Jim Jones and The Righteous Mind come to Portsmouth on their mission to spread the spirit of rock’n’roll
For more than three decades Jim Jones has been channelling the spirit of rock’n’roll through his various projects.
From Thee Hypnotics to Black Moses, his eponymous Revue and latterly with his band The Righteous Mind, Jones has fronted a succession of cult acts that give life to the testifying and primal power of rock.
And with The Righteous Mind’s latest album, CollectiV, he’s turned out one of the strongest albums of his career. Combining mutant soul and gospel with chain-gang chants and their own brand of ‘heavy lounge’, it also features an eclectic cast of guests, from opera singer Vesna Petresin to Urban Voodoo Machine’s Paul-Ronney Angel on bouzouki.
The ‘guest’ which features most though, is actually a guitar. But it is no ordinary guitar – it is the Gibson Hummingbird owned by The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards.
As Jim explains to The Guide: ‘I got the idea that I wanted some acoustic guitar on various parts of the recordings, so I got in touch with this friend of mine, [The Dirty Strangers’ frontman and long-term friend of Keith] Alan Clayton, because I knew he had Keith’s Hummingbird acoustic guitar.
‘If you find pictures of Keith with an acoustic guitar, invariably it that guitar. It’s 1964, so he’s written and recorded loads of songs on it – like on [classic 1968 album] Beggars’ Banquet, a lot of the stuff on that is that guitar, like Street Fighting Man.
‘It’s really nice…’ he understates somewhat.
So he called Alan to ask if he could borrow the guitar
‘He was like: “Yeah, no worries Jim. I’ll be rehearsing in Shepherd’s Bush on Thursday if you want to come and grab it and let me know when it’s done”.
‘I said I’d probably get a cab rather than hop on the bus, just to be safe, and he said: “Oh yeah, if anything happens to it you’ll have to give me the deeds to your house”. I laughed, and he said: “No, seriously”.
‘Can you imagine how much that guitar is worth, and how hard it is to replace? You can’t. So then I was quite worried, and thinking, do I want it in my house? What if I knock it over?’
But they reached a compromise with Alan bringing the guitar along to the studio where The Righteous Mind were recording.
‘So we had a day of hanging out and playing guitar – and I put it on every track. You can’t always hear it, but it’s on everything!
‘It’s a great guitar, and it makes you play in a certain way. I noticed that when I hit record, the timing was very slightly different to how I’d been practising it.
‘Every instrument is different, but this guitar has a life of its own and draws you in to a particular kind of groove.’
The follow-up to 2017’s Super Natural, the new album has been a little delayed by Jim’s successful reunion tour with his first band Thee Hypnotics to mark the release of a career-spanning boxset.
Thee Hypnotics were in Jim’s words ‘a dysfunctional gang of people’, and back in the late 1990s ‘when the band folded, it felt like the band was over and no-one wanted to admit it – we’d been in the band since we were teenagers, so no-one really knew what to do next.’
They did however remain friends in the interim, and the tour went well. And Jim says they’d be up for more – but only if the offer’s right for everyone involved.
‘It’s not been put back to bed,’ he adds, ‘but we had our school reunion and proved that it could work - we had some great shows and great times.
And Thee Hypnotics’ drummer Phil Smith and guitarist Ray ‘Sonic’ Hanson are on CollectiV – Ray contributes a suitably wigged out solo to Attack Of The Killer Brainz.
As with so many acts these days, the band turned to crowdfunding to help with this album.
But it wasn’t just an appeal to their fans’ better nature, it also fit with the emerging themes of the songs Jim was pulling together and all of the album’s guests.
‘It was quite nerve-racking,’ he says of setting up the crowdfunding initiative. ‘You’re putting it all out there.
‘One of the key reasons we went for it was that the album altogether and the title CollectiV, we just had this general thing we were riffing on about bringing different elements together and togetherness.
‘And it was reflecting the backdrop of the cultural and political situation the world’s going through at the moment – people don’t really trust the leaders anymore – and the two typical routes people take when they turn away from that are either communism or fascism.
‘Of course the fascist route is more encouraged by the powers that be as that way they get to keep the money, so you’ve got this horrendous, frightening rise in right-wing, racism, stuff like that.
‘Most people I know feel like they’ve woken up in a parallel universe – wasn’t this what civil rights sorted out in ’60s, y’know? Haven’t we been through this already? And you realise what a thin veneer civilisation is – it just take s a couple of generations and a little bit of greed and evil in power, do not pass go, do not collect £200 and you’re going “Damn!”
‘But it is quite complex and multifaceted, and in some cases purposefully cloudy to make sure your average working guys leave it alone.
‘In my mind, I was thinking, how do you simplify this and break it down to a simple question? And you can’t really, but the only thing I could come up with is, if the ruling classes or the establishment, or whatever you want to call them – if their cry is divide and conquer, then the antidote to that must be to get together, get involved and that’s been this whole collective thing. The whole idea of the crowdfunding, it sort of tied in with that.
‘Without going too far into the communist analogy, it was about taking back the means of production.
‘Suddenly you’re not waiting for a label to dictate the terms or take away creative control.’
However, the band hit its target well before the deadline.
