Tom Jones’ 40th studio album, Surrounded By Time, is on course to be the Welsh crooner’s first number one record in over 20 years and is a continuation of his remarkable career. Over the decades since his fairytale pop career began, Jones has got himself into his fair share of scrapes, and on one occasion, he nearly ended up in a fight with none other than The Beatles’ John Lennon.
After years of performing in working men’s clubs across South Wales, Jones’ forceful talent was spotted by industry executives, and he landed himself a record deal with Decca, packed his bags, and moved to the Big Smoke. It took a while for his first hit to arrive, and for a period, it looked as though it was never going to happen. Then, ‘It’s Not Unusual’ came along in 1965, and suddenly Jones became a superstar who was sharing bills with the likes of The Beatles.
As first hit records go, they don’t get much more iconic than ‘It’s Not Unusual’. The track changed Jones’ life in an instant, and in the blink of an eye, the days of playing working men’s clubs in South Wales were a distant memory as he found himself becoming one of the biggest stars in the country.
Following the success of his first release, Jones put forward his follow-up single, ‘Once Upon A Time’. While on the promotional trail for the record, Jones made an appearance on the TV programme Thank Your Lucky Stars. The show should have been a dream but, in actuality, almost ended in disaster during rehearsals when the Welshman ended up in an altercation with The Beatles’ very own John Lennon.
“I wanted to see The Beatles because I’d never met them, and I’d never seen them,” Jones recalled to Far Out in an exclusive interview. “So I was sitting in the audience with my manager in the afternoon when there was nobody in there, and I’m waiting for The Beatles to come on.
“John Lennon comes out on the stage, and he says, ‘It’s not a unicorn, it’s an elephant’,” Jones explains to me over our call, in which I am immediately struck like a bolt of lightning as he perfectly sings to the tune of ‘It’s Not Unusual’. “I thought, ‘what the fuck?’ He says, ‘How you doing, puff?’ and I said, ‘Come up here, you Scouse bastard, and I’ll show you.’ My manager said, ‘Don’t, he’s a Liverpudlian, that’s his sense of humour’,” Jones poetically remembers.
Fortunately, Jones’ manager prevented the singer from burning bridges with the most influential band on the planet and punching the prodigal Lennon wouldn’t have been a good look. “Gordon Mills says ‘It’s his sense of humour, don’t’. Which of course it was, and we became friends later on. He was taking the mick or taking the piss, so that was his sense of humour,” the singer added.
This event was a big occasion for Jones. It was one of his first-ever appearances on television, and the nation was waiting patiently on their television sets to deliver the crooner from the valleys. It was his moment to make an impression, and with The Beatles on the line-up, he knew the programme was unmissable television.
Discussing the incident later interview with the Liverpool Echo,” Jones added: “Paul McCartney said to me, ‘If John Lennon made fun of a song, it means he likes it, because he wouldn’t make a comment on it if it didn’t strike him’.”
There’s no doubt that Lennon’s behaviour in this instance is completely unsavoury, and using homophobic slurs is utterly shameful which Jones had every right to respond with a forceful Welsh right hook, but that could have spelt disaster for his career. Bizarrely, Lennon only spoke to Jones in such a manner because he held respect for him, but all in all, it’s not the best way to make a first impression, in all honesty, John.