Book Review: Allan Jones “Too Late to Stop Now: More Rock ‘n’ Roll War Stories”

Bloomsbury Books, 2023

Books Editor, Rick Bayles writes, “We’re delighted that Mark Underwood, who used to write regularly for Americana UK, has returned to us as a guest contributor with this review of the new book from one of the doyens of music journalism, Allan Jones”.

Readers of Americana UK owe a big debt to Allan Jones, since he was responsible for the launch of Uncut magazine, in May 1997, following his disillusionment with the direction being taken, at that time, by his employers at Melody Maker.

Jones had been editor at Melody Maker from 1984 to 1997 before he saw the opportunity with Uncut to pitch a music and movies magazine to his publishers. Uncut had a particularly strong focus on Americana music, or what we were generally referring to as alt-country or new country music. The complimentary CDs which accompanied issues of the magazine, were Jones’ brainchild and introduced many readers to alt-country music for the first time. Some of the acts included in these CDs – and simultaneously championed by the magazine towards the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the twenty-first century – were emerging performers such as The Pernice Brothers, Willard Grant Conspiracy, The Handsome Family, Neal Casal, and Lambchop, alongside the likes of more established acts such as Emmylou Harris, and The Flying Burrito Brothers.

Jones’ first posting at Melody Maker as a junior reporter/feature writer led to interviews with a hugely diverse range of artists, from Showaddywaddy and KC and The Sunshine Band, through to Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed. These encounters and the mayhem that often ensued were recalled in his 2017 publication, ‘Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down’.

In the introduction to this latest book,  Jones describes his first book as “a fan letter – bashful, unsigned – to the weekly music press”. Both books feel like they come from another era – a time when music journalists were feted by the music industry and record companies – while many of the artists themselves, recognising the huge importance of favourable press, would often encourage Jones to spend lengthy time on the road with them, providing him with a degree of access which would be unheard of nowadays, as well as the opportunity to indulge in the excess filled pursuits so beloved of the rock stars themselves.

The incident-filled stories of Jones’ time on the road that feature in ‘Too Late To Stop Now’ are largely taken from a back page feature that regularly appeared in Uncut titled, ‘Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before’. The impetus for his latest book appears to have been the first Covid lockdown, and the amount of free time afforded Jones by the pandemic gave him greater license to write somewhat lengthier pieces on a number of the acts included in the book.

Given Jones’ own musical preference for Americana music, the book begins somewhat appropriately with an account of him meeting a stranger in Dingwalls, Camden, in April 2016, a venue packed out for a farewell show by Richmond Fontaine. Richmond Fontaine were splitting up after 12 years and had been regularly championed by Jones in Uncut. The stranger turned out to be the UK Sales Director of Bloomsbury and this chance meeting resulted in the publication of ‘Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down’ only a little over a year later.

‘Too Late To Stop Now’ is replete with many fantastic anecdotes of Jones’ time as a music journalist, and full of arresting, and vibrant descriptions – Roy Harper, “so genuinely high even air traffic couldn’t get through to him”; while comedian Peter Cook is so tall “he’s lanky enough to pass for an exclamation mark with elbows and knees”. Alongside plenty of laugh out loud moments, there are pathos-filled memories that exemplify the ephemeral lifespan of some pop stars, such as Chris Farlowe and Screaming Lord Sutch. Of particular interest to readers of Americana UK, will be the chapters on Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Lambcbop, and Nick Lowe.

Occasionally, Jones is unsparing about the overblown pomposity of some of those he meets, particularly in his interviews with Peter Gabriel, Ian Anderson, and Sting. These stories demonstrate the strange combination of self-belief and chronic insecurity which you only find in pop/rock stars, and would consider mad in ordinary members of the public.

Alongside the attacks on pomposity, there’s also genuine affection and a desire to remember some of his heroes at their best, such as Roy Harper who for a period he describes as being “mesmerisingly brilliant”. Jones has an almost filmic sensibility in being able to conjure up the colour, location, and proximity of these encounters. In this respect, he succeeds in mimicking the talent of his favourite writer, Elmore Leonard, who had a similar facility for vivid, well-observed detail. There are great accounts of The Blasters tearing it up in Texas in 1982 and an especially memorable section on Dr. Feelgood, rolling on and back through the years, the descriptions of Lee Brilleaux and Wilko Johnson brilliantly brought to life – slap bang at the intersection of pub rock and punk. At one point, Brilleaux is caught in a vituperative mood at the impertinence of a stage invader who is dealt with by a summary headbutt. This is rock journalism at its best.

Highly recommended.

‘Too Late to Stop Now’ was published by Bloomsbury Books, 23rd May 2023.

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