sylvan Esso – Die Young
Pixx – I Bow Down
Vitalic (ft. David Shaw and The Beat) – Waiting for the Stars

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

2raumwohnung – Nacht und Tag
The Moonlandingz – Interplanetary Class Classics
AIVIS – Constellate
Jupe Jupe – Lonely Creatures
Vitalic – Voyager

Favourite Event of 2017

Kraftwerk in 3D at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh.

Most Promising New Act

AIVIS


PAUL BROWNE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Susanne Sundfør – Mountaineers
Empathy Test – Bare My Soul
Austra – Utopia
TR/ST – Bicep
Curxes – In Your Neighbourhood

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Empathy Test – Safe From Harm/Losing Touch
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia
Austra – Future Politics
Susanne Sundfør – Music For People In Trouble
Sailor & I – The Invention Of Loneliness

Favourite Event of 2017

Synthetic City 2017

Most Promising New Act

Empathy Test


HOWARD JONES Best 1983-2017

A new compilation showcases one of the UK’s precious electronic talents…

The UK music scene of the 1980s established a classic era for synthpop acts. Among them, Howard Jones was always one of the more intriguing artists with his solo outings marking him out from the plethora of electronic bands of the time.

With a career that flourished on the back of hits such as ‘New Song’, ‘Pearl In The Shell’ and ‘Like To Get To Know You Well’, Howard Jones stood out as an electronic artist that was capable of bringing warmth to the world of synths. His 1984 debut album Human’s Lib sealed the deal when it landed a No. 1 spot in the UK charts. Meanwhile, realising the limitations of one bloke behind a set of synths for live performances, Jones recruited mime artist Jed Hoile to give concerts a more dynamic visual presence.

Jones has continued to write and record music up to the present day with releases being coordinated on his own Dtox label. His live shows, likewise, continue to engage audiences through new albums such as Revolution Of The Heart and Ordinary Heroes, as well as showcase performances of his classic albums Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action.

Cherry Red continue to be the label of choice for many reissues and, having acquired the Warners back catalogue of Howard Jones, Best 1983-2017 will mark their first release as part of a long-term plan to work with the musician’s extensive songbook. This compilation offers a retrospective that utilises that material in a fairly comprehensive 3-CD set which encompasses Jones’ career from 1983 through to 2017.

It could be argued that this new compilation might be a bit redundant when compared to 2003’s The Very Best Of Howard Jones. However, from the label’s point of view it makes sense to kick things off with a compilation which acts as a reminder of the appeal of Howard Jones, as well as including some interesting additional material. “I wanted to include the single releases”, comments Jones in the sleeve notes, “and my favourite tracks from the last 35 years”.

Overseen by Jones himself, this collection pulls together a selection of his classic hits alongside tunes culled from his post-80s career. There’s a few surprises thrown in for good measure, such as the strident pop of ‘Eagle Will Fly Again’ which featured on the soundtrack to the 2016 film Eddie The Eagle.

The album discards a chronological play order to give the album a more engaging listening experience. As a result, it’s 1985’s ’Things Can Only Get Better’ that kick off proceedings with its combo of brassy horns and clean synth sounds. Meanwhile, ‘No One Is To Blame’ (which was actually Howard Jones’ biggest US hit) takes things down a gear with a lush production courtesy of Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham.

The captivating melodic appeal of ‘What Is Love?’ has, surprisingly, lost none of its appeal in the decades since its original release. The smooth synth lines have a timeless quality to them, while Jones’ yearning vocals give the song its heart. Equally, the simple and evocative appeal of 1983’s ‘New Song’ retains a charm and style that established Howard Jones’ talent for euphoric pop.

As with many artists of his era, Howard Jones lost his grip on the charts as time went on. This didn’t diminish his knack for melody and composition however. The polished pop of tracks such as ‘Everlasting Love’ and the lush tones of ‘The Prisoner’ still boast a strong songwriting talent, ably assisted by the co-producing skills of ex-Tears For Fears member Ian Stanley.

In fact Howard Jones also managed to bring onboard other well-known names to work on his material, such as Midge Ure for his 1992 album In The Running (from which, the soulful ‘City Song’ and perky pop of ‘Lift Me Up’ feature here).

