Anyone who has followed the career of Welsh band Jump to even a cursory extent, or indeed has ever seen the band live, will know that frontman John Dexter Jones loves to talk. Indeed, more than that, he is among the great raconteurs of our time when he gets going. No Jump show is complete without his engaging addresses to the audience, and this is extended into the band’s music, as the fine tradition of storytelling in song – a seam leading right through from traditional folk music of course – is very much the stock-in-trade of JDJ (as he is always known, and henceforth shall be so here). It’s not all about the literal ‘storytelling’, as in the old ‘murder ballad’ tradition – although songs such as Wreck Of The Saint Marie or Sir Thomas And The Passser-By from the band’s previous album Over The Top, for example, embrace that spirit entirely. No, more than that what JDJ likes to do is to paint pictures with words and sound. He might evoke an atmosphere, or a nostalgic feeling, or he might address a social or political issue. He might conjure up personal memories of his youth, and invite you to vicariously share his fond, or not so fond, memories. In essence, Jump songs are always ABOUT something. They have information to impart. Anyone wanting a tossed-off love song about how the singer adores his soulmate, or a simple song exhorting the listener to ‘rock’, will go away disappointed, and quite probably dazed and confused. People come to Jump shows and buy their albums to listen, and only secondarily to have them as simple background music. And such is the way it should be, a marriage of words and music where both come together to create a whole which is bigger than either. The rest of the line-up is, at time of writing (not to jinx it!) Ronnie Rundle and Steve Hayes on guitars, Andy Barker on drums, the surname-less ‘Mo’ on keyboards and the returning Andy Faulkner on bass (replacing Mark Whittam who played on the latest album).
As I said at the beginning, however, JDJ loves to talk. And talk is just what we did when we got together recently via the ‘new normality’ of a Zoom chat, to find out his thoughts about the band’s latest opus Breaking Point, and move on to other subjects diverse and varied. I did open proceedings by bringing up the Breaking Point album, however…
VT: We’ll look at the album first, obviously, because I know it’s one that you’re really pleased with. And certainly it got a great review on here. What I like about it is that while the whole storytelling and conceptual thing is very much your bag, with this one it’s not entirely a concept album, but it’s kind of an album with concepts, isn’t it? There’s kind of a concept within a concept with a few tracks together on there, and the very personal Heroes to open things...
JDJ: Yes, the idea of Breaking Point as the title of the album, and also the song, I sort of visualise it as some concentric circles, with Breaking Point and The Cellar, somewhere in the middle, if that makes sense. And then the the things that surround that, you know, attend to it. Heroes was to introduce the band and set a marker of sorts, as it’s been about five years since the last album. It almost wrote itself, as a lot of these things do, and it was very much a kind of ‘we’re still here’ kind of thing. And we’ve got something to say. So if you imagine a play, it was a bit like, we’re going to introduce the actors. And then we’re going to tell you these stories. And so I wanted to have one foot in the past by saying we’ve been going for a long time, you know – we don’t want any thanks for that or anything, but we just wanted to hold our hands up that we’re here. And there is a bit of nostalgia attached to that. Again, it’s the actors who are going to be telling you these stories, and it is pretty much held together like that. It’s meant to be connected. The City, Voices, The Cellar, Breaking Point, even The Parade and The Widow. The first and the last tracks are the the kind of bookends of it, and hopefully, there’s a little bit of a shred of optimism in the last moment – where we’ve been slaves all the way through it to what the world has become. And then, maybe maybe right at the end, there’s hope – it’s the human spirit!
So it’s like, there is something we can do about it. You’ve got the whole album explaining how things have ‘turned to shit’ – but all is not lost…
That’s it. When you’re creating these narratives, there’s some pretty gloomy stuff there, and it is the fact that the world stage very quickly, as you say, turned to shit. But then if you think about the world, and the history of whatever’s been done before, the species seems to find its way back and through every time. And so the hope at the end can’t be separated from the morass – except that it is kind of like life on a high wire – we’re all on that tightrope all the time. But I think it’s it’s a question of having our destiny in our hands, whereas all the way through the rest of the album it seems nobody’s got their destiny in their own hands.
We mustn’t forget the music as well of course, because people tend to concentrate on your on the lyrics on your albums a lot. It’s almost as if it’s an album of poetry, but it’s not, it’s a band. There’s some fantastic music on the album as well. As always with Jump material it’s not really all about being bombastic and grandiose, because like you always say, ‘we’re not a prog band’ though nobody listens!
