My Pop Life #129 : Get Close To Me – Thomas Jules

Get Close To Me   –   Thomas Jules

I hope you don’t mind I’m gonna speak my mind

Not good at sensitivity but I’m the sensitive kind

A bit A.D.D. don’t interrupt me and thank you so much

Don’t get me wrong I know you ain’t blind

Ain’t gonna patronise

but it’s my duty as a mate to make you draw the line

Now would you hear me like Oprah Winfrey or Jeremy Kyle ?

Just wanna make you smile…

 I’ve been watching over my nephew Thomas Jules since he was 7 years old or thereabouts.  I had just started going out with his Aunty Jenny and when I visited the family home in Wembley there was this cheeky bright-eyed sweetheart to greet me alongside Jen’s sisters Dee (his mother), Mollie, Natasha and Lucy and her brother Jon as well as her amazing parents Esther and Thomas.  A very close-knit loving family group – in great contrast to my dysfunctional scattered clan, they were welcoming and kind and polite and gentle.

confident Thomas aged 7  with friend Danny

And they still are.   Jenny and I used to look after Thomas particularly on summer holidays when we lived in Archway Road in the late 1980s/90s and he would visit Jackson’s Lane Summer School which was all singing, dancing, acting, performing – right up his street, and literally right up ours, about 400 yards in fact.   As the performing side of the family I’d like to think we gave him a little confidence and a few tricks to go with his natural talent and gifts, which are many and legion.  Of course Jenny’s sister Lucy Jules (who sings with  Bryan Ferry, George Michael, Kylie and David Gilmour) represents the musical side of the family and has obviously had a huge influence on the young man both in terms of techniques, voice protection and business advice, along with Uncle Jon who has been a DJ since he was a teenager and was also in a band and who advised Tom in the early days.

Tom in 3rd Edge around 2002

Thomas was signed when he was 14 years old, had a hit single in 1997 with That Kinda Guy which was on the Bean film soundtrack, formed garage-rap-pop-boy-band 3rd Edge on Parlaphone around the millenium and had several hit singles and TOTP appearances from 2002-3 before breaking out to write and sing with a huge variety of singers and rappers in the noughties such as Wiley, Mystro, Shandra D, 2Play (another hit single with a cover of “Careless Whisper“) Mark Radford, Crookers and Scorcher;   singing back-up with diverse acts like Lulu and Professor Green before settling in as lead vocalist with UK Dance act Rudimental where he has been for over two years and where he still works.

 I’m happy to report that he has co-written a song on the new Rudimental LP We The Generation called Love Ain’t Just A Word, and has just had his latest co-write released : Do It Right by Anne-Marie – his co-singer in Rudimental and now signed to Black Butter for her first album.  Thomas has always worked hard at his craft both as a singer and top-line writer, and in a shark-infested industry has remained a decent guy who knows a lot of people, has good representation and has a lot of respect from his peers, who include Ed Sheeran, Disclosure, Jessie J, Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and many many others.

When Jenny and I moved down to Brighton in 1996/7 we knew no one in the town.  Shortly thereafter Jenny’s schoolfriend Millie moved down from London, then when Thomas outgrew his family home in Harlow we offered him a bedroom in our house.  He lived there for two years or so, met his girlfriend and babymother Scarlett on August 9th 2005 whereupon within a year she had moved in too.

 

Thomas and Scarlett

We were a happy house but eventually they wanted their own space and lived first in St George’s Road (down the hill), then Waterloo Street on the Hove border and now reside in Portslade with their gorgeous funny beautiful daughter Skye.

Skye Phoenix Jules-Pugh

I wrote about Thomas and I in My Pop Life #57 and explained that I am a 57 mystic or UNX.  In Loco Paternis.  We are close.   Whenever I see Tom the first thing he does is pull out a device and play me the new demo he’s just cut that day with so-and-so.  I love this part of the relationship.  In 2009 Tom decided to take a pass at a Robert Smith song called Close To Me which was a hit single for The Cure in 1985.  The resulting song, called Get Close To Me was a re-imagining – an r&b-flavoured pop/garage tune.  I was never a huge fan of the Cure but I like Tom’s playful intimacy in the verses, and hook-line for the chorus.  Tom’s then-manager Jake wanted a video to accompany it.  I volunteered to shoot it on my handy 3-chip DV Camera which was loaned out to almost every theatre company, band and political group in Brighton over the 18 years that I lived there.  We were on the beach, the pier, drove round the Downs, took the fabulous Staffordshire Terrier Cassie into a laundrette on St George’s Road, mucked about in the twittens in The Lanes and with the graff kids at Black Rock and the end result is the video you can see below.  Some local friends and fam sneak in towards the end – I’ll mention Kerry, Louie Cresswell, Maddy McNicholas, Tanisha Flynn-Pugh, Scarlett and probably her sister Simone but the others will have to shout out below because a) I can’t see them, b) I can’t remember, and c) the video is a wee bit downgraded.  It’s the best one I’ve got I’m afraid.   It’s very much Brighton 2009.  Good times.

