“There’s loads of bands in Liverpool pretty well fixated with the 1960s, which is fair enough considering we all but invented it. But not many artists are brave enough to go back to the roots, and Edgar was. His musical knowledge is something else.”
On the eve of Soothing Music For Stray Cats being made available for the first time on vinyl, Edgar ‘Jones’ Jones and those who helped bring the 2005 LP to life reflect on its origins, making, legacy, and lasting impact on both Liverpool and the indie music scene at large …
By Paul Snyder
On December 4, 2015, Edgar ‘Jones’ Jones began celebrating his birthday by putting a new record on the turntable at his Liverpool home—although “new” might be a relative term.
The night before, a vinyl test pressing of his 2005 album Soothing Music For Stray Cats had been delivered. Even though he was more than familiar with the contents of the record, Jones says he felt a bit of trepidation prior to lowering the needle onto the wax. Since the Liverpool-based Viper Label had released the album 10 years prior, there had been three issues on CD—the original Viper release, a bonus-tracks laden Japanese release on the independent Wind Bell label (which was run by a fan of Jones’) and a 2012 remastered edition that included supplemental material such as B-sides, live tracks, and radio sessions. For those who left the realm of physical music long ago, it’s easy enough to find on services such as iTunes or Spotify. Thanks to a Mercury Music Prize nomination, repeated inclusions on “The 100 Greatest Albums You’ve Never Heard” and other such niche lists that British music publications like NME and Mojo love to run—not to mention endorsement from the likes of both Noel Gallagher and Daniel Radcliffe—the album has been able to bring in waves of curious music fans for more than a decade now. In other words, it’s good. It’s very good. Classic, even. There are very few people to dispute that—it’s one of those cases of the “there are those who love it, and those who don’t know it” splits among music fans.
So there was no apparent reason for Jones to feel nervous. The album’s legacy had already been secured, and if anything, the vinyl edition—due in April from Mellowtone Records—seems more like a victory lap than anything else for an album that sounds like it always should have been on turntables anyway. But Jones, who’s amassed a sizable record collection of his own and grew up listening to records through tube amps and proper speakers, admits that he always felt the medium might expose how simple the thing really was—a collection of songs recorded in his home on a rather simple eight-track cassette portastudio. It wasn’t done in Abbey Road, or Olympic, or any one of the classic or contemporary studios scattered over England’s terrain. The whole thing had just been an exercise in fun and an outlet for a healthy bit of creativity. That kind of worried its author.
“I was always a bit nervous about it going to vinyl,” he says. “That some of the ineptness of my recording technique might show through in a different way on vinyl or something like that. I was always a little bit worried that there might be some peaks in the highs or troughs in the lows. I wasn’t ever sure of like just being jammy to make it sound like that, you know, if it was going to sound good on vinyl.”
He needn’t have worried. After working through three test pressings in the late morning and early afternoon of December 4, he says he was pleased with the result.
“Great birthday,” he laughs.
But for those who know the album and are interested in the its history, information is in short supply. Sure, there are short reviews and select interviews out there (Oh, hello!), but researching Edgar Jones (or Edgar Summertyme, as he’s sometimes known) in the digital information age leads to a lot of broad brush strokes. He first gained cult success with the Stairs in the early 1990s, and their 1960s, Nuggets-inspired Mexican R&B album remains legendary in its own right. (By the way, the Stairs have reformed and will be doing shows in the next few months—they still sound as youthful and garage-y as ever). He also spent time in the ranks of the La’s—albeit after the reclusive Lee Mavers had turned his back on the music industry and wasn’t particularly keen to write, record, or play new (or old) material. Undeterred, Jones started other short-lived bands, including the Isrites and Big Kids, which featured members that would later go on to greater success with bands such as the Stands and Zutons. He also worked as a hired gun on tours, traveling the world and playing bass for the likes of Ian McCulloch, St. Etienne, and Paul Weller. He was also in the first incarnation of Johnny Marr’s Healers. It might all sound like an exercise in (admittedly impressive) résumé building, but each of these details feed into the creation of Soothing Music For Stray Cats. The touring provided a bit of financial security, and the time with Marr resulted in Johnny bequeathing that eight-track cassette portastudio to Jones.
