SINGER . SONGWRITER . GUITARIST
The first musical experience for a six year old Mark Jones was akin to a religious one. Nowadays,it is easy to appreciate the depth of Elvis Presley's contribution to rock"n"roll and popular music but back in the mid '70's,the wheels were quickly coming off Elvis's professional life leading to his tragic early death in 1977.This was followed by an initial rush of sales but then a decade of being unfashionable and passe.And yet for Mark,the unique presence of Elvis's voice was there subconsciously throughout his early childhood.To underestimate the influence would be wrong. Quite simply,there was Elvis and there was everyone else. Finally,one August night whilst rather a lot of Elvis records were being played,Mark discovered the face that went with the records and then discovered to his horror that the purveyor of all this great music had died that very day. Elvis had struck a chord that still resonates with Mark to this very day. Through guilty pleasure to renewed iconic status,Elvis has lasted the course throughout Mark's life. However,rock"n"roll would have to wait!
It was around the same time of the Elvis "experience" that Mark had expressed an interest in playing anything.The recorder group judged him not good enough and a brief interest in the trumpet was replaced when the guitar man came to town. Asked in class if they were interested in joining a guitar class,Mark put his hand up,as he always did.Two weeks later however,there was no expectation in Mark when many guitars were delivered to their new owners in class.To his shock,the last and nicest guitar came to him,a result of a Granddad and parents surprise collaboration.The joy quickly gave way to the frustration of being left handed and being told that this was definitely wrong.Two weeks of group uselessness followed and Mark's guitar career was over.That was until Mark's father found him a sixteen year old teacher named Vanita Bunce who was a distant friend of the family.From the very beginning,these lessons were to be treated seriously if anything good were to come from them.Mark did as he was told,quickly getting over his left handedness as both hands were useless at the beginning. Within months,Mark had something to show for his efforts and this proved popular in class.The addiction had set in when sometime after one year,his teacher announced she could take him no further. There was nothing else for it but the best teacher in Doncaster.Bob Bennet was a guitar teacher who had great ambition for his pupils.He had built a whole network of guitar players in Doncaster many of whom were very talented and would also go further. Suddenly,Mark was the talented baby in this new family where live performance was expected.Mark gave his first public performance on solo classical guitar aged ten years and had around twenty other players for company.The experience was both rewarding and terrifying!It was also at this very early age that a connection was realised between Bob Bennet and Gordon Crosskey,the esteemed tutor at The Royal Northern College Of Music. Mark was part of Bob's group visits to the college at age twelve and the future seemed set although a little daunting. Still the foundation had been laid and dreams were definitely encouraged.In the background,Mark was studying the strict regime of classical guitar through it's masters, Aguado, Carcassi, Sor and Carulli.The back bone of classical technique was in place when Mark's father took the unprecedented step of approaching Gordon Crosskey to give private lessons.The result was a twelve year old Mark having lessons once per month privately with the master.To add to that was Gordon Crosskey's close affiliation with John Williams.Now that was impressive!
At this time ,plans were put in place for what would be the ultimate achievement of a place at the R.N.C.M. First Mark had to learn a second instrument and that was generally expected to be piano.And so it was that Mark began to attend piano lessons with Mr Lawton eventually rising to grade six standard.At age fourteen,Mark was practicing one and a half hours guitar,half hour piano and then doing school homework.This career meant dedication and even then there were no guarantees.One of Mark's early music theory teachers joyfully informed him that only a half percent of music college hopefuls even got to audition at the R.N.C.M. to which he replied "well I'm going!"And so it was that through the strains of puberty,that goal was the main ever present in Mark's life. Gordon Crosskey's tutorship took Mark to a different level, quickly learning Bach lute suites and other notoriously difficult compositions.His first concerto was the Castel-Nuevo Tedesco concerto in D.Also around this time,Mark gratefully took ownership of a new guitar,handmade for him by English luthier Martin Fleeson.For this terrific concert guitar(John Williams had recorded with one) Mark would be forever indebted to his parents.
With his career having moved into the serious side of things,it was then that Mark began to find his voice.From being very young he had sung in the bath and even experimented by singing through the inside of a toilet roll to produce what he thought would be "an Elvis effect".The Everly Brothers,The Beatles,The Rolling Stones and The Shadows were all present in his father's record collection.Then,along came the new romantics and most importantly,a young George Michael from whom Mark would later borrow the idea to have a double Christian name as a stage name.Mark was sure that George had a voice head and shoulders above the rest.Soon,he would be singing along to the instrumental record for Carless Whisper whilst recording it on a tape deck.The results were definitely a work in progress!