The pulsing electronic beats of ‘Just Look At You Now’, from 2005’s Revolution Of The Heart, is perhaps one of the best examples of Jones’ ability to develop his style with contemporary licks. “I think that it’s important that if you’re gonna embrace electronic music that you try and do something new with it and don’t just recreate sounds from the past”, commented Jones in an interview with TEC back in 2010.

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2009’s Ordinary Heroes was a more stripped-down affair, presenting a series of compositions that reflected a more mature approach with arrangements dominated by strings and piano. Here, that release is represented by the likes of the wistful ‘Someone You Need’ and the kitchen sink drama of ‘Ordinary Heroes’.

The third CD features special acoustic live recordings as well as an exclusive mix of ‘You’re The Buddha’ by long-term collaborator Robbie Bronnimann. The tracks on this bonus CD were previously only available via Howard Jones 2015 book edition of Engage. While this additional CD might seem like overdoing things, it presents some of the musician’s work in a new light – and also shows the enduring strength of the songs to be rendered in a different way.

As a collection, Best 1983-2017, manages to present a comprehensive selection of nearly 35 years of the music of Howard Jones. It omits some later singles, such as ‘Angels & Lovers’, ‘Tomorrow Is Now’ and the Donald Fagen cover ‘I.G.Y’, but captures his work in a way that perhaps surpasses a standard ‘Greatest Hits’ release. The CD booklet comes with an interview with the artist himself while the bold, visual style of the sleeve artwork also brings back the design chops of Steg (previously responsible for the Human’s Lib sleeve illustration).

Casual fans may be happy with previous compilations, but this 3-CD set will have a special appeal not only to loyal Howard Jones fans, but also perhaps a new audience keen to experience the appeal of this pioneering electronic musician.


Howard Jones Best 1983-2017 is out now on Cherry Red.

http://www.howardjones.com

Howard Jones is touring the UK this autumn: 23rd November – ABC Glasgow, 24th November – O2 Ritz, Manchester, 25th November – O2 Institute, Digbeth, 29th November – Tramshed, Cardiff, 30th November – 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 1st-4th November – Electric Dreams Weekender, Bognor Regis. Please visit http://www.howardjones.com/tour_dates.html for full tour details and tickets.


HOWARD JONES Interview

HOWARD JONES is one of the more well-known electronic artists to emerge out of the classic synthpop era. The catchy upbeat single ‘New Song’ guaranteed Howard plenty of radio airplay and this success was mirrored in his first two albums Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action.

Back in 2010, Howard had released a new album (Ordinary Heroes) and was set to embark on a new tour playing both Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action in their entirety (which TEC reviewed here). Lori Tarchala caught up with Howard at the time for this fascinating window on the electronic artist’s world. An Interview With Howard Jones

HOWARD JONES Live at Indigo2

Featuring Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action

HOWARD JONES is often thought of as the one man musical mastermind of synth-pop but when looked at fully, he’s so much more than that.

Howard Jones has been around since the early part of electronic music. One can argue he was a pioneer of the synths, the first “one man act” to emerge onto the scene and help fortify the ability, variety and importance of synthesized music. From the beginning, he came out with the bouncy and uplifting ‘New Song’ from his ground-breaking debut album Human’s Lib and followed it up with the ever wondering ‘What Is Love?’.

But not stopping there, he had even more success with his sophomore effort of Dream Into Action that spawned the hits ‘Look Mama’, the uplifting ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, ‘No One Is To Blame’ and the philosophical ‘Life In One Day’.

Many a year has passed since those songs first graced the airwaves but on Saturday, November 6th at the London Indigo2, you wouldn’t have known it. This was the setting for the recreation of those two albums that sparked our ears and hearts to the plinkering sounds of keys. And having had the honor to talk to HoJo earlier this year about this exact concert, I definitely was among the most excited in the crowd,anxiously waiting to see what he had so enthusiastically described to me to come to fruition.