By 2003, Jones had the freedom to sit at home and indulge his musical ideas. And after years of learning the quirks of that portastudio, he’d figured out how to get sounds he liked. At the same time, he was ruminating on an idea for a soul-influenced group to be called the Joneses. Which is probably the best place to start this story …
Edgar ‘Jones’ Jones: I think I was just digging a lot of that type of music, you know—5 Royales, Smiley Lewis, things like that New Orleans stuff, and the general bawdier side of doo-wop. I think I just really fancied having a go. I was in a nice place, as well. Paul Weller was on his acoustic tour, so I was kind of carefully living off the money I’d earned the year before and not really having to work. [Laughter] I had time on me hands to come up with stuff and be creative. I fancied doing it, and I had the eight-track there. I’d had the eight-track for about four years, but I’d really just started because I’d learned its quirks. I was starting to be able to do good work on it … So the world was seeming my oyster a little bit. As long as it wasn’t too complicated, I could nail it meself.
Rob ‘Bobby Swinger’ Stringer (Keyboards, “Freedom”): He was always around DJ-ing, and playing the coolest tunes in the whole of Liverpool, and I guess we met through that. I think he saw me playing in local jazz groups and we got talking.
Nick Miniski (Drums, “Freedom” and “More Than You’ve Ever Had”): Edgar approached me and asked if I was interested in working with him on a new project. I was only 17 at the time and jumped at the chance as I had always listened to his music growing up. So Edgar, Mick [Marshall], and I embarked on rehearsals as it was initially going to be a three-piece band, but after a couple of practices, Edgar decided to expand the lineup, so he got Candie [Payne] and Kristian [Ealey] involved. This gave us a completely new sound, having female and male lead vocals combined. After a few months, we began doing shows whilst recording tracks—some of which appeared on the album. “Freedom” was one of the first as I recall.
Jones: During that time, we were just having a lot of fun. We weren’t too precise with what we were doing, but it was a lot of fun. I think also because I had to write duets and I had to write songs for Kris to sing and songs for Candie to sing as well, it was encouraging me to be prolific … I think that’s why me writing changed, because I wanted to do this early soul kind of group. Bit like a soul revue kind of thing, you know? So I’d write the occasional one where I’d sing and the rest was backing vocals. There was basically three singers to write for. It encouraged me prolificacy.
Stringer: The repertoire we worked on for the Joneses was a much more live sound than the Stray Cats album that Edgar built up by himself in layers and then incorporating other people’s skills for certain bits.
While this early incarnation of the Joneses did play a few scattered shows and record some tracks, Jones’ writing process for the band led him to be more adventurous in some of the tapes he was making at home, and he was soon working out different guitar, bass, and percussion parts by himself with an eye toward bringing in various players who could augment the tracks. Before getting too deep into that process, however, he found an audience for some of these early sketches.
Jones: I was not afraid to be organic … “Oh Man That’s Some Shit” was definitely organical. All I had was the bassline and the backing vocals. I just put them down, left a little space without the backing vocals. I suppose I was aware that you could use a jam format if you had the tape to yourself—you could put a groove down and vary it over two or three minutes, do you know what I mean? Doing that kind of a thing with a band would be almost impossible. [Laughter] No one would know what you’re up to. When you’re in your own little head, you know what you’re up to and you’ve got your tape to do it again if it’s wrong, basically. I was getting into an organic way of working as well as writing songs.
Paul Hemmings (Co-founder, The Viper Label): At the time, we were working on various Liverpool compilation albums. What we were trying to do was theme a series of Liverpool compilation albums that were like the Nuggets series, really. We were finding really quite unusual, rare tracks. We were working on that, and I think Mike’s daughter and Edgar’s daughter went to the same school, which was Dovedale School. Edgar knew we were working on various Liverpool compilation albums, and he handed Mike a tape.
Mike Badger (Co-founder, The Viper Label): I had seen Edgar in a late incarnation of the Stairs, but recognized him from The Attic Studio in town from the late 1980s. I got to know him in the school playground whilst waiting to pick up our kids. I gave him a couple of CDs we had just released on Viper, namely The Ultimate ‘50s Rockin’ Sci-Fi Disc and The Ultimate ‘50s and ‘60s Rockin’ Horror Disc, which were US-themed 1950s compilation albums. Next time I saw him, he gave me a tape to have a listen to.
Jones: Mike had passed me some of the archive stuff—The Rockin’ Sci-Fi disc—because that stuff was of a 50s-ish ilk. But I was already involved—I’d done a track for them for one of the Liverpool acoustic things, as well. But yeah, I had this tape with I think “More Than You’ve Ever Had,” “Wulf and Bear,” “Oh Man That’s Some Shit” and “Stubborn Mule Blues.” Yeah, they were the four.
