Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones

Paul Trynka

Brian Jones was the golden boy of the Rolling Stones—the visionary who gave the band its name and its sound. Yet he was a haunted man, and much of his brief time with the band was volatile and tragic.

Excerpted from Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones by Paul Trynka. Copyright © Paul Trynka, 2014. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reprinted, reproduced, posted on another website or distributed by any means without the written permission of the publisher.


Secrets and Lies

New worlds are often dreamed up in the most mundane locations. Few people would have imagined the genteel, manicured spa town of Cheltenham as a cradle for a radical new musical manifesto. But the place turns out to be funny that way, countless secrets having been harboured behind those deceptively staid facades. Brian Jones was in fact a typical Cheltonian. By the time he left the place he’d discovered more musical secrets than were ever supposed to exist, as well as amassing more secret children, and heartbreak, than can ever have been imagined.

The word ‘genteel’ seems to get applied to Cheltenham with monotonous regularity. And yes, perhaps it is an appropriate adjective, as long as you bundle in alongside it the following words: secretive, exotic, futuristic, sordid, elegant, decadent and artistic. Nearly all of those terms capture the early life of Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones, a boy whose destiny seemed more than any other dictated by his surroundings and upbringing. He was the son of an ambitious man who worked at the cutting edge of a world-changing technology. Lewis Blount Tones was, like the son who carried his name, a genius; yet his life was defined by secrets, repression and the traditional British stiff upper lip. This legacy would also define the life of Lewis Jones Jr., for better and for worse.

Book: Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones

Author: Paul Trynka

Publisher: Viking

Publication date: 2014-10

Format: Hardcover

Length: 432 pages

Affiliate: (Viking)

Image: visitor who's new to the town would be instantly struck by the serene beauty of its gleaming white Regency buildings. A long, wide promenade runs south from the high street (location of Brian's grammar school) down to a group of buildings around Lansdown Crescent and Montpellier Walk, all airy shops and coffee bars, framed by caryatids -- pillars in the shape of serene women, like those of the Acropolis. Over the road lie the fine green lawns of Imperial Gardens, with the Queens Hotel just in front; a little further down is the Pump Room, another jewel of Georgian architecture, based on the Pantheon; Regency terraces stretch in every direction, the very model of taste and discretion. But as Barry Miles, founder of counter­culture journal International Times and the Indica Gallery, who fled Cheltenham in 1962, points out, 'it's all a facade'. The elegant stone frontages of many buildings are in fact cheap painted stucco; the interiors are rickety and damp, thrown up quickly by speculative builders. With its exclusive Ladies' College, arts and music festivals, and well-heeled populace, many of them ex-colonials, post-war Cheltenham was indeed a centre of decorum and conservatism. But behind that lay a hotbed of intrigue and vice.

This secretive character became more formal, more acknowledged, from the early fifties, when Cheltenham became the capital for the nation's spooks after GCHQ, the centre of the British eavesdropping and intelligence communit y, moved from Bletchley to two government-owned sites in the town. Modern apartment buildings started to spring up and then to fill with mysterious people, many of them European and multilingual; sometimes, if you spotted them drinking at the town’s exclusive wine bars, you’d glimpse a security pass.

The James Bond vibe was intensified by the Gloster Aircraft Company, builders of Britain’s first operational jet fighter, the Meteor: its top-secret prototypes were assembled at a building on Cheltenham High Street. By the mid fifties Gloster were producing the Javelin, a glossily futuristic delta-wing interceptor. Gloster and Rotol, a part-owned subsidiary of Rolls-Royce launched as a joint venture with the Bristol Aeroplane Company, were the town’s leading employers, drawing scientists and engineers like Brian Jones’s father from around the country.

Alongside the world’s modern secretive industries, Cheltenham was a centre of the world’s oldest secretive industry. The town hosted several US Air Force bases, and the presence of US and British military personnel encouraged a bounteous supply of prostitutes: according to one count, those elegant Regency facades hid a total of forty-seven brothels. Right up to the 1960s, Bayshill Road, two blocks down from the Promenade, was a haunt for streetwalkers, who’d cheekily ask any passing men if they were ‘looking for business’. The Queens Hotel dominated the town’s main drag and became a regular haunt for the teenage Brian Jones, all shirt and tie, formal and correct. Yet during the Cheltenham Festival horse-racing week the old colonial types were cleared out to make way for hard-core gamblers and intimidating Irish gangster types who’d play cards until dawn surrounded by high-class call girls who regarded the festival as a cornerstone of the year’s working calendar. Even the political establishment had its louche side: the town’s most popular mayor, Charles Irving, who became a favourite of Tory icon Margaret Thatcher, drove around in a white Ford Thunderbird alongside a chauffeur who was dressed in mauve - a spectacle 'so gay it was unbelievable', say witnesses.

