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Kelly - Live 2005 The charity concert
Review No: 270
Jonathan Kelly was one of the greatest solo artists from the early Seventies. When I say solo artist I do not mean somebody that has a full backing band and orchestra, sings mostly other people’s songs, and the ones that are his own are mostly co-written. I mean somebody who can walk out on the stage armed only with an acoustic guitar and his voice, keeping an audience spellbound for two hours and then walks off to huge demands for encores.
The main reason for Jonathan Kelly not being a household name is the simple fact that he followed the hippie dream, playing many free concerts, not really studying the words of the recording contracts too carefully, and taking people for their words, the biggest mistake you can make in rock ‘n’ roll. It is rock ‘n’ roll music too; it maybe just one man and a guitar, but it is certainly rambunctious music when Jonathan Kelly wants it to be, one guitar or not, as this live album amply shows.
Jonathan Kelly’s recording career started in 1970 with the release of his self titled solo album, which, after a few false starts, had been made with some singles under his real name of John Ledingham, and one under the amusing synonym ‘Humpy Bong’.
The first album is a good honest work of a solo artist
but did not exactly catch the buying public alight. The second album ‘Twice
Around The Houses’ (1972) was a classic of its kind, chock full
of memorable songs, with some subtle backing by the very best of British
session musicians. This album coupled with an appearance on Britain’s
only rock show ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ plus appearing
at many of the British major festivals of that year, Jonathan Kelly seemed
to be the next contender to stand up and take the title.
The following year’s album ‘Wait Till They Change The Backdrop’ (1973) was a good solid follow up. But Jonathan Kelly’s own success started to become a problem, it was ok to headline small folk clubs, etc., with only a guitar and an amplifier, but to take the next step a band had to be brought in to fill out the sound in the larger concert halls. Management arrived with pound note signs reflecting in their eyes. Jonathan Kelly did not help himself by falling prey to the tempting life of the excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
Jonathan Kelly became a little erratic, unreliable, and a tad moody. The band he formed for the road, Jonathan Kelly’s Outside, managed one album (1974) and when you consider the band included Trevor Williams (ex-Audience), Snowy White, (Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy), Chas Jankel, and the magnificent David Sheen on drums, it is a great disappointment that a better album could not have been made. If I tell you that the album opens with a track called ‘Misery’, it gives you a clue as to its content. It shows what a toll the rock ‘n’ roll life can put on you mentally when you listen to the album made in 1972 with all its joy and hope and compare it to the 1974 album.
In 1975 Jonathan Kelly completed his recording contract with RCA with an album called ‘Two Days In Winter’. Not a happy affair, but there are still flashes of genius nonetheless. The album came out under the Jonathan Kelly banner but the artist on the album and the songwriting credits go to John Ledingham!
Jonathan Kelly then turned his back on the whole rock ‘n’ roll circus and literally disappeared. No big announcements, no final tours, he just picked up his new wife and family, cleaned up his act, and went to make a simple living in Wales, and that is the end of the story. Well almost.
Certainly the album ‘Twice Around The Houses’ and the concert appearances in 1972 and 1973 had left quite an impression on many music lovers, particularly a gentleman by the name of Gerald Sables who made it his mission in life to go and find the man that had produced this magical music. Not only did he find him, but they became close friends. But Jonathan Kelly was still keen to remain anonymous, although in 2001 BGO Records bought the rights to Jonathan Kelly’s back catalogue and released ‘Twice Around The Houses’ and ‘Wait Till They Change The Backdrop’ on a two for one basis. I cannot recommend enough that you look this up on www.amazon.com and press ‘buy’. These albums are essential buys, and at two for the price of one, a steal. Then in 2004 BGO released ‘Waiting On You’ and ‘Two Days In Winter’ so that you can add to your Jonathan Kelly collection.
Tragically Gerald Sable’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, but fortunately she fought the dreaded Big C and beat it. Gerald Sable wanted to do something to help the Fight the Cancer Fund, and because of his interest in music decided a concert would be a good way of raising money. To Gerald’s amazement his new friend Jonathan Kelly agreed to headline the concert. Word spread quickly and the tickets sold out instantly. By the end of the evening over one thousand four hundred pounds had been raised for charity - no mean feat in itself.
So on the 20th April 2005 in a small club just outside Doncaster for the first time in thirty years Jonathan Kelly stepped onto the stage to perform to his public. The reception was deafening. There is no doubt that the man is a little nervous at the beginning of the set, but he need not have worried as the audience seemed to know the words better than he did.
The whole recording brings joy to whoever is in ear shot and although he had been out of the public eye for more than thirty years the fans still loved him, even recognizing obscure B-sides like ‘Outside’, put out on the non album track ‘Waiting On You’.
We get given in glorious renditions eight tracks from the eleven on ‘Twice Around the Houses’, two from ‘Waiting Till They Change The Backdrop’ (not surprisingly none from the two albums released in 1974 and 1975) another B-side in the anti-war song ‘Mrs Gilbert’ which is as relevant now as it was when it was released in 1968. Plus the ‘Humpy Bong’ song from 1970 ‘Don’t You Be There Too Long’. The only cover is a gritty version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Sittin’ On Top Of The World, which segues into ‘The Train Song’ which is taken at a very fast pace and who could not but love a song with the lyrics:
“The bachelor daughter to a friend of my Aunt,
Jonathan Kelly’s voice may have mellowed a little over the years, but this actually suits some of the songs, allowing him to stretch every bit of emotion out of each song. Certainly his talent and popularity have not diminished in any way.
In-between songs Jonathan Kelly entertains the audience with stories of the early seventies in his charming Irish brogue, which sets up the atmosphere of the concert perfectly. Some of the stories are hilarious.
Sadly, at the moment this album is not available through
the usual channels, but can easily be picked up by looking up Gerald Sables
website for Jonathan Kelly at http://home.freeuk.net/jonathanled which
is a wonderful site full of all the things you can possibly want to know
about this artist. The website is now regularly updated, as after this
concert Jonathan Kelly is dipping his toe into playing some more concerts,
and who knows, we might even get a new album.