Newmarket: It's not unusual to see Sir Tom Jones at the July Course and he's back tonight
PUBLISHED: 16:21 01 August 2014 | UPDATED: 16:21 01 August 2014
At the peak of a career spanning five decades, a third hit series of The Voice and sold-out shows, it's been another successful year for Sir Tom Jones.
“Doing The Voice for the BBC is planned early and we have to fit in recording and touring in the year as well. I’ve just finished 10 shows in the States that went really well, with my band from Nashville,” says the singer, performing at Newmarket Nights for the third time in four years tonight.
“We played a lot of songs from my two recent albums and tried out new arrangements on some favourite tracks like Delilah, Kiss and It’s Not Unusual. It’s important for me to keep reinventing songs with the band. It’s good to come up with different arrangements to keep the hit tunes fresh and to keep us all on our toes.”
Does it surprise him that he’s popular across the generations?
“It happens with every generation. Whenever I put out new work I’m introduced to a new audience. If new material gets a good reaction they’ll rerelease some back catalogue and often people like what they hear. Now, with The Voice, I go to restaurants in London and get kids shouting at me in the street. Even when I disguise myself in a hoodie and dark glasses.”
This series of The Voice was a huge success. Sir Tom says in the television world, the first is always breaking new ground which is a difficult process, particularly with such a big production. Everybody learned a lot from that first year and applied some good changes to year two. By series three people knew what to expect, the production had settled in and the addition of Kylie and Ricky Wilson as coaches worked well.
“Kylie’s great. She’s been in the business a long time and is genuinely a nice person and that came across on the show. I’ve done a few shows with the Kaiser Chiefs and had drinks with Ricky, so I knew him before we started. We are friends. Will.i.am is a producer so he fits the bill and then there I am, the old godfather. We’re in and out of each other’s dressing rooms all the time.”
He says the hardest part of the show is saying no and shattering contestants’ dreams.
“I’m always pleased when it’s up to the viewers to decide and it’s out of my hands. I still ponder, weeks later, whether I made the right choice or not? I take DVD recordings of the show back to LA for my wife to watch and she tells me off for not picking certain singers”
The Voice takes him back to the early part of his career when he’d go on talent shows.
“We used to do these things called Go As You Please and I remember losing to a ventriloquist one week. She wasn’t even that good. But she looked pretty good and I think they were looking at her rather than the dummy.”
The question on everybody’s lips, will he return for series four?
“We’ll see, I still have to find out about a few things. I know Kylie isn’t returning as she’s touring - I’m disappointed she’s not coming back. I’ve always got on with Kylie, she’s a good sort. She’s part Welsh you see, her grandma is Welsh.”
Sir Tom has surprised himself how good his shows are. His singing voice is still as strong as ever, though he says as you get older your voice gets lower so his tone and range has gone from a tenor to a baritone.
“My lower tones are much richer than they were. What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts. I know my voice pretty well and if people like my voice they will like what I record. Praise and Blame was number one in the midweek charts but got pipped at the post by Eminem. I love to tour and I love to sing.”
It’s been two years since he released the album Spirit In The Room but he hopes to release another soon.
Sir Tom and his producer Ethan Johns have continued working together. Whenever they get a chance, they gather the musicians together and get to work - recording 29 songs over last year. They’re now we’re in the process of putting together a selection that will form a body of work.
“Singing to me is like acting. You take on a role and a song to me is a role. It’s like Mel Gibson doing Hamlet, whose interpretation would be completely different than a performance by Laurence Olivier.”
His last number one album was 1999’s Reload. Is getting another number one important to him?
“It’s great to know my records are selling and people love them but I like to sing the songs I like and it’s a bonus when they do well in the charts. Both my last albums were top 10 hits which is great — and I wasn’t expecting Praise and Blame to be number two. It’s good my music is out there.
“I had Will.I.Am come up to me and say he’d heard What’s new Pussycat? He said ‘Hey man, that record’s sick - I’ve got to sample it’. It’s gratifying knowing my music means something - and it can be anything, and for different reasons - to anyone who gets a chance to listen.”
Sir Tom was looking forward to playing more than 40 shows across the UK and Europe.
“I’m performing at places I’ve never been to before - like Colwyn Bay in Wales. It’s always good to visit new places. I’m doing some festivals, which I always like. It’s so nice to see kids’ faces when they’ve never seen me play live before. At festivals, there are a lot of people who see you for the very first time, which is always great.”
Now 74, does it surprise him he’s still performing?
“Yes, when I’m on a line-up with bands at rock festivals. Who’d have thought it? It’s also great fun and a privilege to share the bill with some fantastic acts - there’s some very talented artists working out there.
“I’m just thankful my voice is still powerful and my vibrato hasn’t slowed down. With singers, the vibrato can get slower with age and you start to sound like an engine turning over. Thank God that hasn’t happened to me. I’m still singing naturally and I don’t’ have to put a spike into it. I look after myself too, I drink plenty of water, I don’t get dehydrated and I make sure I get eight hours sleep.”
Sir Tom moved to LA in 1976 and has been there since.
“My Welsh accent is not as strong as it used to be - I had to slow it down when I went to London as no one could understand me. Coming to America wasn’t so bad; if you can get a cockney to understand you then so can an American.
“I don’t get back to Wales as much as I would like. Sadly, my family is dwindling as a lot of them have passed away, as have some close friends who I grew up with. Parts of the towns have changed and look different, which is a natural thing and a lot of the buildings are different – many of the pubs I used to go to have gone, as has my school.
“But I love to play shows there and when I play Cardiff, Pontypridd, where I was born, is only 12 miles away, so sometimes I drive up there to have a look around and reminisce.”