The music industry is fickle, the charts like production-line models, endlessly similar until the next relaunch, Mark II, Mark III etc. Then there is Jump! This is the fourteenth studio album in a career of over 25 years; I’ve had the pleasure of introducing them and their charismatic lead John Dexter Jones with not an ounce of disappointment, but to me it was unknown territory. A rock band with progressive underpinnings, and whether it is just fun or a commentary on the state of the world, saying something to make you pay attention. Their style is very much their own, should you wish for a direct comparison, I will refer to others, but only to give you that “Ah, I see!” moment.
John Jones has kindly provided us with a synopsis of what each song is about, which I shall preamble with my thoughts, hopefully drawing the same conclusion.
As I would expect from a seasoned rock band, the opener is lively and direct – we’re here! At the beginning of the year I reviewed Wishbone Ash’s Coat of Arms, and the twin guitars here compares favourably with that. John’s voice is strong and clear, with slightly more of a Welsh lilt than I detected when seeing them live – Oh, let it be soon that these bands are out there again. With headphones on charge, first listen is through the computer’s tiny Harman Kardons. It needs the ‘phones, or better still proper speakers! That’s better. Comparatively, the vocal is similar to Martin Wilson (The Room) and Joe Cairney (Comedy of Errors), with its own special way. For a rock song, The Heroes is quite folky in its delivery, a toe-tapper no less and a great way to open our listening pleasure. John explains:
This song starts in the hall of the long-demolished Friars Upper School in Bangor. That’s where Iori, the caretaker, played his part in releasing another troupe of music-obsessed kids onto the endlessly shifting sands of being in a band. He left the door open for us after school, and we reciprocated with a few cans of beer. That spirit of mutual understanding and respect set the tone. The formative experiences of creating music, the camaraderie, the pub-dreams, the absolute and unshakeable belief in your mission – they number some of the greatest memories in my life. The first crack of a snare drum in that reverberant space was like the starting gun of a long-distance run that has not yet reached the end. Most of this album concerns the wider world, but thirty years into the career of JUMP and forty into my own, the magic of being in a band is undiminished. For the purposes of this album The Heroes We’d Be describing the narrator of the themes herein…”
The King follows with that folk-rock feel, underlying drums providing both rhythm and depth with strong R&B overtones. Not restricted by anything as small as genre, and nice use of the stereo channels.
On the album Over the Top, a song called Old Gods marked the perceived passing of an old guard. The traditional religious, political, and legislative norms that I’d grown up with, and often railed against, appeared to me to be dissolving. Perhaps the global financial crisis sharpened up the process, but by the time we’d reached 2016, much of what we took for granted was being somehow upended and tipped out. By 2017 we knew for certain. What seems to have been laid bare is that life is now even more subject to the actions of those who no longer make any pretence that they are interested in the greater good. There appears very little in the way of wisdom, but a great deal in the way of self-serving greed. Most likely that’s always been the way – but has it ever been so nakedly vaunted? …and all the king’s men, indeed.”
This is a very guitar-driven album, and there is a directness that pleases more than the excessive noodling you find on some prog-orientated albums – style over substance. No rush, there are nine tracks here, but I felt it may end too soon. There is a crispness in the delivery, but it’s not cold, it’s not dated, and it sails its own path.
It’s another lucky day for the narrator here because he’s still alive. His city is being destroyed, every norm he knew, every day-to-day activity, every hope for the future, every perspective he once had over what life was, is being stripped away. He asks if he should leave. We would look from the outside and think it was the obvious choice? But this is his home. Nobody has bombed my home so how would I know? – and besides, if he leaves, where does he go? Does he join the lines of refugees queueing to be rejected by armchair warriors reading hostile newspapers? These are his friends and neighbours – the people with whom he breaks bread. It’s not that easy. Nothing’s that easy. Whatever he does, whatever he sees and however it ends, in the midst of it all, he stands by his values. Love, friendship, and support. That’s what he won’t forget.”
Fourth up, The Voices. Like a story piece from early Chris de Burgh; Spanish Train, Crusader? Keyboards create an atmosphere which the other instruments, including voice, embellish. The track steps away from the first three, but seeks your attention none the less, ringing with emotion too. It’s a pleasurable tingle down the spine, like the taste of a pint of ale from Y Bragdy Mws Piws! This has a progressive complexity about it, the pace changes but the pleasure does not diminish.
When refugees began fleeing desperate situations in the Middle East, particularly as the conflict in Syria deepened, they did so to a hostile reception in many quarters. It struck me just how much you must distance yourself from humanity to attack people who have lived under the threat of instant death and slow starvation. But people did. Some people even went to the extraordinary lengths of linking that utter desperation with a threat to their own way of life, as though the way of life that produced the ordnance that showered down on other people’s heads was somehow superior. A Thousand Voices begins a wider reflection on that point. And of course, ‘God’ is ever present.”
There is another twist with The Cellar, possibly the corkscrew. Oh, never mind! If you think of the sort of sounds you hear with Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, shorten it quite a lot, then you appear to have Jump’s take on a little Moroccan Roll. It’s fun, and possibly over too soon. If feels light, but the subject matter is deadly and serious.
