Brian Jones
BAND

Brian’s Musical Heritage
THE EARLY YEARS

I have an early memory of my first solo singing performance at a Sunday school anniversary concert. Standing on a small stage next to my Mum at the piano and singing ‘Wide, Wide As The Ocean’. I must have been about five and very nervous but loved it, so I think that’s just about when my love for singing and playing began.

As I have said, Mum played piano and to quote my Dad “She could harmonise to a cat’s meow!” My Dad played his George Formby Ukelele and during his time in the Welsh Guards was in the bass line of their male voice choir.

Mum and Dad sang the songs of the time in harmony together and my Dad would encourage us to join in so he could do the bass bits. I loved the sound all the voices made together even then.

Dad worked the night shift at Harland And Wolfe in those days so to pass the time in the evenings, Mum would show me some chords on the Uke and we would sing together. Then one evening she sang a harmony which made the song we were singing sound brilliant. I can still hear her voice saying “Now you have a try”.

THE EARLY YEARS continue….


That was my Mum, strong but quiet. Very much a behind the scenes sort of person who selflessly passed on her immense talent to my brother Gordon and myself and was very proud to see it blossom through the generations.

I guess that makes her the founder member of The Jones Family Band!

The next Christmas I got a plastic Tommy Steele guitar. It had four strings and was tuned as a Uke so I was able to play George Formby duets with Dad.

My Uncle Bill, a larger than life Churchillian figure, who was to have a huge influence on my life, founded the 1st Moreton Boys Brigade on the Wirral.As well as normal Boys Brigade activities, there was an annual concert which allowed me and my Uke our first live gig performing the likes of, ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’!

There would always be a family get together at Grandma Jones’s house at Christmas with all my aunties, uncles and cousins. Inevitably, music would start, led by Uncle Norman singing and playing skiffle on a small jazz guitar hung around his neck by what looked like a dressing gown cord. I sat on the floor at his feet watching and thinking I would love to be able to do that. Mind you, I did have some doubts at the end of the night when I saw that his fingers were actually bleeding! I learned later this can happen if you don’t play regularly.

The following year, Father Christmas must have known what I was thinking and I must have been a good boy because I came downstairs to find a guitar by the tree (the one I’m playing in the photo). The strings were slack so needed tuning up and in doing so the first string broke. As those of us of a certain age will remember, shops would close at Christmas and not reopen until the new year sales began so the frustration of trying to learn on a five string guitar for what felt like forever was almost unbearable. The day we were finally able to get the train over to Liverpool to buy a first string from Rushworths was so exciting. Come to think about it I still don’t use the first string that much!

The early 60’s arrived and it was time to “plug-in”. Having reached the grand old age of nine, Dad decided I should have a better guitar that I could play with or without an amplifier, (What we might now call a semi acoustic).

He took me over to Hessy’s in Liverpool where we met another larger than life character who would have an influence on my life.

We saw a lovely blonde, Harmony cello guitar with a surface-mounted pickup. My dad said, “That should do the job”, as Jim Gretty appeared behind us saying, “That guitar is too big for him he’ll be better with one of these”. Now, unbeknown to us at that time, Jim Gretty was a great performer around the clubs and concert halls of Liverpool and the man to go to if you wanted a good deal on a guitar.

He picked up a small acoustic and said, “this will do him”, as he played his famous party piece, ‘Red River Valley’.

Dad asked him if I could have a go on the Harmony, so reluctantly he got it down off the wall and admittedly it was a bit big but I managed to play it. He said, “Can you sing?” As I finished the song he said “What are you doing on Saturday?” So for the next few weeks he put me on stage during his shows to sing a couple of songs. I learned such a lot from Jim and will always be grateful to him for giving me that experience.

It wasn’t until I recently found the HP agreement for that guitar signed by my Dad and the paying-in book which he took to Hessy’s every week to pay off the 36 Guineas the guitar cost, that I was reminded of the many sacrifices my parents made so I could follow my dream.