Badger: I took it home and, on listening to it, surmised that that they might be tracks he was suggesting for another themed US album. Then on second or third listen I realized, “Oh my God! This is Edgar!” I couldn’t believe its authenticity—it’s all around feel really knocked me out. I took the tape to Paul Hemmings to have a listen, knowing what his response would be.
Hemmings: First of all, it’s quite refreshing to actually get a cassette tape—but that’s typical Edgar—because usually you get sent CDs. So we got this cassette, and a couple of days later we listened to it, and it featured four or five tracks off what became Soothing Music. I think his idea was just to include one of those tracks on one of the Liverpool compilation albums. So we listened to them and we thought it was fantastic, but we didn’t really know what it was. Edgar had created something quite unusual here, you know, out of jazz, blues, doo-wop, whatever. He just created something quite magical.
Badger: We both agreed we would love to put it out. Back on the playground, I mentioned this to Edgar and he said, “Sounds great.”
Hemmings: We always have the same policy in Viper: If we like something, we will put it out. We don’t care if it sells a copy or it sells 20,000 copies. We really don’t care. It’s just one of those, if we like it, that’s what we’ll do. We loved these four or five tracks that we heard, so we then said to Edgar, “It’s fantastic. Go and record an album.”
Encouraged by the response and now armed with an informal record deal, Jones set out pulling in the various talent around Liverpool that could augment his ideas.
Stringer: Edgar wasn’t bothered about selling records and being deliberately commercial. He just wanted to make something that he’d actually want to listen to and think, “Yeah, that’s boss” … We always had a thought that we would make music that was fairly “simple” but that the players would all have more in their locker in terms of playing level, so you always got these nice cool musical touches.
Hemmings: Edgar’s always had amazing bands. Dunno how he finds these people.
Jones: I was lucky, really, finding people that gelled quite easily. It wasn’t something I was really stretching meself to do.
Austin ‘Osmund St. Clair’ Murphy (Tenor saxophone, “Soothing Music For Stray Cats,” Baritone and tenor saxophone, “Tenderly”): Rob Stringer’s an old friend of mine. He got involved playing piano with Edgar, and I was rehearsing with a band that had a rehearsal room next door, playing sax. I used to sneak in and have a little jam with them. I think I got into the band ‘cos I bought a baritone saxophone, and they liked the idea of that. [Laughter] It was something different … It wasn’t really a fully functioning group at the time. They’d had this band called the Joneses, which was like a revolving door of members coming in and out. Edgar was just working on all these tunes at the time. He just had tons of material—as he always does—floating around. I think I just got friendly with him, got chatting with him. And then he was just like, “Do you wanna come ‘round and try some sax on some of these tunes?”—not thinking it was like going to be an album or anything.
Grenville ‘The Griffin’ Harrop (Drums, “Soothing Music For Stray Cats,” “Do Doh Dontcha Doh,” “Sittin’ on the Fence,” “You Know You Can Do It,” “Catnip,” “Tenderly,” “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone,” “It’s No Good”): He kind of headhunted me, I guess. He saw me playing in a jazz band in Liverpool and then just asked if I wanted to join the band.
Martin Smith (Flugelhorn, “Soothing Music For Stray Cats”): Liverpool’s sort of a village, really, artistically. Everybody knows everybody else just playing with different bands together. There’s a great deal of cross-pollination with people jumping into everybody else’s bands. I used to do a residency down at a bar in town with a jazz quartet, and he used to come down to that quite often. I’d seen him in his various incarnations—he had a band called the Big Kids, he had a band called the Joneses, which some friends of mine were playing in anyway. You’d see him around, and he just said, “Come along and play on this.”
Jones: It was people who were me friends and through me friendship network, really … Rachel [Harland] came about—it was actually through someone I always used to speak to who worked in HMV. It was a friend of hers, and initially she was gonna do it, but when she heard the songs, she didn’t think herself capable of it, so she put Rachel on to me.
Rachel Harland (Lead vocal, “You Know You Can Do It,” backing vocal, “It’s No Good”): I got a phone call from someone saying, “Can you sing this track? It needs to be learned quite quickly.” I didn’t know Edgar at the time. He lived at that time around the corner from where I lived. So I think he called me and said, “Come ‘round.” So I walked around the corner to his flat. He said, “Right, this is the track, this is the idea.” Played me a sample, and then we just sat on his couch with his guitar. He played it and I sang it back.
