Published: 23/01/2016 11:33 - Updated: 22/01/2016 15:02

Half a century on, Paul still has the blues

Dave Kelly and Paul Jones
Dave Kelly and Paul Jones

EDEN Court occupies a unique place in the half century career of Paul Jones.

The Inverness theatre is the last stop on the singer and harmonica player’s Scottish tour with fellow bluesman, guitarist Dave Kelly, and for Jones it means a return to the venue where he made his only panto appearance in the brand new theatre’s first ever panto.

In fact, acting of any kind seems to be off the agenda for Jones these days, despite a career that includes lead roles in cult film Privilege, West End musicals and dramas and several television credits.

Jones first found fame as frontman of Manfred Mann in the 1960s – after rejecting an offer from his friend Brian Jones to front the band which became the Rolling Stones.

So he seems happy to sideline acting again for his first love music, both as a performer and presenter of his own weekly blues programme on BBC Radio 2.

"In the ’70s acting was pretty much the only thing I did," Jones said.

"I did occasionally make forays into recording studios when pleasant people asked pleasantly. I did a lot of work for Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber and all sorts of other people ranging from Billy Connolly to Tina Turner, but I was for 90 per cent of my time an actor. But even then I always thought I’d go back to music."

Which was why he got together with Kelly and fellow fans Gary Fletcher, Tom McGuinness and Hughie Flint to play a few low key gigs back in 1979 as the Blues Band, a group that is still active and regularly visits Inverness and Aberdeen.

"I just wanted to get some blues done," he explained.

Born in Portsmouth to a musical family – both parents and three of his four grandparents played musical instruments – Jones’ first public performances were as a boy soprano in the cathedral choir.

However, his own journey of musical exploration began when some classmates told him "you should get into jazz" and soon he was spending all his spare pocket money on jazz records before moving on to exploring the worlds of rhythm and blues.

"When Manfred Mann started in 1962, my first job was to teach them some blues because we were supposed to be an R & B band, and actually they knew precious little about R & B," Jones revealed.

"I said that we needed to do some songs by T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Witherspoon and Ray Charles and that would get us going, so we did."

Jones and Kelly with the other members of The Blues Band.
Jones and Kelly with the other members of The Blues Band.

Manfred Man’s first hit, Do Wah Diddy Diddy, was R & B, a cover of a song originally released by New York group The Exciters.

"It was the age old story," Jones said.

"Bands like The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Manfreds were getting their music from black artists in America, and to a great extent they were black artists most Americans had never heard of."

So it would be British acts who brought these blues and R & B songs to the American mainstream.

"We would never have been so ambitious," Jones admitted.

"We just wanted to sound as close to their original perpetrators as we possibly could. It was only crafty managers like Andrew Loog Oldham who thought we could sell it back to America."

His acoustic partnership with Kelly involves Jones in a different area of the blues to the Manfreds, who he also performs with, and even the Blues Band.

"It’s kind of an interesting thing for me," he said.

"As far as Dave’s concerned, it’s what he’s done all his life. He has always been very knowledgeable about blues from the pre-electric instrument era. I didn’t come from that. I came from listening to singers who sang with Count Basie."

What Jones is an expert on, however, is the blues harp – the harmonica – having amassed what he calls "a pretty good" collection of blues harmonica records dating back to the early days of recording.

As president of the National Harmonica League, Jones is naturally leading ambassador for the often maligned instrument.

"The instrument itself is still broadly perceived as a toy," he acknowledged.

"However, within the ranks of harmonica players and builders, it is regarded as capable of anything an instrument of that range can do. And the technicalities of constructing them change all the time and people who can play them are getting better and better technically.

"I don’t think, when it comes to conveying emotions through music, anyone has ever surpassed Sonny Boy Williamson, though – but that’s another story."

Paul Jones and Dave Kelly appear at the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, on Saturday, and the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, on Sunday January 24.

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