Tony Cummings gives the second of two reports on the life of British showbiz institution PAUL JONES
After his Christian conversion in 1985, quickly followed by his marriage to actress Fiona Hendley, Paul Jones "went back to work." The singer, actor and broadcaster remembered, "The Blues Band basically didn't exist for about two and a half years during which time I mostly worked at the National Theatre and subsequently for Granada Television and Thames Television and a couple of things like that. But gradually it became possible to start doing a few gigs with the band again and so we did."
After three years of occasional gigs the blues revivalists cemented their return with the album 'Back For More' in 1989. A subsequent flow of Blues Band albums and concerts continued throughout the next two decades. Paul became a familiar face on children's TV, appearing in the BBC's Uncle Jack series. And he enjoyed considerable popularity with a weekly BBC Radio 2 programme focussing on blues and rhythm & blues. To someone who is a self-confessed "black music freak", such a job was a labour of love.
More and more in Paul and Fiona's life was taking on a new function of Christian ministry. Paul told Lins Honeyman, "It originally started not long after we became Christians and people started asking us to come to churches. At that time, we had no idea what to do or say so we had to get interviewed. People would ask us questions and all we needed to do was answer them. Eventually, we dispensed with the guy interviewing us and started interviewing each other because, by this time, we were progressing a little bit in confidence. To be honest, we've been saved 25 years and it wasn't really until less than 15 years ago that we started to do it seriously."
Added Fiona, "Then we started speaking individually, whilst still interacting with each other, instead of asking each other questions. One night we finished and this man came up to us and said, 'How can you tell the Gospel like that and not give a person a chance to receive Jesus?' So we now pray a prayer of salvation at the end. That's how it all came together."
In 1992 both Paul and Fiona contributed to a various artists project, 'The Magic Of Andrew Lloyd Webber', but it was to be another four years before the couple were able to sing of their faith. In 1996 Paul and Fiona recorded a pop gospel album, 'Personal', released by ICC Records. Produced by Paul and Fiona with keyboard player and programmer Ian Lynn 'Personal' was a mix of originals (Fiona and Paul's "The Name Of Love" and Fiona's closer "Peace I Leave With You") and covers of American songs originally recorded by Jon Gibson, Jessy Dixon, Russ Taff and others. In 1998 Paul and Fiona were both featured on a CD Music Club release, 'The Songs Of Irving Berlin'.
Fiona was beginning to feel more and more of a burden to leave the theatre world. She remembered, "I was working for (English playwright) Alan Ayckbourn in Scarborough in what turned out to be my last play and I had this really great role. One morning, I was doing my time with the Lord and would think about what on earth I was doing with my life. It was great but I just wasn't being fulfilled. So there I was one morning just praising God and he spoke to me and said, 'I've got something for you but you're not ready yet'. Of course, I really wanted to know what it was but I heard nothing more. So I finished the play and things were coming in from my agent but I didn't want to do them because they didn't glorify God. Later, I was sitting in the kitchen at home and asked the Lord again about what he had for me and he said, 'I want you to trust me and put your faith in me for your future. Just believe that I have got something for you.' The moment he said that, this sense of joy filled my heart and that's when the phone started ringing and people started asking us to go and do stuff. Bit by bit we learnt as we went."
Also in the '90s Paul continued his phenomenal workrate by becoming part of The Manfreds, a group who pulled together most of the original Manfred Mann lineup (though without Manfred Mann himself). The Manfreds, sometimes with both Paul Jones and Mike d'Abo fronting the lineup, found there were plenty of nostalgic paying customers keen to hear "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", "Pretty Flamingo", "Mighty Quinn" et al. But if The Manfreds paid the bills, and The Blues Band and his BBC Radio 2 programmes fed Paul's ongoing passion for the blues, it was Christian ministry which bought the couple the greatest satisfaction. Enthused Fiona, "It's a very powerful and joyful thing to do and an honour to be amongst people. You know when you're an evangelist at heart if that's what you desire. Paul and I were doing an event at a church once. We were given a toilet as a dressing room because they didn't have anywhere to put us and it was freezing cold, dirty and smelly but we loved it! We were about to go on and give the Gospel and we thought, 'We just love doing this - this is why we're alive'. It's that personal thing that you've bothered to go because you love these people."
