‘I bought sound gear with my wife’s injury money’ – Howard Jones on New Song

Howard Jones, singer-songwriter, musician

I’d tried everything from recording sessions at Manchester Piccadilly Radio at four in the morning to recording an eight-minute version of Bohemian Rhapsody, but had ended up rolling clingfilm in a factory in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The people there were salt of the earth and would chuckle when I’d say: “One day I’ll walk out of here to do my music.”

While I was working at the factory my wife, Jan, and I also started a fruit and veg round, but we were losing money every week. Then one night a drunk driver hit our van. We both could have died and Jan damaged her back, but she gave me the compensation money to spend on sound gear. I thought: “Whatever it takes, I’m going to go for it in music.”

Gary Numan – bless him, I’ll always be grateful – said: ‘This is great. It’s going to be a hit’

I set up a PA system in the house and would play so loud that the neighbours would bang on the walls or dig up our flowers. I wrote New Song as my own manifesto. “Don’t crack up, bend your brain, see both sides, throw off your mental chains.” That wasn’t a Karl Marx reference. It was about wanting to let go of everything that was holding me back. I’d been listening to bands like Japan on the radio. The synth riff was me channelling Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Everything was played in real time, not sequenced like you’d do now. When I played New Song live for the first time in the Osborne Arms, just outside High Wycombe, everyone went mad for it.

I had been rejected by loads of record companies, but then legendary A&R man, Paul Conroy, took an interest and was about to sign me to Stiff. Then he suddenly said: “Don’t sign the contract!” He’d landed the job as MD of Warner Brothers and wanted me to go with him, so I ended up at the best record company I could possibly imagine. New Song was played on Radio 1’s jukebox jury show, Round Table. I was listening in my bedroom when Gary Numan – bless him, I’ll always be grateful – said: “This is great. It’s going to be a hit.”

The single took ages to get in the Top 40, but then one week, when several other bands were unavailable, I was offered Top of the Pops and the song took off, reaching No 3. In the video I’m working in a factory and then drive off in a Rolls-Royce. It wasn’t like that in reality, but people from the factory came to my gigs and said: “We’re really proud of you. You’ve done exactly what you said you would.”

Jed Hoile, dancer

I first met Howard in a record shop. He walked in wearing a long coat, with Jan. I thought he looked really cool, then I met him again with a group of people who had the same philosophical way of thinking and I got to know him properly. I remember him talking about how most songs were love songs, but how he wanted to do something different.

I became a sort of roadie, setting up the equipment when he played in pubs and clubs. While he was on stage, I used to jump around in the audience, dance and interpret the songs. Eventually I got up and started doing it onstage behind him.

We did some crazy stuff: TV screens playing videos, mannequins dressed up in weird gear, makeup, face paint. In one song, Howard would “die” and come back as a ghost. In another I used to come out of the audience and “shoot” him with a gun. You’d get arrested for that stuff nowadays. Initially we both wore costumes to illustrate the songs, then Howard started to dress more like a musician while I did the visual stuff.

For a song called Conditioning, I wore a white face with lines down it representing prison bars, so when I heard the line about chains in New Song I took that idea further and started wearing chains. After we did New Song on Top of the Pops I became known as “the chains guy” – for the Christmas edition the BBC put tinsel on the chains. When we did Saturday Superstore, the kids’ show on BBC1, they wouldn’t let me wear the chains because they thought it was some sort of weird fetish thing.

I danced with Howard for several years – touring the world and everything. We’re still mates and I still go to his gigs sometimes. A couple of years ago I discovered a Jed Hoile Appreciation Society on Facebook. I couldn’t believe it, but it was really nice to see people still taking an interest after nearly 40 years.

• Howard Jones Trio tour the UK from 14–30 October.