Star Q&A: Kelly Jones

Round & About

Kelly Jones

Liz Nicholls chats to musician & dad Kelly Jones as the Stereophonics release their new album Oochya and hit the road for their UK tour

Hello Kelly! Great to have you playing live again. How does playing these big venues compare to the little clubs where you started out? “Yeah I mean the working men’s clubs, that was kind of our Hamburg I suppose <chuckle>, you know. It’s where we learned our chops, it’s where we lived it’s where we died. It’s where we learnt what was good what didn’t work. Um. I suppose it was the grounding of how we learned to build a set list, a skeleton of how to take people on a journey with different song choices. It’s the same tools you use playing a stadium it’s just people have been following a band and they have their favourites and we have our favourites. We piece together a show where you create a show people can’t forget really. You want them to walk out feeling better than they did when they walked in there. It’s the same mentality in many ways, it’s just on a much grander scale. We do the same thing we just try to make it all a bit… bigger.”

Q. What’s on your rider? Is it, like Keith Richards, a big snooker table and a shepherd’s pie? “Haha, no I think we’ve had the same rider for 20-odd years. It’s usually a couple of cases of beer, some Guinness. There’s usually red wine. Usually a couple of bottles of spirits. Everyone’s welcome really. We’ve got everything covered for anyone that wants in. I think we’ve been pretty lazy not changing that since the ’90s. It’s still all there. It still all gets done at some point or other. We come from where we come from so on our days off we like having a nice drink.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “Records in the house. I shared a bedroom with my brother Lee until I was about 14. He’d be playing Bob Seeger records and the eagles and ZZ Top and my other brother Kevin would be playing Bob Dylan and Neil Young. My dad would be playing Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. I picked up a guitar about 10 or 11. I guess my first memory of performing was at the working men’s club at the end of my street when I was about 12. And there was always music around. Watching my dad playing the working men’s clubs I suppose and I would sit with my mother eating nuts. I’d carry his speakers for a fiver at the end of the night. I got to know his band and listen to other members of the band yabbering in the dressing room. My earliest memories of music were between six and 10 listening to them, they used to drink and smoke and have a good time in bingo halls and working men’s clubs.”

Q. You’ve worked with so many legends, but I have to ask you about Bowie..! “He was wonderful! We were lucky enough to tour with him on our fourth album. And he was on his last ever tour as it turned out which was the Reality album. He was an inspiration to watch every night. He was funny and he was artistic and very very casual because he wasn’t playing a character, he wasn’t playing Ziggy Stardust he wasn’t playing the Thin White Duke, he was playing David Bowie. He’s come and sit in the dressing room and chat, he would watch our sound takes. He’d take requests when we watched his sound checks. He was lovely. We learned a lot from him. We had a give a side football match with him. It’s just surreal when you look back at the pictures and stuff. I can’t quite believe it actually happened. That was an incredible experience. We were on a bit of a roll at that point. We’d just got off the U2 tour, we’d just gone on to the Bowie tour, went on to the Lenny Kravitz tour… it was just nuts. All the people we looked up to we were then getting asked to play with them, it was amazing.”

Q. Your lyrics are so observational. So who were your favourite writers growing up? “In our house there weren’t lots of books. I loved ghost stories and Roald Dahl, the Tales of The Unexpected and all that. I always used to like the way he wrote things with a twist in at the end y’know. And then I loved John Sullivan’s writing on TV, doing Only Fools and Horses, making people laugh always with these twists at the end. When I went to college I started reading Bukowski and Dylan Thomas.”

Q. What are your favourite films? “One of my favourite films is The Deer Hunter which sometimes gets overlooked by the godfather. The thing about the deer Hunter it’s like two or three films in one and the landscape of it reminds me a lot of Cwmaman where I grew up. The guys are drinking in the bar at the beginning and the factories and the wedding. The first part of the film reminds me a lot of the guys around my area where they all joined the army and had coming home parties after the Falklands. So I’ve got quite an affinity to The Deer Hunter. My older brothers were always playing movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching as a kid. I love Jack Nicholson and I love Stanley Kubrick all those kind of classics. Mike Nichols was always a good director as well.”

Q. Any dream collaborators? “I grew up loving ACDC and got quite friendly with Brian Johnson but we never played any shows with AC/DC. They would have been a dream as a kid. Most of the people I grew up with – I love Otis Redding – they’re all passed now. Going forward, I like a lot of people’s records by different producers. I’m probably on that page now, the age I’m at,working with people in the studio collaboration-wise.”

