The Manfreds' Paul Jones on Clapton, Cranleigh and countryside
PUBLISHED: 16:53 25 November 2014 | UPDATED: 10:53 25 April 2018
He could have been a Rolling Stone, has acted on stage and screen and has a show on BBC Radio 2 – but former Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones still takes time out to play locally. Matthew Williams catches up for a chat with the Bramley-based blues man
Renowned as something of a haven for rock ‘n’ roll royalty, our county is home to numerous well-known musicians – meaning that stories of unsuspecting Surrey residents stumbling upon world-famous rockers having an impromptu session (by any definition) in one of our country inns are by no means uncommon.
To put it another way, it’s not just fauna and flora you’re likely to spot in our local countryside; it’s always best to keep your eyes – and ears – open.
So perhaps it’s no surprise then that some of the hottest tickets around are to an annual gig that takes place, not in London, but down one of our leafy lanes. I’m talking about the intimate event held each December in Cranleigh that sells out before most people know anything about it (including the musicians!).
“Half the fun is the secrecy,” says BBC Radio 2 rhythm and blues DJ and former Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones, who as a patron of Cranleigh Arts Centre helps to organise these legendary charity concerts. “No-one knows until the very last minute.”
And so it is, that in the past few years, the likes of Eric ‘Slowhand’ Clapton and Paul ‘The Modfather’ Weller have found themselves strutting their stuff in a venue that could probably fit into one of the Royal Albert Hall’s bar areas – or boxes.
“There’s definitely a magic about the intimacy of the place,” says Paul, 72, who lives nearby in Bramley. “I love ringing these people and working out what we’re going to do on the night. Admittedly, it rarely works out quite how it’s planned but that can be half the fun!
“Eric and I go way back, so he’s always first on my list. He lives just down the road and has joined us twice, so I’m pretty sure we’ll manage to get him on the bill again as soon as the dates match up. It’s quite funny that the secretiveness of the event means people expect Eric to turn up all the more.”
Move to Surrey
While Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page’s Surrey roots led to our county being referred to as “The Surrey Delta” (with tongue-firmly-in-cheek) back in the 60s, moving to our leafy climes was never actually the natural choice for Paul.
“It was my wife’s fault,” he says, referring to his long-time partner, Fiona Hendley, who is an accomplished actress and singer in her own right. “I never imagined myself living out in the ‘sticks’. I always enjoyed the bustle of London and areas like Camden. But she was interested in moving out to Wimbledon and so eventually we found ourselves out that way.
“A few years later, she decided we should move out to the countryside properly. I wasn’t convinced but then we started looking around the Guildford area and found Bramley. We finally moved into this area around 10 or so years ago and, to be honest, I’ve never looked back.
“The irony, of course, is that I left London thinking I was leaving the showbiz life behind and found myself living in an area packed full of famous musicians!”
The road to his Cranleigh events started when one of those celebrity locals, Gary Brooker of Procol Harum fame, helped to organise the final concert at the Guildford Civic in 2004, The Last Fling, which also happened to feature a certain Mr Clapton, Kenney Jones and Alvin Stardust.
“For some reason, they invited me to play too,” laughs Paul. “It was at that great concert that I met Tony Smith, who promoted gigs for Cranleigh Arts Centre. They’d been looking for a patron since Harry Secombe passed away and, after a while, asked whether I’d be interested. It took me some time to consider but eventually I couldn’t resist.
“The first concert we actually organised together was at Chiddingfold. It was a charity fund-raiser for Hurricane Katrina. From then, we’ve done it every year in Cranleigh, to raise money for the centre and various charities.”
Born with the blues
Born in Portsmouth, as Paul Pond, he went on to win a place at Jesus College, Oxford University, before turning his back on academia to pursue music and, in particular, the British blues revival.
“It’s not that we especially had anything in common with the American blues musicians, who were mainly from deprived backgrounds, but it had a certain appeal to teenage angst I guess,” he says.
“Eric Burdon from the Animals put it well when he said that it was a support of sorts for the downtrodden. ‘We’re backing you guys’ etc. Of course, there’s something very direct and primal about the blues – it doesn’t beat around the bush on controversial topics – and that definitely has an appeal when you’re a young man!”
