“Thinking about thinking of you. I think it was June… yeah… I think it was June.” It would be generous to describe Kelly Jones, frontman of the enduring Welsh rock band Stereophonics, as one of Wales’s better lyricists. Certainly since leaving the former mining village of Cwmaman, Jones has rarely achieved the quality of storytelling in his work that made debut album ‘Word Gets Around’ so compelling.
Yet, he continues to sell records, and over 20 years after ‘Word Gets Around’ hit the UK top 10, Jones was back on the road, playing intimate gigs on a tour that, he explains, gave him a chance to explain the stories behind the songs that mean the most to him.
It’s an intriguing prospect – there’s something fascinating about discovering a song’s intended meaning, rather than the meaning it has for us, the audience – and thanks to a couple of pals with video cameras, Jones is offering a glimpse behind the curtain as he tours the country and bares his soul.
The promise of hearing such stories doesn’t immediately pay off. Onstage, Jones can be a little cryptic, and frustratingly brief. He mentions issues with journalists (apparently he doesn’t like them very much) before bursting into song, leaving us to wonder where the distrust came from, and why, on a tell-all tour, he’s not telling us very much.
He seems almost a bit lonely without his old band around him, particularly when he rather awkwardly pops into a pub in Blackpool, unannounced, to bemuse the bar staff with tales of his childhood. Fortunately, Jones doesn’t remain isolated. As the film delves into his past, particularly the early days of the band, it draws on old VHS footage and a larger cast of characters to naturally bounce off. Certainly more naturally than a slightly odd sit down with Rhys Ifans, who, also being Welsh, apparently had no choice but to make an appearance.
These interludes occur between performances, which become increasingly interesting as the film progresses. Particularly the stories around Jones’s early work, writing songs on paper bags during shifts on a market stall.
When the topic comes round to former drummer Stuart Cable, his best friend from childhood who died seven years after Jones sacked him from the ‘Phonics, the situation isn’t finely detailed, but it is deftly handled, and Jones, who for so long seems to have his guard up, finally lets the audience in.
At times this is a tour film, at others it’s an advert for his new album. However, the film excels as a biography, offering glimpses into a man who is notoriously unwilling to open up in public. We even get to see into his throat, quite literally, when the singer goes through an operation to have a vocal polyp removed.
It’s a period in his life that must have been hugely scary, and thanks to some self-shot diaries, we see the hard times Jones went through when he didn’t know if his voice would return (we later find out this period of fear and uncertainty lasted just two weeks, which is a little underwhelming).
Videographer slash debut director Ben Lowe has crafted a competent, unfussy documentary, assisted by his brother Jack. That it all pulls together so well is largely thanks to editor Garry Smith, who does a sterling job of inter-weaving the behind the scenes stuff with stock footage and live performances that never overstay their welcome.
There’s also an awful lot of name dropping, and superstar photos, from Tom Jones (who dials in a phone call, because he’s Welsh too) to the Rolling Stones. It’s actually quite sweet – Kelly Jones is a small town boy who, despite his consistent stardom, still seems to be surprised that he’s achieved such fame and acclaim. You can take the boy out of the small town…
- Director: Ben Lowe
- Starring: Kelly Jones, among others
- Release date: December 11