Perhaps the best evidence of Cheltenham's Jekyll and Hyde character can be found in the pages of the refined, stately daily newspaper the Gloucestershire Echo. The Echo majored on issues military and religious, its attitude proudly High Church of England. Its readers were often subject to shocked homilies berating the town's lax morality. In 1956, the Reverend Ward bemoaned 'some innate tendency, a particular evil, that is more marked in Cheltenham than in most places in this country', namely the town's rate of illegitimate births - the highest in the country outside London's inner city. Concerned burghers commissioned further research to establish whether Americans or Irish were responsible for this appalling statistic; the figures revealed it was the English. In later years, Brian's fellow Stones wondered how someone so sexually voracious could have come from a town like Cheltenham. Little did they realize that he was Cheltonian through and through.

Lewis Blount Jones, a talented graduate in engineering from Leeds University, scored a prestigious job at Rotol in 1939, and soon after that married Louisa Simmonds. The couple set up home on Eldorado Road, in a somewhat gloomy red-brick house near the town centre. This was where the young Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones, born in Cheltenham's Park Nursing Home on 28 February 1942, grew up. Brian was soon joined by a sister, Pamela, who was born on 3 October 1943. Just over two years later, on 14 October 1945, the family was touched by tragedy when Pamela died of leukaemia. Lewis and Louisa never spoke about their child's death -- it became another of Cheltenham’s secrets. The following summer, on 22 August, another sister for Brian was born – Barbara, who would always resemble him.

Around 1950, the family moved to Hatherley Road, in what we’d describe today as quintessential suburbia. In the austerity of the immediate post-war years a new home in a leafy location, complete with garage and modern kitchen, was a badge of high status. ‘It was a prestigious place,’ remembers next-door neighbour Roger Jessop. ‘Those houses were built as special one-offs, much sought after, and the people in our area were eminently middle class. And of all of them, Lewis Jones was about as middle class as you could get.’

Lewis Jones would become a symbol of the Generation Gap – the fault line that opened up when boys like Brian Jones reached adolescence. Brian’s life was lived in flagrant opposition to the values of his father, who was repressed and domineering, and who never, ever used the word ‘love’. Yet Lewis was anything but an old fogey. Just as Brian became the embodiment of a cultural revolution, Lewis was the embodiment of a technological revolution: his duties at Rotol included work on the most advanced propellors and turbines of the day. Not only did he own a desirable suburban residence, Lewis also owned a car and a phone, both of them rare possessions in the early fifties, and was typical of the new wave of modern British engineers who’d led the world in the development of radar, the jet engine and military electronics. ‘He was far-sighted, concerned about the future of British engineering, and would write well-argued letters to the newspapers suggesting it should be given higher priority,’ says Roger Jessop.

The young Keith Richards witnessed Hurricanes and Spitfireschasing lone Dorniers out of Kent – there’s a good chance their propellors were made by Rotol, as were vital engine parts for Britain's pioneering jets. Like GCHQ and the Dowty company (with which Rotollater merged), Rotol was a prestigious Cheltonian work­place. Lewis commanded huge respect and eventually became head of the crucial airworthiness department. 'He was a learned gentleman,' says colleague Robert Almond, 'formal, as people were in those days.' Linda Partridge, another Dowty Rotol worker, calls him 'delightful; a very nice, gentle sort of man'. Linda's brothers knew Brian well, and thought Lewis and his son were pretty similar, in looks and size -- small feet, delicate musician's hands, modest height --­ and a certain shyness.

Paul Trynka is the author of acclaimed biographies of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. He was also the editor of MOJO and has written on music and popular culture for publications including Elle, Blueprint, The Wire, and many of the UK’s broadsheets. He lives in London.
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