Kelly Jones, lead vocalist and guitarist with the Stereophonics, chats with Kevin Cooper about his friendship with Johnny Owen, their hit song Handbags And Gladrags, their latest album Keep The Village Alive and their forthcoming arena tour of the UK.
Stereophonics are a Welsh rock band that formed in 1992. The band consists of Kelly Jones (lead vocals and guitar), Richard Jones (bass guitar and backing vocals), Adam Zindani (guitar and backing vocals), Jamie Morrison (drums) and touring member Tony Kirkham (keyboards). Stereophonics have released nine studio albums, including six that have reached Number one in the UK. Their latest album, Keep The Village Alive was released last year.
The band have also been praised for their live performances, which have landed them headlining slots at many of the UK and Ireland’s most high-profile music festivals, including Reading and Leeds in 2000, both Glastonbury and V Festival in 2002, the Isle Of Wight in 2004 and 2009, and Oxegen in 2010. The band is part of the Cardiff music scene.
Kelly Jones also has a successful solo career and in 2007 he released his album Only The Names Have Been Changed, while recording the band’s sixth studio album, Pull The Pin.
Hi Kelly how are you?
I’m good thanks Kevin how are you today mate?
I’m fine thank you apart from this bloody weather, make sure that you bring your wellies with you on Thursday (laughter).
Yes I know what you mean it’s a bit like that here actually (laughter).
Before we go on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Thank you mate, thanks for having us.
And just how is life treating you?
Life at the minute is very good actually; we have had a really good run. We finished the first leg of the tour in January over in Paris where unfortunately due to the recent events over there some of the shows got postponed which is a shame, but you really do have to be sensible about these things.
You have recently supported The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) at the Rock In Rio Festival. How was that?
That’s right, we have just started back up in Portugal last week where we played some of our own shows and also supported Bruce Springsteen as you say, at the Rock In Rio Festival.
What’s it like to be supporting the man himself?
He was fantastic. We looked across and saw that he was watching our show. He came to our dressing room afterwards and said hello to us. He told us that he knew that we were Welsh guys and we all had a nice chat with him. He’s a really lovely fella.
You are also supporting him on the 14th June at The Hague in the Netherlands. Are you excited about that?
Yes we are; we are all really looking forward to that.
You said that he watched your set, did you watch his?
Yes we did, all two hours and forty minutes of it with a few beers; it was a great night (laughter). He has a fantastic band and I did really enjoy it actually. I really can’t wait to see him again.
You have mentioned your Keep The Village Alive Tour. You kicked off the tour back in November last year and you are still going strong. Are you still enjoying it?
Yes it’s been great. In fact we have been in the studio earlier today working out a few set lists. I have to say that the set list is strong and this leg of the tour is going to be great. We are trying to give the fans nine albums worth of music in two hours really (laughter). It’s a challenge but it’s great. It’s a really nice luxury to have; a large back catalogue of songs that people know and like.
You are playing the Motorpoint Arena here in Nottingham on Thursday 2nd June. What can we expect?
We are really looking forward to playing Nottingham. As you know we played Rock City a few months back which was great. However we didn’t get to play there on the arena tour back in December, hence the reason that we are back there now. So we are going to be trying to cram as many hits into the set as we can really. We are playing the Cardiff Stadium at the weekend so we are going to try to get as much of that show into the Nottingham show, so you can expect a lot of the big hitters. We will try to take people through a journey with us; those who have been following the band since the beginning, and also the kids who have just discovered us on C’est la Vie and I Wanna Get Lost with You, and to give them a journey through it all.
You have been playing here in Nottingham since 1996. What do you think to the city?
We have always had a great time up there in Nottingham. As you quite rightly point out, we have been gigging there since 1996 and I personally love Nottingham. In fact I am meeting a few mates up there this weekend and I am really looking forward to that. I always have a good time up there.
Would that happen to be a certain Johnny Owen by any chance?
(Laughter) where are you getting your information from (laughter). Yes that’s right, Johnny is an old friend from Merthyr Tydfil and he promises me that he is going to bring Vicky (McClure) to the show, which will be great.
Didn’t you and Johnny play in bands together back in Merthyr Tydfil?
Who told you that (laughter) that’s absolutely right; me and Johnny used to play together in bands before I had a record deal. Johnny played in a band called The Pocket Devils who were our arch rivals so we have known each other for quite a long time. We didn’t see each other for about twenty years but then we got back together about two years ago now, so I am really looking forward to seeing him.
Well I am just warning you that you had better put on a good show because I have turned down an evening with Beverly Knight in order to photograph you here in Nottingham (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) well what can I say Kevin except we aim to please (laughter).
Were you happy with the response to Keep The Village Alive?
Yes I was, I was really pleased with the reaction to the album. The industry is all over the place at the minute so for us to get a number one album with our ninth album was an amazing achievement. In a sense it was probably the best one that we have had, and we feel really proud of the music that we are making right now. It’s also great to see a whole new bunch of sixteen year olds who have never heard the band before who have now discovered us through C’est la Vie and White Lies and it has been a great run really.
So I am really happy when you have a recycling situation where there are new fans discovering your music. It happened with both Dakota and Indian Summer and there are always a particular group of people who pick up on particular songs which means that you then have this new batch of people who come along to your shows.
Some of your fans are already saying that it is the best album that you have ever made. Would you go that far?
To be honest I don’t really know if it is the best album that we have ever made; I think that time will always tell you which the best album that you ever made is. However, amongst our older material there does seem to be a few of the songs which have stood the test of time, for example Mr And Mrs Smith particularly goes down well and I think that C’est la Vie has an energy similar to our first few records. But in answer to your question, I don’t really know.
