Rock 'n' Royal
Daily Mail 11 September 2004.
Kenney Jones played in three of the biggest bands of the 1960s and 1970s and trashed hotels with Keith Moon. But while others fell by the wayside, he now lives the good life on a 250-acre polo club and is friends with Price Charles. By Rebecca Hardy.
Kenney Jones is sitting on the terrace at Hurtwood Park, the polo club he owns in Ewhurst, Surrey, sipping a Coke. A few months ago, Prince Charles was here. the two men, it emerges, are unlikely friends. Kenney, drummer and original member of the Small Faces, The Faces and later of the Who, is the son of a lorry driver from London's East End. "I have a good chuckle about it sometimes," says Kenney, "it's like the Prince and the pauper. Although I'm not a pauper, I am from the East End. He's the next King of England and here we are playing polo together. Prince Charles is a really great guy - a really nice man. His sense of humour is fantastic. We're both Goons fans. We're also the same age, which we do have a chuckle about sometimes."
"About three years ago, we were playing polo and he said, 'I don't know how long I can keep doing this. I'm 53 this year.' I Said 'Yeah, I know what you mean. I am too.' He scratched his head a bit there because I suppose I do look a bit younger than him." Kenney, 56 this month, appears remarkably unravaged by showbiz excess. In jeans and T-shirt, he is instantly recognisable from pictures decades ago. His hair is still cut in a hedgehoggy mullet, but shorter.
Kenney used to trash hotel rooms with the Who's drummer Keith Moon, who died in 1978, and drank himself senseless with the Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood. Today, Ronnie remains a friend and they are now both part of the rock aristocracy. Princes William and Harry are regular players at Kenney's 250-acre polo club. Jodie Kidd is a friend as are Mike Rutherford and David Essex. Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr are neighbours. Eric, he says, invested well in property. "He's been living here since the day dot. He lives up on the hill and bought his place for about £12,000. Now it's worth billions. Ringo is a good friend. He doesn't drink so isn't one to go out socialising, but he comes over at christmas."
Kenney lives in a 14th-century farmhouse - a mass of polished floors, beams, huge sofas and family photographs. he is married for a second time and says he is monogamous. He votes Conservative and complains about stealth taxes. "If everyone paid a lower level across the board it would be fine," he says. "To penalise someone for making a success of their life is not right." He has six children: Dylan, 32, and Jesse, 27, from his first marriage; and Casey, 16, Jay, 15, Cody, nine, and Erin, six, from his second marriage to former model Jayne.
"When I was with the Small faces, you couldn't not be into girls," he says. "We had our first hit when I was only 16 and they were throwing themselves at us. On the road there would be flings. It would be, 'she looks nice. Why not?' I didn't do any more than anyone else was doing - or any less. With my own kids I watch their every move. I want to know where they're going and what they're up to. I know what goes on at parties, so I worry. They want to do no more than we did. It's part of growing up. They will discover sex and discover different things."
Kenney's second child, Jesse, was expelled from Hurtwood House School at 15 for smoking marijuana. "The whole bloody school was doing it. He was at a party and they did random blood testing. Basically, because he was my son, that's the way it went. Of course I was furious. He got over it and went to college. I don't like drugs. I've always been a drinking man. Every band I've been in did all kinds of stuff, such as acid. I had my drink spiked once with LSD and that wasn't a very nice experience. The only thing I took was the odd 'blues' - it's mod stuff to keep you awake. Everyone was doing that in the Sixties."
Kenney, of course, was not just a child of the Sixties, he and his rock 'n' roll friends were the Sixties. Two of his fellow Small Faces, Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott, are dead now. Ronnie suffered from multiple sclerosis and died in 1997, aged 51. Steve, who founded Humble Pie after he left the Small faces, died in a house fire in 1991. "The fire was strange," says Kenney. "Steve had a success death wish. He wanted to be successful, but when he got it, he didn't want it. His death was still a shock."
"With Ronnie, I knew he was going to die. Towards the end, he couldn't speak so his wife would have to hold the phone to his ear and I'd hear him grunt. I used to talk to myself basically. When he died I got a call to tell me and I said, 'I thought so.' I could feel it. We'd just been kids together at the birth of he thing that had made us all."
Kenney was 16 when he had his first major hit with the Small Faces. He taught himself to play the drums with a kit bought on HP that stood in the front room of his parents' simple terraced house. He says playing the drums made him feel ecstatic. It was pretty much the first thing he'd been good at. he is dyslexic and suffered terribly at school where the condition was not recognised. "My parents were called into the school and told that I had a lazy brain. When I was about ten, we all had to write an essay. The teacher came in and said to the class,' I must read you this from Kenney Jones,' I thought, 'oh god, she's chosen mine.' I was beaming. She read it like I'd written it, which was terrible because I couldn't spell properly. She demoralised me in front of the whole class. I felt so bad. I didn't know what I had until someone gave it a name. Even in the Small Faces I didn't know. When we used to go on tour to Europe we had to fill in all these forms. I began to find my way around the dyslexia. I'd say to the guys in the band, 'That's a stupid question isn't it? What would you put?' And they'd say yes or no so I'd write yes or no. They'd finish their forms ages before me and I'd be embarrassed by that. It went on for years and years. Slowly I learned to deal with this problem. You start to think laterally. It's why a call dyslexia a gift. You have to think in another way and what you find along the way can be more interesting."
