Twenty-five years ago, Howard Jones stood alone on a stage in front of a Wembley Stadium audience of 70,000 and a global TV audience of 2 billion and played a single song. It was, of course, Live Aid, and before the day was over he'd shared the spotlight with music icons George Michael, Bono and Freddie Mercury.
On Thursday, Jones, 55, will take the stage at the Largo Cultural Center — a much more intimate setting — and play the cheery and optimistic synth-pop tunes (New Song, Everlasting Love, Things Can Only Get Better) that were regularly in the Top 10 and in heavy rotation on MTV during the mid to late '80s.
Still recording today, his latest album, Ordinary Heroes, continues to celebrate his never-give-up attitude. During a recent tour stop in Oman, he called the Times to talk about his memorable gigs and the genesis of his uplifting songs.
Are you really calling from Oman?
Yes, yes, I am. We're doing a concert tomorrow night.
Is that the strangest gig you've ever played?
I played in Gorky Park once, in Russia, the weekend of the Gorbachev-Reagan summit. That was really amazing because the audience actually knew my songs, and the band that had been on before me had been hunted by the KGB. That was pretty amazing.
Come on. Not more amazing than playing Live Aid!
I was very, very happy to be a part of that. I know I only played one song — Hide and Seek — but that song is me. I wasn't one of the ones pushing to get hold of the microphone. I was just happy to be there and share the stage with those amazing artists.
I have a poster of the final moments of Live Aid on my wall at home, and there you are, front and center. You have a look of total contentment and glee on your face.
Oh, that's great! It was a euphoric day. I don't think you could ever surpass that day in the sense of occasion.
Your songs are generally very positive. Is that intentional?
Yes, very much so. When I started out, I'd been working in a factory a year before I got signed. I'd been working on the shop floor. Obviously, my dream was to be pursuing my music. I said to the guys there, "One day, I'm going to leave here, because I got to pursue what I really love." And they kind of shrugged their shoulders. But one day I did walk out. And I think a lot of the momentum of my career was about wanting to encourage people to realize their own dreams as well. I wanted to put that in the music — the idea that you could influence your destiny by deciding you wanted something different.
For my Stuck in the '80s blog, I once ranked the 80 happiest songs of the '80s …
… And your tune New Song ended up No. 1.
[Laughing] I'm thrilled! I'm actually thrilled about that!
Did I pick the right song?
Yes, I think so. It was me, first time in the studio. I was so excited about getting to do what I wanted to do. Don't crack up / Bend your brain / See both sides / Throw off your mental chains. It is my manifesto.
Steve Spears is the host of the Stuck in the '80s podcast and blog. Hear the complete interview at tampabay.com/blogs/80s.