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INTERVIEW – JACK JONES (Irwin Thomas) – August 2016

| 30 August 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW – JACK JONES (Irwin Thomas) – August 2016
By Shane Pinnegar


Former Southern Sons frontman, sideman of John Farnham, and Electric Mary rocker Jack Jones (aka Irwin Thomas) heads to Perth this week for The Beatles Back2Back performance of classic albums Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road at Crown Theatre on Friday, 2 September. SHANE PINNEGAR braved delayed flights, taxi rides and a changed phone number to finally track Jones down for a chat about the show.

Singing alongside blues, rock & pop legend Russell Morris, local Eskimo Joe boy Kav Temperley, and Brit folk singer Jon Allen, Jones is excited to bring the show – which has been receiving rave reviews on the East Coast – to Perth.

“It’s going to be good, man, it’s going to be good,” he raves down the phone line when we finally pin each other down. “I love these gigs because they just give me an opportunity to, a) we’re celebrating great music, so that’s fantastic, and b) I always get to meet new and interesting people, like the other performers who are doing these gigs. We’ve got Kav [Temperley]. I know Russell Morris, obviously, Then Jon Allen, who’s from the UK, he’s a lovely fellow and a fantastic singer/songwriter. Obviously Kav’s a monster as well. That’s been really fun, talking about little things that we could do in the future. [more on this later!]

“Yeah, it’s been great. In the mean time we’ve been singing unbelievable songs and having the benefit of revisiting a couple of records that are 40 to 50 years old, it’s unbelievable.


“I was a late bloomer when it came to the Beatles,” Jones explains his own connection with the albums, “well, any sort of classic rock music other than Joni Mitchell and the likes of Wes Montgomery. Then my mother played a lot of folk music like Janis Ian, Jim Croce, some Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Crosby Stills Nash & Young. As a kid growing up that was the music that I had going in the house a lot, well – my mother had going in the house.

“I think it was when I really discovered song writing, then I heard music completely differently. I wasn’t listening to as many guitar player records… not that Larry Carton doesn’t have great songs, but there’s just a different approach to how I received music. All of the sudden then there’s the Beatles and Led Zeppelin – the doors just opened for [me for] a lot of those bands. Inside me I didn’t have access to a lot of that music [up until that point] – I wasn’t really interested in it. Now, of course, all I do is just listen to those bands and go, ‘oh my God, I can’t believe that the Beatles only recorded for eight years and then made all this ridiculously good music.’”

As millions of others discovered over the years, it’s not just a collection of notes and words and chords – there’s something in those songs that reaches in and touches you, and it does it to millions and millions of people.

“Yeah! We could just go on for days just quoting Beatles lyrics!” he agrees. “Things that are more like philosophical ways of life, than just finding a line to rhyme with the previous one. The end [result] is just such a ridiculous lyric when you think about what’s behind it. I feel really privileged doing these gigs. It’s a great opportunity, too, to really investigate this music. You can’t listen to it enough, but every time we do these gigs, obviously, we all listen to this music possibly more than we listen to it on a daily basis. You’re listening to it, you’re playing it… and it always blows me away when I get the opportunity to really pull it all apart. Every time we do this I learn new things about The Beatles, musical things.”

Jack Jones - Irwin Thomas 02

The Beatles Back2Back show features no less than nineteen musicians & singers on stage, covering all thirty songs across the two albums. I suggest to Jack that it must be an interesting process as both a songwriter and a performer, to deconstruct those songs and then reassemble them in their little component parts and maybe discover out, ‘oh, that’s what that is, and that’s how that works’.

“Oh yeah – because these guys, these cats are so amazing at what they do, it’s a perfect balance of hearing the music played authentically and really with a lot of love. For us, as singers, we get to interpret the songs to a certain degree, in a way that allows us to be ourselves. Yeah, you’re right, and through that process I get up there and I listen to these parts being played and I’m like, ‘far out.’

“You do forget. I think in this form it’s almost like you’ve got a multi-track going [in your head]. You can pull out little things. [We’re] playing and I’m like, ‘damn, how did they think of that shit?’ It blows me away, man. To think, really, no-one had done this before, that’s the thing. It’s hard to impart that. It’s just hard to really get your head around, ‘this had never been done before,’ that they were pushing the boundaries not only of songwriting but even of the technology at the time.”

Jack Jones - Irwin Thomas 03

How do the performers balance recreating the albums note-perfect, and imbuing them with the spark of a live performance?

“As a singer those melodies are so great, and as someone who’s always trying to be a better songwriter everyday those melodies, those changes, and those lyrics – you can’t really improve on them,” Jones declares. “For me, because I think I have so many other creative outlets, I don’t feel that it’s stifling at all. It’s really a celebration. We get to sing the songs as ourselves – it’s not like ‘Jack Jones will be playing the role of Paul McCartney tonight’!

“It’s just a really inspiring evening of music. I find myself getting absorbed in it, too. I’m listening to Kav when we [first] went to rehearsal and I was like, ‘yeah!’ I couldn’t wait to tell him that I loved [Eskimo Joe’s] last record and that it was a staple in my diet musically for months when I was going through a certain period in my life. That was one of two records that really carried me through it. It’s amazing. Then he opens his mouth and starts signing A Day In The Life, and I’m like, ‘really? That’s awesome.’”

