“I can excuse the little one, but not you!” says China Crisis frontman Gary Daly over the microphone as my 9 year old son and I arrive slightly late, one song into their set. It’s actually the first time I’ve ever been properly heckled by the act on stage, but I won’t be the last. Oh hell no. There are plenty more folk who come in later than us, and Daly takes the piss out of them relentlessly. It’s hilarious banter from the Liverpudlian, and coupled with the fact that this band are also awesome musicians, as well as having some truly joyous, epic sounding records in their back catalogue from which to draw, it makes them the perfect support band. Of course, the biggenst applause is reserved for the massive killer hits ‘King In A Catholic Style‘ and ‘Wishful Thinking‘, but I would proffer that practically ANYBODY there who was unfamiliar with their work before tonight, will be rushing out to fill Flaunt shaped holes in their record collection tomorrow. And so they should.
When you think of singers with powerful voices, you tend to think of folk like soul goddess Aretha Franklin or rock opera types like Meat Loaf, right? The name Howard Jones rarely (ok, never) comes up in lists such as these, but tonight, at the pre-show meet and greet, he sings a quite remarkable impromptu version of ‘Don’t Always Look At The Rain‘ from debut long player Human’s Lib, accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar, after which everyone is scraping their chins off the floor. There is a short Q&A which follows (my son is chuffed to bits to get the first question in, and Howard answers in typically brilliant storytelling fashion) then finally photo opportunities for everyone present.
At the actual gig a few hours later, Jones surprises everybody by beginning with arguably his most popular song amongst fans, the spine tingling ‘Hide And Seek‘, in stripped back form, from behind the piano, whilst recalling amusing anecdotes about Live Aid. It’s as good an opening number as I’ve seen by anybody since Pixies started with ‘Cecilia Ann‘ at the same venue way back in the early nineties.
Speaking of which, something happened to Howard in that particular decade that turned him on to trance/techno/IDM artists like BT (with whom he worked on his latest album Transform), and since then, his music has edged ever closer in that direction, though you could never level the accusation of ‘making the same album twice’ at Howard. Still, much of tonight’s set is made up the thumping electronica of his post-1980s period, and, although many artists would falter here, and be met with a chorus of “play something we know” from a restless audience, the truth is his recent output just sounds so damn exciting in a live environment (with, it must be said, a quite spectacular stage show) that it doesn’t even matter that the likes of ‘Look Mama’ and ‘No One Is To Blame‘ are omitted from the set in favour of more up-to-date stuff.
Interspersed with the high octane dramatics of pounding dance tunes (the ones from Transform are especially effective), we have slightly bastardised piano versions of ‘Life In One Day‘ and ‘Pearl In The Shell‘, and faithful recreations of ‘New Song‘, ‘Like To Get To Know You Well‘ and ‘What Is Love?”
By the end, EVERYBODY is on their feet and singing at the tops of their voices. Howard knows how to work an audience, he really does. A truly fantastic night.