It is, perhaps, rather surprising that Aled Jones’s latest album – his 40th, if you have been counting – actually got released given all that’s happened this year.
Blessings is an ode to the senses, faith and spirituality, and it’s a selection of duets with some of Aled’s friends, including two Yorkshire luminaries in the shape of Dame Judi Dench, and Brian Blessed.
Both, he says, were a joy to work with. “It was such fun. Judi is an old friend of mine and I know what to expect when I see that little twinkle in her eye – and when that tiny smile starts in the corner of her mouth. And Brian, well, he’s 50 times as large as life and goes at everything absolutely full-throttle. The word ‘irrepressible’ was just coined for Brian.”
He explains that Dame Judi’s choice of track was the old Quaker hymn, How Can I Keep from Singing. “It was perfect for that lady, who has the kindest and most generous of hearts,” says Jones.
“Brian and I had a little bit of fun – he chose to recite ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ for his track, and the second line of that goes: ‘When all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’. Well, believe me, they’ll definitely be stirring when they hear Brian doing it, and there might be a giggle or two when I come in after each of his verses with my version of Silent Night.”
The album is accompanied by a book of the same name and both have kept Aled busy during what he says (with considerable understatement) has been “an extremely difficult and stressful” year.
“I’m always on the go, always travelling, having to be somewhere and I’ll admit that, yes, I have been known to have a moan sometimes and to wish that I could just be at home, enjoying a few nights’ off. I promise you, I will never complain again.”
Like many people, he found the height of the first lockdown a struggle but says he was fortunate to be able to keep busy. “I have been so lucky, and privileged, and I’ve found things to do – my radio shows for Classic FM, for example.”
Jones lives with his wife Claire in south-west London (they have two children Emilia, 18, and Lucas, 15). He’s quietly but confidently spoken, and he’s also engagingly open and honest. Inevitably we get to talking about Walking in the Air, the song which made him a household name as a fresh-faced choir boy 35 years ago.
So does he now think of that seasonal song as a blessing or a curse? Does he try to avoid it at this time of year? He laughs: “Well, it’s not going to go away, is it?” It was his very first hit, and it went very close to the top of the charts in 1985. For many, it is the ultimate Marmite music. You either love it – or you reach for the ‘off’ switch.
“It all seems so long ago now,” he says, “but I can tell you that with all the up side I had – appearing on all sorts of TV shows and on stage with some amazing names – there were, sure as sure, the downs.
"Being bullied at school, for example. Well, ‘bullied’ is perhaps too harsh a word. Constantly being sent up something rotten. Teasing is far too mild a word. How did I cope? I just learned to run faster – quite useful, as it happens.”
He also looks back on the help, support and advice that his mum and dad (both still live near Bangor, in Wales) gave him. “They made very sure that I kept grounded. They allowed me to take singing gigs anywhere that I could, when it was holidays or the weekends.
"For the rest of the time, I went to school, I did my homework, and I was treated just like any other lad. Schoolwork came first. No question. I was slurping Coca-Cola and playing football like all the other kids.”
Even so, his early success brought opportunities that most teenagers don’t get to experience. “I was a pretty normal lad, I was just doing some rather unusual things. When I was asked to sing at the wedding of Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, I spent most of the day chasing his illustrious mates around, and trying to get the autographs of Spandau Ballet.”
After his initial success Jones went on to train at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. “I had decided that performance, in some form or other, was where I wanted to be, and that I wanted to have a career in that field. I was determined that I would take every opportunity offered.
"My parents were of that old school of ‘get yourself a trade and you’ll always earn a wage’, and that was always at the back of my mind. But they also said ‘whatever you do, be the best one doing it’.”
For a short while, after he graduated, there was a dearth of jobs before the bandwagon regained momentum. “That was when the money from Walking in the Air came in very handy,” he chuckles.
Over the ensuing decades he has worked with the great and good of showbusiness, though he still gets a bit emotional when he talks about the much-missed Terry Wogan.
They performed together – on a pair of fund-raising charity singles – and, it turns out, Sir Terry gave him a sound piece of advice. He told me: ‘Spread yourself thinly, so that if you get criticism, there’s always something else you can turn to’. In other words, it is wise to have as many irons in the fire as possible. And that’s why, I think, I am always open to interesting offers. If I passed on any advice, that would be it. Terry was right.”
He also believes that his career has bounced happily along because of being in the right place at the right time. “I have never had a masterplan to achieve this or that. I’ll be 50 years at the end of this month and I’m still waiting to see what may be around the corner.”
As well as his singing, Jones has established himself as a skilled broadcaster, presenting TV shows such as Songs of Praise, Cash in the Attic, and The One Show. And he is looking forward to a tour planned for next year, which will take him around Britain, to many of our cathedrals and minsters.
It marks four decades since he was a choirboy in Bangor Cathedral, and among his many dates you can find him at Wakefield Cathedral and Beverley Minster, both of which he loves “with a passion”.
“They are spectacular places, both very different from each other, but they share a common ground in that they both have amazing acoustics, ideal for singing,” he says. “When they built those churches, they knew what they were doing.”
It makes you wonder, at this time of year, what his own favourite carol is? “Away in a Manager,” he says without hesitation. “It’s simple, direct, and a beautiful telling of the Christmas story. It always gets my vote. It’s the true essence of the season.”
Aled Jones Cathedral Tour 2021 – Beverley Minster May 26 and Wakefield Cathedral May 28. For details go to: https://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/aled-jones-tickets/artist/932446
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