The Stereophonics are returning to smaller venues for their latest tour. Duncan Seaman talks to front man Kelly Jones to find out why.
Written in the front parlour of Paul McCartney’s childhood home in Forthlin Road, Allerton, Liverpool, I Saw Her Standing There was described by Beatles expert Ian MacDonald as a song that “sent a shockwave of earthy rawness” through the British pop scene when released in 1963.
Fifty years on it continues to have a major influence on music, by way of the influence it has on today’s musicians. Just this month it was covered – again by Welsh rock band Stereophonics – as part of BBC Radio 2’s celebratory re-creation of Please Please Me, the Fab Four’s debut album which was recorded in one momentous day at Abbey Road studios.
“It was a big day for Abbey Road,” says Stereophonics singer Kelly Jones, reflecting on the occasion a few days after he and his bandmates had recorded their own version of the epochal Beatles song.
“Radio 2 asked us a while ago to pick a song that we liked off the album. We picked a traditional rock and roll song. We did it on Chris Evans’s show in the morning then recorded it later in one take. It was a lot of build-up for three minutes.”
It’s something of a surprise, perhaps, that The Stereophonics were chosen at all to play a song from the Fab Four as part of the event. The 38-year-old Jones admits “there wasn’t a great deal of Beatles in our house” when he was growing up in the coal-mining village of Cwmaman, near Aberdare, “just an early cassette with I Want To Hold Your Hand and the pop singles”.
His two older brothers, Kevin and Lee, preferred Neil Young, Bob Dylan and The Eagles. Nevertheless, Jones notes, as a musician he was not immune to the songs of Liverpool’s finest. “The Beatles had a huge influence on anybody who picks up a guitar,” he says. “It’s the first stuff you learn.”
Stereophonics are about to return with their eighth studio album. Called Graffiti on the Train, it’s the band’s first foray into concept album territory and “something unique to the rest of our catalogue”.
“It came about after we finished touring in November 2010,” says Jones. “We’d been on the road for three years doing Keep Calm and Carry On then the Decade in the Sun [greatest hits] record – they ran into each other.
“It wasn’t down to fatigue or boredom. We just thought it was time to think about a new approach to the next record.”
The album’s storyline was inspired by a real-life incident. “I heard footsteps on my roof,” Jones explains. “When I went out, there were these guys who said they were not trying to break in; they were trying to get to a rail track and write graffiti on the trains.
“Subconsciously [the album’s title song] Graffiti on The Train came out. These guys were just trying to get on in the world. It was their way of expressing it.” Later on Jones hit upon the idea of weaving a “Romeo and Juliet tragedy” into the story where “one of the guys slides off a train”.
“I was writing a screenplay at the same time as the music,” the singer says. “It was the sound bed to the story I was writing. They built on each other. As it stands now it’s an album of 10 songs but that was the inspiration behind it.”
Though keen to stress the story is fictional, Jones admits there are “autobiographical elements within it”.
“It’s a rites of passage story about these guys who leave a small town after a tragic funeral and they rediscover themselves,” he says. “There’s an element of that in us [Stereophonics’ original drummer, Stuart Cable, tragically died in 2010, aged 40], but apart from that it’s a fictional story.”
Jones hopes his screenplay will eventually be turned into a film. Having studied at film and animation school before forming the band, he’d long harboured celluloid dreams.
“Most of [Stereophonics’] first album [Word Gets Around, from 1997] stemmed from screenplays,” he says. “I never had the time to see those through. But I’ve tried directing for the first time with the first three videos [from Graffiti on the Train]. The screenplay is on its third draft. I’m developing it with an editor from Bafta.
“Hopefully it will get into production in the next few years,” he adds. “It’s a slow process.”
The next few months will be absorbed with touring and promotion. First off is a British tour of 10 comparatively small venues for a band used to playing arenas worldwide.
“When we started we always played places that not a lot of bands played,” says Jones. “We were from a town that not a lot of bands came to so we understood that. It’s an old school way of taking music to people. It gives people the incentive to come out and see something that would not necessarily come to that part of Britain.”
For all the success that Stereophonics have enjoyed in the past 15 years, Jones seems to have stayed grounded, something he attributes to “the upbringing and the morals and the ethics that are put into you as a kid in a small town”. He says he “never wanted to be in a band to escape where I came from”, it’s more straightforward than that – simply that gigging is what he’s done since the age of 12.
“By the time we had a record deal I knew so many crazy characters in Wales, I didn’t meet anybody that was more mental than I already knew.”
He talks of how proud his dad, Arwyn, is of Stereophonics’ success. Once an aspiring pop musician himself, Arwyn allowed his son to follow him around the club circuit.
“He would give me a fiver for carrying his speakers,” Jones recalls. “I would borrow his gear. He’s very honest. He knows what he likes and does not like. We have a good relationship between each other – and Mam also.”
Rock that’s hewn from the valleys
The Welsh rock band formed in 1992 in the village of Cwmaman in Cynon Valley, Wales.
The band’s current line up are lead vocalist and guitarist Kelly Jones, Bassist Richard Jones, guitarist Adam Zindani. When the band tours they are joined by Tony Kirkham. The group originally included Stuart Cable on drums.
They have released seven studio albums, five of which went to number one.
Stereophonics play at the O2 Academy Leeds on Monday March 18 and Doncaster Dome on Monday March 25. For tickets visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk