Al Jones is one of the long lost treausres of the British folk club scene. For a time there in the '60s his guitar adroitness and his exceptional songwriting marked him as a star turn with a glittering future. He built a strong following, had more work than he could handle and came under the wing of the redoubtable Sandy Roberton, who later hooked up with Steeleye Span. Al was even signed by Parlophone and few doubted that he was on his way to becoming a big star. That's when Al Jones dropped out and moved to Cornwall.
'I think I just got fed up with living in London and I thought I'd go and live by the seaside. I had this idea that I'd just go off sailing and the royalties would just roll in. Looking back it was probably a really pretty stupid thing to do.'
Al's Parlophone album Alun Ashworth Jones failed to get arrested ('they concentrated on the persona more than the music and nobody took it very seriously')..and with the man himself watching the boats go by in Cornwall, the gigs dried up too. Somebody called Ian A Anderson attempted to coax him back into the main arena in the early '70s with an album called Jonesville for his long-lost Village Thing label, but it was to be a rare outing. In the quarter century since the Village Thing album, there seemed more likelihood of a Lord Lucan CD than anything else from the enigmatic Mr Jones.
He gradually built up his own business making pick-ups for acoustic instruments - those Ashworth transducers as used by the stars (and our very own Terry Martin!) - but had no inclination to play or even listen to music himself. 'I have great long gaps of colossal ignorance. Only now I'm catching up on a lot of stuff that passed me by. I keep discovering new things which everyone else thinks are really old. Julian Cope I love. And David Byrne of Talking Heads. Robyn Hitchcock..'
In 1991 he had a call from a friend who wanted to put on a concert..and couldn't believe it when he found himself agreeing to appear. 'I couldn't play anything at first, it had been such a long time and my fingertips had gone soft.' But on a business trip to London he got his hands on a Strat and it felt so good he couldn't put it down..gradually he eased back into gigging..and sitting in with any damn band that passed by. 'People like Wizz Jones and John Renbourn would come down and I'd play guitar with them. I remember John playing something and it sounded familiar and I said 'John I know that one!' He said 'you should do you wrote it!' He started writing again. Prolifically. Got a new acoustic guitar. And ultimately he came to record a brand new CD Swimming Pool.
(Colin Irwin, from Folk Roots Jan/Feb 1998 )
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