There was no opening act, the stage and show was owned solely by Mr. Jones himself and at 8pm sharp, the lights went down and the sound of the crowd swelled up. Opening with Automaton, he hit the ground running. Before us lay the ever familiar layout of half circled synths but a bit more scarce since he now had the help of Robbie Bronnimann (and also the updated look of a Mac) Having gotten licensing permission from Warner Brothers for all his old recordings, the reproduction was amazing. As Howard sang into his ear strapped face mic, it was easy to see this was going to be a special night.

Visuals were a definite importance and we were introduced to a variety, starting with a futuristic looking Howard behind the man himself. Choosing to perform Dream Into Action in its entirety before Human’s Lib, ‘Why Look For The Key’ came next along with a few others filled with brightly colored graphical backdrops before the first special guest was brought out. It would make sense to include the people who had a good amount of influence and measure during the making and success of the first two albums and so, in HoJo’s words “it is a total privilege and pleasure to invite him onto the stage tonight and play along with one of my favorite songs… Mr. Rupert Hine” came walking out. They launched into ‘Look Mama’, and Rupert did his magic on the keys, often looking over to Howard with a huge and seemingly proud grin on his face. It was like a teacher being called back by a former student to a reunion, so very sweet.

Cheers filled the room as he waved goodbye and it was back to HoJo. Filling in space while setting up for the next song, he gave sincere thanks to the crowd and announced how very much he was enjoying doing all these old songs. No surprise there!

A few more tracks from the album brought us to the next special guest; this time the ever entertaining, Jed Hollie. With the sounds of Bounce Right Back starting in the background, he slinked onto the stage in a long trench coat and, with HoJo throwing on his own jacket and coming in for the fun, launched into an acting dance of playful, mysterious satire that saw Jed helping HoJo apply dark sunglasses and then together mime dance moves of the synchronized robotic nature. It was hilarious, though Howard had to eventually return to his keys, leaving Jed to continue on his own. He was extremely limber and agile and one could easily see how he had been an amazing addition to HoJo’s shows back in the day.

Finishing the set with a three punch round, we saw ‘Life In One Day’ given a very gospel-like ending with Howard harmonizing soulfully with back up singers Lizzie Deane and John Gibbons, followed by ‘Like To Get To Know You Well’, and ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ which was really enlivened by saxophonist Rob Hughes, before the stage emptied out and we were allowed an intermission to sort out our heads and come down off our high for a breather.

But before long, the lights went down again and we heard the wonderfully thrilling ‘China Dance’, a great way to start the second half. It was followed up by ‘Conditioning’ and it was obvious that this album was going to go down as well as DIA. Often Howard would sing into his mic with his eyes closed in pleasure, almost as if he was being transported back to the ’80s. He truly was fully enjoying this trip down memory lane and we were all too happy to walk it with him.

Probably the coolest graphics for this second half belonged to ‘Equality’ where we saw the faces of two totally different cultured men eventually meld into one. Quite fitting for the song’s intentions.

As mentioned earlier, both albums had a number of hits that would expectedly bring great singalongs but when ‘Hide And Seek’ was performed amidst a soft luminous blue glow, the voices joined in and what ensued was probably the most tender yet goose bumping evoked moment when, not even prompted, we took over the song, strongest in the sentimental chorus.

Possibly the funniest moment was when Howard had to revise a few of the lyrics of title track ‘Human’s Lib’ and laughingly apologize for the “go to bed with a hundred woman or men” part. It just showed his relaxed, humorous side that was prevalent through out the evening. He was quite comfortable in all, especially since, unlike the ’80s, he obviously had more reliable equipment this time around!

The show came to a glorious end when, announcing he only had one song left it finished how HoJo’s career started. ‘New Song’ saw him out front and center, Yamaha strapped over his shoulder and joyfully playing with the youthfulness never really gone or forgotten. I doubt there was a single person not dancing and clapping in unison to the infectious tune! But too short for our tastes, it was quickly over and the band gathered into one for the farewell bow. But before they could take it, Howard was presented with a massive bouquet of flowers, his face glowing with joy. It was the perfect ending to a night that had had so much anticipation, preparation, and energy… ..or was it?

We weren’t ready to let things end but seeing as how there were no more stones left unturned in terms of music, were we going to get an encore? If we all had our ways we were and the claps, cheers and poundings continued until a pleasantly surprised and moved Howard came out to enlighten us with an acoustic version of ‘New Song’, marked only with him and his Yamaha. Brilliant!