I still have the guitar which remains a treasured possession and a strong connection to my Dad.

THEstart OF THE BRIAN JONES 

(FIRST INTRODUCTION TO FOLK)

All the family were involved with the Boys’ Brigade in Moreton and it provided me with a full social life from the age of ten or so right through my teens and has probably had the biggest influence on my life. In fact, if there had been such a thing as an Xbox back then, there wouldn’t have been time to stay at home to use it!

It was at the BB that by chance I was introduced to folk music.

It was 1963, the height of the folk revival. I had been at band practice where I had just started learning to play the bagpipes. Dad and I heard music coming from the room used by the youth club so we went in to find two youth club leaders playing acoustic guitars and singing songs which had choruses that the youngsters were joining in with.

My Dad told them I played, so they very kindly let me fetch my guitar and join in.

I often wonder which direction my life would have taken if my Dad hadn’t opened that door!

It turned out these two guys were Jeff Aspinall of the very successful folk group of the time, “The Billy Boys”. And George Peckham, also part of a great local folk trio called, “Kinsfolk”, with John and Flo Thomas (CLICK HERE to hear live 1964 concert featuring both groups).

Later, Jeff and George started a “Singalong” on Sunday evenings after church. This is where we learned our trade. People of all ages were encouraged to have a go and everyone joined in the choruses. In a short time, the word got out and there were folkies from all parts turning up to sing and for a while it was up there with some of the best local folk venues in the area. However, the Minister and church committee did struggle a bit with the concept!

So you can imagine how emotional it was for me when things turned full circle and all these years later in 2019 we were able to “Bring Folk Back To Church”. We put on two successful concerts and were about to stage a third in March 2020 before the world changed!The Methodist Church in Moreton was very proud to not only have Boys’ Brigade but there was also a very strong Girls Brigade company. After watching the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, my Dad thought if the girls could learn Scottish Highland dancing we could produce a combined display. Well, the idea got out and we were invited to perform at a celebration of national youth organisations at the Royal Albert Hall. We were all thrilled but we had to practice for weeks to perfect it. Parents and friends made all the girls costumes, headed up by my Nan who was a dressmaker. It was an exciting and memorable adventure made even more special when the band was allowed to lead a parade past the Albert Memorial before the Sunday combined service.

I mentioned earlier some of the things and people that had already influenced and changed my life but it would be unforgivable of me to leave this chapter without mentioning the most wonderful of them all. I was 15 and sunbathing outside my tent at the annual BB/GB camp in St Ives. I heard some laughing and looked up to see a young girl who had just dropped a dolly of a rounders catch and thought it was hilarious, as did everyone else! Nobody seemed to mind even though it was about the fifth one she’d dropped. She was so beautiful and funny, everybody loved her and I can tell you none of those things have changed although her catching has improved a little over the 47 years we have been married!

I’m proud to say, Helen has managed to stand by me all these years.

So you can imagine how emotional it was for me when things turned full circle and all these years later in 2019 we were able to “Bring Folk Back To Church”. We put on two successful concerts and were about to stage a third in March 2020 before the world changed!The Methodist Church in Moreton was very proud to not only have Boys’ Brigade but there was also a very strong Girls Brigade company. After watching the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, my Dad thought if the girls could learn Scottish Highland dancing we could produce a combined display. Well, the idea got out and we were invited to perform at a celebration of national youth organisations at the Royal Albert Hall. We were all thrilled but we had to practice for weeks to perfect it. Parents and friends made all the girls costumes, headed up by my Nan who was a dressmaker. It was an exciting and memorable adventure made even more special when the band was allowed to lead a parade past the Albert Memorial before the Sunday combined service.

