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Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Mysterious Lyrics of Howard Jones (and William Bryant)


I was relaxing in my favorite way this evening, by shuffling through my box of vinyl and thinking about what to play. My hands fell on the original US maxi single of "New Song" by Howard Jones. This extended version is different from the one on The 12" Album and was recently released on CD through Hi-Bias as part of their RetroActive series.

As I listened to the second track, "Conditioning", I started thinking about the lyrics. I always liked the line, "Well we think that you are John or Dave", just so different from normal pop lyrics. So, let me back up for a second to talk about my history with Howard.

The first album I ever owned was Dream Into Action, Howard's 1985 album. I bought it because I had liked both "Things Can Only Get Better" and "Look Mama" and one of the guys at school, who was generally considered cool, had a Howard Jones backpack. This was before I discovered Ultravox, New Order, or The Cure and he was the first artist I considered myself to be a big fan of. I can remember bringing home the album on the bus that day, being so excited because it was so much more substantial than the wispy singles I had previously been buying up. I also remember copying the album to a C-60 cassette tape and hand coloring the insert to make it look like the real one.

I really liked the album, and it was the first time that I realized that artists could produce meaningful work that was not a chart single or written in that format. One of my favorite tracks from the album was "Is There A Difference?" and I really identified with the concept of how people often drifted around without direction but we should seek fulfillment for ourselves.

I grew out of Howard quite fast. The follow up album One To One, produced by Arif Mardin, largely abandoned the whimsical synth sounds I had liked so much and by that time I was a dedicated Ultravox fan. Although I kept a copy of Dream Into Action, and eventually replaced it with a CD version. My favorite tracks were always from that album or from Human's Lib and also some of the B-Sides from that early period.

So with that background, let's get to the present and how I was looking at the lyrics for "Conditioning". For some reason I has always assumed that Howard wrote all his own lyrics, especially as there seemed to be a common, humanistic thread running through them all. I then noticed that the name "William Bryant" cropped up as the writer of the lyrics to "What Is Love", "Conditioning", "Human's Lib", "Hunt The Self" and several others, including my favorite B-Side, "It Just Doesn't Matter". It begged the question, just who was William Bryant and why have I never heard of his name in connection with Howard Jones before?

Of course the internet is an amazing place, and I found an interesting biography of Mr. Bryant here. Based on this account, it would appear that Bill Bryant was the person that encouraged Howard's pop career as well as his quest for spiritual enlightenment, and provided the impetus for much of the direction that he would continue to go in, developing the lyrics and encouraging the addition of mime to the concerts, among other things.

What's interesting to me is that there is absolutely no mention of any of this in Howard's official biographies, or sleeve notes, or on his website. It is claimed that the association was dropped by Howard as soon as he signed for WEA/Elektra and he never gave any further credit except for what was required by copyright law.

Naturally, I think there is a bigger story in this. Was Bryant a crank that Howard became reluctant to acknowledge? What broke apart their friendship, if, indeed that relationship existed in the way it was described? Whatever the truth is, it is clear that the lyrical concepts that Bryant is given credit for putting down on paper were important enough to signpost a direction that Howard would continue to take in all his subsequent work.

Well, that's enough sleuthing for today!

Howard Jones - It Just Doesn't Matter
Howard Jones - Conditioning

16 comments:

Jenny said...

Hey fiftypercent,

I like the story...interesting, I always pictured the lyrics always written by HJ -- it just seems like something he would do.

Quick question...I went to visit http://offtherecord-mikeyten.blogspot.com and it seems like he's gone private...any chance you could pass along my name to him so I can be added to his viewer list?? I don't have his personal email address.

Thank you!!

KulPop said...

Howard is still creating some great new music. He has a new album due out this fall called "Ordinary Heroes", and his last studio album "Revolution Of The Heart" is great - the song "Just Look At You Now" should have been a massive hit (and probably would have been if he had a major label promoting him these days).

Cheers,

KulPop

Saputra said...

I'm from Indonesia and obviously English is not my native tounge. I didn't learn English until the sixth grade. To improve my English I started to listen to western songs a lot. That's how I became the fan of HoJo in the 80's with his hit 'What is Love?'

I'm his fan until today. I own all his studio released CDs. Somehow I managed to get his Australian pressing of 'Revolution of the Heart' album which contains the bonus Remix CD here in Jakarta. As KulPop said, quite a decent CD indeed. I'm looking forward to his new album.

Cheers!

halfhearteddude said...

Jenny, Off The Record is public again, it seems. I visited it earlier today.

Anyway, a Howard Jones backpack and the guy was considered cool? At my school you'd be beaten up for being poncey and liking Roxy Music.

Anyway, Howard Jones had a fucking mime on stage. Whatever the merits of his music (and I'll allow a few songs, especially Things Can Only Get Better, which they didn't), the mime was unforgivable.

