On 15 September this year, Kelly Jones and his wife and three daughters were standing at London’s Parson’s Green tube station just minutes before a terrorist bomb exploded on a train pulling into the platform, injuring 30 people.
‘It’s sobering, something like that happening on your doorstep,’ says the frontman with veteran Brit rockers Stereophonics. ‘But it almost makes me more empowered to think, “I’m not sitting around waiting for bad stuff to happen. I’m going out and ‘avin’ it”, you know? You’ve got no control over that s*** anyway.’
The same defiant streak runs through Stereophonics’ new album, Scream Above the Sounds - a collection of rousing anthems Jones hopes will provide ‘a sense of release’ from the current atmosphere of ‘fear and anxiety’.
‘We’re living through a time when there’s constant noise and intrusion, often bringing bad news,’ he reflects. ‘This is trying to remember that there’s a lot of good, positive, enlightening stuff outside of that – that there are small things to celebrate.
‘I hope it’s an uplifting record. It’s about taking people through situations, and coming out the other side.’
As a songwriter, Jones has always gravitated towards narrative storytelling – an instinct he puts down to his upbringing in the small Welsh ex-mining village of Cwmaman, near Aberdare.
‘Everyone was always talking about everybody,’ he recalls. ‘My old man used to sing in the the working men’s clubs, so I was always around older guys. Maybe I took in more than I should have been taking in at that age.’
Both his parents were factory workers, though his dad Arwyn had once had his own shot at pop stardom, even signing a record deal with Polydor. ‘He did some shows with Roy Orbison and recorded with George Martin,’ says Jones. ‘Dudley Moore was the piano player on my old man’s album, which is pretty mad. But he was up in London on his own and he just didn’t enjoy it. He wanted to go back and be with his mates.’
At school, Jones hooked up with friends Stuart Cable, who lived a few doors up the street, and Richard Jones to form what would eventually become Stereophonics. After a decade of playing local gigs and sending out tapes, they suddenly found themselves the subject of a bidding war from record companies ‘over the bridge’, including Richard Branson’s new boutique label, V2.
‘I think he thought the way to win us over was to phone me up directly,’ says Jones. ‘He rang my mother’s house and said, “Can I speak to Kelly, Richard or Stuart?” – like we were The ***ing Monkees, all living under one roof. My mother said, “Who’s this?” and he said, “It’s Richard Branson”. She said, “Yeah love, and I’m Elizabeth Taylor”, and hung up on him. Thankfully, he called back.’
Stereophonics’ 1997 debut album, the appropriately titled Word Gets Around, was an instant hit, bagging the band a BRIT Award for Best New Group. It was the start of a goldrush that, to date, has earned them six number one albums (five of them consecutively – a feat which puts them in the rarefied company of a small handful of artists including The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and ABBA) and 10 top ten singles, including Just Looking, The Bartender and the Thief and Have a Nice Day.
They haven’t always enjoyed the easiest relationship with the press, though - a stand-off Jones inflamed with Mr Writer, his chart-topping riposte to sniffy critics which he has said ‘took 10 minutes to write and 10 years to explain’.
‘As you get bigger, as with most bands, the press starts sticking the knife in a little bit,’ he says. ‘I suppose we got caught up in that for a time. But, looking back, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to us, ’cos it made me constantly strive to do better work.’
Besides, they continued to sell records and tickets by the truckload – something Jones admits caused him to retreat into his shell for a time. ‘It’s quite a confusing thing, really,’ he says. ‘I never wanted to be famous, it wasn’t about that. So when you’re on the front of a magazine, or they sit you in a room and the first question is, “So you hate journalists…”, you’re on the back foot before you even start. You start becoming a very protective version of yourself.
‘And then you’re chucked into arenas – you’re opening up for the Rolling Stones, for U2, you’re playing five-a-side football with David Bowie, and it becomes very, very surreal. You don’t really know how you’re supposed to behave in that situation. But I think, on the whole, we handled ourselves pretty well.’
In 2003, drummer Cable – an exuberant party animal with a burgeoning media career, including his own TV chat show – was sacked from the band after missing one too many rehearsals. In his 2009 autobiography, Demons and Cocktails, Cable wrote honestly about his battle with drugs and alcohol, revealing he’d moved back to his old village ‘because if I didn’t, I’d have probably ended up dead, or round the bend, or both’. In the early hours of June 7, 2010, Cable choked to death in his sleep following a lengthy drinking session.
‘I miss Stuart every day, man,’ says Jones. ‘Genuinely. He was like mine and Richard’s brother. He was a huge, huge character to fall off the Earth. He made a lot of people laugh, that boy.’
Mercifully, he and Cable had long since patched things up. ‘We were speaking the night before he died,’ he recalls. ‘We were going to go to my uncle Rees’s funeral together, because Stuart loved a funeral. I was getting ready when his brother phoned me and said he’d been found. It was pretty surreal, to be honest. I don’t know… It’s one of them, isn’t it?’
Now 43, Jones says he’s never felt more comfortable in his own skin: two decades in, his band’s star shows so sign of waning, and he takes great pleasure in being outnumbered at home by wife Jakki Healy, an MTV journalist, and daughters Bootsy, Misty and Riley.
So what, in his opinion, is the correct way for a rock and roll frontman to enter into middle age? Is it, for example, still acceptable to wear shades indoors, like Bono?
‘I don’t think you can ever really change,’ he muses. ‘But I haven’t worn shades in about 10 years. I suppose you’re allowed to do it if you want to. But not where I go. I suspect Bono goes to a lot more sophisticated places than me.’
Published in Waitrose Weekend, November 2, 2017
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