‘When I was growing up, Sunday night was bath night.’
It takes a very confident performer to start a gig with a tale of his alarmingly unhygienic childhood bathing practices. But, clad in a pair of trousers that are surprisingly tight for a man in his mid-forties, Kelly Jones is confidence personified. His bath story is so hilarious and endearing that it gets the audience on his side before he’s played a note.
It’s a sign of things to come. Shorn of the expectations and limitations that come with performing in arenas with the Stereophonics, Jones is able to show a side of himself that rarely comes across on stage.
While the majority of the songs on tonight’s setlist first appeared on Stereophonics albums, most are relatively obscure album cuts rather than singles. Used to performing greatest hits sets, Jones is using this short solo tour to air some rarely played songs and share stories from his childhood and his life in showbiz.
After opening with a couple of Stereophonics crowd-pleasers, he performs a string of songs from his 2007 solo album ‘Only the Names Have Been Changed’, which surely only a handful of the audience have heard before. Jones alternates between an acoustic guitar and piano, with his famously raspy vocals taking centre stage. A violin and an occasional jazzy trumpet solo provide backing on these stripped-down and mostly sombre ballads.
Jones lifts the mood when he shares anecdotes about his late friend and bandmate Stuart Cable. One of the biggest laughs of the night is when he reveals that Cable’s mother’s name is ‘Mabel Cable’.
Jones’ stories are so entertaining that they rival the music as the highlights of the gig. They include a tale about a shepherd’s pie belonging to Keith Richards, as well as Jones’ confession that he once reached such a low ebb that he found himself in the self-help section of Waterstones.
In another musician’s hands so much talking between songs could’ve come across as self-indulgent and tedious, but not here. His comic timing and rapport with the audience suggest that had his music career not worked out, he could’ve made a decent living on the stand-up circuit.
Jones showcases his talents as a multi-instrumentalist by performing ‘Rewind’ on a ukulele, something you would surely never see at a conventional Stereophonics gig. The performance has the relaxed, informal feel of a man whiling away a few minutes on a lazy Sunday rather than playing to thousands of paying customers.
The sense of exclusivity and intimacy is heightened when Jones plays a recently written song that he’s never performed live before. In fact it’s so new that he struggles to remember the title when he’s introducing it. ‘This Life Ain’t Easy But It’s the One We All Got’ sounds polished and has a chorus to rival his biggest hits.
With the setlist threatening to blend together given the high number of downbeat ballads, Jones takes the volume and energy up a notch with ‘Jealousy’. A souped-up Delta blues stomper reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, it rouses the audience out of their mid-set lethargy. A large part of its power is provided by the drummer, whose massive, bouncing hairdo means that if you squint your eyes she could almost pass for Stuart Cable.
The tempo is maintained with the next song, a cover of the 1980s staple ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’. Jones is joined on stage by support act The Wind and the Wave, whose singer Patricia Lynn plays Stevie Nicks to Jones’ Tom Petty.
Prior to the song Lynn presents a cake to Jones in celebration of his upcoming birthday. She leads the audience in a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ while he blows the candles out. ’27 again!’ he jokes.
He ends the night on a high note with an encore of four Stereophonics hits. The final song is their sole number one single, the euphoric ‘Dakota’. At its opening chords the audience get to their feet, happy to experience something familiar after a rare and highly enjoyable night of curveball song selections and witty anecdotes.
Kelly Jones is on tour in the UK until 3rd July.