When I saw him in concert in 1984, during Like To Get To Know You Well, he instructed the audience to turn to the person next to them, and say the song title. I squirmed and prayed that nobody in my vicinity would do so. That day, I obtained absolute proof that Gd exists...

Mats said...

Interesting story! My very first LIVE concert ever was Howard Jones in 1984. With this weird mime, of course! Great concert!

Concering Bill's existence being totally ignored by Howard Jones: I'd say, Howard paid Bill well in order to get all the public credits on his very own. (This is my opinion only! I have no sources that could prove this theory.)

Anonymous said...

Hey 50%,

I grew up on Hojo too! Human"s Lib was the first HoJo album I bought (and I have every incarnation of it from the original vinyl, to the casette, and later on, the CD) and it immediately changed my outlook on song lyrics. His lyrics were very un-pop and shockingly positive. Shocking to me as I was listening to a lot of Sisters Of Mercy, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Echo & the Bunnymen at that time. Suffice it to say, HoJo Launched me into my love for synthpop which is sustained up to the present. "Hide and Seek" remains one of my favourite songs of all time and is so unlike me as the song is quite atmospheric, mystical, and it was basically the lyrics that pulled me in. I've been a fan ever since.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Cheers!
John R

Paul Linn said...

Hello, my name is Paul Linn, best friend to this day of Bill Bryant, who does exist, and did indeed used to write lyrics for Howard Jones, and guide him towards greatness. If you want further information and the truth about this story, then please e-mail me at paul@paullinn.fsnet.co.uk
or visit and get in contact via our website: www.paullinn.co.uk

pretenders said...

I agree with halfhearteddude anyday. I liked plenty of his songs, but NOT that, "I love
everyone" crap. Turn to the person next to you, and say goo goo. Can't stand it. Childish
pretentious crap. As if Howard goes around being so "nice" all day to everyone himself. Yeah right.

Bill Bryant said...

Hello...

I did indeed write the lyrics to Natural, Equality, Always asking questions, What is love, Conditioning, Human's lib, and co wrote Hunt the self...The original What is love was written by me, and Howard performed it that way for a long time. When he was signed to Warner's, he altered it slightly. Yes, I did get paid, and still do. I originally was very close with Howard's younger brothers, Martin and Roy. I was 22 years old, Martin 18, and Roy 16. They were, and very much still are great musicians. Martin asked me to write some "words" so that he could put them to music. What is love was written on a beer mat(s) outside the Crown pub in Radnage near High Wycombe. I still have the original recording of What is love on a very old cassette (now on CD (hissy of course))...Martin wrote the music, the concept, lyrics and guitar by me, and sung by Roy. Martin showed me how to play the chords to it. Equality, Conditioning, What is love, Always asking questions were all originally performed by Martin and Roy. I met their "at university" brother, Howard 2 years after meeting Martin and Roy. He altered the music, and off we went.....What about my cassette ! Maybe I should re-master it etc !

Bill Bryant

John Tason said...

Your link to Mr Bryant is dead. Try www.hunttheself.com

John said...

FYI You can find out more about the William (Bill) Bryant Howard Jones relationship at www.hunttheself.com - Bryant's website.

amadea the fellow howard fan said...

I always wondered about this, too! Now that I know the story, I bet this is what "Why Look For The Key" is about.

amadea said...

PS. When I was a kid I always thought the guy next to Howard with the big nose on the cover of Human's Lib was William Bryant.

Anonymous said...

Some years ago I lived near Wycombe and was getting home from Wooburn. On the way back, I was offered a lift in a car with two people who called themselves Bill Bryant and Mandy. He asked whether I was into Eastern stuff. I learned that they apparently lived in a group that Bill Bryant was head of, with a number of houses in the area between which they moved.

Some time later, Bill Bryant appeared in one of the local papers, their story being that he was miffed that Howard Jones had not acknowledged his help with career and songwriting. Howard was by then well known.

A person like Bill Bryant leaves a certain impression and I can well imagine him producing some of the song lyrics. I'm not convinced his idea of spirituality was leaning over and saying mushy things to the person next to you at a gig.

I notice that "Mandy" doesn't appear on the Wiki biographical entry, though I do remember a baby.....

Emma Edwards said...

Hello. I am that baby. I am the only child of Bill Bryant and his first wife Amanda. I am 35 now. I have never been married.

Although I hardly know Howard Jones, and I have never actually spoken to him about this, I can assure you that he has nothing but good and honourable reasons for cutting Bryant out of biographies etc., even though yes, the relationship did exist in the way it is described. I don't think that any of what Bryant has stated is untrue. But it is in fact essential for Howard to have no connection or association whatsoever, and he should not have to. His reasons have nothing to do with money, credit or acknowledgement. Howard is a really good man, a nice guy, who has been put in a very difficult position by fame and history, by no choice of his own.

Emma Edwards

Bill Bryant said...

Hello Scott......