Our fourth episode in a series of fifty two blogs on musical memories that draw back the curtains on the more personal side of Breaking More Waves.
Like any typical teenager, my musical tastes started to be formed in the school yard. My senior school was a pretty straightforward place in a relatively straightforward town, about 35 miles south-west of London. The town’s biggest claim to fame was a mention in the 1963 film adaptation of Lord of the Flies, but one of my most vivid memories in my early years was an eccentric weather worn old lady known as Camberley Kate who dedicated her life to rescuing stray dogs. We’d often see her around town, pushing a worn green cart with tens of dogs in tow, yelping, barking and clamouring for her attention. Probably these days Kate would be seen as an outcast and the public would call for the authorities to take control, but in the 1970’s Kate was a largely much-loved personality, the police supporting her in her selfless self-imposed duties.
The school populace was full of your usual characters – the cool kids, the bullies, the picked-upon, the brainboxes, all slowly finding their place in life. I wasn’t particularly interested in education in my teens – I couldn’t see relevance to the outside world, but once I left and started work as a trainee surveyor I began to build qualifications. Now I have more letters after my name than in it. Amongst the characters I had some good friends and slowly we found music. At one point in time the most popular band in school wasn’t The Smiths, The Cure or Talking Heads, but Level 42. I realised at that point that just following the peer group wasn’t for me.
My record collection was beginning to grow. Like many kids in the 80’s it was full of pop, electronic and new wave music. In 1984 a debut album by a spikey haired singer songwriter - Humans Lib by Howard Jones - resonated deeply. It was a synth pop record in the vein of Thomas Dolby or The Thomson Twins but it had a deeper heart than most pop – it was full of honest thought provoking lyrics that struck a chord with me as a young person still finding his place in the world; those lyrics and some of the philosophies in the record have stayed throughout my adult life and helped form the person I am. “I don't wanna be hip and cool, I don't wanna play by the rules,” sang Jones on his debut hit New Song, summing up exactly how I felt then and how I still feel now. Unlike the cool bands and artists of the time, Jones didn’t wallow in self-loathing and misery; instead he took a questioning but positive and upbeat approach to life. He didn’t blame others but took responsibility for himself. “Look in better places, gonna look inside,” he sang on Hunt the Self, before surging on with the line “nothing in my way now nothing can bring me down.”
If this is the Music That Made Me, then Howard Jones is most certainly a part of it - not only for the songs, but for the positive ideology that connected with me. Last year I appeared on stage in the literary tent at the Camp Bestival music festival telling a story of how Howard Jones had taken me on a musical journey – to this day that journey continues. There are so many Howard Jones songs I could pick to play, but I’ll choose one of his most well-known - What Is Love? A possible answer is in the song “Maybe love is letting people be just what they want to be.” Synth pop that looked at the human condition. It’s music that made me.