Imagine living underground by dim light, running out of water and food. Imagine pissing and shitting in a bucket. Imagine that all you can hear is the sound of rattling gunfire, huge explosions and then the sound of your own pulse in the silence before it all starts again. And it’s stiflingly hot. And you can barely contain your fear that if the shells and snipers don’t get you, you might fall into the wrong hands. And you don’t even know which side is which anymore, and you’re wondering what is to become of your children who used to cry, but now just rock quietly and stare. So, you make a break for it, across the trip wires and the mines, and you give everything you ever had to find somewhere that even approximates to safety. Go on. Try and imagine that.”
The title track is dark matter once again, but I understand, and often wonder this myself. Why are there only opposites and no common good? It’s a long journey, is life. There’s a touch of the Dire Straits here, in perhaps two senses, but it’s another well-crafted tune. John Jones, as the author of these lyrics, writes both well and with passion, as readers of his book on Bangor City FC will attest (guilty, not read it myself; Four Seasons – A Bangor Football Concerto). It is perhaps an irony that a song that addresses the plight of refugees, and our need for a little more compassion, is with us in a time of no hugs, when many more could benefit from a hug.
Here is where the demoralised and dispossessed meet demonisation. Here is where people with all their possessions with hatred, spite, gracelessness, ignorance, and sinister manipulation. When for questionable ends in 2016, political and media elements in the UK used nakedly racist propaganda to stir prejudice against refugees, the die was cast for regression. The imagery and the choice of the slogan ‘Breaking Point’ to suggest that somehow one of the richest and most culturally diverse societies on the planet could find no room for people on their knees, left more than a bad taste. Who exactly is at Breaking Point?”
The music throughout is as sharp as any band you’ll pay £100 to see in a socially distant stadium. Whether it is duelling Wishbone Ash-style guitars, or several other recognisable influences. That’s influence, not copy, the two Steve’s deliver and there are some beautiful solos here. Messer’s Rundle and Hayes never falter. The bass, courtesy of Mark Pittam, shines when necessary, solid as required, with the mysterious Mo on keys, all backed up by Andy Barker, kept in the dark at the back (as all drummers should be!) never missing a beat. The overseer watches, wordsmith, and interpreter of those words with, as the best vocalists do, heart and soul: John Jones. The Parade has some of the fluid guitar breaks, and keys that wash over you. All of this so much stronger through a decent hi-fi rig, where tricks of separation are displayed. There is enough prog here to keep the hardest hearted prog fan happy, whilst having tunes that leave rock footprints on the sand of a deserted beach.
A simple poem follows from The Sniper on The Beachcomber album, and of course, Bethesda from On Impulse. David Richard Jones’s ghost returns, one hundred years later, to discover that his contribution was as futile as that of millions of others. Somewhere on the bridge that crosses the river above Ogwen Bank, he and his brother carved their names. There are many names carved there into the slate. David’s name was carved more neatly on the gatepost of St. Mary’s Church in Tregarth -his body is buried in France. As the narrator says in Breaking Point, and as David Richard’s ghost determines a century after his own death “same mistakes, you never learn…” The mistake of course, is to trust what have become in common parlance, ‘the powers that be’.”
More questions are asked with The Widow – when, if ever, will we find some answers? The manner in which John poses his questions, and a vocal that has a slightly higher register, reminds me of John Watts (Fischer Z/John Watts), again a storyteller’s tale, with solid keys, warm basslines, guitar solos, and perfect drumming.
The physical casualties of conflict are tangible enough. The emotional casualties are perhaps less dwelt upon. The fear of the thick of the action might be matched only by the strain of worrying from afar. It’s difficult to imagine the aftermath of losing someone whose job is to fight wars on the ground, in the front line of extreme danger, trained to kill, trained to survive. A myriad complex questions surround the whole issue and but here there’s just an imagined conversation between one left behind and one who ultimately did not return.”
It burns, with passion, Pink Floyd-like basslines, Wishbone Ash guitar duels, as all the energy that has threaded through the album culminates in a final and rather beautiful hurrah, vocals squeezing every drop of emotion from the words.
And then there’s the human spirit. Life on a tightrope. Conversations with God that everyone has had, whether they ‘believe’ or not. The desperate moments of doubt, fear, love, and hope as they search for something better; some relief and some release from the pain, a chance to be part of something else… something better?”
Written a couple of years back, questioning, giving perspective; I wonder what our lyricist will do with our current time and predicaments? There’s many a story yet to be told, though for now Jump offer up album 14, a great album, and placed back to back with the Ash, you can only wonder why the band is not better known. If you like Wishbone Ash, then buy this as a Christmas present, surprise, whatever. Just buy. It’s progressive enough to please, rocky enough to dance, and when COVID-19 is a memory, see Jump live. They will not disappoint.
01. The Heroes (4:55)
02. The King (6:03)
03. The City (6:15)
04. The Voices (4:35)
05. The Cellar (2:23)
06. Breaking Point (7:17)
07. The Parade (4:56)
08. The Widow (5:26)
09. The Cold Fire (7:22)
Total Time – 49:12
John Dexter Jones – Vocals, Words
Steve ‘Ronnie’ Rundle – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Vocals
Steve Hayes – Electric Guitars
Mark Pittam – Bass
Mo – Keyboards
Andy Barker – Drums
Record Label: F2 Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 16th November 2020