It’s not unusual to discover that pop stars of the ’70s and ’80s were influenced over the course of their musical career by Progressive Rock and a few, such as Gary Kemp and Nick Beggs (who also happens to be a member of Howard Jones touring band) have crossed over the genre divide with great success. Howard Jones retains his foothold in the world of pop and this year is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his recorded music career, but, like his mid-eighties chart-sensation peer Nik Kershaw, he has had his fair share of Progressive encounters.
The eighties were my peak radio listening years and so of course I find I still know plenty of Howard Jones hits almost by heart. With this background knowledge, finding out more about his post-peak output and some of his more genre-bending side-lines has been an extremely rewarding exercise. Whilst the upcoming four CD, 64 track compilation provides more than many of us could ever really need – or want – there are enough gems to warrant the exploration. I won’t attempt to convince you that this should absolutely be on your shopping list, but I’ll do my best to guide you through the set and spark some interest.
Howard Jones’s music career started when his family moved to Canada when he was a teenager. You may, or may not, be surprised to hear that his first band was Warrior, a progressive rock group who released an album in 1972 called Invasion, described as having shades of Genesis and ELP. As a keyboard player he cites Keith Emerson amongst his influences, but when he returned to England the Prog world’s loss ultimately became Pop’s gain. In 1983 he even hired the Marquee Club, during the early neo-prog years no less, to showcase his more fashionable synth pop talents, and later in that year his first single, New Song, was released reaching the Top 5 in the UK.
For this 40th anniversary release, Celebrate It Together, Howard has personally chosen to group his songs into four categories, wanting “to elevate this selection of songs beyond the typical chronological approach and create themes that mix and match different pieces from different eras, with the overall listening experience top of mind”. It includes songs from his classic Warner-era catalogue, as well as more recent work and latest releases from his independent Dtox label.
CD1 is the ‘Popular Hits’ collection and tracks are taken overwhelmingly from the first three albums in the period 1984 to ’86. This section doesn’t really need any more comment from me as you get what you deserve, in many ways. The songs contain all the hallmarks of that period in popular music and it provides an easy listening journey back in time, evoking some strong memories of life at that time. CD2 is the un-enticingly titled ‘Electro’ collection. Not my ‘thing’ to be honest, except that track 14 is a live version of Conditioning from the first album, recorded on the Peaceful Tour in 2001, and featuring many-time Fish guitarist Robin Boult. It’s a great version and confirms that there was definitely life after the ’80s for Howard Jones, when he had earned the freedom to ‘progress’ his artistic styles.
CDs 3 and 4 are where it starts to get more interesting. The ‘Chill’ collection is a mix of ‘slow’ songs, often with just piano accompaniment or string arrangements. Lyrically, some of the pieces are much more heartfelt and personal, making them more relatable, and there are intriguing influences showing through, all the way from Genesis and Phil Collins to Crowded House and Sade. Track 6, Sleep My Angel, has a lyrical melody very close to King Crimson’s Peace – that one definitely took me by surprise. There are many highlights on this CD, including, for Prog-watchers, City Song from 1992, a beautifully crafted seven-minute epic. It’s a bleak but expansive and expressive song with a central theme based around the chorus, “When does a vision of heaven become a living hell”. Another highlight for me is Formed by the Stars, from his most recent album Dialogue, released in 2022. It
features a pleasing Kraftwerk-y melodic backing track and an uplifting vocal on a proggy spaced-out theme.
CD4 is the ‘Curiosities’ collection, and the one I was most looking forward to hearing. The first notable curio is a cover of Road to Cairo by David Ackles, originally released in 1968. Not a famous or particularly successful US folk-based singer-songwriter, David Ackles is however lauded by some British singer-songwriters such as Elvis Costello, Elton John, and Phil Collins, all of whom declared themselves fans. After Ackles’ death in 1999, Costello said, “It’s a mystery to me why his wonderful songs are not better known”. This cover stays true to the original and Howard Jones delivers a superb vocal performance in a very different style to which we have become accustomed.