Thomas ripping it up live with Rudimental

Not having children ourselves means that all of our nephews nieces and god-children (quite a few) and of course our cats(!) are all very special to us.  I have always felt that the very worst part of parenting a child must be that moment when she leaves home to make a new home.  And you are left waiting for phone calls, text messages and emails.  After 20 years or so of sharing space, opinions, jokes, food, and small talk suddenly there is silence.  I think it must be unbearable.  But everyone bears it.  It’s natural, apparently.  I’m not so sure.  I do know that moving to New York has had serious implications for my relationships with my little ones (most of whom are now grown up big people in their twenties).  They feel further away from me.  This means I am still in touch with reality because they actually are further away from me.  Geography, the most real of all.  This morning at 6am Jenny’s phone rang downstairs and to my inchoate sleeping anger she got up and went down the spiral stairs to answer it.  It was Thomas, on tour with Rudimental in Australia, wanting to talk to someone because Nanny Bet had her funeral yesterday in Great Yarmouth (see My Pop Life #122) and Tom thought he’d had a ‘bad show’ in Melbourne and felt isolated and far away.  He is far away !!  Aunty Jenny managed to make him laugh and eventually she came back to bed.  My anger was mainly protective of her sleep because she has two shows today and two more tomorrow (Henry IV, all-women) and she gets very tired on the weekends.  But her selfless good fairy quality made her rise and twinkle, for she knew deep in her genius bones that someone needed her love.  She is a good Aunty.  Aunx perhaps.   I didn’t get up and answer the phone, but I did write a blog later.   Miss you Tom, and love you very much.

Skye, Thomas, Jackson, Cassie

In the clip beneath the “official video” Tom and Ed Sheeran  (his long time friend and brer) play an acoustic version of Close To Me.  Some people prefer it, but :  it doesn’t have Cassie…

Acoustic version with Ed Sheeran accompanying :

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My Pop Life #123 : Philosophy – Ben Folds Five

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Philosophy   –   Ben Folds Five

..I see that there is evil and I know that there is good

But the in-between I’ve never understood…

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Ben Folds Five

It was on the radio in August 1995 that I first heard Ben Folds Five.  They were amazing.  The music sounded hand-crafted specially for me – pure major-chord bright-eyed sophisticated pop music fronted by a piano; witty songs, arrangements and lyrics and brilliant music with no guitars.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the guitar to be honest – so of course here follows a list of exceptions <sigh>  :  Jimi Hendrix, Joe Walsh, Blue Oyster Cult, QOTSA, Sex Pistols, George Harrison, Elmore James, Django Reinhardt, Paco de Lucia, Guy Clark, Franco & TPOK Jazz, The Ramones etc etc

But the piano.  Come on.  The finest musical instrument.  An orchestra in two hands.  Bach. Chopin.  Erik Satie.  Debussy.  Scott Joplin.   James P. Johnson.   Rachmaninov.  Ellington.  Fats Waller.  Teddy Wilson.  Art Tatum.  Count Basie.  Fats Domino.  Ray Charles.  Randy Newman.  Alan Price.  Ian McLagan.  Gilbert O’Sullivan.  Kate Bush.  Ben Folds.

Hey – whose Pop Life is it anyway ?

Ben Folds was the pianist.  Darren Jessee was the drummer.  Robert Sledge played bass.

Just three of them, and they called the band Ben Folds Five.  Sounded better I suppose.

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The first single was called “Underground” and it sounded amazing on the radio.  Amazing enough for me to go out and find the CD somewhere.  Called “Ben Folds Five“, it had a picture of a piano on the front cover.   It was excellent.   Packed chock-full of ideas, the songs were about college, leaving college, being a young adult, looking back, growing up.   Many styles.   Some were like Elton John, some were rock music, some were like music hall/ragtime, others like prog.   And they could play.   Folds himself is clearly classically trained, returned to pop.  The fuzz bass is a huge part of the sound.  And the backing vocals.  My favourite track on that first LP is called Philosophy and it is a little impenetrable lyrically – theories abound that it is about an architect, the Statue of Liberty, Ben’s cock.  Seriously.  (He made a joke about it once and everyone remembered it).   But I think it’s about having your own self-image, your own take on life and your path through it.  Your own philosophy that “keeps your feet on the ground, keeps you walking when you fall down”.    Without that you’re a cypher.