Stringer: Often it was people coming in and out recording their bit. He would have a specific idea of who he wanted on which bit, and why, and often that he wanted it to sound a certain way. Like he’d mention a player or a song, or even a record label—“More Stax than Motown,” etc. And you’d then have a fairly clear idea what you would do and put your little personal stamp on it.
St. Clair: There’s a tune on there called “Tenderly.” That was the first thing we did. I was listening to it last night. It sounds almost like drunken sax playing. [Laughter] It’s very lazy, but it suits it, doesn’t it? That kind of went well, and then the title track, which Martin Smith plays on, “Soothing Music For Stray Cats.”
Smith: Edgar’s got his own set up in his house, and he’d sort of set himself up as Liverpool’s answer to Rudy Van Gelder. He had this tune, which was very much in his eyes a Blue Note-kind of jazz vibe. He wanted that typical Blue Note trumpet and lead sax thing on it. He got me and a chap called Osmund St. Clair, and we did the lead on that song. We just went to his house.
Jones: I think I just sang it to them. They got it. I think the melody of “Soothing Music For Stray Cats” is kind of arpeggios of the chords, with slight derivations anyway. So if you knew the chords, playing the part was easy to remember … I know enough theory to get me by, but I can’t really write parts down quickly. So it was mostly singing to them on the shop floor, as they say.
St. Clair: He’d just sing it to you, and then for the solo bits, “Just play whatever.”
Smith: He got a really authentic sound.
Harrop: You know that whole kind of Sun Studio vibe, or those classic kind of soul records, where you’ve just got one mic and a few people? If you can position it correctly, then you can get a sort of nice blend. It’ll bleed—obviously everything will bleed into each other, but in a good way. It isn’t done so much these days, because you don’t have to do that—you’re not limited by tracks or anything. But he loves that old school thing anyway.
Jones: Most of the time, it was a single mic, especially most of the work I did with Grenville. We rehearsed quite hard—I think it was four or five or six songs, maybe. I think we spent two or three days in rehearsal in a practice room, so we could make some noise. So then we knew the material quite well, so he didn’t have to hear me brilliantly during the recordings. It was one of them where the bass was on mic and the drums were off mic. One microphone job, yeah. A bit like 1920s recordings.
St. Clair: The mic was already plonked right in the middle of the room. He might have said, “Stand over there in the corner” or something. [Laughter] He was that relaxed about it, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? Because saxophones can sound bloody awful sometimes when they’re close-mic’d through a computer. But it just sounded great, I thought. It captured that vintage kind of jazzy sound, R&B, late ‘50s, that kind of bite to it.
Jones: I think it was a lack of fear. Some people would be afraid of working like that. There were happy accidents, really. Deliberated-upon happy accidents. [Laughter] I know that’s a contradiction there, but there were deliberate things and I’m happy they worked.
Smith: I mean it was all very relaxed and low-key. It was literally in his living room surrounded by his record collection and all the paraphernalia that he’d accumulated over the years.
Jones: All done in me nice big living room, like. Wooden floor, high ceiling. It’s kind of a Victorian building, 1890s or something. The room just had a lovely sound to it.
St. Clair: I think that’s where the sound of that album comes from, that flat. Every time he’s recorded stuff in there, it’s always sounded really good. It’s got its own character.
Jones: Since then, I’ve become less afraid to use—I’ve found echoes and reverb units that I’m happy with now. I used to have an SPX90 in them days, but whenever I used it, it just didn’t seem right. I tended to record the vocals with the mic very loud with the singers a good few feet away from the microphone so that the room would be picked up, do you know what I mean? Things like that.
Harland: I sang a bit and he said, “OK.” I’m a trained opera singer in actual fact, so he was like, “There’s a bit too much vibrato on your voice, take it back a little bit … a little bit more.” Basically, can you get it to sound more more pure. Then I did it and he said, “Cool. That’s what I want.”
The other key to the sound was recording and mixing to cassette via the aforementioned portastudio. Even though digital home recording options were becoming more prevalent in the early aughts, Jones had finally found the sounds he liked in the old machine and stuck with them. Although he wanted the different musicians to add their talents, the added benefit of getting outside help in was preserving the quality of the tapes.
Jones: I knew the people who could play the parts, really. Maybe that was why I got them to execute it, so that I wasn’t wrecking the tapes by doing 400 takes. [Laughter] If I explained it well enough to them, they could do it.
