Faces drummer Kenney Jones: from rock royalty to princely polo in Ewhurst
PUBLISHED: 13:57 30 August 2011 | UPDATED: 12:59 01 May 2018
He once drank as an equal with 70s rock wildmen Keith Moon and John Bonham and these days regularly plays host to Prince Charles and his sons for charity polo matches at his own club, Hurtwood Park, in Ewhurst.
Two drummers and a guitarist walk into a polo club dressed in jodhpurs and carrying mallets… it could be the start of a very good joke or a very bad night for a bar manager.
That our protagonists happen to be Kenney Jones of the Faces, Stewart Copeland of The Police and Mike Rutherford of Genesis – oh, and there’s the famously animalistic Cream drummer Ginger Baker over in the corner – and this is a true story, you really do start to wonder what has been slipped into your coffee.
“Back in the 1980s, we formed the world’s first, and what may be the only, rock ‘n’ roll polo team,” says Kenney, who I meet in the timber-framed clubhouse of Hurtwood Park Polo Club in Ewhurst, which he owns. “It started as a charity thing really, and we’d just travel the world playing polo.”
It sounds a bit like the plot of a future Clint Eastwood film and seems an awful long way from his East End roots. It’s unlikely that ‘polo club owner’ has previously appeared on a rock star’s CV either.
Horses for courses
“Honestly, I never dreamed I’d own a polo club and play with the hoity-toity,” laughs the 62-year-old, who lives next door with his wife Jayne and their four children. “But I learnt to play drums at 13 and then ride at 14, which was Steve Marriott’s fault.”
The Small Faces frontman, with whom he had the hits Itchycoo Park, Lazy Sunday and All or Nothing, also influenced Jones’ first big money purchase: a horse called Pedro.
“It turned out, though, he was scared of lorries!” says Kenney. “Over the years, I was showjumping, hunting (I never went to catch a fox; just enjoyed the riding) and team eventing all the way to Olympia. This was all while I was touring with the band!”
It was music publisher Bryan Morrison, who founded the Royal Berkshire Polo Club and at that stage had just joined Ham Polo Club, that introduced the diminutive drummer to the sport of kings.
“We went into Richmond Park, where they trained, and it turned out I was a natural,” he continues. “One of the other times I visited, Ginger Baker was taking riding and polo lessons. He was wearing a big frilly jacket and every time we turned round he had fallen off and was chasing his horse with his stick in his hand!”
At the time, Richmond Park was just a stone’s throw from his home, as along with the rest of the rock royalty in the 60s and 70s, he evacuated the city.
“People started moving to Weybridge and Kingston Hill, those sorts of areas, living the ‘showbiz’ life,” he explains. “As for me, every birthday as a child, my family would holiday in a little village in Kent hop picking, so whenever I was in the city, I used to crave being back in the countryside – I grew up among bomb sites and stinging nettles. Ironically, I ended up in Kingston Hill just like the rest.”
Raising the bar
In the 1980s, while in The Who, he moved to Leigh, near Reigate, into a house opposite the Seven Stars pub with gates from the Newdigate Prison.
“I loved that place and my father never forgave me for moving,” says Kenney. “He enjoyed us being able to just pop off the driveway into the pub. The only annoying thing was closing time. So I eventually built a replica bar in my house by the side of the pool.”
Moving to Ewhurst in ‘87, where he still calls the likes of Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton neighbours, it was only a year later he picked up the land that now forms Hurtwood after receiving a timely royalty cheque. Originally arranging a polo field for his own entertainment, Kenney started inviting friends like Brian Stein, who owns PJ’s, The Roadhouse and other London restaurants, and Bryan Morrison along.
This hobby interest began to take a more serious turn when a local lady suggested he use the land to host a charity fund-raiser for a children’s playground in Ewhurst.
“We ended up getting about 1,500 people down here purely by word of mouth,” says Kenney. “I got actress Stefanie Powers along to play in the polo – I used to watch her on telly; never in a million years thought I’d play alongside her. It was such a success, we’ve carried on a Ewhurst village day ever since.”
All or nothing
Eventually, fed up with polo club hospitality at the time (“It was sweaty sandwiches and screw cap wine. And screw cap wine was undrinkable in those days”) and after a failed attempt to build a golf course (“I never really wanted to do it but was led along for a while”), he settled on the idea of a polo club (“Golf courses have clubhouses after all; why not polo?”).
