Howard Jones is on tour, and tonight his Edinburgh date was performed at The Queen’s Hall, a venue that is currently celebrating its 40th year as a music venue. Before music, however, The Queen’s Hall was a church with a long history to its name, and I mention this because tonight the congregation was here to listen not to the word of God, but to the music of Howard Jones, and the “faithful” had turned out in large numbers to do that.
I have to admit that in the 1980s I was not a Howard Jones fan. It is not that I disliked his music, but more that coming out of ‘70s punk, I was still then listening to its last snarls (well all too often puppy dog whimpering by then), and “synthpop” was simply not on my musical radar at all. Over the years though I have had to look back at the music of many of these bands and re-discover and re-evaluate it, and Howard Jones is so often there at the forefront of so much of it all. Perhaps Howard is typical of many musical pioneers insomuch that it is only with hindsight you recognise the vision which they so clearly had at the time, and the quality of their work, both of which you overlooked first time round.
Opening his set with a reprise of his 1985 “Live Aid” song “Hide and Seek” on piano to the delight of the fans singing along with him, it was instantly obvious that beneath the “synthpop” electronic keyboard sounds for which he is most famous, there is a serious musician and songwriter at work here with a love of carefully crafted lyrics. Of course though, it was probably these huge selling hits of the 1980s that many people were here to listen too, and Howard did not disappoint with well-known classics “What is Love”, and “Like To Get To Know You Well” in the set list. A return to piano for a revision of “Life in One Day” just proved how easily Howard can shift from one musical genre to another, and just how well so many of his songs would work performed at piano alone. However, tonight a three keyboard line up consisting of Howard, Robbie Bronnimann and Dan Burton kept that classic “Howard Jones pulse” beating all evening with some fine guitar work by Robin Boult, (notably for me on 12 string acoustic).
Howard Jones has been a very busy man of late; 2018 was packed with 50 headline US shows and a summer of festival appearances and there is the current tour. On top of all of that, there is his brand new electronic album 'Transform' released on May 10 2019, so of course old songs of the past were blended in seamlessly with new songs from this album.
If you get a chance to go and see Howard Jones on this tour, take it, because this is not someone who is living out his “glory days of the 1980s” on-stage. Howard Jones is on razor sharp form and connecting immediately with his audience on songs old and new, and unlike so many of his contemporaries of the time, Howard’s music has not dated; his words and music are still relevant. This show is not travelling lightly and there is an impressive array of sound, lighting and image technology here that is timed to the second in presentation. Over a set that ran for roughly 100 minutes with little interruptions for chat, and only the music playing, Howard Jones proved effortlessly just how many people coming after him owe him a musical debt, and equally just as effortlessly he could fill any dance club he wanted to right NOW.
Opening this show for Howard Jones (in contrast to when Howard once supported them on tour) were China Crisis, a band who had so much success in the 1980s, and like Howard are still making new music, and the two are old friends with Howard playing piano on several songs on the current China Crisis album (Autumn In the Neighbourhood).
The set from China Crisis is a short one, and 30 minutes does not allow anywhere enough time for anything but a sample of their music, and I have no intention of giving their set list away. The line up of China Crisis may have changed over the years, but still the music is there, and two of my favourite songs from them “Black Man Ray” and “King in A Catholic Style” were in this set list. Oddly though, the band chose to reminisce a little, and whilst I have no problems with that usually, their performance time was a little too short for this; with a musical back-catalogue of their quality, China Crisis just have no need for weak jokes and anecdotes with an over use (for my liking) of the “F-Word”. Their music, as always, is all the band need to speak for them
Review by Tom King