December 3, 2020

The only escape route is in the open, across minefields and barbed wire…

How to define Jump’s music? Folk rock? Singer-songwriter? Nouveau folk? It certainly combines aspects of rock, folk and prog, but its major, defining feature isn’t on the description card of any particular genre – it is the narrative, storytelling aspect that is the hallmark of John Dexter Jones’ songwriting. Imagine a campfire, and one man who waves his listeners closer to the centre, leans forward conspiratorially and starts off, “Did I ever tell you about the time…?” That is exactly the vibe JDJ exudes. He has been singing these folk tales for 30 years in this particular environment, and Jump’s catalogue now expands to 14 albums with this month’s release of Breaking Point.

The Covid crisis put a crimp in the band’s 30th anniversary celebrations unfortunately, which ought to have kicked off in April 2020, and also held up production of the new opus, which should have been released at about the same time. Still, better late than never as they say, and the album’s melancholic summation of a world in moral crisis is perhaps even more relevant now than it was then. Apart from the opening salvo, the songs are all tied together by a deep sadness that so many people undergo such deep suffering, but also indignant disbelief at the crushing lack of compassion that meets them as they flee everything they have ever known in a desperate attempt to keep themselves and their loved ones alive.

John Dexter Jones

Let’s start at the beginning though, the set starting on an upbeat note, as Jones relives his childhood in Bangor, North Wales. By his own account, the caretaker of his old school used to ‘accidentally’ leave the doors unlocked so that he and his mates could jam together and hone their musical skills. The Heroes is an up-tempo anthem that recalls the Celtic vibe of Runrig or Big Country, the youngsters daydreaming of the Heroes they would become. Forty years into his music career, Jones maintains that “the magic of being in a band is undiminished.” One wonders why it took him forty years to write the song.

Favourite song for this writer is track two, The King. The lyric utilises some savage imagery, presented in a sing-song, nonchalant fashion. A corpse face down in the moat represents the defeat of the masses at the hands of the rich and powerful in a ditty about the destruction of social and moral standards, adorned by some rock sections on fuzzy, distorted guitars.

The main theme arrives with track three though, as we try to imagine the difference between a good day and a bad day for a civilian in a war zone, if ‘good’ is defined by the fact that you haven’t been hit by a bullet or a bomb, and ‘lucky’ means you are still alive. This number, The City, ends on a surprisingly upbeat note, as integrity is not necessarily lost with one’s possessions, or self-respect destroyed along with one’s home.

The Voices carries this theme further, condemning the grossly unsympathetic reception the ragged remnants of these people meet if they manage to stagger to relative safety. A nicely disjointed interlude in 7/8 timing seems to accentuate the desperation of what is left of their lives.

The Cellar brings us back to the beginning again as Jones dares us to imagine, even for the briefest moment, what it could be like to huddle with your children in a dark, stinking bunker as the shells whistle and explode above. The only escape route is in the open, across minefields and barbed wire – and if by some miracle your group escapes in one piece, then what? Where to go, and how? No fantasy piece this, but the grim reality that real people face, every day. The discomfort is accentuated by eastern-themed tonal scales, harsh guitars and wailing Dr. Who sirens towards the end.

JDJ with guitarist and producer Ronnie Rundle

The Cellar is only 2½ minutes long, but it runs seamlessly into the next track as if they are parts of the same song, which in fact they are. Seven-minute title song Breaking Point forms the main bulk of a ten-minute epic, the nub of the concept really, expressing jaw-dropping disbelief at the lack of charity refugees meet when they are finally cast upon the shores of our land. There is a basic disconnect between the faction that looks to defend a land already groaning under the weight of overpopulation, from an invasion of helpless foreign nationals, and those who would extend the hand of charity and hospitality to the dispossessed and desolate. Jones leaves us in no doubt which philosophy he espouses, and this song effectively forms the climactic cry of the album, a demand for a little compassion and basic human decency.

Although these five pieces form a mini-concept album in themselves, the next couple of songs do not represent a massive change of theme. They return to a subject Jump have toyed with multiple times over the years, concerning the futility of war. The Parade is a straightforward tale that effectively continues where earlier songs leave off, at the needless death of some young serviceman in the trenches. In this case, the spectre of a deceased soldier rises from the fields of France a hundred years after his death, to inspect the world his sacrifice had surely helped change for the better – but the faces he sees are the same as those he left behind. Structurally this may be the simplest song on the album, but the imagery is powerful enough to make it another album highlight. The Widow follows on, a slightly reggae-infused anthem seen from the point of view of a wife left to care for the children while her absent husband walks the ‘Valley of Death’ in a war far away.

The album ends on another high note, with the seven-minute The Fire paying tribute to the human spirit that can apparently endure anything with hope and optimism, either for this life or the next, no matter the belief system or lack thereof. Jump, the band, have vacillated over the years between the power of the full-band experience, and a more stripped-down, acoustic, folky feel. Although this set follows the rock path, with frequent use of overdriven guitars and meaty rhythms, the band never overpowers the voice or the lyricism. And lyricism there is aplenty, in common with all of the band’s work. Fourteen albums of such musical poetry is an astonishing achievement – long may it continue.