I know. My answer is normally that if progressive means you sound like, you know, something from the 1970s, and slavishly adhere to that template, then no, we’re not Prog. If Prog means progressive, which means you’re drawing on perhaps a big palette of influences to go down a path with music, then yes we are. And that goes for so many fabulous bands.
To me, I’ve always said that the label ‘Progressive Rock’ is a bit of a millstone, and in fact I would have been happy if it had been called Art Rock or something. Because basically, it’s just about going outside the simple ‘three minute single’ box or whatever, and make it a genre of its own. But people latch on to this thing that it has to progress. If it isn’t progressing, it’s not Prog. But by the same token Beethoven didn’t write two symphonies and then head off to the ukulele. You don’t necessarily have to reinvent yourself. I mean, you can reinvent yourself on every album if you want – Bowie did it, Zappa did it all the time. But if you’re producing great music in a good style, and people want to listen to it, there is nothing wrong with that. But the word ‘progressive’ really can ironically put it in a box as restrictively as any other.
Well, that’s true, certainly. But I have to say that I’m a victim of ‘reading the wires’ if you like – I don’t tend to comment on the forums very much but I’m interested to see what’s going on. And I’ve been there, we’ve been there ourselves before. We’ve never made the same album twice. I don’t think it’s fair to say that we sort of struck a vein of something and then we just do a version of it every time. I think I think this album is manifestly different in approach, and sonically, from Over The Top, and that was different from The Black Pilgrim before it. It’s natural progression though, it isn’t forced or false for the sake of it. Without wanting to sound terribly pompous, it’s like you said before about Art Rock. I think it is about being an artist, and that’s just showing what’s inside you, bringing it out – and that can be born of any amount of influences, both musical and poetic, looking at the world, and all of that kind of thing. You know, I said this to somebody the other day; and I’ve got friends who are artists – and I mean proper artists, not just people who learned to shout and stand in front of a band! You just know, when you speak to them, and you meet them, and you see what they do, be it visual artists or whatever it is, it’s just honest. And I like to think that what we’re doing all the time is it’s just an honest representation of that melting pot of ideas, and we get in the rehearsal room and out it comes. As you mentioned we don’t really go for the long drawn out epic thing or all of that, and yet if it fits, that’s great. In the song In The City, Ronnie plays this sort of tri-part solo, and it’s tremendous stuff. Musically worth every second of how long it lasts, just not for the sake of it. That’s the difference.
But then, again, you know, what I find – and you probably do as well Steve, because I know you write about music, you write about bands – is that the older I get the less reactionary I get. I think everything is worthwhile that people do when they get in a room together, play, and put stuff out there. It all has its merit. And I just don’t find myself in the business of damning people for doing something or not doing something. Where I do kind of come unstuck a little bit, is when there are expectations that are unrealistic about how wonderful everybody should think they are, and that they become terribly aggrieved if people don’t think they are – particularly if they’ve been around for about 10 minutes. And I can say that having been around for 40 years, you know – at a low level, by the way! You can’t just expect people to love what you do. But whatever someone wants to play, I say let them. Don’t get hung up about what we think it should be, it’s all music and it all has its place.
I was going to ask you about the whole writing process. I mean, obviously the lyrics are your baby, but how does the music come together? Is that an organic thing with the band? Or is there a sketch of the song written? And which comes first as a rule?
Well, I know that there are some bands who write, to a particular formula that serves them well. And again, we don’t tend to do that; there’s probably half a dozen ways that things can come about. I might start with an acoustic guitar and ham-fistedly put some chords together that suit some poem or other that I’m working on. Similarly, I might walk in a room ten minutes late – the vocalist’s prerogative, you know, let them all set up, make sure you don’t have to carry any gear! – and they are walking on something and noodling away. And I might not notice, and I put my coat down, whatever, but sometimes I’ll know straight away that we can do something with it. Other times, we might stand there and say something like, ‘well, what have you got?’ Steve Hayes actually is the best for that, you’ll ask what he’s got and his his stock answer is ‘well,it might not really be anything…’, and he’ll play a sequence or whatever. And instantly I know where we’re going. And often, you know, it can be something that begins life like that, and it stimulates something that we go on to do, but that initial catalyst which started it might never even see the light of day, although it began the whole creative process.
So yeah, lots of different ways. The lyrics, sometimes they are complete sets of things written down as a poem but never sent to music. And the guys start playing, and I pull out the sheaf of papers out and that fits perfectly, it’s all there. And other things like the closing track on the new album, Cold Fire, that was done in pieces, actually writing as we go along. Sometimes we might work something out with me singing a set of lyrics which I will reconsider and change to something different with similar syllables or meter by the next week, because I’ve realised exactly what I want to say. You are right with what you said about people noticing the lyrics, because I’m this six-foot-four gobshite who stands at the front! And of course I like that because I like to communicate, but there is some brilliant music which has been produced by the musicians in this band from Day One, fourteen albums ago.
It’s interesting you saying that, with the lyric not always coming first, because people that you tend to get compared to in your lyrical style, like Peter Hamill, even Dylan maybe, do tend to take the poet kind of approach where they write the lyrics and put the music to it. It’s unusual for a storytelling lyricist of your type to not always have the lyrics first.
That’s an interesting point. You know, I could talk about that all night in the pub. It’s a good point for sure. Honestly, for me what the guys do with the music when they get together, sometimes just hearing those things can take me to the landscape of the story. As an example, there’s a song from the ’90s, The Pressed Man, and it’s all about the English Civil War. What happened was,we were playing in a pub up in Buckinghamshire in the middle of nowhere called the Seven Stars. And it was totally black that night, the stars were all out, and we were having a beer outside. So it’s gone dark, and Pete says ‘Can you imagine this in the Civil War? What it was like, you know, troopers coming through, because we’re on their way right here’. Just south of Buckingham it was. And he said, ‘You’ve got to write something about that’. So I went to the library, read up all about it and immersed myself in all of this fascinating history. I’d done all the research, but we just forgot about it, as you do. Some time afterward we’re writing something – it might have been Tongue Tied or whatever – and then one evening in a rehearsal, Steve played this thing he had, and I was suddenly there in the Civil War. So the lyrics just came out. I’d done the research and the reading, but it took him to play that thing and all of a sudden that soundscape was there. It just became a journey. So the story was there about the first skirmish, and how they were walking past people, which was true, you know, passing other troops heading to different battles. They didn’t engage with each other, they knew they were there. But you’re going there, and we’re going here. Fascinating stuff. The words were just coming into my head, because that music that they were playing just conjured it up. So that’s how it can happen. It’s like we were saying though, it’s all about the inter-relationship of the music and the lyrics. When I listen to bands I like, it might be narrative storytelling or something much simpler, it doesn’t matter. Take for example Rock And Roll by Led Zeppelin. Now, that’s never going to set the world on fire with its poetry, but when I was sixteen or whatever in the ’70s, preparing to go out with my mates in Bangor, when I put that song on, did it fit the bill for me? You bet it did! So there’s a place for everything. It’s all about making that connection with people.
One of my favourite Jump pieces is The Wreck Of The Saint Marie from the Over The Top album, especially performed live, because although it is a classic ‘storytelling’ song, about a shipwreck, and you know what’s going to happen, you still get invested in it every time.
Well, there again you see, if you can come along to a show and hear that song for the however many times you’ve heard it already and still become captivated in it, that’s a great compliment. That’s what you strive for. Hopefully the words can conjure up a picture in the listener’s mind, because that’s another great thing that music can do, take you to somewhere else in your mind. Like for example Red Barchetta by Rush – every time I hear that I’m taken back to being young and on the back of my mate’s motorbike, escaping the world with that on the headphones. Songs can do that. In fact, Saint Marie was actually written about the sinking of the Royal Charter off the coast of Anglesey, which was a terrible disaster, awful. But I couldn’t make it work with ‘Royal Charter’ in the lyric, so it became the Saint Marie, and that becomes a story itself. The power of the story, or the image of the lyric, is what really matters. It’s above the inter-relationship between those things, the music and the words, and how the music colours those stories in, if you like. And then for us, of course, live performance is a big element of that, where you can really engage, people can see the lights in your eyes, and you can see the whites of their eyes. It elevates it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m talking about elevating things here, but I’m under no illusions, you know, we’re not going out playing Wembley or Hammersmith, or even, I don’t know, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre every week. We know where we are in the scheme of things. But it doesn’t make any difference – engagement is engagement. Moving people with music is moving people with music.
