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Synth star's celebrating ; He was a star of the 80s and now Howard Jones is marking a milestone with a gig in Birmingham. He talks to MICHAEL WOOD [Birmingham Mail (UK)]

November 8, 2013

YellowBrix

SINGER Howard Jones is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his first single with a brand new composition that will "incorporate multimedia, new technology and audience participation".

That sounds intriguing. What form will the "audience participation" take? I ask the synth-pop star, who is heading to O2 Academy in Birmingham on November 30.

"It's proving a little more difficult than we thought," he admits.

"I'm working on that at the moment.

We have various ideas. One is that we ask people to download a Quick Time movie and bring their iPads so they can hold them up.

Facing the stage or facing the back? "I think facing the stage and we will film it from the stage. The problem is no one in the audience is going to be able to see it. We could ask some people to have it facing back," he muses, then laughs: "I'm still working on that bit."

Always one for trying out new ideas, 30 years on he is still experimenting.

The concert will be in three parts, starting off with an acoustic set featuring some rarely performed tracks and B-sides, and finishing with an electric set that will include his greatest hits, such as What Is Love?, Hide And Seek, Like to Get To know You Well, Things Can Only Get Better, and that first hit from September 1983, New Song.

Sandwiched in between will be the new composition, which will be 35 minutes long with seven new pieces, all of which have been conceived with video, he reveals.

"I have been working on it for a year.

The shows were booked a year ago. I decided to do something special to reflect 30 years, but also a new composition looking forward.

"These pieces have been very much written to perform live," he adds. "That's very different to putting something out on a CD, and I found that very liberating."

Over 30 years, he has seen huge technological advances in the industry.

Whereas, in the early days, he might have had up to seven synthesisers banked around him, now he tends to have just two - one a weighted keyboard like a piano - and a laptop that can recreate all the vintage sounds that he used to make.

"I'm actually trying to get my rig smaller and smaller so that it's easier to take on a plane with me," he adds.

And while many complain that it's too easy to access music for free, Howard is rather upbeat about the changes.

"It's now possible for an artist to have access to an audience from his living room or his bedroom. He could never have done that before," he enthuses. "That's a really big advance.

"Before, you would have had to have a record company and a distribution network to get it into the record shops.

"The fact that every piece of music is for free now has changed things drastically," he admits, "but people have had to reassess what it is about music that is valued.

"It's like a souvenir of the real experience, which is being at a gig," he adds. "I have been doing a lot of festivals. People love to go out and hear music in the sunshine, take the kids and have a beer.

"People are rediscovering the value of hearing live music. You have to be there. I think that's a good thing."

He dates his own love of music to a concert in Canada, where he grew up.

"I went to my first gig when I was 14.

I saw The Who and The Troggs and the (American bubblegum pop band) 1910 Fruitgum Company, all on the same bill.

"That just blew my mind. I knew then that's what I wanted to do.

"I went to music college in Manchester in the 70s. I had the idea of being a one-man electronic band with drum machine and sequencers.

"I thought no one had done that before. It was a very different approach to a rock and roll band.

"I didn't really think of myself as a pioneer - that sounds a bit grandiose. I just thought no one had done it before and it would be fun to do it."

Could he have ever imagined that he would still be doing it 30 years on? "It was the last thing on my mind," he insists. "I was just thinking about the next gig and getting record companies down. It was really one step at a time.

"It was really what I loved to do. It was my passion, just banging away at it until it worked."

Will there be a 40th and 50th anniversary? "I don't think so," he says. "I'm sure I have another 10 years, but I think this is my last anniversary. It's wearing a bit thin. It's an excuse to have a party. I will think of something else to call them in the future."

Howard Jones is at O2 Academy, Birmingham, on November 30.Tel: 0844 477 2000 or visit www.o2academybirmingham.co.uk

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