‘When it all came through, there was a moment of real elation, then the realisation that for every person who’d paid a pound, they expected a product, so we’d better get to work!
‘You go from one minute of going “Wahey, we’re rich!” To: “Hang on a minute, we’ve got to deliver on this stuff!” So we went into overdrive with the rehearsals and writing and recording.’
The album was largely recorded during last summer’s heatwave – and it’s an atmosphere that has seeped into the grooves of the album.
‘It was incredibly hot. We like to record completely live with the drums and guitars going, but the studio we were working in, there’s soundproofing issues – you can’t have the windows open.
‘We would do one or two takes and then we’d have to open the doors and get a bit of air. You’d go outside where it was sweltering then come back in and it was like a sauna – this real head-throbbing heat.
‘It was like the beginning of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, where he’s walking in the blazing heat with this coffin for miles, it was like that in the studio!
‘It was like Memphis, very humid, very hot – maybe there’s a bit of a Mississippi vibe on the record...’
For a long time, Jim’s music has been pigeon-holed as garage-rock, dealing with the rawer end of rock’n’roll. But with The Righteous Mind there’s been a conscious effort to broaden the sound.
‘With music and rock’n’roll, I’m still trying to strive to find different ways to express it that’s really my voice- I’m on that journey of: “How can I find something that sounds original but still connects to the original rock’n’roll?”
‘It’s an onward striving thing – trying to figure out how to get a certain emotion or excitement into it, and then say something that feels true.’
And he’s wary that music doesn’t become something he does by rote, or slips into autopilot about.
‘There’s a certain side to music where if you’re not careful it becomes roleplay. You know like those guys who dress up in armour and reenact the Battle Of Hastings? And I think there’s a similar thing with bands – if you’re not careful you slip into that, stick on a bandana, drink a Jack Daniels and Coke, and go: “Everybody make some noise!”
‘It’s roleplay. You see these guys in stadiums and they just say the same old thing every time.
‘It’s a double-edged sword in a way, on the one hand there’s a natural thing where you want to entertain people and give them something familiar, on the other hand, you want to be true and you don’t want to do something corny.
‘As soon as you see a bit of roleplay, you just think,’ he sighs wearily, ‘“Oh god”. Maybe if you’re 16 it looks cool because you haven’t been through it before.’
A recurring theme throughout Jim’s career has been that every few years – so far – his bands implode and he has to start again from scratch.
‘I’ve really got to learn from my mistakes,’ he laughs ruefully, ‘and one of them is changing the name of my band.
‘I should have just kept the name Thee Hypnotics and changed people down the years.
‘It takes two or three years each time to work up an audience. Even when they know you were the Jim Jones Revue – you went from selling out The Forum in London, and you have to go back to proving yourself and bringing yourself up to that level.
‘When you think about it, it makes sense.
‘I was talking about it with Slim from the Urban Voodoo Machine, and he’s been around for years, going back to Ian Dury and those guys, before punk even. He was saying you’ve got to be really careful with a name. Look at [former Stranglers frontman] Hugh Cornwell – he can’t really get arrested, whereas the rest of the band without him, they’ve got the name The Stranglers and they do really well.
‘I think it’s that thing of trust with the crowd, they want to know that they’re going to see something they like. It’s like going back to a restaurant you like. People aren’t always up for a surprise.
‘But I feel with this album and the response we’re getting and the live shows we’re doing, I’m starting to notice that “thing”, like with the Jim Jones Revue, there was a tipping point. You can just tell by the way people talk to you at the end of the show, it’s not just a polite “Nice one”. You can almost feel people’s heart rate’s elevated, they’ve gone up to the next level, and we’re starting to see that more and more and, hopefully we’ll get some more traction.’
And he insists he’s not messing with this band.
‘I won’t be changing the name for a while – it gets confusing for people after a while!’
With Jim being the obvious constant through these bands, he perhaps sees them as more of a continuum than the casual observer might do.
‘At the beginning of The Righteous Mind stuff I was working on stuff and these were the recordings from when The Jim Jones Revue fell apart.
‘A lot of the songs on the first Righteous Mind album, the beginnings of them came from sessions for the Jim Jones Revue, and that included some of the more dreamy, kind of mellow ones, the ones people thought were a real departure.
‘But we’d been going: “Hey! Ramalama! Rock’n’roll!” for seven years. Everyone’s got three dimensions to their personalities and you have to let that stuff come out or you get clogged up, so that record was in a lot of ways where the next Jim Jones Revue record could have been anyway.
‘To go back to that restaurant analogy, we’ve been in the steakhouse every night for seven years, so let’s try Thai for a change. But it’s still the same people sitting around the table, just enjoying a different part of their palette.
‘And it’s important for me not to get trapped in a cul-de-sac, where you can only go: “Duh, duh, duh, duh, der, duh”, you know?
‘I had to open up these other avenues so you could stretch out. Doing this new record, it did feel like it was starting to get back onside with that Little Richard, soul-inspired side of rock’n’roll and I can feel it in the live shows too. It’s had a rest, and it’s making its way back.’
JIM JONES & THE RIGHTEOUS MIND
Pie and Vinyl, Southsea, 3pm – free in-store gig for Record Store Day
The Barn, Milton, 8pm
Saturday, April 13