Howard Jones Live at the O2 Academy, Bournemouth.
The O2 Academy in Bournemouth (or Boscombe as the case may be) is not what I expected, tucked snuggly into the middle of the high street, what lurks behind the inauspicious exterior is far grander than first impressions would suggest.
Once we arrive the venue is filling up nicely, a mix of the nostalgia addict and ardent fan milling around and waiting expectantly. Nostalgia is a strange word really; it feels more like clinging onto the past rather than celebrating it. Let me put it this way, when you talk about an 80s act touring this is usually deemed as nostalgia, but if you listen to The Beatles or Led Zeppelin this is still seen as the height of good musical taste. But I suspect this is a different argument altogether so back to the show in question.
Howard Jones is embarking on an ambitious tour, playing his first two albums back to back, in full. It is not unusual for artists to do the ‘album playback’ shows these days, but to do TWO albums in full takes a certain amount of confidence in the material and the audiences desire to hear them. Thankfully for Howard, this was actually the idea of the fans anyway and ‘Human’s Lib’ and ‘Dream Into Action’ spawned no less than nine Top 20 UK singles (with a small amount of artistic licence that is) so even the more casual attendee will know a good portion of the set.
I actually interviewed Howard last year (read the full transcript HERE) and as we discussed the structuring of the show, he confessed that there was some tinkering with the track listing to ensure the flow of the shows, a decision that, on the strength of this evening, was the perfect move.
Starting with the Dream Into Action album (saving Human’s Lib for the second half due to the fact it was the more successful UK release) the intro pounds before Howard takes to the stage to delight of the crowd, clearly paying homage to his 80s persona by wearing what looks like Michael Jackson’s Thriller era red leather jacket.
Joined by drummer Jonathan and additional key tickler (and master of the ‘boom sticks’) Robbie, the stage is sparse but the sound is deep. The electro beats pulse and throb all night, far from the sometimes tinny sounds of the 80s keyboards, modern technologically allows for a far more immersive experience and noise.
Throughout the night Howard breaks to talk to the huddled masses, reminiscing about the days when his Mum (Thelma) ran his fan club before dedicating Look Mama to her and all the mothers in the room or admitting that a record label actually got something right when they made him write a ‘hit’ for the album. Having been told that Dream Into Action contained no ‘hit singles’ (OK, so they weren’t entirely right) Howard was asked (although told is more likely) to pen a smash, which he duly did with Life In One Day.
Finishing the first half of the night off with a storming run through of Like To Get To Know You Well, the mood is definitely set for his return and the album clearly everyone has been waiting for..
So after a short break Howard returns, resplendent in new attire and ready to tackle Human’s Lib. Once again the revised running order works nicely, Condition is followed by the crowd pleasing single Pearl In the Shell and any apathy from the interlude is instantly brushed aside as the audience start dancing around once more.
Whilst not there in the flesh, Howard Jones’ partner in crime from those early 80s shows, Jed Holie, makes a guest appearance all be it only on the large video screen behind the stage. This is greeted with warm approval from the faithful gathering and is a fitting tribute to Howard’s early accomplice and adds an extra sense of poignancy to Equality.
Hide And Seek signals the build-up to the end of the set and as a rousing version of What Is Love? gets the crowd going, Howard parades the stage conducting the masses in the sing-a-long, seemingly genuinely touched by the response.
Returning for the encore and finale of the Human’s Lib experience, New Song is greeted with an eruption from the jubilant throng and dancing breakouts throughout the room. Playing with the lyrics Howard addresses his faithful once again and with a wry smile slips in ‘Thanks for sticking with me for 30 years’, to huge cheers from the fans.
So rather than looking at this as a nostalgia trip, let’s see it as a celebration of two classic pop albums. Although at times they have some of the trappings of the 80s sound, the singles are still electro pop gems and the full album playbacks reveal a strength and depth lacking in many acts considered current. Having two albums that can be played complete to a room full of adoring fans, perhaps the 80s were not so bad after all.
All photographs (C) TAPEtoTAPE 2012.