I immediately set about learning it on the piano.  It is a beautiful thing.   But very soon I was off to Australia on a gig, and by the time I came back we were completing on a house purchase in Brighton.

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Mollie Jules-Crompton

Cut to November 1996, one year later and Jenny and I are babysitting for Mollie’s girls Dominique, Kimberley and Courtnie (who was only one year old!) in Ruislip for a week.   Mollie – Jenny’s older (but not oldest) sister, married to Pete a year before us – was in hospital under observation because she was pregnant again, and she’d already lost two previous pregnancies desperately trying for a boy.   Mollie & Pete had three very beautiful and fabulous girls – still do – but they both wanted a boy, even at some risk to Mollie’s health.  It was a worrying time for us all.  Mollie was also showing signs of auto-immune disease Lupus once again to complicate things.   At this point at the end of November she was six months pregnant and there had been some alarm so Jen and I stepped in and said we could stay overnight there for a few nights.   Pete was working nights at that point.

Anyway, come November 26th we got Jenny’s two younger sisters Mandy and Lucy to stand in for us as babysitters because we had two tickets to see Ben Folds Five at the Astoria in London’s Charing Cross Road.  Over a year after the album was released this was their first tour of the UK.

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The Astoria, Charing Cross Road, London

The Astoria was one of those great London venues which has now been destroyed to make way for Crossrail, the project that allows bankers to whizz into the City from Heathrow in half an hour.   It is responsible for the current destruction of Soho as a unique bohemian corner of London.   I didn’t see that many shows there, but David Bowie in 2001, and this from Ben Folds Five are up there with the best moments.

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Ben Folds Five live

They played the whole album and some interesting covers – Ray Charles You Don’t Know Me and Elton John’s Tiny Dancer – and absolutely smashed Philosophy and Underground with Ben jumping onto the piano and playing it with his fists and feet at one point.  Good show.  We came out and Jenny immediately called her sisters to find out if all was well.  We’d driven in from Ruislip – I think I had a Jag at that point – some gas guzzling blue monster that I loved driving – and Jenny suddenly burst into tears on the street as we walked round to Soho Square.  “Mollie’s had a baby boy” she said through sobs…”he’s in an incubator”.

We drove to the hospital and found Mollie, exhausted but happy, wth Pete, and Jenny’s Mum & Dad, and there was a tiny little precious baby boy in a transparent incubator, tubes going into his nostrils as his tiny hands tried to pull them out – it was a good sign.  He was three months premature.  He weighed less than a bag of sugar – 2lbs.  In those early days there was much worry about brain damage and stunted growth and all kinds of things, but those early struggles to remove his nose tubes were a sign of strength through adversity and slowly but surely he was removed from the incubator and grew into the healthy young nephew that Jenny and her sisters called ‘Boy’ after the youngest, Cookie had named him.

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Robert, Jordan and Cookie in 2006

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Robert – June 17th 2007 when he was 11

Robert is now 18 years old and a more throughly great young man I couldn’t wish to know.  Thoughtful, funny, gentle but nobody’s fool.

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Robert Jules-Crompton and I in 2013

 I’m not sure he even knows this story about his nativity – from our side anyway.  I doubt he’s heard this song.   But I know he has his own philosophy which keeps his feet on the ground.  Jenny and I took him to see Tottenham v Chelsea one day for a birthday present a few years ago.  All Jenny’s family are Tottenham Hotspur fans.  Oh well.

It’s now November 2015, some 20 years after that first Ben Folds Five LP was released, and two days ago Robert’s nan Bet, Pete’s Mum, passed away in Yarmouth.  Cycles of birth and death.  She will live on inside us all, inside all who knew her.  But death is a loss, and it has been a sad week. Rest in Peace Nanny Bet.

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Pete, Kimberley, Bet, Dominique in 2013

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Ben Folds Five did two more LPs : Whatever & Ever Amen and The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner – both outstanding;  an LP of B-sides, and then split.  Ben Folds did some cracking solo LPs himself – notably Rockin’ The Suburbs and Songs For Silverman, and Ben Folds Five reformed for one last LP The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind in 2012.

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Robert with his nephew Kian, Dominique’s son in 2012

Philosophy, the song, has a moment towards the end when everything goes mental and Ben’s pounded piano solo turns into a quotation from Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’, that mighty work from 1924 which has come to symbolise New York, via Woody Allen’s Manhattan and various other cultural markers.  Soon I will get the famous cadence – the theme from Rhapsody in Blue – tattooed onto my left arm. Sometime this November.