I mentioned earlier some of the things and people that had already influenced and changed my life but it would be unforgivable of me to leave this chapter without mentioning the most wonderful of them all. I was 15 and sunbathing outside my tent at the annual BB/GB camp in St Ives. I heard some laughing and looked up to see a young girl who had just dropped a dolly of a rounders catch and thought it was hilarious, as did everyone else! Nobody seemed to mind even though it was about the fifth one she’d dropped. She was so beautiful and funny, everybody loved her and I can tell you none of those things have changed although her catching has improved a little over the 47 years we have been married!

I’m proud to say, Helen has managed to stand by me all these years.

GORDON AND BRIAN

I was around eleven when pop music caught up with me. I played rhythm guitar in our BB group. My brother Gordon, who was the drummer, and two of his mates, one of which was the inventor of his own PA system, were all a few years older than me. It must have been a difficult decision for them, and not really that cool, to have this little kid hanging around with them. Looking back and having listened to some early recordings, we made quite a racket but it was all part of our learning experience and we had a great time.

At the time, we lived in a terraced house in the avenues opposite Birkenhead Park and I had made a friend from the next street called James J Turner who had a proper solid electric guitar. I would go round to his house where we’d both plug into his little amp and attempt to play and sing using one microphone between us.

James’s Mum had “contacts” and became our manager.

We called ourselves ‘The Fractions’ and after playing a few youth club bookings, (they weren’t called gigs yet), she landed us the “big one”. We were to appear at The Cavern that coming Saturday afternoon, (we weren’t old enough to appear in the evening).

We were on first and introduced by the Cavern Club’s compere and DJ, Bob Wooler. We were told to plug into these massive amplifiers, we even had a microphone each, it was so loud! We played our three songs to an audience of screaming girls, (I know, unbelievable isn’t it!). It’s something I thought I would never experience again, until of course, I started working with Tom Topping in the eighties!!!

n the dressing room was an animated young man wearing only a pair of yellow boxers with big pink spots on them. Turned out it was Peter Noone, front man of Herman’s Hermits, who at the time we’d never heard of. He interacted with the audience between songs which didn’t seem to happen much back then. I heard him say something like, ‘We’ve just learned this one, hope you like it, it’s called I’m Into Something Good’. Who knew that years later I would have the pleasure of singing that song on stage with my family.


From memory, others on the bill were the Kinsley’s featuring Billy Kinsley of The Merseybeats who later formed Liverpool Express.

Their drummer and bass player kindly stayed on stage and played on our last three songs.

For me, at just eleven years old, playing and singing in the middle of that amazing, very loud and pulsating full sound of The Cavern with everyone screaming was so exciting. What an atmosphere, I can still feel the movement of the stage and the inertia of being below ground in that famous cellar crammed full of enthusiastic young people. A once-in-a-lifetime experience that, due to modern day health and safety protocol, my grandchildren will only ever hear about from their old Grandad.
My brother Gordon was beginning to travel a different musical road. Being that bit older he became interested in the song writers and performers of the folk revival. `This gave him the motivation to take his guitar playing to the next level after teaching himself the basics, to be able to jam in with his friends in the BB pop group when he wasn’t playing drums.

We’re not sure how we started playing together but I do know it must have been frustrating for Gordon. He was eighteen then and serious about his music whilst I, not quite a teenager, was out playing football and cricket, the latter remaining a passion of mine to this day.

The church Sunday Singalong gave us the opportunity to try out new songs and build a repertoire that would prove invaluable. To quote Jaqui and Bridie, “You know whether or not a song is good enough after you have performed it twice in public”.

Mum and Dad started taking us to local folk clubs to do floor spots where we received great encouragement and support from the likes of Jaqui and Bridie, The Leesiders and Pete McGovern, who christened us “The Lads” as we didn’t have a group name! However, due to the licensing laws of the time, Dad would have to go into the club first to check with the organiser if it was ok for us to perform. I remember one evening at Barnacle Bill’s Folk Club at the Kings Hotel in Bebington. It was like a covert operation! I was hidden in the back corner of the packed room and it was someone’s job to keep the manager distracted in the bar whilst we sang.