Following on is another cover, and another step out of his comfort zone. Lazarus was originally released by David Bowie on his final Blackstar album, which happens to be one of my all-time favourites. Thankfully, Howard’s version is exquisitely done and does justice to both artists. As it happens, in prog-related news, in 2018 Howard Jones joined fellow musician Steve Hogarth at the unveiling of a sculpture in tribute to David Bowie in Marillion’s home base of Aylesbury.
Next up is a bewitching extended 10-minute ambient version of Hide and Seek that is a pleasantly worthwhile development of one of the more interesting tracks on the breakthrough first album. The rest of this CD is a mix of deep album cuts and re-mixed versions and is of lesser interest, and it closes out with a couple of live versions of early hits.
Cherry Red Records have certainly done Howard Jones proud with this career retrospective. I have thoroughly enjoyed following his musical journey from 1983 to 2023 and with the extent of his talent laid across the 4 CDs it’s no surprise that he has managed to sustain his career over such a long period. It’s not Prog as we know it, but seemingly all musicians are able to summon up their prog influences and instincts at times, and we should all be grateful for the opportunity to discover those moments.
CD1: Popular Hits
01. Things Can Only Get Better
02. Like to Get to Know You well
03. Life in One Day
04. Look Mama
05. All I Want
06. Everlasting Love
07. New Song
08. What is Love? [Single Version]
09. Pearl in the Shell
10. Bounce Right Back
11. You Know I Love You… Don’t You?
12. Always Asking Questions
13. Lift Me Up
14. Tomorrow is Now
15. The Prisoner
16. Just Look at You Now
17. Celebrate it Together (Lifelike Radio Edit)**
01. Celebrate it Together (Lifelike Extended Club Mix)**
02. The One to Love You (Howard Jones & BT – Lifelike UK Radio Remix)
03. The Human Touch
04. Eagle Will Fly Again
05. Stay with Me (Album Version)
06. Revolution of the Heart (Album Version)
09. Who You Really Want To Be
10. New Song (2023 Elephant Talk Remix)*
11. You’re the Buddha
12. The Prisoner 2011
13. Look Mama (Megamamamix)
14. Conditioning (Peaceful Tour Live)
15. Things Can Only Get Better (Cedric Gervais ft. Howard Jones) (Radio Edit)
01. No One is to blame (Single Mix)
02. If You Love
03. City Song
04. Not One of the Lonely Tonight
05. Hide and Seek (Single Version)
06. Sleep My Angel
07. Soon You’ll Go
08. Someone You Need
09. One Last Try
10. Formed by the Stars
11. Don’t Always Look at the Rain
12. Will You Still Be There?
13. Tears to Tell
15. Back in Your Life Again
16. At the Speed of Love (Howard Jones & BT)
01. Overture 2*
02. Angels and Lovers (Single Mix)
03. Road to Cairo
04. Lazarus (Live at Siyan)
05. Hide and Seek (Perform Version)
06. Things Can Only Get Better (Simlish version)*
07. Cookin’ in the Kitchen
08. I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year (Single Mix)
09. When Lovers Confess
10. Stay With Me (We’re in This Together)(Alternative Recording)*
11. I Don’t Hate You**
12. Collective Heartbeat (Havana Version)**
13. Let the People Have Their Say (Original Version)
14. You Know I Love You… Don’t You? (Video Mix)**
15. Pearl in the Shell (Live in Hamburg)**
16. New Song (Peaceful Tour Live)
* Previously unreleased
** Previously unreleased on CD
Howard Jones – Vocals, Keyboards, Synthesisers, Drum Programming, Percussion Programming, Sequencing, Electric Pianos, Electric Bass, Synth Bass, Drums, Percussion
Plus, Guests & Collaborators
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 6th Oct 2023