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Live from Jools in 1996

Reformed band in 2010

My Pop Life #114 : There’s Nothing Better Than Love – Luther Vandross

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There’s Nothing Better Than Love   –   Luther Vandross

…what in the world could you ever be thinking of ??…

This song makes me melt, because of the music, the words, the rhythm, the notes, and where it takes me – to 1989 and falling in love with Jenny.   We had started dating in the summer of ’88 and following a mad American road trip at the end of that year I had finally almost accepted that she WAS the ONE.  1989 we were together.  We were in Portsmouth where I proposed, in New York City and Washington D.C., but mainly we were in London, in Highgate N6, on the middle section of the Archway Road.

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Jenny had introduced me to Luther Vandross in the shape of two LPs : Give Me The Reason and Any Love.  Probably three actually because I remember Never Too Much from this era too.  Luther was new to me, although I’d unknowingly heard him before singing background vocals on David Bowie’s Young Americans in 1974 and co-writing the song Fascination.  He also sang on the LP Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, one of the greatest soul albums of all time, released in 1972, which includes the first incarnation of Where Is The Love.  He also sang backing for Diana Ross, Chic, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer and Carly Simon among others.  I found all this out later.

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One Thursday evening in late January we lay in bed together and I summoned the courage to tell Jenny that it was all over, that I didn’t think it would be a good idea if we carried on seeing each other.  “Why not?” said Jen, who was lying on my shoulder, my right arm around her.  “Well,” I said, “Because I don’t want you to fall in love with me.”  Luther Vandross was on the stereo singing this song !  “I’m already in love with you…” she answered.  The answer that stopped my breathing, and halted the celestial cycle and melted my heart, and softened my very bones.  I pulled her toward me in an embrace.  We have been together since that moment.

My courting of Jenny had reached the point of going to meet the parents, so one Sunday I was formally introduced to Esther & Thomas Jules a handsome and loving St Lucian couple who had produced a houseful of gorgeous girls and one son.  They were very kind and served me a classic West Indian Sunday roast : chicken, plantain, yam, corn, greens, roast potatoes, dashin and gravy.  Delicious.  Mr Jules insisted that I drink a whisky or a rum with him.  I complied happily.  Jenny had two older sisters : Dee and Mollie, and two younger : Natasha and Lucy.  Jon the brother was slightly older than Jenny.  They were all very warm and friendly toward me because they all loved Jenny very much and didn’t want to upset their sister.  But also because they have all been brought up with love, and have it in abundance to spare.  It was just the family I needed and wanted to become a part of.  Solid, secure, easy, supportive and loving.   I’d already proposed to Jenny in February ’89 but hadn’t asked her father yet – but that is for another song and another story.

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Luther Vandross is the soundtrack to those young lovers though.   At the time he was an unfeasibly smooth, handsome and sultry soul singer with a very modern sound – his music is forever attached to the 1980s.   Those LPs were played a lot in Archway Road.  Beautifully produced – but what a voice.   One of the great singers of my lifetime, so expressive, so pure, gentle, and sensitive.  In a line of greatness back to Teddy Pendergrass, Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke, the record you play after you’ve gone to bed.  Love music.  Of course women also sing this music – Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Sade, Gladys Knight, Toni Braxton, Roberta Flack and on and on.   Is anyone still doing it you ask ?  Oh yes – Usher, Ciara, D’Angelo, Maxwell, Frank Ocean, Lianne La Havas, and on and on.    It will always be made of course.

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My soul development went something like this :  60s – Motown on the radio, 70s – Al Green on TOTP, discovery of James Brown, Otis Redding, Stax & Atlantic then through Philly, back to Sam Cooke and Jacky Wilson, Barry White & Teddy Pendergrass, Earth Wind & Fire into DISCO, Donna Summer and all that somehow emerging into the 80s with Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC, Electro LPs and Prince.  So I had completely missed the soul continuum that Luther Vandross represents.   Jenny introduced him to me, and soon I loved him too.

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March ’89, Wembley

He was playing at Wembley Arena in March 1989 and Jenny’s sister Dee asked if we wanted to go, so together with Mick her boyfriend, we did.  It was a sold-out ten-night run in the Arena, which is massive – and Luther was the first artist to sell that many tickets, he was huge in England in the late 80s.  Rightly so.  We sat to his left, he wore silver and black, we swooned and went home happy and high.  The concert was released on video/DVD sometime later in 1991 but we’ve never seen it.   This song was on the brilliant LP Give Me The Reason in 1986, and is a duet with Gregory Hines.   I think it’s time to have a look at that night in March 1989.  Because – you know – and I know – there is nothing better than love.