Stalwart of the showband scene, George Jones, talks to HELEN MCGURK about his new musical , his family and why his faith has brought him a new sense of peace
After rocking and jiving his way through almost five decades of music, showband icon George Jones isn’t ready to hang up the snazzy suits just yet.
The 74-year-old is back and about to go on the road with his new musical, Rock ‘n’Roll Years and Dance Hall Days, featuring his band of some 49 years, Clubsound .
Billed as “undoubtedly the happiest show in town” it promises to transport audiences back to the halcyon showband days, the ballrooms and the dance halls, the catchy tunes and the charismatic stars of that time.
Speaking from his home on the Ards Peninsula, George said: ‘‘The new show is a musical, with a complete band of five musicians plus four great singers. Half the set is a 1950s/60s-style American coffee bar and the other side is an agent’s office, where I play the part of an agent.
‘‘There’s about 40 songs in the show. We do everybody from Eddie Cochrane, right through to Guy Mitchell, Dean Martin, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers and we finish up the first half with Buddy Holly.
‘‘We open up the second half with Cliff Richard, The Shadows, Bobby Darin, Dusty Springfield, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, and the whole thing culminates in a tribute to rock and roll from Bill Haley and The Comets’ Rock around the Clock, and then we come back and do Elvis.’’
The dance hall days were once the very heart, blood and soul of Ireland’s social life as friendships were forged and romances blossomed - and George wants audiences to relive the excitement and the euphoria of those days.
‘‘I think there’s a generation that’s being put to one side that are still very vibrant and they are not being catered for. This saddens me because I think the people of our generation who were brought up in those halcyon days of the 50s and 60s have still got this lifeblood in them - they love their music, they love their memories, they love everything about it.
‘‘Therefore our objective is to entertain that age range and I think if they can see us on stage the same age as they are, doing what we’re doing, the whole thing vibrates through the theatre. It’s an old cliché, but they feel young again for a night because of the music and the memories and that is the whole object of the show.’’
And he says a new, younger generation is coming on board too.
‘‘What we’ve been finding over the years of the showband shows is that people are buying tickets for their grandparents and parents as Christmas presents and then decide to go along with them, and they are the ones coming up to us at the end of the night saying ‘this is fabulous, we wish we were born back then’.’’
Now a septuagenarian, George admits rehearsals do take their toll physically.
‘‘We’re not the young bucks that we thought we were before,’’ he laughs, ‘‘but funny enough, what happens with rock and roll people, and musicians in general, is on the night, that beloved drug that is in everybody’s body - adrenaline - kicks in and you suddenly become a teenager again.’’
George Jones grew up in Bloomfield, east Belfast. When he was 11 his older sister Sally bought him his first guitar on hire purchase.
‘‘My father wouldn’t buy me one, he thought it was a load of rubbish.’’
He adds: ‘‘There was one person in our street whose parents could afford to send him to guitar lessons, so as soon as he came back we all went up to his house and he taught us what he was taught. It was music lessons on economy,’’ he laughs.
As a teenager, George was a member of the band the Monarchs which included his boyhood friend, Van Morrison. They still play together from time to time.
‘‘The Monarchs have four dates in June and Eric Bell from Thin Lizzy will be jamming with us - it’s about a collection of older musicians getting together and still producing a really good sound - not that we are going to make millions out of it.’’
George is a big family man. He is married to Hilary, who runs a riding school for the disabled, whilst his daughter Natalie, 44, of whom he is immensely proud, lives next door,
‘‘Natalie was born blind and has battled through life after many operations when she was a young child and came through it as a visually impaired person. She is now a fully qualified teacher and is a wonderful girl. She’s got two beautiful grown up daughters. She has limited vision, but It doesn’t hold her back in skiing or horse riding, She’s been a symbol for us of getting up and getting on with things.’’
George and Hilary will spending Christmas this year with their son Jason, 46, who lives in Austria.
‘‘We come back on the 27th and our first show is on the 28th in Mullingar - so I’ll be on tenterhooks about getting back on time and in one piece,’’ he laughs.
George became a Christian five years ago, siomething that has given him immense comfort.
‘‘I am much the happier man for it. For years I couldn’t understand what it was that people had, this joy in their hearts.
My daughter has been a fervent Christian for many years, and my sister, has been a Christian for many years and I just turned round one day and said ‘Right it’s time for me’ . it hasn’t changed me by any means - I’m still me, a jokester and a prankster, but I feel peace, more than anything. We came through troubled times and it has given me great joy.’’
For details of the dates for the musical, visit www.goh.co.uk and local theatre websites and for appearances of Clubsound go to www.davidhullpromotions.com