Howard Jones

It’s 40 years since Howard Jones first crashed into the Top 10 with ‘New Song’. To mark the occasion, Cherry Red have issued a superb career retrospective, ‘Celebrate It Together’. And it all started with the coolest teacher in High Wycombe

photo: simon fowler

TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL

“I went to the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe and was mad about music. The biology teacher, Jez Lingard, had a Hammond L100 organ that he kept in the main hall of the school. He used to invite people to have a go on it at lunchtimes, and I was there, because an L100 was what Keith Emerson played! It was quite an upright school, but Jez was one of the cool teachers. He had a moustache, and dressed a bit differently to everyone else.

“The actual head of music didn’t like me. I had long hair, and he wouldn’t let me do music A-level. I had Grade 8 piano, but he didn’t believe me [laughs], so I wasn’t getting anywhere with that. But I had a fantastic time on the Hammond, playing blues jams.”

KEITH EMERSON

“I was into The Nice. There’s a song – ‘Hang On To A Dream’, a Tim Hardin cover – that I performed at a school concert. That was the first time I learned one of Keith’s pieces. Then they actually played High Wycombe Town Hall, and I couldn’t go! But when Emerson, Lake & Palmer formed, I saw their second performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970, and it was mind-blowing. They had cannons onstage, and nearly blew up the island.

“In 1989, Keith came to interview me for Keyboard magazine. He turned up in leathers, on a huge Harley-Davidson – full-on Keith Emerson! He came into the studio and started playing my Hammond C3 backwards, from the other side, and nobody can do that. He was amazing.

“Then I got to do an incredible thing. Ringo Starr invited me to be part of his All-Starr Band, and Greg Lake was one of the members. So every night, we did ‘Karn Evil 9’ with me on keyboards, Greg on bass and singing, and Sheila E on drums. The most unlikely power trio! It took me two months to learn how to play it, but Greg was over the moon.”

‘SGT PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND’

“I think it was the second LP I had. The first was by Blood, Sweat & Tears – which is probably quite unusual. I was living in Canada with my parents at the time, and had a tiny record player that cost $25. And my copy of ‘Sgt Pepper’ was the mono version – I’ve still got it, but it’s a bit dog-eared. I gave it a good thrashing on a daily basis.

“It’s so eclectic. And so English, with the brass bands. I loved the clothes as well… the satin outfits – they just looked great.”

THE 1970 ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL

“I was 15. Bob Dylan had played the year before, and my parents wouldn’t let me go. I cried pretty much the whole summer. But in 1970, my best friend Chris Smith and I hitched down there, set up our tent, and saw the greatest music of the time.

“It was unbelievable. As well as ELP, we saw The Who, The Doors, Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix – two weeks before he died. I’d seen the ‘Woodstock’ film at the cinema and I bet Chris that Hendrix would play ‘God Save The Queen’ as he came out – and he did! So I had clairvoyant abilities that I didn’t know about [laughs]. It all had a profound effect on me – ‘Well, I think I now know what I want to do with my life’.”

‘SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE’

“I love Stevie Wonder. He’s always experimenting with new keyboards – he quickly jumped onboard with Moogs, and would be fascinated by any new instrument. The social commentary on that album is also incredible, and those two factors are a really nice combination.

“I was invited to perform at the 1985 Grammys in Los Angeles, and they wanted to put a keyboard group together. So it was Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, me and Thomas Dolby! The giants and the new boys. It was a good move, because it made people realise that synthesisers were just instruments – they weren’t going to turn up at your door and take your children. ‘It’s OK to use synthesisers!’ The credibility of Stevie and Herbie settled everything down.”

‘THE BUDDHA IN DAILY LIFE’

“Richard Causton was the first director general in the UK of the Buddhism organisation I belong to. He’d been a brigadier in the army, and he came to Buddhism late in life. But he wrote this book, ‘The Buddha In Daily Life’, and it’s a really clear way of describing Nichiren Daishonin. It makes the practice very relevant to daily life. 

“People think of Buddhism as being some esoteric activity where you separate yourself from the world, but that’s not the Buddhism I practise. I’ve got a great friend in the designer Jeff Banks, who made all my clothes in the 1980s. Jeff is very gregarious, has time for everyone and is upbeat about everything, and I thought, ‘I want to be more like that!’. He told me he practised Buddhism, and it was him who first taught me how to do it.”

DAVID BOWIE AT GLASTONBURY 2000

“I was there, and I honestly think it’s the best gig I’ve ever seen. He was on such good form. Mike Garson came out and started playing and there was no sound, so it got off to a shaky start. And Bowie was incredibly nervous. But he got a really great reaction from the audience and you could see him relaxing into it. The band were on fire, Bowie was on fire, and I’m so glad I got to witness it.

“I love everything about Bowie. The originality, the dedication to his art, his clothes, the look, the hair… the whole presentation of himself as an artist. It’s a lesson to anyone who wants to do that kind of thing. Being David Bowie was his whole life, and that’s why he was so good.”

‘Celebrate It Together – The Very Best Of Howard Jones 1983-2023’ is out on Cherry Red

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