Paul Jones: The broadcaster's journey from militant atheist to Christian convert

Friday 28th May 2010

Tony Cummings gives the first of a two part report on the life and beliefs of veteran UK musician, actor and broadcaster PAUL JONES

Paul Jones at The Marquee, 1964 (photo by Jeremy Fletcher)
Paul Jones at The Marquee, 1964 (photo by Jeremy Fletcher)

In 2003 an article in a Christian newspaper began with the question "Is there anything Paul Jones cannot do?" And certainly Paul's multi-facetted five decade career - which has taken in being the lead singer of '60s Top Ten hitmakers Manfred Mann; becoming an acclaimed actor in films, television and on stage; touring and recording as frontman of the highly successful blues revivalists The Blues Band; presenting a long-running rhythm and blues programme on BBC Radio 2; working with his actress wife Fiona Hendley as a powerful evangelist; and producing occasional critically acclaimed solo albums like last year's 'Starting All Over Again' - means that a comprehensive history of this amazing Renaissance Man could easily fill 10 Cross Rhythms articles. Down the years Cross Rhythms have interviewed Paul on three occasions, in 2006 broadcaster Mike Farrington quizzed Paul, in 2009 Mike Rimmer and I asked Paul some questions for Mike's Rimmerama programme, and a couple of months ago Lins Honeyman interviewed Paul and Fiona in Scotland. Use has been made of all three of these interviews in building up a picture of this most extraordinary multi-gifted Christian communicator.

To begin at the beginning, Paul was born Paul Pond on 24th February 1942 in Portsmouth, Hampshire. An intelligent child, Paul won his Eleven Plus and attended Portsmouth Grammar School. With an excellent singing voice Paul landed a place as a chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral. But any chance of this church connection leading in a spiritual direction came to a sudden halt when at age 15 Paul decided to become an atheist due to something a prominent Christian in the community had done. Winning a place at Jesus College, Oxford University the precocious teenager showed talent in both music, particular the blues, and theatre. Parts of teenage Britain were embarking on a musical voyage of discovery embracing the blues music of black America. Paul became adept at playing blues harmonica as well as developing a rich, black-orientated vocal style. With music in his blood Paul turned his back on academia and left university. He remembers, "I actually accepted a job with a dance band in Slough. I thought it would sort of help me to learn how to present myself while singing and things like that. Actually it was extremely useful and they were good musicians."

By 1962 the British Blues Revival was well underway and Paul briefly joined the revolving door line-ups of the seminal Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated (alongside both Long John Baldry and Mick Jagger). Paul recalls, "After a little while a friend of mine, Brian Jones, said 'I'm forming this band, would you like to be the lead singer?' And I said no. That wasn't because I didn't want to be rich and famous, it was because I thought I had a slightly different route planned. Anyway, so Brian got Mick Jagger and the rest is history. In case you're asking, I don't really regret my decision because it simply wouldn't have been the Stones without Mick. As far as my own career was concerned, to be brutally truthful I would rather have mine than Mick's. However, I did watch as the Stones rapidly became famous. I just sort of thought, OK, well maybe I'll loosen up in that direction. The very next phone call I had asking me to be part of a group I said yes. And that was Manfred Mann - well actually it wasn't - it was the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers and only subsequently did we become Manfred Mann at the insistence of EMI Records when we got a deal with them."

The Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers were formed by South African-born keyboard player Manfred Mann and drummer/vibes player Mike Hugg. The band were completed by Mike Vickers on guitar, alto sax and flute, Dave Richmond on bass and Paul (by now renamed Jones) on lead vocals and harmonica. They soon changed their name to Manfred Mann & The Manfreds and gigged constantly throughout 1962 and early 1963. The group signed to EMI in March and after their producer insisted on shortening their name to Manfred Mann released their first single on HMV, surprisingly a jazzy instrumental "Why Should We Not". After that flopped, another single "Cock-A-Hoop", this time featuring Paul's vocal and harmonica followed but that too failed to register.

In 1964, the group was asked to provide a new theme tune for the ITV pop music TV series Ready Steady Go!. They responded with the energetic "5-4-3-2-1" which, with the help of weekly TV exposure, rose to number five in the UK charts. Shortly after "5-4-3-2-1" was recorded Richmond left the band, being replaced by Tom McGuinness - the first of many line-up changes. After a further self-penned hit "Hubble Bubble (Toil And Trouble)" the band struck gold with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", a cover of a US hit earlier that year by American black vocal group the Exciters. Manfred Mann's cover reached the top of each of the UK, Canadian and US charts.

