SATURDAY marked five years since Sir Tom Jones lost Linda, his wife of 59 years – and it's a loss that has had a huge influence on his forthcoming 42nd album Surrounded By Time.
"This is the first album I've done since she passed away,"
"It's the first one without her so it's very important to me."
The pair married in 1957 when they were both 16.
A month later they had their only child, Mark (Woodward), who is now his dad's manager and co-produced the new album with Paul McCartney and Kings Of Leon producer Ethan Johns, who has worked on Jones' last three records.
It is an album which features covers of Bob Dylan, Bobby Cole, Yusuf Islam, The Waterboys and Michael Kiwanuka.
"I tried to pick songs that reflect different parts of my life, things that have affected me through my life," Jones explains.
"That's why it's Surrounded By Time. It's all to do with time."
I'm Growing Old, the 1967 ballad by jazz singer Bobby Cole, was the first track Jones played Johns for the album.
It is a song he had wanted to cover for years but had always felt too young to do so.
Jones says: "I was 32 when Bobby gave it to me. It was 1972 and he was in Vegas the same time I was.
"He came into the dressing room and said, 'I've got this song — what do you think?'
"I loved it but I didn't think I was old enough to do it. So I said if I got to 80, then I'd do it.
"That was the first one I played to Ethan. He asked, 'What did I want to admit to? That I'm growing old?'
"And I said yes because it's all true. I'm aware of feeling older and I wanted to address it. I'm not frightened of it."
One line in the song is: "I'm growing slower in my walk." And Jones felt he could relate to the lyrics since turning 80 last June.
He says: "I look down at the floor when I walk. My son says he's noticed how when I'm walking I'm looking down a lot.
"I say that it's because I don't want to trip over. If I hit the floor, it's harder for me to get up now than when I was young."
Jones is in excellent spirits throughout our chat.
Dressed in a blue shirt and navy scarf — and with his mop of silver, curly hair — he is back to full health after he was laid low with a bacterial infection a few years ago.
Jones has reinvented himself many times throughout his career, from the "Welsh Elvis" who enjoyed residencies in Las Vegas and a string of Top Ten hits in the mid-1960s to the tight leather-panted lothario of the 1970s and 1980s.
Duets with Cerys Matthews on 1999's Baby, It's Cold Outside and with Mousse T. on Sex Bomb in 2000 gave him chart success but lost him credibility.
It was by working with Johns and with his son as manager that he regained his integrity with country, blues and gospel album Praise & Blame 11 years ago, back in 2010.
His relationship with Johns has developed into a real friendship, with Jones saying Johns is "practically family" now.
He adds: "Ethan said he'd heard things in my voice that he'd never heard on record.
"Throughout the years, I've always used big, lush arrangements, like on Green, Green Grass Of Home.
"Ethan decided to get me in a studio with just a few musicians, which was great for me as that's the way I started in Wales with my group.
"The very first song I tried with Ethan on Praise & Blame was What Good Am I? — a Bob Dylan song — and he said to not try to sell it but to think of something tender.
"I'm telling you this story from ten years ago, as it links into now.
“Linda wasn't well back then, though we didn't know what was wrong with her.
“The final line of the song is, 'What good am I if I say foolish things/And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings/And I just turn my back while you silently die'.
"So since Linda died, I've been thinking, 'I hope I didn't stand by and let this happen to her'.
"What if I could have done something? But my doctor said there's nothing I could have done.
"It moved fast. It caught us all by surprise and he said, 'Whatever you do, don't blame yourself'. But these songs with Ethan mean something.
"Ethan has brought something in me that I would never have tried on a record. So that's why I continue to work with him."
It was son Mark's idea to experiment with sounds on Surrounded By Time. Jones explains: "I said, 'Look, as long as my voice sounds like me, we can experiment'."
Jones chose another Dylan song, One More Cup Of Coffee, from his 1976 album Desire, to cover for the new album.
Jones laughs: "When I hear the line about going down to the valley below, I think of the hangover the next day.
"I don't think Dylan was singing about coffee. Because he's with this girl.
“And because all these songs are to do with my life and I've always been a drinker and enjoyed a drink.
"So the drinking in One More Cup Of Coffee, to me, is a big cognac and a Cuban cigar. You've had your white wine and your red wine and now you are on to the cognac."
