Paul Jones interview: I didn't feel ripped off by BBC Radio 2 Blues Show exit
Manfred Mann frontman Paul Jones talks about why he was happy to hang up his Radio 2 Blues Show mic, why he turned down the Rolling Stones and touring again.
There was an outcry when BBC Radio 2 overhauled its schedule earlier this year, with the station head proclaiming it needed to refresh its specialist genres. Among those axed was Paul, who’d presented his Monday night Blues Show for 32 years.
Fans were angry. Some claimed the station was showing its male “golden oldies” the door in favour of younger, female presenters Sara Cox, Jo Whiley and ex-Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews.
Truth is, the Manfred Mann frontman had been looking to simplify his life for years.
“During those 32 years I did another 14 at Jazz FM, before that I had two or three at the BBC World Service... I also did a couple of years on Radio London so, yes, it’s a lot of broadcasting. Because there has been so much of it, it’s actually less of a radical change in my life not to do it,” laughs Paul, who passed the baton to 6 Music DJ Matthews.
“I couldn’t go on working six days a week, week in week out; hardly having holidays and all that sort of stuff. It never occurred to me the radio programme would be an easy way to get another day a week off. Then, very suddenly, Radio 2 presented me with the opportunity and I said ‘okay’.
“That’s why I was able to leave it without any rancour or feeling ripped off or stolen from. It was the right time for me to stop.”
Paul, visiting Southend and Ipswich with The Manfreds and special guest Georgie Fame later this year, actually guested on Matthews’ show the night before our chat.
“Bless her heart, she had me on to talk about the new Blues Band album, the boxset of vinyl albums from the 1960s by Manfred Mann which has just come out and the tour which was really nice. We’re actually good friends.”
While we’re on the topic of rumour control, I have to ask if he really doesn’t regret turning down the chance to be the lead singer of the Rolling Stones.
“That’s putting it too strongly,” he says, although Brian Jones did invite him to front the band he planned on forming.
“I turned him down. One, I thought he was being wildly optimistic because he said ‘I’m going to form a band and become rich and famous’. I thought ‘Brian, no-one’s ever going to become rich and famous playing the blues, don’t be ridiculous’.
“The second thing was I’d just auditioned to be the singer with a dance band in Slough. You might think that’s really strange, but they were great musicians. They regularly played so therefore there was money in it. I wasn’t earning any money and I learned a lot from working with that band.”
Had he said yes, the Stones would never have become what they are.
“Whatever band Mick and Keith were in would have become the Rolling Stones as we know it, wouldn’t it? Who knows what might have happened or not happened? I didn’t really turn down the Rolling Stones, I had it in my power to prevent the Rolling Stones from ever happening but I chose not to,” he laughs.
Things worked out okay. Formed in 1962, Manfred Mann secured their place in the history of British pop music with classics like Do Wah Diddy, Pretty Flamingo, Sha La La and, of course, 5-4-3-2-1.
“Actually that was much more my kind of band to be honest because we were all jazz enthusiasts and jazz musicians wanting to make a living. They didn’t want to play rock exactly or pop, but they thought there’s got to be a compromise and sure enough it’s rhythm and blues.”
It’s hard to believe, but back in the band’s early days journalists and critics decried the birth of British rhythm and blues as a passing fad. Paul didn’t care.
“My eyes were on the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and T-Bone Walker... Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Joe Turner had sung with big jazz orchestras and jazz bands who went on - especially in the case of Turner - to flirt with rock and roll and do that very successfully.
“In the end they were rhythm and blues and jazz singers who were in their 60s and 70s and I just looked at them and thought ‘those are the people I’m going to be like’.”
He’d been a blues fan for quite a while and played skiffle in the 1950s, which was blues really; at least when it first started.
He hadn’t actually got up and played much of it. Then came the chance to sing a song from time to time with Alexis Korner, the musician and radio broadcaster often referred to as a founding father of British blues.
“He was very generous and very encouraging... well, we saw ourselves as the new generation because we thought he was old. He was probably about six years older than us,” laughs Paul.
“He’d sort of point at Mick Jagger or me or somebody and say ‘right, jump up do a song’ which was wonderful. It was a brilliant band and there we were, some of us still at college, on a stage performing with the likes of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. It was amazing.”
The roadside’s littered with acts who didn’t make it or who thought it would be great fun to do for a while and then they’d grow up and do something more serious. Manfred Mann are one of the success stories.
“The more it (the music business) changes the more it stays the same. Although in terms of the business side things have changed quite radically. One never dreamed in the early 1960s of making the kind of money that can be made nowadays from live performance and things like that.
“One never dreamed of having to argue in law courts about whether you owned a piece of music or not. That’s probably the biggest change of all, that it’s possible for a company to profit from a piece of music it never wrote or published and the person who did write it and publish it to have to accept they won’t get as much money as they used to before the internet.”
The Manfreds reformed in 1991. The line-up consists of Paul, his 1966 replacement Mike d’Abo, founding members Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness, Rob Townsend, best known for being the drummer in prog rock band Family; Marcus Cliffe and Simon Currie.
“When I started The Blues Band the first person I asked to be in it was Tom, who’d been in The Manfreds and of course McGuinness Flint. We’d been working together since the beginning of 1979 so when he said in 1991 let’s get the band together for my 50th birthday we said ‘okay’.
“We had such a wonderful evening and when we got back to the dressing room I think it was Mike, who was our drummer in the 1960s but by now had become our keyboard player because it was always his main instrument, who said ‘you realise we’re going to have to do more of this don’t you?’,” he laughs.
Paul and d’Abo each secured a string of hits with Manfred Mann but there’s no jostling for the mic when they’re on stage together laughs the former.
“There was never any rivalry. I gave my notice to the band in October 1965 and it was June or July of 1966 by the time they got Mike so believe me, I was very pleased to see him,” he recalls.
They never crossed paths during d’Abo’s three-and-a-half-years with the band but got together a few times over the following 20 years for charity gigs and whatnot.
As well as performing their hits, they will also perform tracks that brought them success individually like d’Abo’s Handbags and Gladrags and the McGuinness Flint classic When I’m Dead and Gone.
They’re joined by Georgie Fame, who shot into the charts as the founding member of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. He had three UK number one singles - Yeh, Yeh, Get Away and The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.
“People will expect to hear the hits, ours and Georgie’s; so we won’t disappoint them in that respect. Georgie and The Manfreds have always had at least one foot in the musical camp of Jazz. At shows we always did a piece of music called Watermelon Man, which Georgie used to sing as well, that was from an artist called Mongo Santamaría. If I’m not mistaken, Georgie’s first number one record was a Mongo job so we’ll probably allow that kind of music that’s deep in our hearts to pop up again.”
• See The Manfreds Maximum Rhythm and Blues tour at Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion, October 20 and the Ipswich Regent, November 13.