Manfred Mann
Manfred Mann

During 1965 the group had more major hits like "Pretty Flamingo" as their sound moved away from the blues-based music of their early years to a highly successful pop hybrid. Notably the group began to have success with interpretations of Bob Dylan songs, including "With God On Our Side" as a track on a best-selling EP. They hit number three in the UK with the single "Sha La La", which also reached umber 12 in the US and Canada and reached number two in the UK with the controversial "If You Gotta Go, Go Now", which was banned or edited by a number of TV and radio stations. At this time Paul Jones announced his intention to quit the band for a solo career once a replacement could be found.

With Paul being replaced in Manfred Mann in 1966 by Mike d'Abo, Paul launched a career as a solo artist. At first the chart hits came, "High Time" in 1966 and "I've Been A Bad, Bad Boy" and "Thinkin' Ain't For Me" in 1967. Also that year Paul was asked to take part in a TV debate arguing against Christianity with the renowned pop star believer Cliff Richard. Paul well remembers the TV appearance. "Basically, I argued against Christianity. I mean I was a rabid atheist at the time. I'd got very angry with Christians because of one Christian who behaved badly when I was about 15. It seems absolutely absurd now, I mean it wasn't even anything particularly serious. Although everything's serious when you're 15, isn't it? Anyway, I just thought If that's a Christian, I'm never going to be one. It was my hobby to argue with Christians and I thought what fun to argue with Cliff Richard and on television as well. So I just went for it. I think I was a bit of a Rottweiler that day. Cliff's response to the whole thing was to pray for me."

In 1967 Paul was offered a chance to star in a feature film directed by Paul Watkins, alongside model Jean Shrimpton. The movie Privilege, which cast Paul as a pop singer and featured a few songs subsequently released on the album 'Sings Privilege & Others' including "Set Me Free", covered by Pattie Smith in the mid '70s, didn't do well though later came to be considered a cult classic. Says Paul, "My solo career had hits and I toured the world. It was looking very good on paper but I wasn't really enjoying it as much as I might have. Then in 1969 a man called Charles Marowitch asked me if I'd be interested in doing some plays for the theatre and I thought that's an alternative. And so I did and I really enjoyed working with him and then I got into a show which wasn't with him and was something quite different, called Conduct Unbecoming which ran in the West End of London for a year and then we went to Broadway with it. It didn't run a whole year over there but basically I lived for a year in New York and when the show closed over there I made a couple of albums for an American company so kind of resuming my music career. That would be '71, '72."

Jones recorded 'Crucifix In A Horseshoe' with White Cloud, a New York-based session group featuring Teddy Wender on keyboards and Kenny Kosek on fiddle. But mainly it was acting ("Shakespeare and Shaw and also the odd musical") that kept Paul busy. In 1976 he performed the role of Peron on the original concept album of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Evita alongside Julie Covington as Eva, Colm Wilkinson as Che and Barbara Dickson as The Mistress. Paul won a gold album for the original recording of Evita. Also in 1976 Paul's marriage to novelist and reviewer Sheila MacLeod ended in divorce.

More acting engagements continued but the music itch got too much. He remembers, "I couldn't stand not being in a band any longer. So I formed The Blues Band. It was originally intended to be a hobby band because I was a working actor. I wanted to play some music because although I was doing some music it wasn't really my music. I was doing pop and I was playing harmonica on all sorts of records for all sorts of different people from Billy Connolly to Gene Pitney, Tina Turner and Ruby Turner - all kinds of different stuff like that but none of it was really my music. I thought, I'm going to start a blues band, and I rang up Tom McGuiness who had been with me in Manfred Mann. I'd scarcely seen him much since then and I said 'I'm gonna start a blues band are you interested?' And he said 'I am as long as it doesn't involve more than one or two nights a week cos I'm kind of busy and I don't really want a seven night a week job.' And I said 'Oh, no. It'll never be that.' But within six months we were working seven nights a week! I was absolutely unprepared for the way The Blues Band took off. It was incredible."

Paul Jones: The broadcaster's journey from militant atheist to Christian convert

The Blues Band - Paul Jones (vocals, harmonica), Dave Kelly (ex-John Dummer Blues Band slide guitarist), Gary Fletcher (ex-Manfred Mann bass player) and guitarist and drummer Tom McGuinness and Hughie Flint - were the most unexpected of successes. Their first album, 'The Official Blues Band Bootleg Album', a mixture of blues standards and original songs - notably the Jones-McGuinness composition "Come On In" - initially attracted no interest from major record companies. So The Blues Band pressed a limited run of 3,000 albums themselves, hand-stamped their logo on the cardboard sleeve and signed them all. After enthusiastic plugs from BBC Radio 1 presenter Simon Bates, media interest resulted in a recording contract with Arista Records, who gave the album a retail release. 'The Official Blues Band Bootleg Album' ended up making number 40 in the UK album charts. The followup, 1980's 'Ready', went to number 36.

Paul continues his story, "I hadn't worked in theatre for about three years and I was racing around the country with The Blues Band and not thinking of the theatre at all. Occasionally I would go to opening nights - usually Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's - and I was contacted to see if I would be interested in taking over a part in the musical Cats. They wanted me to do six months but I had the band and I told them, if they had a part that was shorter than six months, then I might be their man. Only weeks later they called me up to tell me Paul Nicholas was leaving Cats but only for 36 performances. I went and did my performances in Cats and (director) Richard Eyre rang me shortly after to ask me to play Macheath in The Beggar's Opera. It was all nothing I had intended to do and I look back and see that God was maneuvering these jigsaw pieces together."

Cast alongside Paul in The Beggar's Opera was a young actress, Fiona Hendley, who had made her mark on the West End stage appearing in the musical Elvis. At the time Paul and Fiona began rehearsing The Beggar's Opera together things were far from uncomplicated romantically. Both were living with other partners. Fiona's background had not been easy. During childhood Fiona's father had an affair and more or less disappeared from Fiona's life leaving a longing for a father figure. Her mother remarried but family problems began to emerge resulting in Fiona and her family dabbling in the occult in the form of spiritualists and fortune-tellers. After theatrical training the actress auditioned for a role in the musical Elvis.

Paul vividly remembers the early years of his and Fiona's stint at the National Theatre. "We'd met at the National Theatre, singing songs to each other and staring into each other's eyes, proclaiming undying love and all that sort of stuff twice nightly for two years or so. And the inevitable happened."

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Reader Comments

Posted by Margaret Davidson in Dron gan East Ayrshire Scotlan @ 01:37 on Nov 4 2017

Paul Jones and his Blues band are pure and simply....Excellent....Gaiety Theate Ayr...

Posted by Andy Coomar in Watford @ 01:46 on Jun 10 2017

I used to tour with Helen Shapiro from 1993-2003 on her Gospel Evening presentation and met Paul and Fiona at a Christian gig in Eastbourne. I would dearly love to make contact again with a view to inviting Paul and Fiona to present an evangelistic evening of music and testimony at our home church in Carpenders Park, Watford. We've just had a reallu successful evening with Dave Scott-Morgan (Ex ELO). Can you kindly pass this message on. Blessings! Andy

Posted by Anne in Wales @ 17:40 on Apr 2 2017

Such a lovely person Paul, always had a very soft spot for you in the 60s and I believe you are probably the best male role model of the last few decades. May you be hale and hearty for many more!
God bless you and your wife,

Posted by adam in tweedbank @ 14:27 on May 23 2015

Thank you both for the message of truth and hope. It was good to meet you. I hope the sound wasn't too bad for you. Adam.

Posted by George Haines in Harrow @ 12:40 on Jul 14 2014

As a Christian I found the article very encouraging and exciting. Paul and Fiona were in the world and experienced all it has to offer and they were left unfulfilled and empty. Yet the Holy Spirit, the Councillor,
the bringer of truth, entered their lives and gave them hope. They seized the chance to know more about Jesus and He changed their lives forever! I hope they go on telling others about the Good News of Salvation through repentance and faith.

Reply by maureen leigh in Yorks @ 17:13 on Sep 13 2017

The Holy Spirit is called "counsellor" by the way. Check it's in the gospel of John and also Isaiah 9

[report abuse]

Posted by chris pitts in Colchester @ 19:33 on Apr 2 2014

Whatever Paul Jones or the ministry teams think they achieving with this type of blog I note this.
Christian celebrity, along with its capitalist music industry and the theatre that goes along with it, is doing about as mush good for the Jesus of history as a fly down Satan's toilet.

Posted by Jean in Northern Ireland @ 16:44 on Mar 25 2014

God changes lives. He has changed Paul's life as he did his namesake St. Paul. I was very impressed with the Songs of Praise programme re Paul.

The fool has said in his heart "There is no God".
Bible: Psalm 53 verse 1

Posted by julie jones in portsmouth @ 08:47 on Apr 2 2013

the best song i think he ever sang was come tomorrow watched it on an old clip of sound of the sixtes brilliant .

Posted by Romy Jones in London, UK @ 14:19 on Jun 7 2011

"Too intelligent to become a Christian."
Absolutely true.

Reply by Tim Constable in Coventry, UK @ 22:20 on Apr 5 2013

Presumably you agree with this attitude. Biblical Christianity makes complete sense spiritually, philosophically, psychologically, historically, scientifically, geographically, politically and personally. This is why it is so effective in changing people lives for good. To express an attitude otherwise only reveals complete ignorance of what Christianlty is all about. Any other topic people understand not to express opinions on a matter of which they are completely ignorant - how come Christianity is the sole area where this can happen? And I would remind you of a saying of Mark Twain: "Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance".

[report abuse]

Posted by Romy Jones in London, UK @ 14:10 on Jun 7 2011

Just a theory but I don't believe anyone truly believes in any deities. If Jones really thought about it, he still feels exactly as he did when he debated Cliff Richard.

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