If the name HoJo conjures up images of big hair and '80s synth pop, the Retro Futura concert might just be playing your song.
On July 23, Retro Futura will bring together Howard Jones (HoJo to his fans), Men Without Hats and The English Beat at Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre. As pioneers of synth pop, each of these artists helped shape the music of the '80s — a time when synthesizers came of age and opened up a new world of sound technology. Audacious, outside-the-box songwriting and the genesis of MTV left behind a legacy of catchy pop tunes and visually stunning — if sometimes bizarre — music videos that are finding a new generation of fans.
'Like to Get to Know You Well'
Howard Jones is no stranger to Utah.
The pop star has performed in local venues numerous times over the past 30 years and recalls forging a relationship with Utah fans the first time he played here.
"I just seemed to make a connection with the audience right from the word go,” he said in an interview with the Deseret News. "I think Salt Lake City people really got where I was coming from with my lyrics. They’re very positive and very hopeful about the future, and I think I struck a chord with people there."
Jones' positivity has been one of the hallmarks of his 30-year musical career. He’s been criticized in the past for being overly cheerful in his music, but he stands by his philosophy.
“What you get in my music is the victory of the positive over the negative," he said. "I’ve always wanted to make the music be like the best part of me. I think of the lyrics as being like cheerleading — we can do this, we can create a better world for ourselves and for other people."
Given Jones' love of new technology, it’s no surprise that he continues to embrace the futura aspect of the Retro Futura tour.
“I’m a man of my time,” he said. "I want to use the technology available now and bring music to people in a different way."
Concertgoers can download an app that allows them to interact with the show, from flashing lights and sending messages to pressing a wolf icon to howl along with Jones during his 1985 hit “Life in One Day.”
'We Can Dance If We Want To'
Retro Futura is billed as "America's premier '80s concert tour," and a quick glance at their lineup proves why. The tour is an offshoot of the whole-day music festivals currently popular in the U.K., an idea that Jones says they're trying to get going in America as well.
Joining Jones on tour is the Canadian group Men Without Hats — of "Pop Goes the World" and "Safety Dance" fame. Lead singer Ivan Doroschuk said that touring now is much the same as it’s always been, except for one hazard:
“The hotel room keys are cards now. They don’t have the numbers printed on them and it’s very confusing.”
On a more serious note, the musician acknowledges that “the fans are a bit older but they’re what keeps us going. That’s the fuel for me anyway.”
He believes the continued popularity of '80s music is partly due to the fact that “it’s essentially a dance music and it’s tuneful. The melodies were really catchy and joyful, and I think that’s why people are still into it,” he said.
Doroschuk's brother Colin was one of the original Hats and will be popping in on the tour from time to time. His schedule isn’t set yet, so his appearances will be a surprise to everyone, including Doroschuk.
The unknown keeps the tour interesting for the lead singer, although he is sure of one thing: Audiences will want to hear his song "Safety Dance." Its been 35 years since “Safety Dance” hit No. 1 on the U.S. dance charts, but Doroschuk hasn't gotten tired of it.
“I actually feel like the song is a lot bigger than I am, and I feel like a custodian, going around the world just presenting it to people," he said. "It’s a lot of fun. I don’t regret playing it at all. The smile on people’s faces is the payback too, so it’s great.”
The Beat goes on
Rounding out the Salt Lake City stop of the Retro Futura concert is British group The English Beat, known to fans for their reggae and ska infused pop.
Along with hits like “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Save it for Later,” The English Beat will also be playing some of their General Public tracks. General Public was formed by lead singer Dave Wakeling along with bandmate Ranking Roger while The English Beat went on hiatus in 1983. Tunes like “Tenderness” and “Hot, You’re Cool,” remind fans why the irresistible beats of the '80s still tempt people to get up and dance.
'Things Can Only Get Better'
There is nothing new about nostalgia tours — musicians from the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and beyond are crisscrossing the country, reminding fans of their younger years. But the Retro Futura Tour is more than just a tribute to the past — it's also a nod to the future.
Howard Jones's 1985 hit “Things Can Only Get Better” encouraged listeners to “get to 60 and feel no regrets.” Now at age 62, Jones has the benefit of hindsight.
“Every time I sing (that line), I always sort of smile inwardly to myself and I would say, 'Yeah, that I do feel like that,'" Jones said. "I’ve taken risks, and I haven’t left anything in the locker room. I’ve given it everything I had, and no, I don’t have any regrets. I’m really happy with the position I’m in.”
Which may be the true legacy of '80s pop — a message of hope for the future, set to a beat you can dance to.
Janica Meiners is an adjunct English professor at BYU-Idaho. You can contact her at [email protected]