And then it truly was over but for someone who’s first concert ever was Howard Jones but during his third album, this was a moment to be remembered as I’m sure anyone in that crowd would agree


www.howardjones.com

Text and photos by Lori Tarchala
23rd November 2010

An Interview With HOWARD JONES

HOWARD JONES is often thought of as the one man musical mastermind of synth-pop but when looked at fully, he’s so much more than that.

His journey started in the early ’80s when his infectiously catchy and optimistic ‘New Song’ emerged onto the radio waves. He quickly grabbed the eyes, ears, and hearts of the electronic world partly due to his energetic and elaborate one man stage shows, originally including the talent of mime artist Jed Hoile. But also, there was his knack for writing passionate, sincere, and often uplifting lyrics heard in such numbers as ‘Life In One Day’, ‘Nothing to Fear’, and ‘Everlasting Love’. His first two albums, Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action went to UK’s album charts at numbers one and two respectively and Howard was also one of only a few UK artists to “cross the pond” into the American charts, enjoying success from hits not only off his first two albums, but also from a remix EP for American release only called Action Replay, which gave him his biggest hit ‘No One Is To Blame’. He was even voted Keyboard Player of the Year in 1986 by Rolling Stone magazine.

Simon Fowler / howardjones.com

But the ’90s found a change in the music scene and, never being one to slow down, Howard transitioned quite nicely, expanding his reputation. He first released In the Running which generated the single ‘Lift Me Up’ before leaving Warner/Elektra and starting up his own independent record label called Dtox Records where he put out two more albums; ‘Working in the Backroom’ and also ‘People’, a favourite of long standing fans. He continued to tour worldwide, at times with a full band that included his brother Martin on bass, and also for the first time acoustically which really allowed him to shine both as a superb pianist and also as a continually influential and emotional songwriter. Both were met with much acclaim.

The last 10 years has found Howard continuing with his advancements which include such feats as the Top of the Pops European tour, performing in Ringo Star’s All Starr Band, and a 20th Anniversary Tour in London. More albums have emerged including Revolution Of The Heart, the ever moving and personal Piano Songs (For Friends and Loved Ones) and his most recent release, Ordinary Heroes. In keeping with the times, he even conquered the world of podcasts when his song ‘Building Our Own Future’ broke records by debuting at #1 and remaining there for 3 weeks. Through the years and inevitable changes, he never lost touch with what was important and continued to maintain the same initial appeal of quality music matched with distinctive lyrics that fans and critics alike can relate to.

During a Friday afternoon, he was gracious enough to stop and talk via a transatlantic phone call with The Electricity Club’s American correspondent Lori Tarchala about all that is Howard.


First off, I know you’re really busy with your new album and the touring and stuff so I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I’ve been a fan so this is a personal honor! So can we talk about what you’ve been up to lately?

Well this year there’s a focus on the end of the year November 6th. I’m doing the first two albums Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action in their entirety. And that’s good; I’ve never done that before.

Yes, I was going to ask you about that. It sounds exciting. I was wondering what kind of layout you’ll be using? Are you going to be using all the old Moog Prodigys, Pro-Ones, the whole circular set up and things like that?

howardjones.com

Well what’s happening is it’s the first time that I’ve been able to have access to the multi-tracks of those two albums because I managed to do a deal with Warner Brothers to actually license my material so I’ll be able to access the original sequences and as I said strip off the multi-tracks so we can really replicate those first two albums really accurately. It’s a big project that we’ve started to get all the material together and I’ve had some of my old synthesizers repaired. But I’m not going to do it in a totally retro way; I mean new technology and a bit of old technology together. I don’t want to be sort of recreating the ’80s exactly because, for a start, it’s too dangerous! laughs

So it’s gonna be very, very modern technology and a bit of the old stuff to get the sounds to work. And also, we are going to have a big sort of visual element to the show as well which is being done by my friend Steve W Tayler so it’s going to be quite, um, I almost want to say a sort of art based event. Ultimately that’s the kind of thing that I’d like to be doing the whole time instead of really focusing on that show. But then there’s other gigs with the band, I’m doing an acoustic tour in September with Duncan Sheik so yeah, there’s loads going on but the most exciting is probably that show in November.