I was bought up with two older brothers playing a lot of music around the house. All that I have ever wanted to achieve in my career as a musician is to be able to continue to do this until the day that I drop and to have a collection of music that spans a period of time that still hold water. That’s all that I have aimed to do really and that is all that I am trying to do.
I personally feel that your latter songs lend themselves to both large arena and outdoor festivals. Would you agree?
Yes I would, I would totally agree with you Kevin. The last two albums have given us a really great feeling out on the road because the songs are very musical and they do lend themselves very well to a live environment. We are on a roll at the minute and the new stuff fits in really great too.
Looking at your tour schedule you are once again going to be playing a summer that is totally full of festivals.
Yes we are and we are really looking forward to playing a summer full of shows. We will be playing Edinburgh Castle and The Isle Of Wight and all of these different places. It’s going to be a great summer for us.
You mentioned playing Rock City last year and also some of the festivals that you will be playing this summer. Which do you prefer to play; the small intimate gigs or the vast out door festivals?
I have to say that I did really enjoy the gig at Rock City actually because it was the first time that we had played in a while. Regarding festivals, last week for example we played both Cambridge and Norwich Universities and then we flew out to play in front of sixty thousand people at Rock In Rio in Portugal, so they couldn’t be more different really. But I have to say that I love all of those environments despite the fact that they are very different. We were bought up playing in pubs and clubs so we still really do love the sweaty little university gigs. We try to be a band that goes to all of the towns that nobody goes to really, because nobody ever came to our town and that has always remained very important to us.
The big shows are like a celebration really; all of the big songs are there, you have got the light show together with all of the gimmicks so you just have a bit of fun with that really. You enjoy that experience and get the crowd involved as much as you can. With the smaller shows you can afford to go a little deeper really with material that particular fans only may know.
I recently interviewed Mike D’Abo the writer of Handbags And Gladrags and he said that after the original hit for Chris Farlowe he thought that your version was his favourite.
Really. Did he really say that? That’s very kind of him to say that. Wow.
What made you pick that song to cover?
I was mixing our third album, Just Enough Education To Perform, over in New York with Andy Wallace who had also worked with Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Nirvana, Jeff Buckley, Alice Cooper and The Foo Fighters, to name but a few. Andy wouldn’t let us go into the studio until 5 o’clock in the afternoon so all of that time in the day we really had nothing to do other than to spend time exploring New York which was absolutely fantastic for a twenty-five year old (laughter). Richard (Jones) had bought a CD boxset of rarities by The Faces and bands like that and on there was Handbags And Gladrags by Rod Stewart.
Well, I have to tell you that we have never been massive fans of Rod Stewart but I did like to listen to The Faces album, A Nod Is As Good As a Wink…To A Blind Horse on a Friday night before going out and getting drunk (laughter). Other than that I really didn’t know much about them. Richard found the track Handbags And Gladrags by Rod Stewart and he would play it at every opportunity. Sometime later Jools Holland asked us to perform on his Hootenanny show and so we played the song on there backed by his orchestra, and the peoples response to it was amazing. One afternoon we recorded the song with Laurie Latham who had previously produced albums for the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen, Squeeze, The Stranglers and Ian Dury.
It was recorded in a very short space of time and after we had recorded it we left it with Laurie to work his magic on. It was originally a B Side but people started to pick up on it and they loved it. It was for that reason only that it found itself on the Just Enough Education To Perform album. There wasn’t a lot of thought behind it to be honest; it was just a song that we liked so we covered it. The odd thing was that as the people were reacting to it in a positive way, The Office came on the TV and used the song for the opening credits. I think that people put two and two together and thought that it was the same people and it just went fucking mad that song (laughter).
I don’t know if you are aware or not but Mike had lots of trouble with the BBC. They never even asked him if they could use the track on The Office, they just did it.
No, did they really, that’s awful. I never actually knew who did that version on there to be honest. It’s strange isn’t it because we did covers all of the time when we were kids, playing in pubs and stuff. We never really put a cover on any of our albums and Handbags And Gladrags was just one of those songs that was in the right place at the right time for us. I mean Just Enough Education To Perform was a massive album for us, and in fact it went five times Platinum. It worked well for us as a band at that time because it also got us onto the front of almost every magazine. It was all down to a lot of things all happening at the same time.
What was the last song that made you cry?
Actually when I saw the Springsteen show last week, I really did enjoy the track Secret Garden and so I went out the next day and bought some of his records so that I could play it on the plane on the way home. I don’t think that a tear actually came out of my eye but I have to say that I was pretty moved; that track did move me and it is the one that springs to mind. I have always quite liked that track, I have always liked his singing on that.
Who or what inspired you to follow a career in the music business?
Well, I did my first gig when I was twelve years old in the Working Men’s Club at the end of our street. I guess that following my dad around the Working Men’s Clubs as a kid, sitting with my mum listening to him sing and watching him perform I guess would have planted some sort of seed in my head. I remember thinking to myself that could be good to do but then I did a lot of boxing, football and stuff but then the music came back around, so I guess having it right in front of my eyes I suppose.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Well, still being here really and still making music that is relevant to people of all ages and all walks of life. It’s always amazing to bring out a new record and have guys who are driving by stop and tell me that they think that the latest record is amazing. It’s great that eleven year old kids who are at school with my daughters know who I am and more to the point know the music. That’s it for me.
After the current tour and the summer festivals what next for The Stereophonics?
Well, what I can tell you is that we are currently writing songs for a new album which we want to bring out next year as part of our 20th Anniversary. And before you ask no, I can’t tell you any more than that. That is definitely all that I can tell you (laughter).
On that note Kelly let me thank you once again for taking the time to speak to me and I hope to see you here in Nottingham.
No problem Kevin, thanks very much. I’m looking forward to seeing you in Nottingham. Beverley Knight I am not but I will try my very best (laughter). Bye for now.