Kelly Jones – O2 Apollo – July 2019
A review by Alex Willmott
I was a bit of a dick when I was 13. A Merthyr boy with a chip on both shoulders, aching beneath the weight of my massive cubed-head that was protecting my ego like a brick shithouse. I stole my older brother’s yellow Sony Walkman. I couldn’t find the headphones though, so I stole those from my younger brother. And in 1997, during an English Literature lesson, my mate Scott handed me a tape.
‘Word Gets Around’ had been shabbily etched across a skinny white label. “What sort of fucking band name is that?” I asked Scott.
“That’s the name of the album you fucking idiot” Scott replied. “They’re from down the Valley.”
I really couldn’t be arsed with the post-war literature tour that was our English lesson, so I rewound the album and gave it a bash. The fleeting wall of white noise that precluded most tapes in the 1990s was quickly replaced by what I could only describe as ‘Pure fucking class’. The boys around me had already heard up to track 5 so I had to get a move on. I managed to get home pretty sharpish with our house at the bottom of the school hill, so I binged it in one sitting, arsehole to breakfast. I didn’t even know what the band were called. ‘Stereophonics’ I was told the next day. I know what you’re thinking. What sort of fucking band name is that?
A year later we piled on down to Morfa Stadium to watch a gig so good that it became a benchmark on which we judged subsequent gigs – ‘Was it the Phonics at Morfa though?’ No, probably not. On that summer evening I crowd-surfed across what felt like a meteor shower and had my Nike Air Max trainers nicked straight from my feet for the pleasure. Robbed whilst airborne I was, Swansea bastards. But being transported upside down with sun-warmed beer drawing rivers down my massive square head, I saw Stuart Cable in between his strikes, wild-eyed and poised. For a second I
swear he laughed at me as the security guy lobbed me over the barrier with no trainers on.
I had to walk a long, long way to find my mates again – feet soon drenched in the fluids of the south Wales massive. I finally found my friends and by this time they were totally bollocksed. Someone kissed a girl called Emma Evans from Ebbw Vale. It might have been me.
For twenty years frontman Kelly Jones led the charge, lifting the proverbial roof and losing his best mate in the journey. A Valley icon, a party in human form and one of the co-founders of the band – Stuart Cable on drums. For all Phonics fans, 2010 will always be viewed through a cloudy lens, when
a flame fell cold in the heart of South Wales. The embers though, clearly still with the band, continue to be very much part of their journey.
Over twenty years on from Scott handing me that tape, before I even knew their name, I was now sat in my adopted country to watch Kelly Jones at the O2 Apollo, Manchester. Emma Evans from Ebbw Vale was nowhere to be seen, but alas, I had to make do with some arseholes unable to show their appreciation without jabbing at their mobile phones to film, photograph and text. ‘Listen bonzo, your screen is giving me a seizure here, give it a rest for a few songs man.’ He didn’t even blink. To be fair my half-pissed Merthyr drawl isn’t easy to comprehend at the best of times.
The sit-down set up in the Apollo couldn’t be further from the Morfa leveller, but fuck me, time has not eroded one inch of the genius that is Kelly Jones. Still looking like a Greek God in going out gear, the boy from the village just ten miles from my own drew ‘ooo’s’ and ‘ahh’s’ at every turn. The women of Manchester certainly made their feelings about Kelly very clear, as did the men to be fair.
Opening with Hurry Up and Wait, the melodically astute people of Manchester knew that they were in for one to remember. With two-pint plastic tubs being sipped from us observers, and the flawless renditions of anthems spanning two decades, this really was Kelly Jones in his finest form. Accompanied with a drummer as cool as she was capable, a violinist with class on tap, and a top- quality keys/trumpet player, the gig went from whiskey-sodden rock to celtic homages with an effortless delivery drenched in foul-mouthed loveliness. Indeed, if a bottle of Penderyn single malt could sing, it would sound like Kelly Jones, just not as good.
The renditions of ‘Just Looking’ and ‘You’re my Star’ were nothing short of inspiring. But for me, with a 22-year history with this band, there was one track that galvanized the Apollo -‘Before anyone knew our name’. It is no doubt a song for Stuart looking down, mesmerizing, soulful and as honest as the Valley that produced him. With a stunning spoken prequel over a lush piano melody, Kelly, upright at the ivories, spoke of his friend Stuart.
He had us belly-laughing with his blunt and wonderful accounts of how the drummer once drank through to mid-afternoon on the day they were supporting the Rolling Stones. About Stuart’s avid pursuit of the party, and how at just 12 year’s old, only a few houses down from each other, they started a band and created a sound. A sound that united valleys, towns and music fans way beyond the borders of Wales. And beneath the lyrics, music and performance, we knew, all of us; the person in the venue that missed Stuart the most was the man at the microphone.
“Was that really your destiny? Was that really your dream? I don’t really feel anyone else came close to how we see.
We had the prize before our eyes, but we already had it all anyway.
Driving ’round for hours on end with the music on loud. Driving round in a scrapyard van with the music on loud.
I’ve laughed and cried, I’ve confessed, and I’ve lied We built this thing from a dead-end street. And now I’m looking around for you to see. I miss you, man.Before anyone knew our name we had the fire. Before anyone knew our name we had desire.
Before anyone knew our name. I miss you, man.”
By the end of the megalith performance I no longer gave a fuck about Bonzo with his phone out beside me. In fact, I really wanted this to be recorded. People need to see this Stereophonic tale. And finishing with Dakota, seamlessly belting the infamous bridge ‘Take a look at me now’ with a packed Manchester music hall in unison, indeed Kelly Jones got what he wanted and thoroughly deserved; thousands of strangers stood in verse with him. Kel, we did take a look at you now, lovely boy, and we’re far better for it, fella. Diolch yn Fawr and huge love from Merthyr Tydfil.
Kelly Jones – July 3 – O2 Apollo.
Stereophonics will release a new album at the end of the year: stereophonics.com/music/