Yeah I actually have a ticket for that so I’m looking forward to it.

Oh great, oh great.

Could we possibly expect to see Jed on stage?

Um, well, y’know perhaps that may occur. I don’t know…well I DO know actually but I’m not going to tell you laughs

Riiiiight, surprise and suspense, that’s ok laughs. You also did a show recently with Mark Jones / Back to the Phuture and you’re gonna be playing the Bestival Festival this summer. How did that come about?

Well, there’s been a campaign with people from Bestival to get me to play and there’s one guy who actually wrote a song and put it up on YouTube. And the song was about me playing the festival so there’s been quite a bit of pressure from the fans laughs

I guess so if they’re going to write about you, you HAVE to do it!

So it should be great, yeah I’m really looking forward to it.

Great, well do you do a lot of festivals?

No, I don’t. I don’t do festivals! I mean I do sort of outdoor events during the summer but not types where people can go camping and stuff so this is kind of a rare thing for me.

Will you be camping?

I won’t be, no but my kids apparently are going to camp for the weekend.

Oh wonderful, ok well that will be fun, a whole family outing for you guys.

Yes, yes!

Keith Ainsworth / howardjones.com

No one can argue how impressive it was for you to come out as a one man act in the ’80s, that’s a lot of courage on your part. Your big UK live break came when you were supporting China Crisis on their 1983 tour. Eye witnesses tell me because I obviously wasn’t there that you pretty much blew out the headlining act. Do you remember anything about that tour, like how the audience was reacting or having any kind of feeling that this was the start of a big thing; something was going to happen for you?

Yeah it was a big break for me to get that tour as the opener for China Crisis. I remember we were piled into a transit van and staying in the local bed and breakfasts on that tour and it was… I just started to get a bit of airplay on Radio One and so one of the weird things it does is every gig kind of builds and builds so that in the end it was getting a bit out of hand cause China Crisis, y’know I was going down better than them, and they were one of my favorite bands laughs so I didn’t feel good about that. But then again, yeah, we definitely got the sense that something was really taking off and I particularly remember when we got to Glasgow, it just went…the audience went MAD! So I really thought that I kind of got it right. It was going to happen then.

Wow that’s amazing! It must have been a great feeling for you.

Yeah it was because up until then I’d really not done any proper tours. I’d done clubs in London, I played the Marquee and, I mean I did about 250 gigs a year but I was playing pubs and grotty clubs all over the place. But not a proper tour so it was very exciting doing that really.

So you have a new album called Ordinary Heroes. It’s got great reviews so congratulations. I’ve listened to it a number of times, I really enjoy it. You’ve done so many styles between synthesized electro, to acoustic, to full band sounds. But this album you set up a couple rules; no synthesizers, and another one; one track of each instrument used only.

Yes!

So in terms of the song it definitely makes them shine, it sounds more whole, it’s much clearer but what prompted that? What made you decide to do something like that?

I think it was because I had this bunch of songs that were quite intimate, heartfelt and it’s really about the lyrics I found and the emotion of the song so I wanted the production to be very straightforward and clear and very honest. And that’s really how we did it but also when you give yourself a set of limitations, you have to be resourceful and creative in doing that and I really enjoyed the fact that you couldn’t use any extra parts to solve problems with the tracks.

Everything had to be done and planned on its own so the way that everything sort of fit together; I’d planned that before I actually recorded every one. So to me this album was very much about how the pieces are arranged and how they make a jigsaw together. So I started off with the piano and before there were drums over, it was just piano and vocals and then everything moved around that. So that was the approach and I really enjoyed the process of doing that.

Well from a lyrical stand point, the album’s really quite striking. There’s a lot of numbers that stand out lyrically. I know ‘Soon You’ll Go’ is one that I think a lot of people… I personally was getting teary eyed and I’m single, I don’t have a daughter but it’s so touching the way you wrote these things. With songs like that that are so personal and meaning to you and your family, how do you present them to your family?

