Interview with Mick Jones (Foreigner)

They have sold millions of albums worldwide and Foreigner are heading back to the UK with Europe and FM in April. Mick Burgess caught up with Mick Jones to chat about the tour and the latest developments with the band.

At the end of March you will be starting your latest UK tour in Dublin. Are you looking forward to playing over here again?

Very much so. It’s been too long since we last played over here so we can’t wait to get started. The UK is always special for me being English and I end up being the tour guide for everyone else.

Where are you from originally?

My family is from Portsmouth and I lived there for about a year just before I joined Spooky Tooth. I went there all the time on holiday. I was actually born in the heart of the country in Somerset and I left England in 1973.

What do you miss most about the UK when you are away?

I think most of all I miss the humour. It’s a little difficult to get people to understand English humour as most of the time we take the mickey out of ourselves and a lot of other cultures don’t seem to be able to do that. I think most people are proud to be British whatever the history of our nation is. If it wasn’t for England everyone in America would be speaking Spanish or French.

How many shows have you got lined up in total?

I think we’ll be playing about 12 shows. We wanted to make sure we covered more than just the main cities as we wanted to play to as many people as possible. We’ll be playing a couple of shows in Scotland and Ireland as well as Bristol and Sheffield where we haven’t played much before. We’ll also be playing in Portsmouth too.

You’ve also just added an extra acoustic show at Shepherd’s Bush on 12th April. Why did you decide to do this during the tour?

We started doing some acoustic shows a couple of years ago as we’d never really done that much before other than a couple of shows here and there and one or two songs acoustically in our set. We found that with everybody in the band being such great musicians and vocalists that we could really pull this off acoustically. We booked some shows in America and they were so successful we thought we’d do more. It gives us another slant to the songs and maybe a better understanding of how they were performed in the first place. If it sounds good on acoustic guitar then that’s the sign of a good song.

Are there any songs you tried that just didn’t work in the acoustic format?

We’ve got a full set of acoustic songs and to be honest there’s no song that we tackled that didn’t work.

Other than being an acoustic show it’s also a little different to your usual show as you’ll be doing a Q&A too. How will you do that on the night?

Sometimes they submit questions beforehand and sometimes it’s during the session. I don’t get to see any of the questions beforehand unfortunately so it’s all live and I have to answer them on the spot. I enjoy doing it, it’s a lot of fun.

Many of the shows are sold out already. That must be satisfying for you to hear?

That’s such a great feeling and it’s very special for me to hear that.

On this tour you’ll be joined by Europe and FM. That’s another great package for the fans. Were you involved in putting that together or did the promoters pitch this to you?

The promoters got a list of the available bands and we had recently done a show at the i-Tunes festival with Europe at the Roundhouse in London and I was so impressed with their show. They had so much energy and the music was excellent. I think that will give us a big push to go on and follow that. FM are a great band too and all three bands have fantastic singers and great songs to play. It makes for a great show for the audience.

How much time will you get on stage each night?

I think we’ll get about an hour and 30 or 40 minutes each night.

Have you had any thoughts about what you’ll be playing on the tour?

It usually depends on whether we feel the set needs an injection of something or if something needs changing around. It’s a democratic process and we see how we all feel. We do a couple of new songs from our last album Can’t Slow Down. Of course we’ll play the hits that everyone wants to hear, “Juke Box Hero”, “Urgent” and “I Want To Know What Love Is” and we might put in a couple that we don’t often play. We’re toying with doing something from the Mr Moonlight album as we haven’t really done much from that album before and we might do “Starrider” again as that went down really well last time. We might do another track from the 4 album, maybe “Break It Up”. We should have a pretty good mix for the fans.

It’s good to see Foreigner playing in the theatres on this tour rather than the arenas. Do you feel this gives a more personal experience for the fans?

I think these shows are more intimate and they capture the feel of the audience more. It’s much more personal in the theatres and there’s a better connection with the audience too.

The last time you played at the Newcastle City Hall, your singer Kelly Hansen walked out into the audience over the backs of the seats. Do you worry about him when he’s out in the crowd like that? Has he had any mishaps?

Once or twice he’s hurt himself a little bit. He’s a bit adventurous on stage and we do get a little worried about him at times but he usually makes it back on stage OK. I think the crowd gets a kick out of it when he does that. Kelly connects so well with the audience.

On 14th February you release I want To Know What Love Is-The Ballads. What made you decide to release an album of entirely ballads?

There’s some of the tracks on there that haven’t really seen the light of day and I think it’s good to represent the band as it is now. The reaction has been very good and a lot of fans have been really into it. It’s a sort of in between album as we are currently working on a new album which should be out later in the year and that’ll include some special guests. They will be new recordings and rearranged depending on who the guests are. We hope they’ll bring their interpretation and enthusiasm to the recordings and shake it up and we’ll see what comes out. Hopefully that’ll be out later this year.

Are you allowed to reveal who the guests are or is it top secret?

Unfortunately not but I can tell you that we are hoping for a singer from Newcastle and that’s all I can say at this stage other than he wears a cap!!

There’s a bonus disc with the deluxe version. What’s included on that?

