Interview with electric pop pioneer, Howard Jones
PUBLISHED: 11:45 24 May 2019
Howard Jones talks to Catherine Courtenay about living in Somerset, Buddhism - and his new album
It's been 15 years since Howard Jones arrived in Somerset with his family. The musician, who became famous in the 80s for his cutting-edge, electronic pop hits, including New Song, What Is Love? and Like to Get To Know You Well, is about to release a new album and go on a UK and US tour.
Home is Creech St Michael, near Taunton, where he lives with his wife Jan. "All the kids have moved away now, but they come back," he says.
The couple moved to the county from Berkshire, where they had lived for 20 years, in order to help their son who was diagnosed dyslexic. He went to Shapwick School in Shapwick which specialises in helping children and young people up to the age of 19 who have the learning difficulty.
"We needed to find a school for him, it was so important to us that we decided to move the whole family down here. It wasn't a case of a 'retiring to the country' type thing," says Howard.
"When we got here we loved it; it's an amazing privilege to live here."
It seems that the open vistas of the surrounding Somerset landscape have been a creative balm to the musician, whose home studio has views out across the Levels.
"It is incredibly inspiring. It is constantly changing; you can see so much of the sky and with the controlled flooding, at times it turns into a lake."
It suits him because: "When I'm working I need to focus and have as few distractions as possible so I can think things through."
Howard Jones is a thinker. In the early days his upbeat pop songs were both lyrically and musically profound, reflecting his personal beliefs and passions and drawing on his classical music training, mixed with a love of new progressive technology.
His new album is called Transform. In the accompanying press release Howard states: "It will discuss the idea that if we want to change the world for the benefit of everyone, first we have to start with ourselves."
Has Howard changed or 'transformed' over the years? I mention that perhaps he hasn't changed much, that he is as 'mindful' as he ever was (he was once described by Tim Rice as a 'pop philosopher'); but he seems a little disappointed at the suggestion.
Of course he would be. As a practicing Buddhist for 26 years, his whole life is a process of constant transformation.
"I like to think I've changed. When I found Buddhism it was my way, on a daily basis, of constantly trying to evolve and to contribute to the world I live in.
"It's what I've always been interested in, how we get this human life right, and be good to other people, and respect the fact we are alive."
His commitment to Buddhism has taken him around the county, including to Bath, Frome and Minehead, supporting people on a similar path.
His Buddhist work, using his music as a tool, is vital to him. "For me it's been about developing a philosophy of how to look at the world and mostly it comes back to us. We can choose to view it as a hopeless cause or as a situation full of opportunities and potential.
"It's implementing that thinking in whatever sphere of influence you have - and mine is music."
"That's the biggest thing I've got," he says.
There was a tremendous positivity in his old songs with lyrics like those in his first chart success single, New Song, encouraging us to "throw off our mental chains". Three decades later and the refrain is renewed in tracks like Beating Mr Neg: "I can win this time… the boy will do just fine."
But amid all this positive energy there are moments of pathos too. A track called Mother on the new album still makes him emotional, he says. "And I wrote it!"
His own mother died a few years ago. "It was always on my mind to write a song for her, but not just for her, for everyone."
He wanted the lyrics to be simple and straight to the point he says, in order to convey, "the real feeling you have for mothers, even if the relationship is not perfect."
"It was a very hard song to write and brought back all those feelings."
Howard Jones has sold millions of albums and has had 15 top 40 global singles. But he says, being recognised is never a problem - even though on a recent visit to Taunton he was stopped a few times for selfie photos.
"I'm not that famous… because I don't want to be, I just want to get on with my music."
Howard was in the county town for an appointment at Loud Mastering, the studio which worked on the Transform vinyl album.
"They have an incredible reputation for being one of the best mastering studios in the county, especially with vinyl... and it takes me just 15 minutes to get there!"
As well as living close to one of the top studios in the country, there are other advantages to being in Somerset, he says.
"I like to go to Bruton and the Hauser & Wirth gallery; Frome is an amazing place, I have an artist friend in the centre of town and there's the wine shop… I also like to walk down by Blue Anchor Bay, Minehead."
Then there's that view from his window… "It's a uniqe landscape and constantly changing and evolving….I can imagine ending my days here to be honest."
Transform released on CD and vinyl is available now. For details of his 35th anniversary Transform tour go to howardjones.com.