Well, it’s just the same way as to everyone else. It’s the same process. I mean when I actually sang the song to Mila for the first time, I got the same reaction that people get when they hear the song. I mean she was very, really moved and so was I. And I just feel that that’s what music should do. That’s what all artists should have, an impact. Otherwise, what’s the point of it? It should be something that unlocks feelings that you can’t access normally and I just think that music has the power to do that so if you are a musician that’s what you should be aiming for to try and have that kind of um…y’know, deep effect on people.

Yeah it definitely did. I’m sure especially for this album in particular like you said, it’s very personal so I think it’s kind of neat that you did it that style because it really does make the songs, at least from my stand point, stand out. So like Andy McCluskey of OMD, you’ve written also for modern girl groups, ‘Blue’ by Sugababes in your case. How did you find this whole experience and what do you think of the whole American Idol/X-Factor culture of finding new musical talent?

Um, well I don’t do this very often but I was asked to work with Sugababes and earlier on I was a big fan of theirs right from the beginning so they came down to the house and I really wanted to work with them and work with their talent and not impose one of my songs on them. I wanted to write with them and work with them and I think THAT track is the most representative of them on that whole album and I feel really proud about that. I just believe that when you work with creative people you’ve got to let them go and let them feel free to be who they are and that’s the whole process and it was really great working with them.

COMPLETELY the opposite to the whole Pop Idol and X-Factor thing which is basically what they do is they exploit people and turn them into automatons which is basically saying that you all have to sound like Whitney Houston!!?! I mean don’t try and be original, don’t try and be like who you are, copy some historical singer from the past. And I find that ABSOLUTELY a disaster to music and I really wish that there would be much more of a nurturing culture that would nurture original talent and don’t try and make people become clones. So I don’t have very strong feelings about it. chuckles

Hmm, yeah, American Idol; I mean obviously I don’t watch Pop Idol but it’s the same thing and I’ve noticed the same thing in terms of especially the girl vocals they do, they all want that kind of loud, screamy sound and you get someone who’s maybe more melodic or a little bit laid back and nobody wants them. They want a particular…they want to model them into their corporate idea of what’s popular so that’s interesting.

Yeah!

Well there’s been a recent resurge if you will of electronic bands; people like Hurts and Mirrors, Little Boots and that type of thing. Most if not all are citing various acts from the ’80s as influences so what do you think of this new generation of electro music makers and how do you feel about being part of it in terms of setting a stage for them to stand on?

Peter Fannen / howardjones.com

Well I quite like La Roux, I really liked her album but you do hear a lot of ’80s influence these days and I’m certain because these kids, they grew up with their parents listening to that music so it’s got this sort of appeal to them. I don’t know what to say, again I think that it’s important that if you’re gonna embrace electronic music that you try and do something new with it and don’t just recreate sounds from the past.

I mean because the whole electro movement really didn’t come from any reference point from the past, it was like “oh wow, we’ve got some new kits to play and we’ve got new sounds to work with, let’s do something different” and that applied not only to music but to the fashion and the way that people, like for instance this year I’m playing my first festival this year, I mean you didn’t play festivals because that’s what old farts did! laughs

So I think that if bands are going to embrace it, then take it somewhere new, please take it somewhere new don’t just listen to your favorite album and just do the same as them but take it on. I think it’s so important to be able to do that.

Yeah, because you don’t wanna be, I mean the ’80s were wonderful, that’s when I was growing up but like you said…there is a different era now so you don’t want to be compared to…

Yeah, I mean, put it this way. If I was a band and I started out now and somebody said to me “oh that sounds just like the ’80s” I would go…I’D GO MAD! I’d want to like trash their gear. You know what I mean? I’d say “I want to sound like now, NOW laughs and not 30 years ago!” I wouldn’t take it as a badge of honour if somebody said to me you sound like the ’80s and I was a new artist!

You’d have to start all over again, trash the album and do it all over. It would not be good.

Yeah laughs

So who are you listening to these days? Whether it be electronic or otherwise, who are some of the artists that you like?

I’m a big fan of BT when he’s in his fully electronic mode. But also I’m very much into English sort of folk and the English folk singers. I’m a big fan of Laura Marling and the artists that she associates herself with like Mumford And Sons. But my absolute favorite is Laura Marling, she’s the most original and the most talented I think. And she’s a poet as well. So that’s my favorites at the moment.

Would you ever consider collaborating with her? Has there ever been a thought of that?

Well I mean, I go to her gigs and we hang out a bit but I don’t think she needs to collaborate with anybody laughs. I think people should do what they do on their own. Because that’s what’s great about being an artist is that original voice. I know it’s all great all this talk of collaborating with people but really, I mean isn’t it just a marketing tool these days to do that? It gets motivated by a real love of getting together to do something great.

Laura Marling doesn’t need anybody to do that, she’s got such an original voice, that’s what I want to hear. I don’t want to hear it with someone else watering it down laughs. I want to keep the original voice, that’s what I like.

Things have changed greatly in terms of the technology that’s available in making music, especially electronic music. What do you see as the pros and cons of what things used to be and how they are now?

I suppose in the early days things were more limited when I started out. I didn’t need a computer to sequence things because they weren’t really invented to do that. So it was very, sort of primitive really. You had trinkets coming from drum machines and arpeggio pulses coming from drum machines and you had to work within the limitations of the gear. And that produced a particular sound and it was difficult to work with live and it was a struggle but it did produce a very, very original approach to how you did live gigs.

And now, things are so much more stable and they’re so much more accurate, and you can use the laptop to give a much more secure sound. So it’s not quite so by the seat of your pants kind of thing laughs And I suppose in a way the edginess of not knowing if your gear is going to work or not that night, it lends something to the performance that you can’t really get any other way laughs. I think that I’ve done my time of stuff going through breakdown and collapsible gear going down in the middle of a show.

Yeah, I just went and saw; I don’t know if you’re familiar with a band called Covenant but they’re electronic and they have a lot of things programmed and half way through one of their songs, like you said, everything just stopped. But from a fan’s standpoint, the lead singer started just doing acappella and it was actually special and it was probably one of the highlights of the show. Obviously THEY didn’t want that to happen but from our stand point it was really neat. Hopefully that won’t happen though!

Yes, that used to happen to me on a regular basis and I’d have to invent ways of getting out of it but y’know, you do. That’s how you develop confidence as a performer is when you have to deal with it when it goes wrong.

Right. Make sure you get some good jokes on line in case you need that.

Yeah.

So you’ve done a lot, you’ve accomplished a lot of things. I was reading about the things that were personal goals and dreams that you got to do, like your acoustic shows at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and then being able to perform Emerson Lake & Palmer’s ‘Karnevil 9’ which I know you said was really the reason you became who you are and what you are today. What do you still want to accomplish? Is there a particular dream or something that hasn’t happened yet?

I just think my thing is to keep carrying on and keep evolving and I think that’s the hard thing to do is to keep doing new things and challenging yourself. I mean I’ve played Madison Square Gardens and I’ve done all the big things at Wembley and I do know a lot of people but I think the hard thing to do is to keep going and keep trying to be innovative and original and to just keep on and not be distracted. I think that’s the hardest thing because a lot of people kind of give up. They become ex-musicians and things but as I said, I don’t want to do that. I wanna be kicking and screaming right up to the end! chuckles

Ok, well you’re definitely, with all your changes you’re definitely still going.

YEAH!

So I have one more question, this is a free for all so you can take it however you want it’s the final question. Tell me something about Howard Jones we don’t already know.

Um…… I think people know most things about me, I Twitter so ah let’s see, something people don’t know about me…….um…..ah….laughs

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to throw you a curveball laughs

Yeah, yeah, well I um….um….yeah I don’t have one really. I do tell people most things that I do so…ah….hmmm….yeah I can’t think of anything really. Not that people don’t know already!

Any secrets about a song, hidden stories about a song or any tour stories?

Um…..hmmm…not really laughs

Ok, that’s fair enough, you gave it a good try!

Sorry about that! laughs


Howard Jones performs his first two albums Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action in full at Indigo2 London on Saturday 6th November 2010.

The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Howard Jones

Special thanks also to David Stopps at FML Music Limited

www.howardjones.com

by Lori Tarchala
14th July 2010