Tom Jones - Surrounded By Time
Updated: May 15, 2021
My friend Loz and I saw Tom Jones in 2019, playing a gig at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the Chelsea Pensioners. The gig was superb, Tom belting through the classic hits (It’s Not Unusual, What’s New Pussycat?, Delilah, Green Green Grass Of Home), as well as more modern tunes he has become associated with (Sex Bomb, Kiss, Mama Told Me Not To Come). But the bulk of his set were covers of blues, soul, gospel, Leonard Cohen, Dylan - it was a fantastic show. The audience was largely female, though there were a lot of guys there. And there was a fair smattering of banners made of knickers, if not any actual panty hurling.
However, there was one overriding thought running through my head - the average age of a Chelsea Pensioner is 82 and at the time, Tom was 79….he could easily be living with the lovely residents (do go and see a gig there, it’s a brilliant place and the Chelsea Pensioners are charming and inspiring).
We were very impressed, though our respective pants stayed firmly in place. So how on earth does Tom do it?
I guess part of it is staying ahead of the curve. After a decline in fame in the 70s/80s, he has slowly rebuilt his career. As well as more commercial things (The Voice, pop hits, The Full Monty soundtrack, his album of duets, Reload etc), since 2010 he has been working with producer Ethan Johns. Together they have made four superb albums, Johns choosing songs that suit his voice, a mix of slow ballads, and more old school rock and roll.
Listening to these four albums is revelatory - this is a very different Tom Jones, no cheese or camp fun here. His son, Mark (his manager) also deserves credit for helping shape his reinvention and matching him with songs that help him fly.
Surrounded By Time was preceded by the single Talking Reality Television Blues, which sounded like Tom Jones fronting Radiohead (Thom Jones anyone?). It's a 7 minute candid, brutal assessment of how grim the world is right now and Trump's dystopian reality. I was stunned when I heard it, it takes the progression he has made in the last 10+ years to a new extreme. Elsewhere, Hole in My Head is a sitar driven stomper, while Lazarus Man is a chilled, soulful take on the Terry Callier track, all looped jazzy electronica and choppy frazzled guitars.
A cover of The Windmills Of Your Mind is more the material you might expect him to cover, but even then the backing track is jittery trip hop - he sounds like Nick Cave. It's crowning moment is his superb cover of This Is The Sea by The Waterboys - it's gorgeous. Mike Scott talked about the "big music" - this is big music meeting a big voice.
For a man approaching 81 to be making his 42nd album and it to be THIS good is just spectacular. Please do give this a listen and check out his last few albums, especially his cover of Tower Of Song.
It's a shame he doesn't still dance like he used to, but you can't have everything (check out the Treat Her Right video above!).
For fans of: Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond