The Stereophonics: are they rock's least respected band?
Despite a chart-topping, arena-filling career, Stereophonics are often viewed with disdain by the hard rock audience. But Kelly Jones is still a rock kid at heart…
Kelly Jones takes a sip of English breakfast tea, and talks about drinking. He’s dressed in an impeccably cut navy blue sports coat – “I bought it in Japan,” he reveals, “because they make really good clothes for the, er, smaller man out there” – and boasts an impeccably tousled head of lustrous black hair that he admits he “dyes a little”. The 41-year-old Welshman tells us that his plans for the coming weekend, now just hours away, include a visit to the Old Country, his home town of Cwmaman. There, on Sunday, he will spend the afternoon in the company of lifelong friends, bending the elbow in the unreconstructed splendour of his one-time local, The Globe. After a week of interviews in support of Stereophonics’ forthcoming album, Keep The Village Alive, this prospect awaits like a hot bath at the end of a cold and troublesome day.
“I love to go back there,” he says. “It’s not that it keeps me grounded because I think I’m a pretty grounded person anyway, but it’s good to be in the company of people who have known me for so many years, people who don’t define me by what I do for a living. They’re supportive – like if we’re playing in Glasgow, say, they’ll hire a minibus and come up to the show – but in social situations I’m not Kelly from the Stereophonics, I’m just Kelly.”
That Kelly Jones can melt back into a community he left almost a generation ago for the blinding lights of West London (a manor on which he still lives, with his partner and two daughters) is telling. It’s tempting to gild the lily when it comes to picturing the contrasts between the reality of Kelly Jones’ environment and that of the place he still refers to as “home”. His life, presumably, is markedly different from that of his friends who still wake each day in the Welsh valleys, not least in terms of disposable income. But the notion that this disparity has led to a reduction of common ground is here given vanishingly short shrift. “That stuff doesn’t really matter to them, or to me,” he says. “It’s not important.”
What do you mean by ‘stuff’?
“Our success, I suppose,” he answers, with a measure of self‑consciousness. “When I’m in The Globe with my old mates, it’s just not important. In there, if I’m being a wanker, they’ll tell me I’m being a wanker. It feels very natural. It feels very normal.”
Normality may be a quality that harmonises with the root notes of Kelly Jones’s personality, but today at least it appears to be in limited supply. It’s Friday lunchtime in Central London. Outside on the Portobello Road the rain hammers out a drum solo on the skins of a thousand umbrellas. Sitting at a table at Electric House – a private members’ bar – Jones sips his sugarless tea in a large, bustling room aglow with tasteful wealth. Just seconds after he has spoken of his friends at The Globe – friends who would not be welcome here – the songwriter is interrupted by a visitor to the table. Looking up, Jones’s expression registers pleasurable surprise as he recognises the face of actor Dougray Scott. Standing now, the two men embrace. The Welshman tells the Scot that he’ll come and find him for a proper catch-up as soon as he’s finished.
Who was that? Was it…
Get you and your famous friends!
Jones smiles. Sort of. “He’s a good guy,” he says.
When Stereophonics first found fame at the end of the last century, Jones was certain it wouldn’t last. As songs such as Local Boy In The Photograph found favour with an audience in the market for something a little more muscular than the sounds offered by Britpop, the then young Welshman viewed his group’s good fortune with acute suspicion. Even when the heights went from dizzying to vertiginous (such as the group’s headline show at Donington Park in support of 2001’s Just Enough Education To Perform album), the now increasingly famous frontman remained convinced of the impermanence of it all.
“We got to the point where we were playing arenas and I remember looking out at thousands and thousands of people and I’d be thinking, ‘Well, this can’t last,’” he says. “I don’t think I actually realised it then, but I just didn’t know how to enjoy the moment. I just thought it was all going to disappear, or go wrong somehow. I wasn’t relaxed at all – I was uptight and I was guarded.”
Jones smiles, this time with an easy warmth.
“Let’s just say that these days I’m much more comfortable with it all.”