I remember once we played a gig at the Boardwalk in Sheffield supporting Arthur Brown, just an acoustic set with three of us. And this guy came up after our set and asked did we take cards on the merchandise stuff. I said, really sorry, but we don’t have that ability. And he said, can you just hang on there – we’d just come off and Arthur was due on in about 15 minutes, so I said yeah, sure. Anyway, he went tearing off down the road, came back, got a lot of money out of his pocket and said ‘I’ll buy everything!’. I couldn’t believe it, it was the first time he’d seen us and he just said ‘I know that I’m gonna like all this stuff’. So we did him a good deal, of course, but that sort of thing just proves that no matter how big or small the crowd, everyone is important, and it’s important to always try to make that connection. That’s something that I think is important about the Breaking Point album, how it fits together as a whole and engages people that way. Over The Top did that as well, there was whimsy in there, there were little allegories and what have you, and real characters like Johnny V, but Breaking Point is different in that it was all intended to fit together like that as a whole. In fact, some of the best compliments we’ve had have been from people who have said that they’ve reached the end and the CD player has gone back to the beginning with Heroes, and they’ve listened to it all straight through again. That’s one of the greatest compliments you could get, and I’m really pleased with that.
What’s your biggest bugbear with gigs then? Anything which really annoys you?
Absolutely, people talking through the show! And it’s not because I think I’m wonderful, and everybody should hear me. It’s just because I feel like somebody who’s sitting next to you shouldn’t have to listen to that crap. He pays ten pounds or whatever, and maybe he wants to listen to Ronnie playing the guitar and doesn’t actually need you chatting about what you did on Friday night or whatever. I used to deal with it in an angry, haranguing kind of way. Now ideally, I deal with it in a more elderly, genteel fashion, but I still deal with it because it still pisses me off. I’ll say ‘look, the person sitting next to you is paying maybe ten or fifteen pounds to come into this gig. They didn’t pay to hear you talking. They paid to watch and experience the show. So please, you know, the bar’s there, if you don’t want to listen, that’s fine, but don’t spoil it for other people’. And I have even on occasions stepped down from the stage. Because in the old days you had to have every trick in the book – because we’ve played a lot of gigs in a lot of places! And one of the tricks I always had up my sleeve was to have money on me. Always. I’d step off the stage in the Nags Head bar or wherever, and go up to the guy with a fiver. I’d just say ‘Look, can I give please give you this to either leave or shut up? Or can I buy you a drink with it so that you can stick the drink in your chops?’ But more often than not, they’d go, ‘God. Sorry, I didn’t realise’. And other people would appreciate it as well. But other than that, my haranguing is confined to the subjects raised within the songs!
Before we finish, on this subject of live performance. what are the first plans for Jump once we can get to have gigs again, and how much of a concern is it with the threat of venues closing?
Oh, it’s a huge concern, of course. I think anyone expecting things just to reset to how they were after all of this is over will be in for a surprise. Venues will close for sure, I fear. However, my hope is that out of all of this new places will be born, new venues will open by the efforts of people who really want these things to happen. And as we have done in the past many times, there is the option to just hire space yourself and arrange it. But I really hope that the community together will keep things afloat again, because when people have something they want to say they have a habit of finding places to say it. Who knows, in the near future we might have some great new venues that people are talking about enthusiastically. You’ve got to hope so.
Of our plans, the first things we have arranged are in September. There’s a day in Cannock called the Space Chase festival, and there’s Summer’s End as well. And there are our anniversary gigs which have been rescheduled a couple of times already. There will be old faces at those shows, of course, because one thing that I have learned over the years about Jump is that it’s like the Hotel California – you can check out any time, but you can never leave! Like Mark, who Andy has just replaced. His circumstances changed and he had to step aside, but he really didn’t want to let us down. I spoke to Andy and he was very much up for the job again, so it was ‘great, back in you come’. It’s like a family, and that’s something very special. Again, it’s all about those connections. Because apart from the band, one of the greatest joys in doing this for me is seeing old faces at gigs who you haven’t seen for years, but you’ll get chatting. It will be something like ‘Remember when I saw you at Pacific Road in Birkenhead, and we were having a chat?’, and I’ll be ‘oh yeah, I remember those gigs’, and we’ll be away talking for half an hour. That’s something that’s priceless for me, you can’t put a value on it. That’s why we make this music, to take it out there and connect with people. That’s what it’s all about, and what it’s always been about, for me.
That seems as opportune a place as any to leave things, because who can argue with a philosophy like that? It’s just the thing to remind us in these grim and uncertain times that music is a community thing to bring people together, and it only serves to make us miss it more, and do all we can to make it a success again once those gigs are there again.
Because Good Lord, hasn’t it been missed?