Why I chose to write a biography on Tom Jones.
The Brits Awards Show I attended on February 9, 1998 was the usual meet and greet, wine and dine, business awards show. The music remained resolutely secondary to fun, gossip and booze. Until a 12 piece band took the stage, complete with get on down bass and funky horns.
Robbie Williams, once of Take That and a million bedroom posters, bounded on stage in a skin tight, black leather, cat suit, cut so tight in the crotch that several teenage girls considered fainting. Gyrating, vibrating, using every ounce of stage craft and vocal nuance he knew Robbie belted into "You Can Leave Your Hat On". The girls screamed, how they screamed. Then they stopped. They stopped to hear Tom Jones sing.
No one saw Tom walk on stage. He just materialised there, microphone in hand and opened his mouth. He hardly moved a muscle, just used the Voice. Every line he sang pushed Robbie on to sing better, to writhe harder. Robbie had never given a better performance in his life but the end result was not so much a duet as a one sided demonstration of how 40 years of experience can leave no room for anyone else on the stage. The audience were mesmerised. When it was over they were on their feet cheering and whooping.
That was the night Robbie Williams grew up... and Tom Jones became the epitome of cool.
Surprising considering that he was 58 years old and had never been cool before. In fact for years Tom Jones had been the antithesis of cool, a living breathing example of Jurassic showbiz naffness.
Yet in the soundtrack to my life Tom had always been there. It's Not Unusual, The Green Green Grass of Home, Delilah all resonated through my childhood. Unlike today when if a single doesn't debut in the Top 10 it's a flop, in the sixties singles took weeks, months, to get to number one. Most big hits seemed to be around forever. Tom Jones' hits were around for forever. And a day. I didn't actually like them very much. Compared to the rawness of the Rolling Stones or Eric Burdon the arrangements were too overblown, altogether, that most damning of indictments, too Middle of the Road. But I can sing every word.
Tom Jones had the voice, he had the presence, the raw get down and dirty sex appeal. He had the black leather trousers and the grinding crotch. He could have become the greatest white soul singer of his generation but he was out of sync with his times. The Beatles had turned the music industry into the record business. Before them the songwriter was king, the singer an interchangeable voice.
Tom Jones has never written his own songs. He can scarcely manage three chords on a guitar. The fact that at his peak he could sing better than anyone alive, was never considered relevant. We had Janis, Jimi and Jim, Jagger and Plant, Lennon and McCartney. They had attitude. Tom Jones wore a dinner jacket and he sang in front of an orchestra.
30 years ago Tom Jones became a Las Vegas superstar. He does not see that as unfulfilled potential for his cup still brims over with vintage champagne, and cognacs almost as old as he is.
Three decades later duetting with Robbie made perfect sense to Tom. And everybody else present. Watching him at the Brits reminded me that Tom Jones is literally the last of a dying breed. The true working class, rags to riches, superstar, hewn from the same stuff as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
At that Brits moment I knew Tom Jones had to be the subject of my next book. I had interviewed him twice before and had watched his slow climb back into cool with an amused detachment. I knew he was working on an album of duets and I reckoned he might be worth a couple more hit singles before interest waned again.
Boy, was I wrong. Reload has proved his most successful album in 30 years. Suddenly everybody loves Tom. Proving once again the old adage that while form is temporary class is permanent. In March of this year I watched Tom win his Brit award as Best British Male Vocalist. Three days later I completed the final chapter of the book.
Valley Rain On Top of The World The Lean Years The Making of Reload Why I Wrote The Book
© Robin Eggar, 2000. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in any form.