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Jones, Paul (1942-)

Musician, Actor

Main image of Jones, Paul (1942-)

Born Paul Pond in 1942, Paul Jones was a grammar school boy from Portsmouth, who won a place at Oxford, but neglected his academic studies to play blues music in coffee bars, as Thunder Odin and the Big Secret. Thrown out of university, he moved to London and found fame singing and playing harmonica in the pop group Manfred Mann, who scored a string of big hits in the mid 1960s, including '5-4-3-2-1' (1964), 'Do Wah Diddy Diddy' (1964), 'Oh No, Not My Baby' (1965) and 'Pretty Flamingo' (1966).

The stress of a relentless live schedule manifested itself at a gig in South Wales. In the middle of a badly received show to a drunken audience, Jones broke down in tears when he found that a cardigan knitted for him by his wife had been stolen from the dressing room. "The roadie had to get up on stage and say, please, if anyone's stolen his cardigan he's about to have a nervous breakdown," he later recalled. "That was the moment when shrieking and going up walls was very much on the cards."

In 1966, tired of "going on stage night after night to pump out hits inaudibly" to screaming crowds, Jones left the group at the height of their popularity and embarked upon a successful solo career, but the hysteria continued: "It was impossible. I'd appear on Ready Steady Go! and get the shirt torn off my back."

Jones unexpectedly received a call from director Peter Watkins, who offered him the lead role in Privilege (1967). According to Jones, he only got the opportunity because he was taller than Watkins' first choice for the role, Eric Burdon, lead singer of The Animals, who was unacceptably shorter than leading lady Jean Shrimpton. He may have been a second choice, but he proved to be an inspired one: Jones' effectively channelled all the anguish of the pop-star experience into his performance.

Afterwards, Jones applied himself more seriously to acting. In 1969, he was offered a part in the Open Space Theatre's Conduct Unbecoming, which played for two years, in London and New York; more stage work followed. In 1979, Jones returned to popular music, forming The Blues Band - who played a small part in the early history of alternative comedy when they performed in the stand-up showcase Boom Boom... Out Go the Lights (BBC, tx. 14/10/1980), which took its name from one of their songs. Jones, however, gave it up once again to star as thieving womaniser Macheath in the National Theatre's 1982 production of The Beggar's Opera.

An atheist at the time of Privilege, Jones claimed to be a pantheist by the late 1970s, and - after attending an evangelical meeting at a football ground with Cliff Richard - embraced Christianity in 1984: "I believe there comes a time in life when a dependence on your own talent, charm, looks, wit, whatever, won't be enough - there has to be something else."

More recent years have seen Jones on television, notably as an eccentric green activist in the BBC children's series Uncle Jack (1990). He also returned to music, both as a disc jockey with a long-running weekly rhythm and blues programme on Radio 2, and as a member of The Manfreds, a live act reuniting ex-members of Manfred Mann, with the exception of organist Manfred Mann himself.

Vic Pratt

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Thumbnail image of Boom Boom... Out Go the Lights (1980)Boom Boom... Out Go the Lights (1980)

First TV showcase for the new wave of alternative comedians

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