St. Clair: It’s a nice way of working, really. Sometimes you just get the best thing the first time through anyway. When you’re using a computer, it’s more of a headache, because you think, “Right, that was quite a good take. I can do it better.” And then you just spend hours editing. The spontaneity goes with the more options you’ve got. It just isn’t that way on tape, and you also get a nice warm sound on it as well.
Jones: I don’t think I used a minidisc ‘til Sense of Harmony [in 2012], really.
Harrop: Edgar’s mind is just this amazing catalog of records and sounds and licks and stuff. He’d have something in his head. For me, he’d actually kind of beatbox, or sing the rhythm. But for everybody else, he’d actually play it on the bass, or play it slowly on the guitar, or on the piano. He’d be like, “I’ve got this part. This will go with this.” And what it would be would be some random like second-chair saxophone, Duke Ellington thing from some obscure record. That’s the way he worked. And he’d put all this down together. I mean, we’re talking like thousands of records and songs it was inspired by—some were more specific than others, some were really vague. I don’t know how he did it, but he had this kind of collective idea of what it will all sound like together. And sure enough, it did. When he would put it together, it would work.
Miniski: It was a masterclass to be working under Edgar’s guidance.
St. Clair: I think he spends a lot of time thinking about it and trying out bits. That’s why it’s so easy to work with him, really, because it’s normally all done for you. There will be a bit where he says, “What can you do here?” But most of the time, he’s got most of the parts worked out in his head.
Jones: There’s so much unreleased stuff from that period. There’s C-90s full of mixes, you know what I mean? Two or three of the same song, there’s all different songs, I was re-trying things from the past or any little riff that would come into me head, I’d formulate something for it. So there was a lot to choose from.
Harrop: Some of those things, he’d sing them differently as well, like put on a slightly different voice for the backing vocals and stuff … He’s big on backing vocals, and the way that backing vocals are done these days isn’t really the same—certainly not in pop. That kind of countermelody and being integrated into the tune. It’s just not a thing, really. He loved all that.
Harland: He can just adapt his voice to whatever he wants and make it sound very convincing. That’s what I really remember about recording with him.
Harrop: He had a very clear idea of how all the parts would interlock with each other, harmonically and rhythmically. It was a fairly impressive thing to watch. It made things easier, actually. [Laughter] Because we’d just get stuff done really quick.
Harland: You can pick three chords and write a piece of music, but I think he just moves with whatever he wants. He goes, “I want to use that instrument,” or “I want to sound like that,” and he just does it. So for me, it was kind of interesting that I was asked to sing on that album, because that’s not what I do as a singer—I do something completely different. So I was then able to manipulate my voice, if you like, to fit into what he wanted.
Another factor in some of the album’s jazzier influences and Jones’ writing was Edgar ‘Jones’ Jones Senior, who fought terminal illness through the recording of the album. He would ultimately have the album dedicated to his memory.
Jones: It was mostly that he liked Ellington. The only time you’d ever really catch him listening to the radio was there was a big band show that was on Merseyside, and he’d usually do the dishes around that time so he could listen to it. I think he’d passed away by the time the album came out. He was suffering with cancer during the time of making it and its inception, you know … I felt like it was me best work and I felt like I should dedicate it to him and his recent loss, really. I mean, he hadn’t gone yet, but “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone” is kind of related to it.
St. Clair: Ellington was a big influence … But I think the whole idea of the album is to go with your imagination. Open your mind. It’s escapism really, as well, to just immerse yourself in something else.
Jones: “Freedom” got added to the album at the last minute, but the recording was done more at the time of the initial demos. I’d been working with Rob Stringer for ages, until just before the recording of the album. He got a repetitive strain injury, and he was out of action for a good few months. He actually left to go to America to learn a new technique, which involved the rolling of the hands and wrists when you play, so you don’t tense up. He’d been my musical right hand man for about 2 years, and then I made this album and he wasn’t on it, so I had to dip into me demo archives.
Stringer: That’s nice of him. I remember he always liked to have my opinion and input on things, so I guess he must have valued it.
Jones: In the end, it became a choice between a slowed down, Funkadelic version of “Skin Up For Me Baby” or “Freedom” to put on the album. And I just thought “Freedom” is the better one. What he’s doing on there is really nice—him and Mick Marshall—just lovely voicings of the chords, some on the guitar, some on the keyboards. They were both really good at loony voicings. So it makes a really good track, that kind of There’s a Riot Goin’ On thickness and stewiness in the chords that I’ve never achieved before or since.