Kenney was driving to the stables in Epping Forest where he used to ride - a passion since he was 14 - when he heard his first song on the radio, What'Cha Gonna Do About It. Within months he was a household name. "When I first heard it on the radio I felt like a million dollars, absolutely amazing," he says. "Soon we were on television and word started spreading. It was mad, like the Beatles. We couldn't walk down the street without being mobbed. I was still hanging out with my mates in the East End and after about six months I felt a bit of hostility from them. They said it had gone to my head. I suppose it did. I'd be a bit 'Look at me. I've done it.' From that moment on I decided I wasn't going to be like that. For years and years I've got back to the East End every Sunday and have a lunchtime drink because that's sacred in the East End, especially with my dad liking his drink. there came a time when I couldn't do that because we were off touring so I drifted away, but the thought has stayed with me. I've not been one to brag about anything."
Indeed, Kenney's mother still lives in the house in London's East End that was his childhood home. Kenney adored his parents, who were quiet, no-frills people, but hugely proud of their only son. His father, Sam, died of leukaemia seven years ago. "It was the worst kind and he was dead within ten days. In hospital they did some tests. I'd taken Mum home to get some stuff and when we got back the look on his face was horrific. They'd actually told him he had leukaemia without us being there. He couldn't deal with it. I stayed with him one night. I sat in the chair and let him sleep. He was moaning and groaning as if he was talking to someone. Then he called me and said, 'Ken, I need to go to the loo.' I lifted him up, he put his arms around me, looked at me and went. He was so heavy I landed on the floor. I was calling him not to go, to stay with us, but he wanted to go. He was a typical East End drinking man, loved by everybody. My mum's still waiting for him to walk through the door. She's coping because she has too, but every time I go there it's, ' I miss Daddy. He did so much for me.' It's a really sad affair. When I open the door I know he's there somewhere. Sometimes I forget he's dead.
"There have been so many deaths. Life becomes more precious. You think, 'this is no time for people to go.' Keith Moon for instance. I was with him the night before the died - we were at the premiere of the film The Buddy Holly Story. That evening I was at a table with David Frost, Paul and Linda McCartney, Paul's brother and Moonie. Moonie and I were talking drums. He was telling me that he hadn't had a drink for two months, or anything else. He said he was on special drugs to stop him drinking. For once, he wasn't loony. I went home and the next morning, when I turned on the TV, the first thing on the news was that Keith had died of a drug overdose. He'd gone home from the premiere, taken his nightly dose of medicine, woken up and, thinking it was the morning, had taken another. The drugs slowed his heart down."
there's something about Kenney that makes you feel he was not a tourist, not a hardcore player during those hell-raising rock 'n' roll years. He was shy and known as 'the quiet one.' Perhaps it's why he has survived. "You'd get homesick," he says. "Sometimes you wanted to phone home because you wanted a friendly voice and you couldn't get through. Then you'd get angry and take it out on things around you. Once, in Melbourne, The Small Faces were touring with The Who and we went to Keith Moon's room. He had all these snare drums. I said, 'What do you need that many for?' He said, 'I'll show you.' He picked up one and threw it through the window. It crashed into the centre of the high street and rolled own the road. We legged it to the bar."
Kenney stopped touring in the late 1980s. He had fallen in love with his second wife, Jayne. He says of his volatile first marriage to Jan, "Nobody wants a divorce, but we just couldn't get along. We argued too much and drifted apart. I'm very old-fashioned and believed that you get married once. I never in a million years dreamed up splitting up a family, but it was unbearable. Any divorce when you've got kids involved is painful and it does leave a scar."
The marriage ended in 1982. By the late 1980s, he decided he'd had enough of rock 'n' roll. "I was burnt out," he says. "I wanted to stay around my family. We were very private. Jayne had had a couple of miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy and the kids had had some emotional problems after the divorce. Dylan and Jesse came to live with me when they were about nine or ten. With my first marriage, my mind was focused on being a musician and I was always away. I like to think that I am more understanding now and have more time for my family. In fact, I'm with them as much as I can be. Jayne makes me feel wanted. I feel I can trust her. She can trust me. I've been as honest as the day is long. I've not had affair because I don't need to. Between us we've created something nice, another family. We rely on each other and it works."
"She's had plenty of times when she could have got up and walked out, but she hasn't. I'm not the easiest person to live with. I can get moody. I worry about silly little things like if the field is going to cut in time for a polo match."
"I don't think of myself as a rock star. I'm just someone who learnt to play the drums and learnt to ride at 14. They are just two hobbies that have gone side by side. I never dreamed I'd end up with all of this," he says, sweeping his eyes across his polo fields and club house. "Or that I'd end up knowing the likes of Princes Charles. He's a music lover too. At the end of the day, we're all human. That's one of the great things about polo. You can be out there with a king or queen, or anyone famous, but you're all equal when you play the game."
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