Kelly Jones: Sing When You're Winning

In 1999, buoyed by the success of Stereophonics’ second album Performance and Cocktails and loaded up on rock’n’roll bravado, Kelly Jones – the band’s diminutive front man and ardent Leeds United supporter – decided to take advantage of his status as a Britpop stadium-filler in waiting.

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“I’d just met Paul Weller for the first time,” says the 34-year-old Welshman, sipping on a pint of Guinness in a west London pub. “As I left, I said, ‘If you see Noel [Gallagher] ask him if he can get me tickets for the City game.’

"We’d just drawn them in the FA Cup, but I’d never met Noel before so I didn’t expect to get anything. I remember thinking afterwards that it was a stupid thing to say as you leave a room.

"But a couple of weeks later Noel called up – he’d managed to get me tickets in the City end. I ended up going with a mate, but we had to leave early because we won 4-1 and it was so bloody embarrassing.”

Jones’ modesty is understandable. As a Leeds fan, he knows all too well that a dizzying high is likely to be followed by an embarrassing low. But what’s a boy from the Valleys doing supporting Yorkshire’s finest in the first place?

As a kid growing up in Cwmaman, his older brothers forced him to watch videos documenting the successes of Don Revie’s star-studded Leeds teams of the late-’60s and early-'70s.

Sadly, no side from Elland Road could match those glory years during Jones’s own childhood, but at least he wasn’t short of clobber, being handed down a succession of well-worn United shirts (including the highly sought-after Admiral strip) from his siblings.

As if that wasn’t forceful enough, it was made clear that any decision to support another team would have resulted in a hefty beating. “I didn’t have much choice,” says Jones. “They were seven and nine years older than me. They supported Leeds because the local teams were pretty thin on the ground.

"We had Cardiff and Swansea in Wales and though the rivalry between them was often pretty fierce, we never really experienced that passion because we lived in the Valleys. The kids where we lived were into Leeds, Manchester United and Liverpool.”

Jones’ interest in Leeds was piqued when he travelled to Villa Park with his dad to watch the Whites for the first time. “I remember being in a pub outside the ground before the game,” says Jones. “I was pretty scared. It was the most people I’d seen in one place before. I went into the ground and I remember eating Wagon Wheels and drinking shit tea.”

Jones was in his late teens when Leeds won the old First Division title in 1992 and by the time George Graham ushered in a new era at Elland Road in 1996, the Phonics’ first recording contract was in place. Soon, under Graham’s former assistant, David O’Leary, Leeds were challenging for honours again and winning admirers with their youthful flair.

“It was an amazing time,” says Jones. “But it was typical Leeds really – we played some nice football, but we never won anything. Harry Kewell was a great player to watch because he was always running at players.

"My favourite footballers were always the ones that had a lot of energy and skill about them. Gordon Strachan was always brilliant in that title-winning side of 1992, and I loved Gary McAllister. If there was a free-kick to be taken in the last minute, you knew he had the ability to pop it in.

“I like him managing the club now. It brings back a bit of history. The younger kids will look up to people like him because he’s won stuff at Leeds and with Liverpool. And he has a passion for Leeds, as opposed to somebody who hasn’t played for us.”

While Leeds now languish in League One, following a swift and severe fall from grace, Stereophonics are now very much in the Premier League of British bands – and have the celebrity admirers to prove it. 

Wayne Rooney has a tattoo reading Just Enough Education To Perfom, the title of the Phonics’ third album. In fact, the Manchester United striker loves the band so much he flew Jones to Portofino in Italy to perform at a party for the newly-married Rooneys in the summer.

But the mischievous Leeds fan used the opportunity to try and hasten his own United’s return to the big time. “Everyone was hungover,” he explains.

“I got on stage and said, ‘I don’t know if you know this Wayne, but the only reason I’ve agreed to play this f**king gig tonight is if you change your nationality to Welsh and you sign for Leeds. So until you sign this contract here, I’m not playing a f**king note.’”

Jones takes a dramatic sip of his pint with the timing of an expert raconteur. “He got me a glass of wine and reminded me how much I was being paid, so I thought ‘fair dos’ and just got on with the bloody show...”

Interview: Matt Allen. Portrait: Big Rocket. From the December 2008 issue of FourFourTwo.