Having turned down Brian Jones, who was in the early stages of forming the Rolling Stones, Paul went on to make his name in the 60s as the singer of popular rhythm and blues band Manfred Mann.
Hits such as 5-4-3-2-1 (the theme song for the Ready Steady Go! TV series), Do Wah Diddy Diddy and Pretty Flamingo followed before Paul decided to concentrate on other pursuits and was replaced by Mike d’Abo in 1966.
He then turned to acting, first in films and television and then on stage, and would go on to perform with the Royal National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and in the West End, as well as collecting a gold album for his role on the original recording of Evita.
“It’s strange really; if anyone had said to me when I was younger that I was going to get into acting at some point of my life, I’d have laughed at them,” he says. “No, no... no chance. Our school would always do a Gilbert and Sullivan or Shakespeare and I was never sure which one I disliked more.
“Even with films, I tended to love them for the directors rather than the stars. It was only when I started acting in the theatre that I began to take it seriously, and it did fill a gap in my fulfilment at the time.”
The musical bug never left though and his mean harmonica playing has meant he’s been much in demand over the years for those looking to add a bluesy edge. From the likes of Tina Turner, Percy Sledge and Memphis Slim to the more contemporary Katie Melua, and even the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul says he likes to keep himself guessing.
“Mike Batt called me about playing on Katie Melua’s records,” says Paul. “He always assembles a terrific band and that girl’s voice is really spectacular; she’s one of those singers who keeps developing too.
“I’ve played with a lot of different people over the years and sometimes you do look around the room and wonder if the invitation was meant for you. I’m best-known for blues, obviously, but I like trying my hand at all sorts.
“Sometimes, you’re not sure you’re going to be up to it but then you hear the results and it can be hugely pleasing.”
He may have been in the business for some 50 years, but Paul still thrives on stage and continues to tackle a gruelling touring schedule of the nation’s music venues with not one but two acts: The Manfreds (including original Manfred Mann bandmates Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness) and The Blues Band.
“I still get the same excitement from performing music these days – if not more,” he says. “The screaming girls are out of the equation, so it’s definitely all about the music, and we’re so much better than we used to be; we were just kids back then. Both bands are lovely groups of guys and it’s magic performing together on stage, especially here in Surrey.
“I last played G Live two years ago with The Manfreds for our 50th anniversary tour and I thought it was really impressive. Tours are always full of peaks and troughs, but Guildford was at the top of the mountain.”
A man with the blues in his blood, you get the impression that Paul Jones has never been one to back away from a challenge or taking the path less travelled. Fortunately, especially for those looking forward to certain upcoming, local shows, he appears to still thrill in the unexpected.
My Favourite Surrey...
View: I really love a good view and enjoy walking around Pewley Down near Guildford or up Tennyson Lane at Blackdown.
To eat or drink: I like my food treated properly – no pre-packed stuff! Places like La Luna in Godalming and that one in Abinger Common (The Abinger Hatch); they’re great. I’ve also got to mention Chris Evans’ place in Chiddingfold (The Mulberry) too. He’ll sometimes play a tune he’s heard on my show and that’s fantastic. I’ve no idea where he finds the time to listen though! He’s a very engaging and pleasant character to be around.
Shop: There’s always some interesting music to pick up at Record Corner in Godalming.
Place to visit: The National Trust’s Hatchlands Park in East Clandon. I played there a couple of times with The Blues Band, but I’m not sure if they have gigs any more.
Place to relax: I was very sad when the Chiddingfold Club shut down but venues do come and go, and there’s always somewhere new to find. There’s a guy in the Farncombe area called Julian Lewry who puts together some really excellent artists. People should definitely check out his events.
Take 5: Paul Jones’ favourite records he’s played on...
Smokestack Lightning, Manfred Mann
Flat Foot Sam, The Blues Band
Your Funeral, My Trial, Joe Bonamassa (live at the Royal Albert Hall)
Blues in the Night, Katie Melua
Roots and Branches CD, Robin Trower
Take 5: Paul Jones’ favourite records to listen to...
My Babe, Little Walter
Smokestack Lightning, Howling Wolf
River Deep, Mountain High, Ike and Tina Turner
Nice Work If You Can Get It, Billie Holiday
Back at the Chicken Shack, Jimmy Smith