But Jones says he has never suffered any problems with alcohol, as he has known when to call it a day.
He adds: "I am from Wales so I was brought up on drinking. My father, uncles and cousins always enjoyed it.
"Then it used to be pints of beer and Woodbines, but now it's French champagne and Cuban cigars.
"But I never got interested in drugs because I always loved a drink.
“You've got to be careful with drink but I've always looked at my watch and known when I've got to get to bed.
"When I was in Vegas, playing two shows a night, I'd have Elvis Presley come over.
"I was at Caesars Palace and he had finished his thing at the Hilton, so he'd come over to my shows both nights. I'd have to tell him I needed to go to bed.
"Kelly Jones, of the Stereophonics (who Jones duetted with on Mama Told Me Not To Come in 2000), has a nickname for me — it's Tommy Eight Hours.
"He'd asked me how I'd kept my voice and I'd say it's because I get eight hours sleep every night."
Making Surrounded By Time saw Jones record in Wales for the very first time.
"We went to Monnow Valley Studio, which wasn't there when I lived in Wales," says Jones.
"The Beatles came from Liverpool, Lulu came from Glasgow and Van Morrison came from Belfast.
“We all went to London because we didn't have recording studios where we came from."
Another favourite song on the album for Jones is his cover of the Yusuf Islam song Popstar.
He says: "The connection here with Cat Stevens (Yusuf's former name) is I used to do TV promotion shows with him in the 1960s. We'd both had tuberculosis as kids so we had a connection and became friend
"I last saw him just before lockdown at The O2 when we did a Cancer Research thing and I played this song to him because I'd just recorded it."
Jones says he can remember the moment when he had become so successful that he was a bona fide pop star.
"I was on tour with Cilla Black late 1964. I'd just recorded It's Not Unusual and I was playing it and I was getting a reaction to it.
"One night, I was in the pub between shows, and I was having a pint and a pork pie. All these girls are screaming outside the pub.
"I thought they were screaming for this other pop star kid but when I walked out into the middle of them, well, they were waiting for me.
"It's Not Unusual had gone up in the bloody charts and I didn't know.
"So I walked right in the middle and I had this raincoat on and they tore it to shreds and then the pork pie was gone.
"These policemen picked me up and had to carry me through the stage door."
Last year, Jones was ready to set off on a celebration tour for his 80th birthday when the pandemic saw his concerts postponed to this year — and he has missed the touring.
He says: "I left the house in '65 and I haven't been back much since.
"I've always been on the road.
"Linda once said, 'Do you think you'll ever slow down?'
"My manager at the time said to her, 'Don't worry, when he gets older he will slow down'.
When she was still alive she said this slowing down was not going to happen.
"But she came to a lot of places with me and enjoyed it.
“She came to the first Ed Sullivan Show I did in New York. Then, when we met Elvis Presley for the first time in LA in 1965.
"But she used to get so nervous watching me."
It was Linda's idea before she died that Jones leave LA and move to London.
"We lived in LA for 41 years. We lived in a house I bought off Dean Martin but we'd planned on coming back as my wife was always homesick.
"The only time you realise you're in America is if you put the TV on as our house looked like a copy of Tor Point, the house we lived in in Weybridge (Surrey) and the cars were British. I drove a Rolls-Royce.
"I liked the weather because it was like being on holiday.
"But Linda always missed Tor Point. She missed family.
"I started looking for flats in London while Linda was still alive but then she got worse and found it was cancer and she said, 'We've left it too late for me, but not for you, Tom'.
"So I came back to London because that's what we planned. To be close to my family. Mark and my grandkids are all living in and around London."
Jones says making the album has been part of his grief recovery process and he is looking forward to going out on the road.
"My therapist said time will heal, and it has. I'm in a position now where everything is bright. I've come out of that cloud I was in and this new album has helped well.
"It's just the Covid thing that stopped me. But I've had both jabs. I had the first one before Christmas and the second one in January.
Tom Jones – Surrounded By Time
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"I'm a lucky person, as there's people that are really struggling with this bloody thing.
"For me, not to be able to sing live on stage is a small sacrifice compared to what other people have to deal with.
"So I can wait and when we are all ready, I will be ready."
- Surrounded By Time is released next Friday.
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