So (deep breath) here is the first installment as promised…
1) Howard Jones, Wembley Arena, 17/4/85
My first ever gig, at the tender age of 15. Me and some mates from school. We were all very excited.
Howard Jones, though? Well, I’d been obsessed with “synth pop” since seeing Soft Cell and The Human League on Top of The Pops, but hadn’t been of the age to go to their gigs, right? And to the teen me, Howard Jones seemed like a continuation of that.
For those who don’t know him, Howard was a solo artist from Aylesbury (another London commuter-belt town) who experienced quite a bit of chart success in the mid 80s alongside similar artists like Nik Kershaw. I hated Nik Kershaw, though, obviously, because he wasn’t as good as (i.e. was too similar to) Howard Jones.
I even spiked my hair up like him and took to wearing an overcoat (no blonde for me though, that seemed like a step too far). It was to be the first of many unfortunate hair choices in my life, more about which in due course.
Anyway, the video for his first single “New Song” is on youtube. It features some nice footage of Holborn tube station and some digs at grown ups in suits, ha ha.
It was pop, it was of the moment. It has of course aged particularly badly. You can see with these early gigs, how the teenage me was into stuff that seemed sophisticated but was actually really trite. Howard had a load of songs about the injustices of the world and how everyone should just get along or see through their petty materialist illusions.
The first album, Human’s Lib, had been on rotation on the family cassette radio when I was washing up. Except I had to turn it off when one of the tracks on side two came on because it started “sometimes I’d like to go to bed with a hundred women and men”. I also used to own all his singles on 12″ and as previously confessed, this picture disc:
This gig was part of the tour to support the second album Dream Into Action, which included tunes like “Like To Get To Know You Well” and “Things Can Only Get Better” that in retrospect are a bit more “stadium synthpop” than his debut.
The gig itself was the loudest thing I’d ever heard at the time and there were loads of girls there. I was well happy. I bought a shit load of merchandise including a t-shirt, a metallic badge and a tour programme. I shudder to think how much money I’ve put in Howard’s pockets over the years, come to think of it.
I really enjoyed myself, we all did – finally seeing someone you’d listened to on a daily basis in the flesh… Our idol dedicated one song to all of us in the crowd who had fallen for our mate’s girlfriend/boyfriend. We all cheered, even though we hadn’t.
I love how this crap photo of the gig has now come into its own because it clearly shows the dodgy haircuts everyone had in the audience. It says here on the envelope that it was taken by my friend Tom.
As you can see, we were in the fourth row at Wembley Arena. How come? Well, because a mate and me were both in the Howard Jones fan club. Christ, how bad is that?
I guess that was the beginning of my musical nerdery and thoroughness – it wasn’t like you could just get on Howard’s myspace in 1985. Smash Hits only came out fortnightly in them days! You’d end up sending away a lot of stamped addressed envelopes and hassling your parents to write cheques for you just so you could be sent the odd badly photocopied newsletter. Which, without belabouring the point, you were chuffed to receive. There was no information overload, so the gaps in our knowledge were filled with speculations, fantasies. That gap is pre-filled these days with all the usual trainspottery dross on tap, with added celebrity culture if you are especially unlucky.
Anyway, for the sake of a few quid we got some fantastic seats.
We walked back to the tube station very happy, amongst a throng of people singing songs we’d all just heard. Somehow we managed to balls up reading the timetable and missed a few trains back to Hertfordshire. We didn’t care. My ears were ringing for a couple of days afterwards.
Howard and me slowly drifted apart, but my parents still receive the occasional postcard from his agents about what he is up to, two decades later. Listening to some of his tunes today is quite jarring – I still know many of them inside out, but they are remarkably shrill and preachy, even by mid 80s standards. Perhaps the most lasting legacy was that one of his instrumental b-sides was called “Tao Te Ching” and got me interested in the works of Lao Tzu…
Obviously part of me would rather that my first gig was something like Paul Meme sneaking into The Clash, but I’m too old to worry about my past. Writing this has brought back all sorts of memories – you forget how intense everything is when you’re 15. Howard Jones wasn’t cool even at the time – and neither was I.
And yes, the gig did feature rather literal performance artist Jed “throwing off” his “mental chains” woo woo woo.