Stringer: I think I put down that piano in one or two takes, on top of the rest of it that was already done … I mean this is pure Sly Stone, this tune! I love the way the singing comes in at the end and then you really don’t want it to fade out.
Jones: I thought, “Oh, that’s the one that’s gotta go on the record.” Plus it’s a Mingus song. Although I changed it further.
Miniski: Edgar had already written “Freedom” when we entered the studio and it wasn’t until later that we discussed he’d used the melody from Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” with Mingus’ lyrics, along with his own guitar chord progression—combining all those elements was brilliant and inspired.
Stringer: I must have known that at the time, but I have to admit I’d forgotten. I actually heard the Mingus poem thing recently, and was like, “Oh wow, that’s where he got the idea for ‘Freedom.’” He must have told me, because he explained everything and why he was doing it. There was a thought and influence behind each thing pretty much.
Jones: I was up for the idea of interpolations at the time, because I’d recently learned the word off a Mingus album, one he did in about 1961. It got reissued as Mingus Revisited, but the original album’s got a different name, Pre-Bird. He does things, like he plays “Take the ‘A’ Train” over a completely different song, and I was generally up for the idea. So as soon as one came about, I kind of did … There was a wave in meself and things were flowing.
St. Clair: On “Tenderly,” I think he just wanted the baritone sax on there somewhere. He just decided on the day, “Just follow this.” And then it goes into a bit of the [Thelonious Monk] tune “Blue Monk” in the middle.
Jones: I put the Thelonious Monk thing in just to beef up the sax solo, really. But yeah, I used the word “interpolation” again on the album, because it’s a great word. [Laughter]
Harland: “You Know You Can Do It” has got a bit of a “Sesame Street” vibe going on at the end … It just comes in and you go, “Whoa, cool.” He just manages to make anything sound cool.
With enough material on his tapes to fill an album, Jones informed Viper the record was ready.
Jones: I didn’t have any means of doing [mastering] at the time, so I delivered Viper the final mixes.
Badger: I remember just going for a walk with our dog, Megan, and meeting Edgar on Penny Lane on the way back from Dovedale School. We walked into Sefton Park and he just said casually, “Oh, I’ve finished that album if you’re still interested.” Just so cool.
Hemmings: We’d heard nothing. Mike on occasion would see him, and he’d say, “Yeah, I’m still recording.” And then about six months later, he goes, “I’ve recorded an album.” So we were like, “Oh, great!” And we listened to it and we just thought it was amazing. Absolutely incredible.
Harrop: I remember our record company boss hearing it and literally saying, “This is great. What is it?” I always remember that quote, because I think it’s a nice description of it. It’s original in a sense—and it is great, but where does it fit in with everything else? Maybe it doesn’t have to, and that’s the good thing.
Hemmings: What appealed to me also was that it wasn’t the usual—there’s nothing wrong with being a four-piece band from Liverpool. You know, the classic four-piece band. But it was nice that it was something different. It was different from what most people do in Liverpool … It’s just nice to surprise people.
Badger: I had loved the Big Kids and saw them often—I suppose that’s why I never twigged this doo-wop/jazz/rock ‘n’ soul would come from him. It really was quite a departure. The Big Kids was like Iggy meets Beefheart meets MC5 almost, so it was a surprise, but a very welcome one. There’s loads of bands in Liverpool pretty well fixated with the 1960s, which is fair enough considering we all but invented it. But not many artists are brave enough to go back to the roots, and Edgar was. His musical knowledge is something else.
Smith: I mean, that’s what Edgar does best, and he’s done it for as long as I can remember. He chooses a genre and he digs very, very deeply into it. He sort of becomes it. It’s not like he’s copying it—he assimilates to the degree where he is it, you know? And he’s done that with just about any genre you can care to mention.
Hemmings: We then mastered it and we got Jenny Dalton, who did the cover. She’s a designer—she took the pictures for it and she put it all together, and we used our usual place in Liverpool, which is a place called Nonconform … Then I sent it out to press, because I still know people who work in Mojo and various other things, Record Collector. And we heard nothing. We heard nothing for about a month and a half.
Smith: There was never any big PR campaign—Viper don’t have big money to sort of get behind it in that way. But just on the fact that people hear it and go, “Wow,” and keep playing it and pass it round.
Badger: I know I can speak for both Paul and I in saying it was an honour to release such a well-crafted and legendary album. But also annoying because you feel if he was on a bigger label, he could have taken the world. We are a small, Liverpool independent label and tend to get ignored by a lot of the mainstream radio and press.
