It was a delight to watch Billy Jones playing the first of three shows at the Acoustic Music Centre in St Bride’s Community Centre (near Edinburgh’s Manhattan) last night.
Anyone who used to go out for a drink in Edinburgh in the early eighties will remember Billy Jones; he was the resident musician in quite a few pubs. You always knew if he was playing, because you’d hear him from half way down the street; he was loud and great and had a matchless repertoire which would have him playing Everly Brothers tunes followed by Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here – that’s the album, not just the song of that name. All on an Ovation acoustic with a shedload of reverb. Always impressive, with a killer, percussive right hand.
Jones left Edinburgh in the mid-eighties to ply his trade in warmer, sunnier places – I remember him telling me the plan in a long-gone bar in Bread Street, to go to Greece I think, although he has lived in and worked from Sweden for the last 22 years – and has returned several times over the last years to play a few nights at the Acoustic Music Centre during The Fringe. I saw him on the first of these returns (many Edinburgh musos, including the late Tam White, turned out to watch) and was reminded of the power of the man and his commitment to the song, be it his or another’s. The right hand was still unstoppable. All in all, it was a touching experience.
As was last night’s show, dubbed Roots 66. Jones is accompanied on an hour of mostly his own songs by long-time associate Jonas Lilejestrom on fiddle and Simon Ericson on banjo and we are reminded of the special place of the musician, of one who has decided to spend his life following music; this is spelled out in Jones’ own songs, which reference seeing King Creole as a youth, as people danced in the aisles; which tell the story of begging to be bought a guitar when a child; or tap into the wonder of Buddy Holly or the Everlys, who are also represented by a gorgeous duet on their I Wonder If I Care As Much, Jones now- gruff Phil chiming with Ericson’s Don.
And that all-powerful right hand is still on that guitar…
In a sweet coda, Gordon Grahame (of The Lost Soul Band) read this piece and commented; “Billy was the reason I started playing pubs – I used to see him on Sundays at The Lord Darnley in 1984 – 86 ish – I was absolutely in awe of him – he taught me that even a solo pub gig can be like Beatlemania with the right measure of enthusiasm, intuition and strangely enough – humility.”
Thanks Gordon, well put.