Q. Are you glad you started out when you did, instead of the age our teenage children are now? “It’s different. I’ve got four kids spanning from 17 down to 19 months and they’ve all got a very different experience in their life. I’ve got a 15 & a five-year-old in between and when I watch them and how they use the media and listen to music and watch films or dramas or series or games it’s just a very different culture and, um, the attention span is very different. They’re not sitting and listening to a whole album from begginging to end. And I think the way that people get discovered is different as well. I am glad the way we got found and built our fan base was very I guess traditional in many ways and possibly the last era to do it that way – basically driving round in a van playing pubs and bars, building up a traditional fan base that hopefully sticks to you for a long career. Because I don’t know how people have a long career these days if their stats and their algorithms aren’t working in line with what record companies want which I find a little bit sad. It kind of limits  moving forward and development for artists. I’m sure it might work out in other ways but they might get dropped. This is a bit sad because it takes people time to get to where they’re going to. It’s got amazing advantages as well. But that’s some of the disadvantages.”

Q. What practices help you keep you mentally healthy? “Mental health has become such an open conversation finally in everyone’s lives, everybody goes through different periods of struggles with anxieties and lows and highs, it’s natural I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. For me personally exercise is the best one for me running. And some quiet spaces in between all the hectic stuff that you do. Trying to put the silences between all the noise. I’m trying to pass stuff on to the kids and you’ve got to learn about yourself too. You don’t learn about yourself until you stay hitting some walls. And then you discover a lot about yourself. For me it’s about open space – that’s what gets me back to the ground. I guess that comes back to my roots – I’m from a very open place! But I live in London where it’s all on top of me. I do find the open space calms me down for sure.”

Q. Do you get a lot of hassle/ weird fan mail? “I live in a kind of village area really in London. All my kids go to school, we kind of know everyone in the area. I don’t get bandy fans coming up to me in the street. It’s normally just people being pretty friendly. Maybe 15 years ago we had some weird stuff in a different place where I was living and the police had to come and take care of that stuff. Very odd letters and stuff. But generally where I am everyone’s been great, especially when you have family everyone knows the kids. Everybody’s in the same boat really. I’m not living in the middle of a crazy city – it’s not dissimilar to where I was brought up. Just in a different kind of surrounding, you know.”

Q. You’ve spoken so movingly about your family, including your son Colby’s journey. How is he doing? “Colby’s doing great; in a new sixth form in a new environment with a lot more likeminded people. Thriving in the studies that he’s doing and getting loads of distinctions and feels at home. Which is great because coming from an all-girls school not wanting to be a girl was a very hard environment to be in. He did amazing in his exams and worked really hard and now he’s in a place where he wants to be. He’s been great it’s been a proper journey, for the family, for everybody involved in the family. And now Misty’s going through GCSEs so all the pressures on her now. They all go through different episodes. I like to be pretty hands on with the kids. And Jakki my wife is really brilliant with them all. We have our ups and downs we have our struggles and all want to kill each other at times but most of the time we just try to communicate as well as we can really. It is a brand new world and the kids are going through many different things we never experienced. I think you have to just listen to them. At first you carry a lot of prejudices or opinions and things you never had just from your own upbringing. It’s just trying to keep an open mind, listen to them see where they go try to guide them and steer them best you can really. It’s not easy by any stretch but if you’re in that position you’ve just go with it help them feel safe as they can really.”

Q. What format do you like to listen to music on? “I’ve been enjoying my vinyl again recently. I’ve got a couple of Sonos speakers rigged up to most rooms but my little one Marlie keeps kicking my turntable off, trying to put Peppa Pig on. Vinyl is my go-to and I’m looking forward to seeing the new album record sleeves.”

Q. What kind of music do you listen to? “I listen to mostly older stuff. This morning I was listening to The Cure. The day before that I was listening to Billie Eilish because I love some of the visual stuff she’s been doing in her videos. Misty, my 15 year old, is into that were going to see her in June. I just flick through whatever’s going on really, trying to keep my ear on everyone.”

Q. Have you missed live music? “Yes! It’s been two years, apart from recently a few shows for an anniversary tour. As a band it’s a strange thing not to be performing – I’ve been in a band since I was 12 so it’s where where my body naturally goes to, holding a guitar. Strange not having that outlet or release of the last two years. Been handling everything else that’s been going on but it’s a big part of who I am and what I do has been lacking so to be back on the ride is gonna be a great experience. And everybody in the entertainment industry – the lorry drivers caterers – there a lot of ppl involved.”

Q. How do you take care of your voice? “I do exercises all the time really. The thing I had was called a one-off trauma polyp. It could have been shouting at the football on the TV, it wasn’t really through singing – it could have been anything. But that whole episode taught me a lot really. Recovery and how much the voice means to me. Your voice is always  there and then suddenly it’s taken away from you. You can’t talk for a few weeks until it’s all sorted out, after surgery. I try to come to the studio to do singing every day. It’s just a muscle – you keep it going and do rehearsals with the band every week. I love trying to change it and do different things with it on every record. It’s something I’ve always done. So over the period of lockdown when I didn’t have anywhere to sing there’s a certain amount of adrenaline that’s not getting released really. It’s been good getting out with the boys and doing rehearsals.”

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