Hemmings: I must thank Noel Gallagher in this. Because what happened was in one of the Sunday papers, he’d done an interview with David Williams, the comedian. And they’d asked him what was the best thing he’d heard so far, and Noel Gallagher said it was Edgar ‘Jones’ Jones’ Soothing Music For Stray Cats.
Jones: That was a great boost. I think it was an article in the Observer. It was a big long article—10 pages I think he’d given them or something like that. He just said something good and he had everyone’s attention.
Hemmings: Noel said it basically blew his mind, and he wanted to buy Edgar’s living room, because that’s where he recorded it. So in every single interview, Noel mentioned this album he did, and so he was the best publicity agent you could have. I think Mojo got it around that time as well and then there were a few other people who got on it. It took us all by surprise and it sort of escalated from there.
With the album available and getting attention from the throngs that followed Gallagher’s recommendations, Jones formed a new lineup of the Joneses to begin small tours to promote the album. Stringer returned from America to retake his place on keys, while Jones also held St. Clair and Harrop over from the Soothing Music For Stray Cats sessions. He also used Paul Molloy, who had played lead guitar on “Catnip” and “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone” for a few early gigs, but Molloy soon gave way to Jamie Backhouse to take over lead guitar duties. Although Jones says he considered playing bass in the lineup, he wanted to use a stand-up bass and determined that it might be a bit too much of a workout to play the stand-up and sing like an old bluesman simultaneously. Hugo Harrison and, later, Paul Blakesley came in to take over bass duties, leaving Jones out front to do his thing vocally. This lineup would then go on to record the only proper Joneses studio album, Gettin’ a Little Help … From the Joneses in 2007, and much of the lineup would also support original Joneses singer Candie Payne in the promotion of her 2007 album, I Wish I Could Have Loved You More. Soothing Music For Stray Cats also found success in Japan on the back of a release through Wind Bell Records, and the Joneses made several trips east to play live after its release.
As is true of most classic records, it’s hard to pin down a favorite or stand-out track on Soothing Music For Stray Cats. Just ask the folks who brought it to life …
Jones: Now that is a toughie. There’s things I’m happy with for different reasons. It was great, actually, when I just got the vinyl test pressing of Soothing Music, I went straight to “Do Doh Dontcha Doh.” I think there’s just something incredibly correct about that that pleases me. Between correctness and composition and everything, that’s the one. Because it sounds like a ‘50s doo-wop creation, but there isn’t a single ‘50s doo-wop creation that’s anything like it, do you know what I mean? I don’t know. It’s just a strange record that sounds like it was made in the ‘50s, but it wasn’t, and that’s pleasing to me. If I’m trying to do something, it’s to create the aura of those days, but do something different with it … “Freedom” is me next favorite, though. There’s just so much going on it, you can revisit it quite easily.
Hemmings: Oh my God. You know what, let me have a look. Well they’re all so different. This is the trouble. I mean, I really like the first, “Soothing Music For Stray Cats.” That saxophone and jazzy sound. But I mean I love “Sittin’ on the Fence,” that wild guitar. I can’t really pick one. And then that great, almost whispery recording, “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone.” That’s such a great song. It’s difficult to pick just one. I think everyone’s gonna say different things. It’s just too difficult. It’s in praise to the album that you struggle to name just one track. Because quite often on an album you can go, “There’s one classic track.” But there’s loads of them here that are really strong. I just can’t do that. It’s too difficult.
St. Clair: I’m just trying to think now. I do really like “Tenderly.” I also like “More Than You’ve Ever Had.” I like some of the instrumental ones as well—“Hangin’ With Wulf and Bear.” Love that one. And “Freedom,” actually. But to me, that sounds a little bit different than the other ones. So in answer to that—just pick one. I’d go with “Tenderly.” Not just ‘cos I played on it.
Miniski: “Freedom” is my favourite track—not because I play on it, but because it has such a great amalgamation of influences with an unbelievable chord progression. I have great memories of recording that song and consider myself to be very lucky to have worked on it.
Badger: I just like all of it. I love diversity in music and the unexpected. I suppose the standout track is “More Than You’ve Ever Had,” but I love “Hangin’ With Wulf and Bear.”
Smith: It’s one of those records where you go, “Oh this one’s my favorite.” And then the next track comes on and you go, “Oh, no, but this one …” [Laughter] Which is a testament to itself, innit, as to why it’s done so well.
