From being swamped with knickers on stage in Las Vegas to being knighted by the Queen in 2006, Tom Jones has seen it all. He has played working men’s clubs in the Welsh valleys, hosted his own TV show, and along the way performed with everyone from Elvis to Wyclef Jean.
Now, after five decades in the business, with myriad awards and many millions of record sales under his belt, there is very little left for Sir Tom to achieve. But today (November 1) sees Jones honoured again. In front of an audience of 1,000 guests, at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, Sir Tom Jones will once again take to the stage, this time to be presented with the Music Industry Trust’s Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to music.
Here Sir Tom discusses why the charitable work of the Music Industry Trust is so vital, his past achievements and his plans for the future.
Music Week: Congratulations on winning the Music Industry Trusts’ Award. You’ve won many awards since you picked up a Grammy way back in 1965, how does this compare?
Tom Jones: It’s great. I know it supports Nordoff-Robbins and I’ve done things with them before so I’m aware of the great charity work they do. Then, of course, there is the Brit School; the two charities are very important. For them to give me an award, for them to think I’m worthy – because it is for people who have achieved a lot in the music world – it really is a great honour.
You’ve been to the Brit School in the past. Are you impressed with the set-up?
It’s great. It’s important for young people to develop their talents. I’m going to go again next month and I’ll also visit Nordoff-Robbins’ new facility.
Looking back at when you started out playing the working men’s clubs and dance halls in Wales, do you think you would have benefited from something like the Brit School?
It’s always good to be able to give kids a chance, because often they never get a chance. Where I come from in Wales there were facilities to get some experience under your belt, there were places to play; I don’t know whether those places are still available. I know the working men’s clubs don’t put on as much music as they used. And it is one thing to have the venues, but some kids don’t have the confidence to get up and perform. They need to be guided in the right way and I think that is what the Brit School does so well.
Having a mentor is obviously key. In your career, your manager Gordon Mills proved to be something of a guiding light.
He kicked the ball off. He came from the same area as I did. He was on holiday in Wales and if he hadn’t shown up at this club… That’s what I was waiting for, someone from the real show business to see me one of these nights and he was the man. He came in and saw me perform at this working men’s club. If that hadn’t happened I don’t know how much longer it would have taken for someone to show me the way. Before you get into show business you don’t know how to go about it. I was lucky – he took me to London and away I went, but a lot of people don’t get that chance. The Brit School does an excellent job of getting them ready – not just developing the talent but also putting them in the picture and pointing the way. They create that chance.
Do you believe the music industry is doing enough to develop new lasting talent?
When I signed to Decca it was a three-single contract – three strikes and you’re out… even then in the early Sixties. So I don’t know whether record companies have changed that much. But these talent shows – you get great exposure on television, but you are thrown into the deep end. These kids get tremendous exposure sometimes before they have got an act together or they have really learnt anything about what is needed.
What one bit of advice above all others would you give to an aspiring new singer or musician?
Find yourself and be true to yourself. Get your own style and make sure you know what you want to do before you go into it.
Over the years you have achieved so much; won Grammy and Brit awards, sold many many millions of records, befriended and duetted with Elvis, had your own TV show, been knighted. What do you consider to be your career highlight?
The knighthood – that was tremendous. It’s a pinnacle. Even if you have been very successful in show business or anything else, to be knighted is really something. Not many people get that. It was the big one. You get a hit record, you get exposure on television, you win different awards for different things along the way, but that knighthood was like, Phew!; it was mind-boggling to me. I was shaking when they told me I was being considered. I was thinking, “What do I have to do? Is there going to have to be a lifestyle change? Will I have to straighten up?”
This year is shaping up nicely for you. You’ve had your 70th birthday, won a MIT award and released Praise & Blame, an album that attracted both acclaim and commercial success.
It’s the kind of music that got me really interested when I was young, when I would hear this gospel, country or blues; it’s basic roots music. So to do a record like that and have success with it, I wasn’t expecting that success. I was concentrating on making a really good album with Ethan Johns, the producer, and with the right musicians and the right songs. I thought I can make a really good album that will last, that people can play at any time, that’s not seasonal. It’s basic stuff, really well recorded. And it paid off. It is reassuring when you do something like that and it works. It gives you confidence that you are on the right track. It’s a pat on the back, just like this award, being recognised for what you do. It’s great.
You’ll be back in the UK to pick up the award. Are you ever tempted to leave LA and return for good?
That’s always a temptation because I am British and there is a big pull on me. But being in show business I come to Britain a lot and don’t feel stuck here. But I’ve never felt that I’ll always stay in America, that’s why I’m not an American citizen. I have a green card.
And how is your relationship with your new label Island after the success of Praise & Blame and the reports of that leaked email from David Sharpe?
We are going to do another album, I know that. I never really got to the bottom of that email. I don’t understand it because he was from the accounting side and had nothing to do with making music. He wasn’t on the A&R side. They were all apologising to me like mad and promised to make good. So I said, “You better had – if anything negative comes out of this, if it puts people off, I’m going to be very upset.” But as luck would have it, people listened to it and it went from there.
So what’s the timeframe for the new album?
I’m listening to songs at the moment and need to see if Ethan Johns and the musicians are going to be available and where we will do it. It’s in the early stages but there will definitely be another album on Island. We are going to continue along the same road as Praise & Blame. Now whether that means we will go deeper into the blues, or there is more country, I don’t know. We’ve got to find material that sounds real coming from me. As far as I’m concerned that is what takes the longest time, getting the material together.
You’ve said before that the fire is still inside you to keep going. Have you plans to retire anytime soon?
I’m going to keep going as long as I have my health and my voice. Hopefully there are a lot of albums to come yet. I love performing. It’s my life.
By Christopher Barrett(c) 2010 Music Week. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.
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