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About this event
English singer-songwriter Jack Hues will discuss his varied musical career, key influences, inspirations and motivations – and share his insights on how music is faring in our fast changing world and the culture war.
Hues’ musical career and influences straddle popular and classical genres, from the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to Stravinsky, Beethoven and beyond. Having studied music at Goldsmiths and the Royal Academy of Music, and then launching his career in the late 1970s, as frontman of New Wave band Wang Chung, Hues enjoyed chart success in Britain, Europe and especially the US. He has never stopped creating music.
After several years of touring Wang Chung during the 1980s, Hues moved onto creating solo pieces including a number of film scores in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, he co-founded the jazz-influenced The Quartet, which released two albums, both to critical acclaim.
Between 2020 – 2022, he released two solo albums, “Primitif” and “Electro-Acoustic Works 20:20” and most recently a double live album with members of The Quartet, rock band Syd Artrhur and free jazz exponents Led Bib entitled “Epigonal Quark”, all receiving warm critical acclaim. He has also taught songwriting at Christ Church University in Canterbury.
Music fan and democracy campaigner, Niall Crowley, will explore a wide range of issues with Jack Hues, including how the music industry is evolving under changing political and social pressures; innovation, radicalism and conservatism in music; whether now is a good or bad time for music and budding musicians; and what is happening to music education.
Niall and Jack will welcome questions and contributions from the audience after the interview.
Extended biography of Jack Hues
Jack Hues studied at the Royal College of Music, he recorded sessions for John Peel, he topped the US charts, scored major Hollywood motion pictures and has released a string of ensemble and solo albums over the last 15 years including the critically acclaimed double LP “PRIMITIF” and collaborations with Tony Banks (Genesis), avant-jazz pioneers Led Bib, the Psych-Prog band Syd Arthur and vocalist Miss Baby N’Sola.
His most recent album, “Epigonal Quark”, a live double album featuring members of Led Bib and Syd Arthur, was released on October 25th 2022 and is the culmination of a career that has spanned 40 years and has seen Jack visit all four corners of the Earth, but we start our journey in Kent.
Jack grew up in Gillingham in the Medway Towns about 40 miles south-east of London. He was interested in music from an early age.
“My dad was a saxophone player and my grandfather was a musician too, but it was hearing “Please Please Me” by The Beatles on the radio when I was about 8 years old that made me wake up and think…ahhh, so this is MY music”.
Jack asked for a guitar that Christmas and while his parents agreed they insisted he have proper lessons. Twice weekly Jack was taught classical and folk guitar and, unusually, how to read music, a skill that would serve him well many years later.
“By the time I was 18, I had passed Grade 8 guitar and got a place at Goldsmiths College, London to study for a music degree. At this stage I knew very little about classical music – it was David Bowie and early 70’s Prog that was my focus. The lines between genres were about as loose as they have ever been. Classical music didn’t seem remote, although I was turned down by 4 out of the 5 universities that I applied to, as Rock music was considered worthless by academics at that time.”
Jack got his degree and won a BBC Composers Competition which enabled him to take a year at the Royal College of Music studying composition and electronic music.
“Those four years immersed in classical music, particularly modern classical music, were very important and expanded my musical horizons immensely. However, when I came out of college the musical language I “spoke” was rock music, albeit a highly seasoned vernacular”.
Jack played in a variety of bands until he met bassist Nick Feldman through a musicians wanted ad in the Melody Maker. They formed a couple of bands before finally distilling their talents into Huang Chung. The band later renamed themselves Wang Chung at the suggestion of the head of their record label, David Geffen. “The name still comes up now. It was even on Saturday Night Live in the US a couple of days ago. I guess David was right”.
Jack wrote the future hit-to-be “Dance Hall Days” while still teaching guitar at various schools around London. The song proved pivotal in the band’s development and established Wang Chung as an international success. They were signed direct to Geffen Records in the US so Jack’s career was based in LA throughout the 80’s.
“I was fortunate to work on movie soundtracks during this time. William Friedkin (director of “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist”) commissioned us to score his movie “To Live and Die in LA” which was an incredible opportunity. We contributed songs to “The Breakfast Club” and “Inner Space”.
In 1986 we had a Billboard #2 (Cashbox No. 1) hit in the US with “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” whose chorus line “Everybody have fun tonight, Everybody Wang Chung tonight” continues to capture the public imagination thirty years later”.
1987 saw Wang Chung on a coast to coast US tour with Tina Turner and gigs all over the world, but by 1989, the times they were were a’changing and the attention of the music business turned to Grunge and/or Hiphop. The band didn’t embrace either of those and eventually split in 1990.
“Through the 90’s I did various projects. I scored “The Guardian” for Bill Friedkin, I was the only composer to ever work for him twice! I recorded a solo album for Columbia in the US, but for various reasons the project foundered. I produced an album for Arkana and an EP for Arturo working with Mick Glossop, I co-produced a couple of albums with Chris Hughes for The Definition of Sound and Gene and I formed Strictly Inc. with Tony Banks (of Genesis) to record his eponymous solo album”.
Jack moved from London to Canterbury in 1998, only 25 miles away from where he was brought up and with it came began a new phase of his life which started to coalesce around Jazz. Jack met Sam Bailey and formed The Quartet recording 2 albums “Illuminated” and “Shattering” in the mid-Noughties with producer Chris Hughes (who had produced “Dance Hall Days”) on his Helium Label.
Wang Chung reformed and released their first new album in twenty years called “Tazer Up!” in 2012. Summer tours in the US followed, but after a couple of years Jack stepped back from gigs to consider what he really wanted to do as he entered his seventh decade.
“I released a trilogy of collaborative albums between 2013-18. My “jazz” work tended to be instrumental, focusing on my guitar playing, but meeting and working with poets revived my interest in words and music.
“ROTE-thru”is probably the most extreme experiment consisting of a long semi-improvised poem spoken by David Herd and Simon Smith set to music which I composed as 12 separate sections to be played in any order.
“A Thesis on the Ballad” to poems by Kelvin Corcoran is more conventional, setting his words to song-based structures, but including space for improvisation” .
Last, but not least, Jack recorded an arrangement of Beck’s “Nobody’s Fault but my Own” with his Quartet and members of Canterbury Prog band Syd Arthur plus Paul Booth on tenor sax, a recording that was released in 2019 to critical acclaim. Also in 2019, in a parallel universe, he recorded and released an album of orchestral versions of Wang Chung songs entitled “Orchesography “ to enthusiastic reviews.
Due to a series of personal losses, Jack found himself more concentrated on music than ever. In the first 3 months of 2018 he wrote and recorded most of PRIMITIF.
When asked to name the music that led him to the album classical composers such as Schubert, Mahler and Debussy rub shoulders with Miles Davis, Robert Wyatt, Jon Hopkins, The Books and Lana Del Rey. He also wanted to design the album specifically as a 4-sided, double vinyl album, each side having a distinct character in the manner of The Beatles’ “White Album” or Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland”.
“I worked on the album through 2018-19 with another intensive period of writing and recording at the beginning of 2019. The resulting double album is my first-ever solo release and is, for me, the culmination of nearly 60 years of fascination and ultimately, obsession with Music and Recordings”. PRIMITIF was released on Dawn Chorus Recordings on 20th March 2020.
In normal times Jack would have spent 2020 doing gigs in the USA and Europe promoting PRIMITIF, but 2020 was not normal times and Jack immersed himself in the studio once again to produce another album, “Electro-Acoustic Works 20:20”. Because of the necessary isolation this was very much a solo project, but it benefits from substantial contributions from vocalist Miss Baby N’Sola and trumpeter Daniel Cano.
“I listened to music, to audio books, read a lot, made guitar transcriptions of Thelonious Monk tunes… I set my living room up as a studio and began to write and record ideas as they came to me. Ted Hughes and John McLaughlin became big influences and I started to write about what was there in front of me, rather than what was in my head. And what was there in front of me? Deserted streets, quiet gardens, birdsong, no traffic, no aeroplanes, Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, Brexit, Trump, queues of ambulances outside hospitals, stupefying numbers of dead and dying. I made some journeys on the deserted motorways and on the bridges I saw graffiti. It said “Frootbat Reset” and I thought, exactly…
Released on 24th September 2021 it probably confused most reviewers with its mix of Progressive Rock, Jazz fusion, 70’s funk and acoustic folk… The isolation that produced “Electro- Acoustic Works” propelled Jack to listen to some recordings of live shows he had done in 2019 with musicians from Led Bib and Syd Arthur. Jack edited and mixed the Canterbury show with help from Joel Magill and Chris Merrick Hughes and the resulting album was released as a limited edition double album on vinyl entitled “Epigonal Quark”. A gig at the 2022 Canterbury Festival launched the album on 25th October 2022.
The first few months of 2022 were consumed working on “Epigonal Quark”.August to early October saw Jack on tour with Wang Chung in the USA playing shows across the country including a sold-out show at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
2023 will see the release of a comprehensive retrospective of the Wang Chung recordings from 1980-2012, together with new music and another extensive US tour.
Niall is a graphic designer and writer who lives in East London. He has a life long interest in music and music history, and has a passion for opera, classical and Northern Soul.
He is an active interest in issues relating to local democracy, including urbanisation, gentrification and citizenship . Niall stood as an independent candidate in the May 2022 London elections.
Follow Niall on Twitter: @nialldcrowley