FROM bunking off school and singing in the YMCAs in Pontypridd, South Wales, to internationally acclaimed and knighted superstardom — Sir Tom Jones has had one heck of a journey to where he is today.
And now, after over four decades in the business, he is still firing on all cylinders with his latest release 24 hours, which has been hailed as the defining album of his career.
Many artists shy away from making such a personal and confessional album but Tom Jones encapsulates his innermost thoughts and relishes the opportunity to share them live with his fans.
“Seasons is my favourite track on the new album as it’s very stripped-down and bare, especially when you’re performing it live. It begins with just my voice and the piano — you could hear a pin drop. It’s very intimate. It’s like baring your soul on stage.”
And this is the first time that Tom Jones has had a major hand in songwriting.
“The songs that were being suggested to me just didn’t feel right,” he said. “Someone had written a one with me in mind called You Look Good in My T-shirt but I felt that’s not what I should be singing about. Young listeners would be asking why I was singing about T-Shirts.”
The end result is a work of revelation from one of the biggest-selling artists of all time.
“It’s been a very intimate album because I have been so much more involved in writing the songs and I am very honest about it. When I go on stage and perform one of the songs I have written from 24 Hours I tell the audience about it.”
It’s a testament to his character and staying power that Tom Jones has maintained his popularity over so many decades.
“I’m very versatile so I can adapt to many styles. I don’t think the structure of pop music has changed that dramatically over the years, although sounds, ways and means of production have — the spectrum is very wide. Producers pull from all sorts of sources now.
When I was younger and rock 'n' roll was just kicking off. I remember the older generations going 'God, what is this? And now you have hip hop and rap and all sorts of sub-genres and the older generation are having the same reaction. They can’t access it. I think that people can relate to my music. My voice hasn’t changed over the years. When I’ve recorded with younger artists it’s not like I’m looking in the mirror and thinking of the age difference. It’s about the music, like it has always been. I worked with Future Cut on my latest album, who came from the drum 'n' bass scene and have worked with Lily Allen, Estelle and Dizzee Rascal. I listened to their work and the tracks they build and really liked the sound of what they do.”
Originally from Pontypridd, Tom has fond memories of his early years there.
“You don’t really appreciate it at the time but I had a lot of family in the surrounding area when I was growing up. I had lots of cousins and aunts and uncles. It’s great when I go back to play Cardiff as the whole clan comes down. My aunt and uncles are no longer around but my cousins are. A lot of them have come out to see me in America, which is great as it’s something a bit different for me and I love having them at shows. I’ve got so many cousins I could probably play a show just for them.
At 68, Tom, who has lived in America since the '70s, doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and is touring 200 days of the year. His popularity is such that women often strip off in front of him while he is on stage.
“I still love performing and feel great," he said. "I know some performers who grumble: ‘Oh I’ve got a new album coming out and I need to go promote It’, like it’s a negative, and I can’t understand it. I honestly love touring. I couldn’t imagine not doing it.”
And by the sound of it Tom can still party as much as the next showbiz guy.
He tells me: “I was at the Q awards the other week and Alex from the Arctic Monkeys asked if I was going to the pub afterwards. I had said yes. He said if I was going then he was too. He’d been talking to me about one of my old songs from the '70s — I’ll Never Fall in Love Again — how he liked the vocals, which is very flattering and nice to hear.
Tom Jones has pretty much done it all — he’s sold more than a 100 million records, has had his own TV series, toured around the world many times over and been made a knight of the realm. Is there anything else he left to achieve?
“I want to continue writing songs and creating records and I want to perform until my voice no longer enables me to do so.
"I have this God-given gift to sing and want to make the most of it. I don’t want to retire. What would I do if I retired?
I want to be remembered as a great singer. I remember hearing that my grandfather was a good singer but. as his voice was never recorded. there’s nothing for people to hear him on.
"I hope that when people listen to my records they might hear something meaningful to them and remember me as a great singer.”