Today, the club that grew out of that vision now regularly plays host to the great and the good of polo, including even Prince Charles and his sons.
“We’re both fans of The Goon Show and it turns out we both used to sit there as kids, separately of course, tuning in to our wirelesses,” says Kenney. “I call us the Prince and the Pauper.”
While the clubhouse at the centre of Hurtwood is certainly impressive, it actually started life as a twisted old barn in Ockley before Kenney picked it up.
“I worked with an architect friend and raised it again,” he explains. “You can actually notice how it sat on the hill, as the wooden section gets lower towards the bar. Everything I’ve
learnt in life, I’ve taught myself. I think it’s an East End attitude – I’m a self-qualified groundsman, carpenter and drummer!”
The rhythm section
One of rock’s great underrated tub thumpers, while the likes of John Bonham and Keith Moon are lauded (“because they were nutcases; I loved them both”), Kenney himself sessioned for everyone from Joan Armatrading to Chuck Berry and recorded tracks such as It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It) with the Stones, on top of his day-to-day band work. In fact, he even played with The Who prior to joining the band (he replaced the sadly departed drummer, Moon).
“The press would have us as great rivals but I used to go over to Pete Townshend’s, when he lived in Twickenham, and I’d do a lot of his demo stuff for him,” says Kenney. “Moonie would never make the soundchecks, so I’d quite often be doing them when we toured together.”
It is his time with the Small Faces and Faces, however, for which he is still best-known. The latter have now reformed permanently, with the surprise inclusion of Mick Hucknall in the role of Rod Stewart, joining stalwarts Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan. Bass duties are handled by former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock (Kenney was never actually a fan of punk at the time) – original bassist Ronnie Lane died from multiple sclerosis in 1997.
Having reformed initially just to accept a lifetime achievement award, they stormed Vintage Goodwood last year, did a special charity concert at the Wintershall Estate in Bramley recently and are about to hit Hurtwood Park.
“We’re still great friends with Rod but we can’t seem to book him up before his management have already got him off doing something else,” says Kenney. “A lot of people don’t get the choice of Mick but he’s got his own vineyard, so that’s exactly what we need in the Faces: an endless supply of booze!”
All jokes aside, Kenney says that Ronnie Wood is now over 17 months without a drink and in “fantastic shape”, and that he himself has been dry for six months.
“Ronnie is the kind of character who needs to keep touring, keep playing with bands; we all are,” he says. “We all get bored really easily if we’re not creating something. I have noticed that this time round, though, we’re actually a lot tighter – quite probably because we’re a lot more sober.”
In preparation for the current tour, the members met at Mick Hucknall’s house by Burhill Golf Club in Walton-on-Thames to work on the set list and rumour has it there are to be a few special guests.
Former Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash has just contributed a foreword to a new limited edition Faces book produced by Genesis publications in Guildford. What are the chances?
“Woody mentioned that Slash is actually in the country but it really just depends on who is in town at the time,” says Kenney. “Back in the day, when we toured America, every single artist and actor would want to get on stage with us. When we played LA, Ryan O’Neal would sit right by me as the drum roadie. Mad.
“I did bump into Paul McCartney recently. Because Ronnie Lane obviously can’t be with us any more, I’d love to get some of his admirers on stage with us. We used to perform Maybe I’m Amazed, so I asked him. He was up for it, so who knows?”
And, on that note, he takes a message from Pete Townshend and leaves me sitting alone, looking at the sofa opposite. On it, a Beatles design cushion cover. Who knows, indeed…
My Favourite Surrey...
Pub: It would have been the Seven Stars in Leigh, but now I don’t touch the drink.
Restaurant: I’m still very sentimental about The Good Earth in Esher. It’s where all the crew used to go and I’ve always enjoyed it. Still do.
View: If you head up onto the hills around Hurtwood, it’s an amazing view and we are the greenest place in a very green patchwork.
Place to Visit: The Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford was fun. Kids need to find themselves before they become a musician, but these places can’t hurt. I was self-taught and enjoy that, but at some point you have to learn the technicalities.
Place to Chill: Here, with a good polo match and a great band playing in the evening. Quite timely that.