After attaining eight o-levels Mark moved on to sixth form with the only intention being to attain his place at the R.N.C.M,Standards slipped in his school work but his guitar playing was going from strength to strength. Although A-levels proved to be a hiccup,Mark got his place and attended The Royal Northern College Of Music in September 1987. Studying music theory and classical guitar performance,this was a golden period of creativity and education not to mention the life changing effect of leaving home. During the first two years,Mark progressed within the internal exam system of performance until he was deemed able to represent the college.Then came actual paying gigs at art galleries and professional recitals.In 1991 Mark entered the Belgian international guitar competition and reached the semi-final stage. A tour of France followed with the R.N.C.M. chamber orchestra performing The Aranjuez concerto by Rodrigo.At this time,Mark again found his voice and joined some fellow students in a soul band(the dreadfully named "Dance like this!”)By this stage,the passion of singing had truly taken over and never again would Mark be just a guitarist.The late 80's were a happening time for Manchester and Mark took in many influences such as jazz at "Band on the wall" club and avant garde movies at "The Cornerhouse"By the time of his graduation in 1991 Mark had matured as a Musician. However,an uncertainty followed with Mark taking a teaching job at Stockport Grammar School.Then in a panic to prove himself,Mark auditioned for and received a place at The Royal Academy Of Music in London to study as a post-graduate.This unfortunately did not come to pass as another seemingly more interesting door opened which was to have far reaching effects.Mark heard from a colleague that a West End touring show was in need of a guitarist.The fact that Mark didn't really play electric guitar didn't stop him.The show was called"Elvis The Musical" and was surely meant to be! Over the next nine months friendships and bad habits were formed as Mark thought a rock"n"roll show deserved.It was also a time of unforgettable experiences,regular money and pride at being part of such a wonderful show.A standout moment was treading the boards at "The Empire" in Liverpool,the very place where in the 60's "four young lads changed the world forever".Unfortunately,The Beatles' dressing room was taken by our Elvis!After the tour was over,reality kicked in and having missed the college place,Mark had to face up to an uncertain future.
That long winter began to thaw in April when Mark received an invitation to play classical guitar in a restaurant in Torquay,venue to the summer season of "Elvis The Musical”.Fate had intervened once more and it wasn't long until the birth of Mark James. Classical playing would be fleshed out with singing and playing until the singer/guitarist act was the one in demand. Britpop was in full swing and Mark James felt at home.The Beatles were back in fashion. Oasis,Blur,Weller.It was all great!Mark finished one of his first songs named "Pain&Pleasure" at this time but still mainly played covers.The work was welcome but it became a slog later in the 90's.It seemed that a "normal existence" would prevail.Had Mark James missed his shot at the big-time? Mark became very interested in the swing greats notably Frank Sinatra.This became another professional avenue towards the end of his time in England.Also at this time came a short American tour with a scratch band of individuals playing Irish festivals and featuring a former member of "The Pogues" His first and only cd to date,Mark James"In Session" was then recorded and greeted with favourable reviews.
The next chapter came completely out of the blue.As the new century dawned,a holiday in Thailand turned into twelve years and counting.Mark did return to UK for three months but had been bitten by the Asian bug and took up a residency at "Margarita Bar"
in Patong Phuket in August 2000.As new leases of life go,this was crazy. A new culture,language,music,food.Mark felt like a blank canvas again.Soon,he took up partnership with another ex-pat,Tommy Crawford and formed "The Reprobates".Harmony was the key here with them performing Everly Brothers and Beatles songs just like the records. Original material was experimented with but never seemed to reach fruition through the haze of partying and performing in paradise. Titles such as "Bleeding Heart" and "Shoulder To Cry On" date from this period. Classical guitar also made a welcome comeback although mainly as a hobby.The Asian Tsunami of 2004 hastened a move to Koh Samui and eventually a split of "The Reprobates" citing irreconcilable differences.The new Island and renewed solo status seemed to suit Mark James.New influences were absorbed and it became normal to hear Mark interpreting songs by artists as diverse as Alecia Keys,The Libertines,David Bowie,Jason Mraz or Michael Jackson.He has been performing at "The Billabong Surf Club" since 2005 and also the exclusive resort of "Sala Samui".Since 2004,Mark has had a proud association with Golf In Dubai where he performs every year for the Dubai Desert Classic.He has renewed his writing of original material with a new album in the works.Mark is honing his craft to suit the dependable voice that has been his trademark along with his ample guitar skills.In 2012,it seems that classical guitar is more important than ever to Mark and his voice still has a clarity which belies his age.The future looks bright and as he would have to admit,"it's better to be late than never".