In the Swinging Sixties British Music Explosion it was all about the beat groups. There were singers of extraordinary individuality who stood out front in the spotlight but the boys in the band had got their back. This gang mentality became so entrenched that young solo singers, particularly the men, seemed a little solitary, like something was not quite right. The charts show that Tom Jones, Engelbert & others had big hits but our parents were still buying records…that was nothing to do with us.
Manfred Mann came out of the same West London rhythm & blues scene as the Stones & the Yardbirds. They were pretty wild & the 3rd single, “5-4-3-2-1” was the theme for the coolest show around “Ready Steady Go”. In the same year, 1964, they covered a song written by Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich out of New York’s hit factory, the Brill Building. “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, smashed it around the world. There were a lot of good bands caught on the “you’re only as good as your last single” treadmill in those pre-Sergeant Pepper’s times but the Manfreds made the move from Blues Brothers to pop poppets with a touch too much haste.
Out front was singer Paul Jones (Mann was the beardie, Jazznik keyboard player). Handsome, articulate, smiling & telegenic Jones was Jagger-lite. No stranger to soap, Jones was the rocker you could bring home to meet your mum. He was at Oxford University before the music thing got serious. The screams from the audience in this live appearance are for him. “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” is one of a run of assured commercial choices, a good Dylan cover usually worked out. The next single, the lovely “Pretty Flamingo”, was a 2nd UK #1 then Jones left the group. This was big pop news. The singer remained with the label while the group were moved along.
“High Time” was the teen idol’s debut solo single & boy does it suck. Producer John Burgess had worked with Manfred Mann, both he & writers Chas Mills & Mike Leander were pop people. Any tinge of R&B had vanished. The hip-shaking, harmonica playing Jones was reduced to bouncing around to bubblegum. The song was a hit, he was prepared to work for his money. There is a certain nostalgic camp about the jingle but “Paint It Black” it is not. In 1966 a couple of young Stevies, Winwood & Marriott, spent a lot of time in the Top 10 with their bands the Spencer Davis Group & the Small Faces. These sharp dressed, blues-influenced shouters were the thing. In comparison Paul Jones seemed old-fashioned. In 1966, this was not the thing.
When he left the band Jones said that he wanted to act. His debut was in “Privilege” (1967), the first made for cinema project by the faux-documentarist director Peter Watkins. Now I’m the wrong guy to be telling you about Peter Watkins. His films have always stirred conflicting opinions. His committed, innovative, emotional style of film-making captures an honesty which gets his work banned or marginalized. “Privilege” was trashed as “hysterical”, “amateurish” even, by the cinema owners, “immoral”. It is none of these things. The film is a companion to “If” (1968), Lindsey Anderson’s classic about youth revolt.
Paul Jones, the real pop star, plays Steve Shorter, the same only allegorical.Shorter is used by the media, religion, government, all those bad boys, to subvert popular culture in favour of profit & power. It all gets a bit much for Steve & the grass seems greener on another side when he meets an artist played by Jean Shrimpton. I’ll write that again…Jean (supermodel) Shrimpton. Bad craziness & an exaggerated satire ensues. Within a few years the US Government are commercializing thus controlling the anti-war/counter-culture movement. Here in the UK the cynical manipulation of public opinion by Thatcher’s government so that they could fight a war with Argentina…well, it reminded me of this movie. The full movie is on the Y-tube right now, just a couple of clicks away. Patti Smith’s take on the film’s theme is just one click away.
Paul Jones did not make too many films or too many hit records after “Privilege”. His old band hired another good-looking, articulate, presentable young singer & retained their place in the UK Top 10 for the next 3 years. Jones retained his boyish looks for far too long, he did work in a lot of musical theatre. I have an almost forgotten memory of his starring role in a very forgotten musical in Birmingham. He was, always, the guy who sang “There she was just walking down the street singing…” & that counted for a lot.
He gigged regularly with the Blues Band & the Manfreds, a band with some of his old mates. He now has a well established national radio show playing the best of traditional & modern Rhythm & Blues. The last Blues DJ held in such high regard was Alexis Korner. Way, way back in the early 1960s, before any of this show business stuff seemed at all possible, Paul Jones (P.P.Pond) duetted with Brian Jones (Elmo Lewis) at the Ealing Club, home of a Blues scene centred on Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Man, those West London boys got around & stuck around !