Gordon left home and went to live in Edinburgh which began with a bumpy start, but went on to experience successful and exciting times.

BOYS BRIGADE

Whilst still playing and singing for fun, the next few years of my life would revolve around the Boys’ Brigade. I enjoyed all the activities and made lifelong friends. I loved playing in the pipe band and wearing the highland battle dress uniform. We would often wake up the residents of Moreton with Sunday church parade!

We became like a gigging band performing displays and leading parades all around the country including a few appearances at the North West annual BB display at Blackpool Tower.

EARLY FOLK CLUBS

A friend of my Dad owned the Compass Café, (now Hammersound), in Birkenhead. Whilst having a meal there they got talking about folk clubs. The Compass Folk Club began on the following Wednesday. One of the regular singers was Willy Russell who, as well as singing his own songs, would join us on mandolin. My abiding memory from this time was Willy telling my Dad he’d just written a song about the Mersey Tunnel. He wrote the words down and said get your Brian to learn this he’ll get a good laugh with it.

CHORUSThe Mersey Tunnel is three miles long and the roof is made of glass

So that you can drive right in and watch the ships go past

There’s a plughole every five yards they unplug every night

It lets in all the water and it washes away the la, la, la


We moved to another premises for a short time somewhere near Grange Road Shopping Centre in Birkenhead. We weren’t there long but I vividly remember the first night as I was given some of the most valuable advice of my singing life which I have never forgotten.

I was in my early teens then and doing the resident spot. We’d booked John Kaneen, a lovely, gentle man. Originally from the Isle of Man, he came over to perform in folk clubs in the Liverpool area for seven years in the 60’s before returning home to become a central figure in the island’s folk scene for over fifty years, he has recently been awarded the Reih Bleeaney Vanannan for his contribution to the island’s culture.

Back to the night and not many people had arrived. Not yet being experienced in these matters, I delayed the 8 o’clock start a bit so when I went on I felt I had to say something like, ‘It’s a shame there aren’t more people here’. What I didn’t realise was I had brought the mood of the room down and couldn’t work out why my set felt like really hard work.

However, a few more people came and John entertained them royally as if the room was full.

He pulled me to one side in the interval and said even though its annoying when people don’t turn up you shouldn’t spoil it for the one’s who have made the effort.

Whilst it wasn’t easy for a young teenager to accept that criticism, I have never made that mistake again. Thanks John.

Around 1970, the upstairs room at The Moreton British Legion became our new home every Friday evening for the next few years.

I guess this was the beginning of my apprenticeship in being a folk club organiser and resident. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Mike, the steward there was to be instrumental in that process.

I’m sure he was ex military. Nevertheless an imposing figure who was impossible to ignore. He made it quite clear that we must finish on time and I certainly wasn’t going to test that theory.

So I always started promptly and made sure the evening went as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Mike’s face always appearing in the little window of the door to the bar at the back of the room as our 10 minute warning. There would often be a rye smile from him when I managed to finish with seconds to spare!

Although we weren’t aware at the time, we were producing a varied programme. There was a wonderful depth of brilliant local artists to choose from with their fees ranging from £5 to as much as £10 or a bit more for a group, (We didn’t call them bands yet).

We couldn’t afford to pay these fees every week so we had “unplanned” nights in between, (We would call them singers nights now). I would prepare a whole list of songs ‘just in case’ but never needed more than a few as we had a great loyal bunch of singers, some of which would later become household names on the local and even national folk scene.

It was a sad day when The Legion committee advised us they would like the option to hire the upstairs room out for functions on Fridays.

Not long after our club at The Legion had to finish I was approached by Alec Crow, who was to become a great friend. He had been given the task of reviving the folk night at the Liverpool Polytechnic. His conditions when taking on the role were to book national artistes, give opportunities to students and local singers, and hire a resident artiste from the established folk scene to run the nights.

