August 26, 2022

The first time I came across harmonica-toting singer Paul Jones was when he formed a blues band in 1979 named, rather unimaginatively, The Blues Band. I was a teenager and getting into blues at the time, so ironically, it was the name that caught my attention, and I tuned in when they played a live studio session on TV. Not long after this, someone introduced me to the vinyl record of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s highly amusing stage spectacular Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and I was amazed to find that the lead role was sung by this same Paul Jones. Only later did I discover that he had fronted the classic 1960s pop-R’n’B combo Manfred Mann, and had been the singer on literally the earliest song I can remember, Pretty Flamingo in 1966. It’s no exaggeration to say I therefore have history with Paul Jones, so when this career retrospective 72 minute, 21 track compilation was announced, I pounced on it like a cat on a mouse.

And I have to say, nostalgia or otherwise, I love it. As far as I can tell, there have been no Paul Jones compilations to compare it with, which is surprising, given the man’s pedigree. But then, between his multi-faceted career as a pop star, West End performer, TV and movie actor and TV and radio presenter, I guess the idea simply hasn’t made it to the top of the priority list before. The simplistic album title is almost apologetically low-key, and the cover art very humble, almost a pastiche of 1960s styling, but the CD package includes a nice booklet with some great sleeve notes by Jones. As it is, this set only includes songs he has written or co-written himself, so the stage tinsel doesn’t get a look-in. The set kicks off with the earliest track, written in 1961 but recorded in 1963 with Manfred Mann, the Chicago-style 12-bar of Without You. Mann’s piano drives this, accompanied by a set of maracas, but an excellent vibraphone solo from drummer Mike Hugg is an unexpected bonus, as is an equally good flute solo by guitarist Mike Vickers. Jones is self-deprecating about his lyrical efforts from those days, and decides not to make this a chronological set, so as to avoid all the naïve adolescent stuff piling up at the beginning. This is a great move as it happens, because even though these numbers would stand up well enough in their own right, the set is more consistent and entertaining when the early songs are mixed in amongst the later, more polished material.

Paul Jones in full flight…

Jones’ tribute to the late, great blues harpist Sonny Boy Williamson is accompanied by none other than Jack Bruce playing an upright, acoustic bass just prior to massive success with Cream, and the impressive name-dropping continues with Jones’ solo piece The Dog Presides, (referring to the pup which appears on the HMV logo). Jeff Beck plays guitar on this one, with Paul Samwell-Smith from the Yardbirds on bass, and none other than Paul McCartney on drums. Probably the best-known song on the entire album will be 5-4-3-2-1 by Manfred Mann, the theme tune from teeny-bopper 1960s pop TV show Ready Steady Go, which reached no. 4 in the NME charts. With its quick tempo and rapid-fire harmonica riffing, the entertaining lyrics are more than just a throw-away addition, with Jones recalling momentous events in history and imagining The Manfreds at the scene!

A feature that comes though loud and clear is that, no matter how much he loves the blues and how hard he blows that bone, Jones was never able to keep within the strict 12-bar confines of the old masters. In 1970 he recorded a bizarre but amusing science-fiction-themed number called The Pod That Came Back, which really should have spawned a whole new genre of space blues! When it came to The Blues Band nearly 10 years later, Jones was teamed with a hard-line trad blues aficionado in slide guitarist Dave Kelly, and while Kelly’s numbers tended to focus on social inequality and relationship misery, Jones could hardly keep the sparkle from his eye with numbers like the up-tempo Sure Feels Good – in this, he spends the first verse polishing and tuning his car, the second verse polishing and tuning his tan and his suit, and the third verse utterly failing to pull…

While the bulk of the set is either from Manfred Mann, The Blues Band, or Jones recording under his own name, there are also a couple of wild-card numbers. Living For The Day is a groovy, rhythmic piece he recorded with venetian guitarist Guido Toffoletti for a one-off gig in Naples, and the live rendition is included on the album. A piece he actually wrote with Toffoletti is here included as recorded by The Blues Band; Not Me is a funky soul blues featuring The Memphis Horns and some jazzy chords. Jones honks a great harp solo on this one, fluid and heavily overdriven; in fact the production values are arguably the best on the album. Like Mother, Like Daughter is a soul ballad that Jones wrote for a 1989 album by Mick Pini, at the behest of legendary producer Mike Vernon – again, it’s not blues by any means, but Jones sings and plays an imaginative harp solo.

Vinyl edition

No less a luminary than Eric Clapton contributes guitar to Jones’ aggressively motivational solo piece Choose Or Cop Out from 2009; Mike Thompson plays a great piano solo on the 2015 Paul Jones solo version of Suddenly I Like It, originally recorded by The Blues Band a few years previously. Fittingly, the set closes with slow blues I’ll Be Home Again Tonight, co-written with guitarist Tom McGuinness, who has been a constant presence throughout Jones’ 60-year career, first in Manfred Mann then in The Blues Band.

The last time Paul Jones was featured in these pages was as a guest on Stephen Dale Petit’s recent album 2020 Visions, where he was still blowing a mean harp, approaching the end of his 8th decade. It’s a shame he doesn’t show up more often – may he be with us for many more years to come.