Stringer: “What’s Goin’ Down Huny Brown”—man, that is a fine tune. A beauty, could come straight out of the Great American Song Book. I still find myself humming that one. But loads of them are belters.
Harrop: I think it’s gotta be “More Than You’ve Ever Had,” because I’ve got fond memories. I only did the one Japan tour, but that was the one that everybody knew. So that always makes me smile when I think of that, everybody singing along and stuff like that. I do also love the guitar solo on “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone.” It’s incredible.
Harland: My favorite track, to be honest, is one of the ones I sing on, “It’s No Good.” I just really love it. It’s a nice overlapping of the two voices together. I also really like “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone,” and “More Than You’ve Ever Had” as well. I really like all of them, but if I have to choose one, it’s “It’s No Good.” And it’s not because I’m singing on it. [Laughter]
In terms of the album’s legacy, it would be secure even without a vinyl release—although everyone’s more than happy to see it on a 12″ LP.
Hemmings: It’s a classic album and I’m really proud that it’s on Viper. You don’t think like that when you’re involved in it, but afterwards, you go, “Wow, that’s a great thing to be involved in.” I suppose it’s a legendary album. It’s always mentioned in these NME “Top 100 Albums You’ve Never Heard” or whatever it is, isn’t it? That’s been said so many times I’ve lost count. And it’s an album that will just continue. You can’t really date it. It could’ve been recorded anytime from what, the late ‘50s to now. Take it back even further. It’s timeless, which is an achievement, really. A major achievement.
Badger: The legacy is something both Paul and I are so proud of. Because of Soothing Music, we went on to release lost Stairs Albums and tons more Edgar and Joneses albums. I think it really did Edgar the world of good to get his stuff out and into the marketplace—clearing the decks—because he is so very prolific. Being a singer/songwriter myself, I know how important it is to get your stuff out in a world that doesn’t seem to care—albeit because of the way the industry has evolved into a corporate soulless entity.
Smith: I think the album’s stunning. This is testament to it—the fact that we’re having this conversation now. It’s just totally a little low-key thing that he did over 10 years ago—it’s just a tiny little pebble, but it’s just continued to roll and roll and roll. Just on the merit of how good it is.
Miniski: I think the album is up there with the best of them—it’s not only stood the test of time, but is still offering inspiration to many musicians I know. With the emerging vinyl revival, I think it’s great that this record has been re-released to reach out to even more people and continue to soothe those stray cats.
Harrop: It’s like an “indie cool” kind of thing. And I’d like to think that the way people talk about it—the music lovers that go deep sea diving when you’re looking for records and such. I’d like to think that Edgar’s a big fish. [Laughter]
Stringer: I think people stood back and said, “Wow” when they heard it, for sure. I did. Edgar had a great knowledge of many types of music and he’d just throw it all in the pot … he learned his craft from listening to the greats.
St. Clair: It has got a bit of a legendary status in Liverpool, but I think that’s what’s nice about it coming out on vinyl. It kind of reaffirms it in some way as an important recording. Personally, I’d say it’s up there with stuff the La’s have done, early Merseybeat stuff. I think it’s that important. It’s totally different, really, because it’s very stylized in American rootsy kind of music.
Harland: That’s what he’s all about, I think, going with the feeling of the piece and doing it, no matter what the constraints of the rest of the Liverpool music scene might be. In a really good way, he doesn’t fit in.
Badger: I wish more Liverpool bands would get their arses out of the 1960s and listen to where all that shit came from. I think the album serves as a great example of “Just do whatever the fuck you feel.”
Smith: It’s something that most musicians in the city will have heard and be aware of. Absolutely. Much in the same way as the La’s album, or maybe the first Coral album … Like I say, Liverpool is very—there’s a lot of cross-pollination. It’s not like there’s the country musicians over there, and there’s the Irish musicians over there, and the jazz musicians over here. They all mix and mash up together. And that’s what pop music does, isn’t it? It’s the only genre, really, that is inclusive of all other music. And that’s what he’s done. He seems to absorb as much of everything as he can and puts it out in that way.
Jones: It’s just great to have a nice reminder. I suppose it was very much a honeymoon period for me and music, really. There’s been other great times as well, but I do look back at that being one of me happiest times, musically. It’s just great to finally have that on a piece of vinyl as well. It’s as happy a thing for me as anyone who really loves the album.
Get your copy from Mellowtone. No collection should be without it.