This was a great opportunity and I loved it. The student bar was a big vibrant venue which was full every week. I was able to meet and present all the big names so my curve of learning was about to take a sharp upward turn.

One of the best bits though was helping the young students get over their nerves and go on stage in front of an audience. Some of them for the first time.

Many years later whilst appearing with TTB at Folk on the Coast, Anthony John Clarke told me he was one of those youngsters who, as part of a duo, felt they hadn’t done too well first time out but that I suggested they give it another go the following week.

Although there was still much to learn and experience to gain, I think I’d just about served my time by 1979 when we opened a new club at The Wayfarers Cricket Club at the end of “The Bunny Run” on Bidston Hill.

I invited local singers to come along to the opening night, which was such a success that it remained the club format, with the odd special night and national artiste thrown in along the way.

It became quite a community. As well as doing our own thing we would put impromptu resident bands together. It was great fun making lasting memories and lifelong friendships.

You can listen to some old recordings from The Wayfarers as well as, “The Wayfarers Song” written by Ian Chesterman CLICK HERE

I have made some big decisions in my life based on what my parents would have called, “a whim”. I always felt I had good ideas but looking back some of them were outrageous! For instance, in 1979, I left a perfectly good job to start my own business, not long after we’d bought our first house and Helen was about to have our first child. My Dad asked why I was risking everything on a “whim”?! I explained I had been reading a true story about someone who was called an “entrepreneur” who had done the very same thing with just the belief that with determination he could make a success for his family.

The outcome of that decision has a story all of it’s own which is for another time, other than to say I am now retired and so proud to see the next generation taking our family business to another level.

Another such decision came in the early 70’s when, as a resident singer, I occasionally got the opportunity to use a visiting artiste’s sound system. This was an exciting new experience. I quickly realised everyone could now hear every word and note more clearly, (Not necessarily a good thing I know!) I was hooked and needed to come up with a plan in order to get my own system.

During my research I went to Strother’s in Wallasey. Their showroom was like an Aladdin’s cave full of PA systems. One of them had twin disco record decks displayed with it. I spoke to the salesman about finance to find I was too young and needed a guarantor.

I had convinced myself it was a brilliant idea but the only way I could make it happen was to also convince my Dad. This was when it became real as I knew he couldn’t afford the debt if I defaulted.

So when the inevitable question came, as it would from any potential guarantor, “How will you afford the repayments?” I said I would include the record decks into the deal and do discos as well! Yes it does sound ridiculous now doesn’t it but thankfully, Dad must have seen some merit because by the weekend I was the very proud owner of a twin record deck unit and a Carlsbro amplifier with two speakers, capable of pumping out a whole 100 watts!!

With Dad’s words, “You have to make this gear pay for itself”, ringing in my ears, “Brian’s Disco” was born. (I know what you are thinking but I had to have business cards printed quickly and there was no time to get creative!)

I was very lucky and picked up a few early bookings which covered the HP payments plus an ongoing investment in records which I hadn’t even considered until I was asked if I would be playing all the songs from the “Hit Parade” which of course changes every week.

I was asked to do a wedding anniversary for a Scottish couple who wanted some Scottish country dancing and some songs to sing along to, as well as the usual stuff. I didn’t have the music they required on record and couldn’t justify the outlay for just one booking. I really needed the money and was agonising about having to turn the job down when I had one of my ideas!

Why don’t I learn the songs they want and do a live sing-a-long. And I know enough tunes on the pipes to play for the dancing.

I was very nervous as I hadn’t told anyone what I was going to do. Thankfully, it was a success, the couple were very happy.

I had, by chance, come up with a unique formula that would keep the phone ringing regularly and allow me to settle the loan early.

Whilst the PA system was used for discos at weekends, it was also improving the experience for the audience and singers alike at the folk club. However, I would never have imagined the door it was about to open for me.

The Black Horse in West Kirby had just been refurbished and the trend was to convert to one big room with a central bar.

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