“I don’t want to be hip and cool, I don’t want to play by the rules,” declared Howard Jones in his fad-shunning first single, New Song, in 1983.
Thirty-three years later Jones’ exhortation to “throw off your mental chains” prompts a nostalgic singalong at the end of a two-hour ‘one man and his piano’voyage through the highlights of his extensive career, interwoven with anecdotes about how each song came into being as well as tales of encounters with some of his musical heroes.
Now aged 60, Jones proves an engaging storyteller. The stirring Straight Ahead, he explains, is his attempt to capture some of “the spirit” of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone, his Welsh parents’ favourite song.
New ditty Hero In Your Eyes, it turns out, was written at the request of Gary Barlow for the soundtrack to the forthcoming film about Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, the plucky British ski jumper who got to compete at the Winter Olympics “because there was no team”.
It’s a sympathetic portrait of a man determined to realise his dream – and something that obviously chimes with Jones who didn’t achieve fame until he was 28 years old and not long out of working in a factory that made cling film.
Jones explains he’d resisted playing the moody City Song live for years because “it’s got a lot of chord changes” and could easily “go Les Dawson” if he played a wrong note. Its vision of “10 million souls vibrating” was inspired by New York where he once owned a vegetarian restaurant frequented by the likes of Madonna, Lou Reed and Kevin Spacey.
He shares memories of working with Phil Collins on massive US radio hit No One Is To Blame, a song originally dismissed by the boss of his American label as “a B-side”. Don’t Always Look At The Rain includes an interpolation of So What by jazz great Miles Davis, who he once met an an airport.
Jones also talks extensively about Live Aid where he was due to play two songs but ended up performing only one, the uplifting ballad Hide And Seek, which he picks as his personal favourite from his own catalogue. The other, Life In A Day, it transpires was axed – but not before he and his backing singers who included Caron Wheeler, later “the voice of Soul II Soul”, had rehearsed it backstage in front of an audience of Pete Townshend and David Bowie.
What Is Love prompts recollections of being held off the top of the UK charts by Paul McCartney and of being photographed by the late Linda McCartney with the former Beatle.
He encores with a faithful rendition of the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows, a number he regards as “the best pop song ever written”, before concluding with New Song.
Jones explains he’d resisted playing the moody City Song live for years because “it’s got a lot of chord changes” and could easily “go Les Dawson” if he played a wrong note.
Its chirpy optimism is, he says, his “manifesto”. From the audience’s warm reaction tonight its plea for open-mindedness still very much touches a chord.