A Brian Jones walking tour has been launched in Cheltenham
- Credit: Archant
Founder member of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones was born and raised in Cheltenham. Now, to commemorate his stellar but short-lived career and tragically-early death in July 1969, a new walking tour has been established
My lack of musical ability was outed at a very early age, when I made the relatively simple task of playing the recorder sound like a llama afflicted with lumbago. Brian Jones was of a rather more polished musical disposition, a man who'd be able to play several instruments, including guitar, piano, saxophone, oboe, clarinet, organ, marimba, dulcimer, mellotron, harmonica, harpsichord, auto-harp, xylophone, tamboura and sitar. Oh, and he played the recorder too (properly).
Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones was born on Saturday, February 28, 1942, in the Park Nursing Home in Cheltenham. This was approaching the mid-point of WW2. America had joined the Allies in the December and 1942 would be the year when the war would start turning in the Allies' favour. Cheltenham was full of American GIs by the time Jones was born and they would make their mark on the place between then and the end of the war, not least in its musicality.
The young Jones lived in Eldorado Road, Cheltenham from 1942 until 1950, attended the fee-paying Dean Close School and Cheltenham Grammar for Boys in the High Street, where he excelled by all accounts, despite being naturally lazy. There's a blue plaque at the house. As a schoolboy he was a talented and precocious musician, but also an asthma-sufferer. His parents were upper middle class, well-to-do and perhaps wondered how they'd managed to spawn a rock star. They were also Welsh (hence 'Jones'). They could claim credit for his musical ability for sure: his father played the piano, organ, and sang in a church choir. His mother played music too. Parental aspirations for Brian were that he would emulate his Dad by going to university; the lad himself had other ideas. He was a nonconformist, but certainly not in the religious sense of the word.
After the war was over, it took a while for the nation to change, but change it did. The London Olympics was dubbed the Austerity Games and rationing persisted until 1954. With the end of rationing, Britons looked forward to better times, and youngsters particularly wanted those right now and not at some indeterminate point in the future. Rebellion was in the air and Jones would be at its forefront. He would not only become a consummate musician, he also trended into a style icon with that trademark hairdo. He'd go on to be the poster-boy of the Stones (some people might have said, perhaps unkindly, that this wasn't particularly difficult). Nevertheless, Jones would lead, and others follow, when London acted as the catalyst as Britain began to 'swing' and become fashion-conscious.
Apparently, Jones heard a Charlie Parker record when he was 15 and persuaded Mum and Dad to buy him a sax. The die was cast, in all likelihood, after that. Come 17, he had an acoustic guitar; no going back surely. After leaving school, Brian decided against uni, bided his time with a series of dead-end jobs, whilst attending gigs, obsessing over the Blues, and practicing his slide guitar. He'd also fathered an illegitimate child, that had been put up for adoption: there was a bit of scandal in the air amidst the net curtains of Cheltenham. Here was the middle-class lad disowning his own family background.
Jones was heavily involved in Cheltenham's underground Rhythm and Blues (R&B). The emerging music scene was to be found in basement clubs around the town. An early Cheltenham group was The Ramrods, which Jones himself had belonged to briefly. Jones would go on to become an innovative musician, popularising Jazz and Blues guitar styles and introducing black American music to both British and American audiences, and also one of the first in Britain to play slide guitar. Jones would also reside at a house (the old Prithvi restaurant) in Bath Road, where there is metal plaque, recording that he was here 'for a time in 1962' before moving to London's bright lights to form the Stones.
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Jones moved to London then, in 1962, to pursue his music career, calling himself 'Elmo Lewis' (based on his Blues hero Elmore James) and appearing in a band called The Roosters. It was here where he also became a founder member of the Stones. Their first performance came on July 12, '62, when they played at the Marquee Club, in Oxford Street, under the name The Rollin' Stones. Jones' influence was considerable. It's been said that having formed and named the band, he acted as its manager and agent, arranging gigs, recruiting its members and choosing its music. It seems that without Brian Jones there would have been no Rolling Stones. Jones' love of the Blues was at the heart of everything the Stones did, in fact, it was the band's beating heart. The one thing he didn't do was composition and Jones would lose out influence-wise to the songwriters. 1963 saw the Stones under new management and with a more menacing persona: it was perhaps the start of the poster-boy's decline, as his influence began to wane. Jones would return to his home town to play the Odeon with a group that was now world-famous, but by the mid-60s he was far from at the epicentre.
I guess Jones lived the life of the rock star to the full. There were legal issues, fallings-out with the other band members, and substance abuse (alcohol and drugs): it got so bad he was no longer able to perform. He was increasingly estranged from the band from around 1967 onwards, feeling isolated and unhappy about the direction his 'baby' was taking. His first arrest for drug use came in May '67, and, a year later, he was recording his last significant contributions with the group. In early1969, Jones left the Stones and struck out on his own. He was ousted really, although we could put a gloss on it by using the modern football parlance that, 'he left by mutual consent.' It was hardly an amicable parting. Sadly, there was insufficient time left for us to find out whether his solo venture could ever have been a success. On July 3, 1969, Rolling Stone Brian Jones was found drowned in his own swimming pool at Hartfield, Sussex, having decided to take a midnight swim. He was 27 years of age. The official verdict was accidental death, although that didn't stop the conspiracy theorists getting to work and suggesting that there was more than 'misadventure' at work.
Jones lies buried in Cheltenham, the town where he came into the world. His funeral service was held at St Mary's Parish Church, and his grave, in Cheltenham Cemetery, is carefully tended to this day. The headstone gives no clues as to the supremely creative, yet riotous life of its subject. 'In Affectionate Remembrance' is all it offers.
A special walking tour has been set up, launched by Marketing Cheltenham and Cotswold Guides, which commenced on February 28, the anniversary of Brian Jones' birth in 1942, to commemorate the 50 years that have passed since his untimely death. The walk will bring Jones' story to life by featuring the locations in the town that inspired him in his fledgling musical career. It was Cheltenham that made him after all. The walking tours will continue until August 24.
Jones was selected for this honour because he was born and raised in Cheltenham, and, after his stellar career, and tragically-early death, was also buried in the town. Jones' dedicated fan club had previously called for a walk to honour one of the town's most famous sons, even starting up a petition in 2017, and its plea has now been answered. Jones arguably helped to put Cheltenham on the map: the town is now repaying that debt.
10 Brian Jones facts…
1. It was said that Jones could master a new instrument in a single day.
2. Jones pioneered the use of exotic instruments, e.g. the sitar, dulcimer and marimba.
3. Brought up in a post-war stiff upper lip household, Jones was the archetypal rebel.
4. Jones was playing a song by Elmore Jones, when he was spotted by Jagger and Richards.
5. A German magazine featured a photo shoot with Jones dressed in a Nazi SS uniform.
6. Jones fathered six children in total but was nothing like 'a family man'.
7. He lived at Cotchford Farm, East Sussex, once home to Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne.
8. There have been stories circulating that Jones was actually murdered.
9. Jones' early death was the first of the 60s rock movement. Others would soon follow.
10. The Stones dedicated a free Hyde Park concert, two days after Jones' death, to their bandmate.
Brian Jones walking tour:
- Walking tours will take place on selected dates until August 24, 2019.
- Tickets for the guided tour cost £10 per person.
- Tours commence from The Wilson Art Gallery & Museum at 2pm.