‘I Bought Sound Gear With My Wife’s Injury Money’ – Howard Jones on New Song

Howard Jones, singer-songwriter, musician

I’d tried everything from recording sessions on Manchester’s Piccadilly Radio at 4am to an eight-minute version of Bohemian Rhapsody, but ended up filming cling film in a factory in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The people there were salt of the earth and laughed when I said, “One day I’m going out here to make my music.”

While I was working at the factory, my wife Jan and I also started a fruit and veg circuit, but we were losing money every week. Then one night a drunk driver hit our van. We could both have died and Jan could have injured her back, but she gave me the compensation I could spend on audio equipment. I thought, “Whatever it takes, I’ll try in music.”

I set up a PA system in the house and played it so loud that the neighbors banged on the walls or dug up our flowers. I wrote New Song as my own manifesto. “Don’t react, bend your brain, see both sides, throw off your mental chains.” This was not a reference to Karl Marx. It was about wanting to let go of everything that was holding me back. I had heard bands like Japan on the radio. The synth riff was channeled from Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Everything played in real time, not sequenced like you would now. When I first played New Song live at the Osborne Arms, just outside High Wycombe, everyone went crazy for it.

I was turned down by a lot of record companies, but then legendary A&R man Paul Conroy got interested and wanted to sign me to Stiff. Then all of a sudden he said, ‘Don’t sign the contract!’ He had landed the job as CEO of Warner Brothers and he wanted me to go with him, so I ended up with the best record company I could think of. New Song was played on Radio 1’s jukebox jury show Round Table. I listened in my bedroom as Gary Numan – bless him, I will always be grateful – said, “This is great. This is going to be a hit.”

The single took forever to get into the top 40 but then when several other bands were unavailable I was offered Top of the Pops after a week and the song took off and peaked at number 3. In the video I’m working in a factory and then drive off in a Rolls-Royce. It wasn’t really like that, but people from the factory came to my performances and said, “We’re really proud of you. You did exactly what you said.”

Jed Hoile, dancer

“The BBC chained tinsel for the Christmas Top of the Pops” … Jed Hoile took the stage in 1984. Photo Credit: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images

I first met Howard in a record store. He came in in a long coat with Jan. I thought he looked really cool, then I met him again with a group of people who had the same philosophical mindset and I really got to know him. I remember he was talking about how most of the songs were love songs but he wanted to do something different.

I became sort of a roadie setting up the gear when he played pubs and clubs. While he was on stage, I jumped around in the audience, danced and interpreted the songs. Eventually I got up and started doing it on the stage behind him.

We did some crazy stuff: TV screens playing videos, mannequins in weird clothes, makeup, face painting. In one song, Howard would “die” and come back as a ghost. In another, I got out of the audience and “shot” him with a gun. Nowadays you would be arrested for that. Initially we both wore costumes to illustrate the songs, then Howard started dressing more like a musician while I did the visual stuff.

For a song called “Conditioning” I wore a white face with lines on it representing prison bars. So when I heard the line about chains in “New Song” I took that idea further and started wearing chains. After we did New Song on Top of the Pops I became known as The Chains Guy – for the Christmas edition the BBC brought tinsel to the chains. When we were on Saturday Superstore, the children’s show on BBC1, they wouldn’t let me wear the necklaces because they thought it was some kind of weird fetish thing.

I’ve danced with Howard for several years – toured the world and all sorts of things. We’re still buddies and I still go to his gigs sometimes. A few years ago I discovered a Jed Hoile Appreciation Society on Facebook. I couldn’t believe it, but it was really nice to see that people are still interested in it after almost 40 years.

The Howard Jones Trio will be touring the UK from October 14th to 30th.

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