Paul tries not to feel too disappointed when after he and Fiona have given their testimony and made an appeal few people respond. He observed, "Being saved is like healing - it can be instant or it can take some time. We hear from people maybe two years after we've been to a church and they let us know that it's taken them until now to soak up what we said and that they're now saved. Sometimes people make a commitment on the day or sometimes two years later. Also, there's that bit in the Bible that says one plants, one waters and another reaps so it may be that we're getting people making commitments at our events who started thinking about it when, for example, (the evangelist) J John spoke to them 18 years ago. Or it may be the other way round. It's just great to know that we have been involved in the process. Just look at myself - I know that Cliff Richard prayed for me in 1967 after our televised debate and I became a Christian in 1984. What are you going to say - his prayer didn't work? Sometimes it takes awhile."
Paul and Fiona have come to identify the events and churches where sufficient work has been done prior to their visit. "We find it's very obvious whether a church has been soaking the event in prayer in advance or whether they've quickly prayed on the morning because inevitably, when people pray in advance, you walk into that place and you just know that it's been bathed in the love of God. We were at one church where the guy actually opened the evening with reference to the original phone call from the tour organiser. For him, the evening began then and the whole church started preparing for the event and praying about it. Places that are really diligent are worth more than their weight in gold.
"We know how hard it is for Christians to maintain sufficient relationships with unsaved people because we ourselves have wracked our brains and asked people who have said no. You get discouraged. It's so important for churches to be on the qui vive when there is an outreach evening happening. They've got to bring these people in because, if they don't do the trawling, we can't talk to the fish!"
Parallel to Paul and Fiona's years of ministry was his work with The Blues Band. With the band currently working on their 20th album Paul was asked how the band was organised. "The Blues Band is a co-operative band, everybody gets a say. When we're constructing an album everybody gets the opportunity to put on the album something that they really want to do. The truth is, most of the albums that we have done contain at least one track that I wish was not there. Sometimes there are songs about ladies of the street or about black magic, and consulting familiar spirits - the kind of things that the Bible says don't do."
In 2008 Paul was approached by A&R man and record producer Saul Davis who wanted Paul to record a solo album. Explained Paul, "He'd been on at me for years to do it, and I kept saying 'Saul, it's not that I don't want to, I really want to, but I just haven't got the time.' The management for The Manfreds was working on a US tour for 2008 and their relationship with the US promoters wasn't great. I had a call from Saul saying, 'I don't know if you know this yet but your tour is cancelled. Come over to California and do the album.' So I went over [to Saul's] and we arm-wrestled about songs for a while and when I flew over he had assembled a great band and a fine studio. It was one of those studios that has got all the latest stuff, the Pro Tools and things, but it has also got analogue everything, analogue echo, analogue microphones from years ago and all of that. So it was just fun to do the album and there is nothing on it that I don't like."
As it turned out Saul Davis and Barry Goldberg only produced one track for the 'Starting All Over Again' album - a scorching cover of an old country music song that had once been an R&B hit for Tommy Tate which featured Paul duetting with Percy Sledge of "When A Man Loves A Woman" fame. Most of the album was produced by Carla Olson with a superb band including Eric Clapton guesting on a couple of tracks and songs that ranged from covers of Van Morrison ("Philosopher's Stone"), Mel & Tim ("Starting All Over Again") and Eric Bibb ("Gratefully Blue") among others. But it was a Paul Jones original "Choose Or Cop Out", featuring Clapton, which really stood out. Said Paul, "I suppose in a sense it's the sort of thing you could get from one of the famous American TV preachers. Basically it was prompted by a number of people who say things like, 'I'm the way I am because it's in my genes and my upbringing and there is no way I could change.' We all know that decisions are within the grasp of everybody. I wanted to write a song like that which wouldn't ram Christianity into people's ears but at the same time say, 'No, you can make decisions, there is really nothing stopping you.' And that is really what this song is about."
Paul wrapped up his interview on Cross Rhythms' Rimmerama programme by responding to the question as to how do people respond to contact with such a well known in-your-face Christian? "There are people who engage me in conversation, there are also people who cross the road to avoid me. It's sad about the latter because that day when they crossed the road may have been their one and only chance to receive salvation. People don't put themselves in a position to get a lot of chances. Mind you, when I look back over my life I realise that there were so many chances. 25 years an atheist, and God was giving me chances to change all the time, every day. One day I'll list them all in a book, but in the mean time I just tell people, 'You can actually fight hard to avoid making a commitment, and you can fight hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that you actually need salvation, you actually need Jesus.' People don't like that. People don't want to come to terms with that. I didn't want to. Eventually I ran out of excuses not to face up to what seemed increasingly obviously true. At the meetings Fiona and I speak at we often have the most amazing results at the end of the evening there are many, many people that say, 'Yep, you're right, this is what I need' and they make a commitment. There's nothing more thrilling than that."