They were recorded at a show in Germany for a radio show and we thought they sounded great and the reaction has been fantastic so we thought we’d put it out as a special bonus feature for anyone who wanted to hear them.

In 2012 you underwent heart surgery. Are you feeling back to your best now?

I’m fine now thanks. It wasn’t heart surgery as such but more opening the arteries up as I had bad circulation. Luckily I came through it all and I’m feeling brand new.

You had to step down from Foreigner for a while. How many shows did they play without you?

They were doing a bunch of corporate shows so it wasn’t quite so important that I was there in front of a load of inebriated business men. I desperately wanted to keep the band together while I was recuperating and that’s why we got a guitarist to fill in for me. It was a little tough wondering where they were playing but I knew that band was in safe hands.

Did you go and see any shows just to make sure they weren’t misbehaving?

I couldn’t quite bring myself to pop in unannounced to see how they were doing without me. I watched a few of their shows on YouTube and they sounded great.

Kelly Hansen has been with you as your lead singer for nearly 10 years now. He had such a tough job filling Lou Gramm’s shoes. When did you first realise that Kelly was the perfect replacement?

From the first time we met and the first time we had a run through some of the songs I knew there was something pretty special. I knew there was a possibility that he could rise to the occasion and he did and even more than that. He has a fantastic voice and a great stage presence. He’s able to interpret the songs so well and do that night after night.

What about as a writing partner. How does he differ to working with Lou?

They are completely different. They are two different types of guys. Similar in some ways and they are both great vocalists but maybe Kelly is more outgoing than Lou.

You recently worked with Lou again after quite a few years of having no contact. What lead to that?

Me and Lou have reconnected again after a few years at the Songwriters Hall of Fame so it was great to see Lou and perform together. We performed a couple of songs together for the first time in ages and it was great to see him again and work with him. We were never bosom buddies but we went through a lot together. We weren’t always able to see eye to eye and couldn’t always communicate what we meant but there was a real mutual respect. I suppose it was a bit like a marriage spending so much time with somebody. We had our ups and downs and hopefully we’re OK now.

Do you think time has healed old wounds and maybe you’ll write and perform again in some way sometime?

Lou said he had come across a few songs that we had started but hadn’t finished from years ago so we’ll take a look at those and you never know.

You played with Led Zeppelin at the tribute show to Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun in 2007. How was it for you seeing Led Zeppelin perform one more time?

That was an incredible show. We were the only band that survived and didn’t pull out. There was going to be a whole selection of Atlantic Records artists over the years including The Stones, Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend and a bunch of classic artists. I think when everyone found out they’d be up against Led Zeppelin they pulled out apart from us. That was Zeppelin’s show really but it was great being a part of it.

You’re not only a songwriter and performer in Foreigner but you’re also a producer who has worked with such artists as Billy Joel, Van Halen, Ben E King, Tina Arena and The Cult. How do you see your role as a producer and how do you influence how a record is made?

I already had some studio experience before I founded Foreigner so I was familiar with production techniques. I think being a songwriter I was able to put the songs under the microscope and see if I was able to improve them or make the arrangement more efficient. I always felt one of my specialties was getting performance out of lead singers. My priority was to get the vocalist to sound convincing and real. I wanted to get their personality into the songs. I always made sure I worked with great engineers so I didn’t have to worry about the sound too much. I just wanted to concentrate on the songs and what the album was all about. It was all about give and take but if there was something I was opinionated about that I felt was good for the song and for the performance I would fight for it.

Your step son is Mark Ronson who worked with the likes of Amy Winehouse. When did you first realise that he had musical flair?

I think it was almost right from the beginning. He has been exposed to a wide variety from a very early age. His natural father had very good taste in music and then he was 7 years old when I came along and it just carried on. He sometimes came down to the studio to hang out and that had an influence on him. At home we listened to a wide variety of music from R&B to Rock and other styles too. He had the desire and passion to learn about music.

Do you share production ideas together? Does he bring new ideas and technology to you and you bring you experience to him?

We talk about production and share ideas. He’s a purist and very much old school. He prefers working in analogue and doing things the old fashioned way. He really wants to get the right sound like they did in the ’60’s. He’s a retro sound producer and brings that to the artists he works with.

He actually co-produce the last Foreigner album, Can’t Slow Down in 2009. What was his role in the studio?

He did a version of “I’m A Fool For You Anyway” . We did that using the old school approach and you can hear his influence in there, it sounds like it was recorded in Memphis.

What are your plans for the rest of 2014?

We’ll be playing some shows in Europe then we’ll head back to The States for a mammoth tour with Styx and the original guitar player with The Eagles, Don Felder and we’ll get together during the shows and play a couple of acoustic versions of each band’s hits which should be fun. It’s going to be a pretty full year and we’ll also be doing an acoustic tour of Germany in beautiful art deco theatres and maybe we’ll bring that over to England too.

Foreigner’s UK Tour with Europe and FM starts on 1st April at The Waterfront Hall, Belfast and ends at The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton on 15th April.

Tickets for Foreigner’s UK tour with Europe and FM are on sale now priced £38.50 regionally and £39.50 in London.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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