Between his chart-topping stint out front of Southern Sons, touring with John Farnham, rocking out with Electric Mary and the many other projects Jones is involved in (most recently in Perth as part of Richard Marx’s band), he’s no stranger to a big audience – but is there added pressure going out on stage knowing you’re going to be performing works that are so beloved like these?

“Yeah, there is,” he says solemnly. “I’d be lying if I was like, ‘oh no, I don’t really care about that.’ I always think about that, but I try not to let it play when I’m actually doing it. When I’m doing it I just try to really enjoy the beauty of having the opportunity to sing those songs and deliver them in a way that is real. We’re playing music that… it’s not that the Beatles couldn’t play it, but they couldn’t play with four of them. It’s kind of cool to be [performing with] a big band, with some horns, and some strings. I hope it’s a great experience for the people that are die hard Beatles fans. I hope they really get something out of it, because we definitely are.

“I don’t mean that selfishly, but every night I get something else out of these gigs. I really hope that the staunch Beatles fans come and enjoy it. There’s a few little flips and turns here, but it’s pretty authentic. This isn’t a reinterpretation of the Beatles musically, that’s for sure – it’s more a homage to the Beatles. No-one’s dressing up as the guys and stuff, it’s more like a musical homage.”

Jack Jones - Irwin Thomas 05

Jones, who in addition to the aforementioned stints with Electric Mary, John Farnham and more has also been a member of Tina Arena’s band, says he brings all of his diverse tastes to the show.

“There’s a little bit of raw rock – I’m doing I Want You, which has been a lot of fun. There’s a lit bit of electric guitar in there – that’s the only electric guitar that I’m playing during the show, the rest I’m playing a little bit of acoustic for a song as well, which is nice. Look, I like to keep my musical experiences pretty diverse,” he says in a massive understatement.

“Yeah. I love music, man – I love music!” Jones laughs. “I get turned on by a lot of music. I recently toured with Richard Marx playing guitar – that was super fun, that was awesome. Then there’s Electric Mary, which I don’t really do as much these days. We did a European tour about a year ago, maybe a little longer, which was great. I love doing that because that really scratches an itch that doesn’t really get scratched by anything else. Most of the gigs I do in New York and stuff are pretty solo sort of acoustic shows. I try to keep it interesting.”

Having mentioned earlier that he’d been talking to his co-stars about possibly working together in the future, have they managed to find time to jam on anything other than the Beatles material at hand?

“No, we haven’t,” Jones admits. “I’m a massive fan of Russell – he’s a national treasure, that guy. He’s ridiculous. I would love to [collaborate], and we were just chatting about the possibility of maybe doing something in some capacity in the future, maybe next year. Just on the flight on the plane today Kav and I were having a little convo and I was like, ‘man, maybe at the end of this I can come over and we’ll do some writing.’ He’s like, ‘man, you’ve got to do it.’

“I just love that, I think that’s fantastic. That’s a big happy surprise thing that comes from these [shows]. It’s not like this happens every time we do one of these runs. I’m excited about what could possibly come from it. I love to collaborate and I love to get in the room with somebody who’s passionate about songwriting, who I think is amazing. That’s enough for me. That’s enough to keep me going for ages. I’m really excited about doing that, and I’m really pumped about coming back to Perth in such a short period of time because I hardly ever get over there. I’m still really lucky that I’m able to. It’s going to be a really fun thing.”

To wrap up – and this is digressing a little bit – I want to know if it gets confusing for Jones to be known as Jack Jones for some projects, and Irwin Thomas for some others. The son of American actor James Goode (born Irwin Thomas Whittridge) and Australian Renalda Green, he was christened Irwin Thomas Whittridge, and often known as Jack. After his parents split he moved to Australia with his mother, who remarried, and Irwin became Jack Thomas Whittridge Jones.

“Not really,” he laughs dismissively. “To me it’s just always been an artistic thing. That name has always been around me. It was never really something that was new for me, but I know it was new for a lot of people. In America when my American friends introduce me to people they introduce me as Irwin. Then there’s a small group of them that I know from a long time ago and they call me Jack. When they introduce me to somebody quite often those will collide. Electric Mary was doing a gig and I’d have mates there from 20 years ago and then people that were meeting me just on the night. No, look, for me, I don’t really over-complicate it. It’s just another musical entity that gets to flex different muscles.

“It doesn’t have expectations that, say, another brand would. It’s just a shoot off into these other little things. I think I’m marrying them together more and more as I go, because in the end they’re both, like, ME, I guess. It’s nice to be able to have something that I can kind of [use that is] free of any real expectations.”

Jack Jones - Irwin Thomas 04

And with that I let Jones go finish setting up for that night’s show at the Sydney Opera House. Playing such iconic albums at such an iconic venue – that’s pretty damned cool.

“It is, man – every time we go to sound check there I’m like, ‘really?’ This is pretty amazing, not everyone gets to do that. I’m pretty lucky.”

Category: Interviews

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