WHEN karaoke began to decimate the function band scene in the South of England, JJ Jones made a discovery – he could sing a mean Neil Diamond song.
“By the 80s I was in a London pub band as a guitarist – we played on the Old Kent Road and were very popular in South London.
“It became a trio, went to a duo and then I went solo with PA and backing tracks and I did a lot of rock stuff, I’ve got a rock voice. But to get into the working men’s clubs, I started doing a variation of genres – and that’s when I started dong Neil Diamond songs.
“I’ve always been a fan anyway since I was a young kid.
“A lot of people said I sounded like Neil Diamond, so I put together a show.”
Since then, for the past 20 years, JJ Jones has been singing Diamond’s music all over the world, including many years touring Australia and Europe.
He’s currently based in Benidorm – it’s where he gets the unique beaded style of shirts Neil Diamond was known for specially-made.
And it’s there that his current agents spotted him performing his supper-time show – and invited JJ to bring it – with his seven-piece band – to tour UK venues.
Though uncomfortable with putting on an American voice for the shows – particularly Diamond’s Bronx accent – JJ feels songs like Beautiful Noise just sound wrong without it.
He’s also had to make one other big compromise ...
Was JJ born with the same dark colouring as Diamond or does he have to improvise?
He laughed: “No compromise – Just For Men.
“I had white hair when I came to Spain, but when my current management approached me after a festival to come to the UK and do some shows with them.
“But they said I had to do two things – dye my hair and lose two stone!”
A svelter JJ is now perfectly show-fit for Hello Again – his new show for 2014 with two hours of music celebrating Diamond’s songwriting success, plus both his early and Jazz Singer movie periods.
Songs include Love On The Rocks, Sweet Caroline, Cracklin’ Rosie, Song Sung Blue, Forever In Blue Jeans.
And in the second half of the night, JJ takes things up-tempo to showcase Diamond’s Hot August Night album and songs from the film The Jazz Singer, with hits including America, Hello Again and Brother Loves Travelling Salvation Show.
With time changing both Diamond’s voice and the style of music he likes to perform and record, JJ chooses to concentrate on capturing the American star’s live vocal style, rather than his recorded voice.
JJ also likes to add some background information to the songs he performs– if only for a new generation that might not know just how long and varied Diamond’s career has been.
“Not everyone knows that he wrote The Monkees’ hit I’m A Believer,” said JJ.
“He wrote it as a ballad, but The Monkees did it as a pop song. Recently he’s done an up-tempo version of his own, though. So we put it in the show. It goes down really well.
“He also wrote another song called Red Red Wine which UB40 turned into a hit – and he’s put his own reggae version of the song out now, so that’s also in the show.
“And in the 90s film Pulp Fiction when John Travolta and Uma Thurman dance, they dance to Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon – of course that was also written by Neil.
“But there’s a new generation discovering his songs too – I’m A Believer has been in Shrek.
“So many generations out there love his stuff.
“When I was in Australia I was doing this night right out in the bush with farmers driving 50 miles to come and see you because they don’t get much live entertainment out there.
“The place was mobbed and there was a young girl about 16 sitting right down at the front and she knew every lyric.
“I asked her how it was she knew all the words. And she said ‘My grandparents!’.”
But with all those fans and around 250 Neil Diamond tributes across the world, you have to be on top of your game, JJ says.
“There’s a few I admire. There’s one called J White and he lives in Vegas and is a friend of Neil Diamond himself! And there’s another English guy in Spain who is a bit older than me, so he does later Diamond material. Then when I was in Australia I was contacted by a guy whose Diamond voice is perfect. He’s originally from Dunstable-Leighton Buzzard way and he asked me round to dinner and got all his outfits out!”
When JJ isn’t working, he likes to raise money for the Danahmer Animal Centre in Braintree in memory of his late daughter who died in a car crash – and was a passionate supporter of animals.
“The isolation unit there is named ‘Joanna’ after her,” said JJ, who likes to donate a portion of the money raised by his CD sales and show profits to her favourite animal charity.
JJ’s Hello Again Neil Diamond Tribute Show is at the Ironworks, Inverness, on Friday (Oct 3) from 7pm. And for more on JJ go to his Facebook: www.facebook.com/JJJonesNeilDiamondTributeShow