It’s Friday night and the Public Halls venue in Harpenden, a green Hertfordshire commuter town, is rapidly filling. And judging by the audience, '80s hero Howard Jones would have been a teenage hero for most of those in attendance tonight. The anticipation is high for the hitmaker playing a very intimate solo show.
So with all that in mind, it’s no light challenge for tonight’s support, Rachael Sage, who’s come all the way across the Atlantic from New York, to join Howard on his tour and warm up the audiences. Particularly with a criminally early stage time of 7.30pm.
But like a true entertainer, none of this seems to faze Rachael, who appears with her purple hair and outfit — a colour scheme which it quickly transpires perfectly matches her personality. She opens with Heaven (Is A Grocery Store Clerk), in which she informs the audience, “I’ve been waiting all my life / to let go of this ever drifting psychedelic kite." Heads quickly been nodding along to Rachael’s unique brand of soft rock with its combination of folk and classical instrumentation.
Between songs, Rachael’s New Yorker charm seduces the Harpenden crowd, as she launches into her more bluesy number, Try Try Try. A special mention has to go to her inspirational piano-led song, I Don’t Believe It, which explores dealing with the naysayers in life: “Every time you tell me I’m not going to win, I don’t believe it.” On the evidence of this evening, if Rachael can continue blocking out those voices, nothing can stop her being a winner.
A short half an hour later, Howard Jones walks out on stage — no OTT intro music, nothing outrageous in terms of lighting. It’s just one man and his stage piano, and his adoring fans couldn’t be happier.
Sometimes these kind of shows have a faintly desperate air to them. Tonight is the complete opposite; Howard is triumphant. This isn’t an artist from the '80s trying to stay relevant, and struggling to pay his mortgage — it’s evident he still adores making and performing music as much as he ever has. His piano playing is spectacular, his trademark voice still fully alluring, and it’s all no doubt helped by the buddhist practise he alludes to several times throughout his set.
A nice touch is a satchel of requests he has brought on stage with him — he’s printed off emails from the audience, which he kindly reads out, most of which tell a story of how the person associates the song they’re requesting with a point in their life. In fact, the whole evening is very touching; at one point Howard plays a song he wrote about his daughter moving away for university, the bittersweet mixture of pride and having to let your child go.
And of course, the hits are interspersed in there. What Is Love?, Things Can Only Get Better, and Like To Get To Know You Well, the latter appended with an excellent anecdote: when Howard originally released the song in 1984, he received a worrisome call in the middle of the night from his Japanese representatives — the single’s title had been unfortunately translated to, I’d Like To Force Myself Upon You.
The main quality shared by Rachael Sage and Howard Jones is that both are true entertainers, always have been, and always will be. Howard is living life in the moment, and as such, there will always be a place for his music. Meanwhile, Rachael is making critical inroads into the UK, so hers is a name to remember.
Review by Adam Protz