Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Guitar in the garden

Trevor Jones, classical guitarist, teacher, ex-rock singer

Trevor Jones talks with HOT’s Chandra Masoliver about his life, music, sport and, in a second article, his ideas about where Britain is heading.

CM: Please tell me about your early life.

TJ: I was born a long time ago, in 1945, we lived in a Victorian house in Banbury. My two earliest memories are going shopping with my mother, and seeing Italian prisoners of war being marched down the street when my mother held me up to the window – I must have been two or three.

We had no electricity, so we had gas mantels with fabric wicks, like you have for camping. We had mains gas for the cooker and an open fire range. We had to go down three flights of stairs to get water, and bring it up in buckets.
We needed electricity to power the radio, so we had glass containers called ‘accumulators’ – basically that’s a thick glass jar, about one foot high, like an old- fashioned sweet jar. They were full of hydrochloric acid, which burnt a copper element; that gave the energy which powered the wires to work the radio. Every couple of weeks you had to replace the accumulator.

When I was eight we moved into a brand new council house, a semi, with three bedrooms and a huge garden. It was in Banbury, which had a population of fifteen thousand, a hundred and twenty-six pubs, and the biggest cattle market in Europe, which had been going for hundreds of years; steam engines arrived with goods trains full of cattle.

CM: How did music come into your life?

TJ: As a child I had no interest in music, only in football, I wanted to be a professional and had a trial with Aston Villa when I was 16 or 17, but didn’t get in: I was devastated. Before that I had passed my 11+ and went to a grammar school, but they didn’t play football, which was a dreadful blow.

In 1956, aged ten, I was playing with a cousin on the green, we went back to his home, and his elder sisters were playing Rock Around the Clock and learning to jive. As Elton John said in his book Me, when he was a student at the Royal Academy of Music, and his mother bought Heartbreak Hotel, “It was as though something had happened, and life would never be the same again – and it had, and it wasn’t”. When I read Elton John’s words I couldn’t believe it, it was as if I’d written them.
So I had to have a guitar. Music became the other thing in my life as well as football.

Trevor Jones 2

The start of my musical journey

My father was a good singer and he played the harmonica, and I started playing in a band with him, at first I just accompanied my dad, who sang ballads, and the first song I played in public was My Grandmother’s Chair. I still play it at Parkgate Manor, a residential home in Catsfield for adults with learning difficulties and dementia. They like rock and roll songs from the fifties. It was purely by chance I ended up singing at Parkgate every week.

One year I was on holiday in Portugal with my wife, we were on the beach drinking sangria, and we met three Welsh nurses; they said it was their last night and would we come for a drink with them. We said we’d only just arrived and were tired. “You English, you have no stamina”, they said, so we went. Then they said they were going to a restaurant, again we said no, and again they challenged us with no stamina, and we went. By then we’d had a bottle of red wine each and were pretty drunk; so when they said they were going to a friend’s night club, again we said no, and again there was the challenge of English stamina, and we went.

It was a karaoke night in this huge place, there were hundreds of people, and a stage as big as the London Palladium’s. When I said I didn’t sing those Welsh girls said “What! With a name like Trevor Jones?” They gave me a list, and I chose Shaking All Over by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. I’d sung it last when I was eighteen, and I was fifty-seven by then – and I won it! We got a week’s holiday in Portugal, and they rang up and asked me to sing in their summer season… me, a classical guitar teacher!

A few weeks later my daughter Laura got the job of Care Manager at Park Gate, and asked me if I was willing to take the place of the singer/guitarist there, as he was emigrating. I declined, saying “I don’t do that sort of thing”. “That’s not what mum told me,” she said. She stayed there for fifteen years, now she works in the After Stroke Care at the Conquest Hospital, but I still go there.

CM: And how did you get interested in classical music?

TJ: In 1963, when I was seventeen I met my first wife, Anita; I was singing in a rock band in Banbury, there was a big ballroom and we were the resident band. We played rock and blues, first with the name ‘The Astronauts’, then ‘The Blues Apostles’. A lot of famous bands played there too – Gene Vincent. The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, Long John Baldry, and Screaming Lord Sutch, whose guitarist was Bernie Watson – we played together at the Queen Elizabeth Hall ten years later.

Anita introduced me to the music of Segovia, Vivaldi and Beethoven, and found me a guitar teacher. He lived in Tadmarton in Oxfordshire, and I cycled seven miles each way to get to him. A year later I went to London to hear John Williams play at Camden Town Hall, and before going home I enrolled for lessons at the Spanish Guitar Centre in Leicester Square – coincidentally owned by John Williams’ father.

In 1964 I moved to London to pursue my studies, the Armenian Gilbert Biberian was my teacher. In 1974 I finished there and got my first job, with the Ballet Rambert. They performed Spindrift and I played the accompanying Guitar Concerto for thirteen minutes at 8.17 each night, in seven cities, and I vowed I’d never do anything like that again. I was twenty-nine, and I’d just got married to Mary and we were having a great time. I was offered a world tour with the Omega Quartet – part of the Omega Ensemble – but turned it down to concentrate on teaching.

CM: So you started teaching?

Teaching at Sydenham School in the 1980’s

Teaching at Sydenham School in the 1980’s

TJ: When I got back from tour we lived in Walthamstow, I started playing football again, and I decided to become a full time guitar teacher. I taught at the Spanish Guitar Centre for thirteen years, then in Waltham Forest, and most important of all, Sydenham Girls School. I taught there from 1971 until I retired in 2015 – that’s for forty-four years. Wherever I’ve lived I’ve always taught twice a week at Sydenham Girls School. We had many talented girls, and one performed on the last televised Top of the Pops.

When their choir won a competition, the prize was to perform in Venice in the church where Vivaldi performed with his orphan girls. They couldn’t take a piano, so I transposed the keyboard part for the guitar, and they sang in the balcony, just where the orphans had sung, with me playing the guitar right next to the organ Vivaldi played! It was Adolph Hasse’s tricentenary, and the girls sang a Mass by him, he had been Vivaldi’s successor.

I am proud of my role at Sydenham, when I left, after seventeen years, a girl I had taught for five years said “Thank you for being the father I never had”. I think that was as important, or more so, than the musical successes.

CM: And sport?

Racing with Eastbourne Rovets CC 1990

Racing with Eastbourne Rovets CC 1990

TJ: In 1975 I started cycling seriously – I didn’t have a car, and I was cycling four hundred miles a week, like from Walthamstow to Sydenham Girls School, and to classes I gave in Dulwich; I loved it, I’m happiest when cycling. But once I was outside the Albert Hall and I leant on a Keep Left sign which wasn’t bolted to the ground and I fell into the traffic, because I was locked into a fixed-wheel bike. I did cycle racing and also ran marathons – I did 26.2 miles in two hours and fifty-one minutes. If you ran under three hours you were considered a good runner.




Breaking Club 30 mile record with Redbridge CC 1977

Breaking Club 30 mile record with Redbridge CC 1977










CM: Why did you move to Hastings?

TJ: In 1987 we moved to Heathfield, both our daughters Lucy and Laura, were keen swimmers and they traveled to Hastings for their swimming training. Mary, my wife, was a paediatric occupational therapist at the Conquest Hospital, so it was logical to move to Hastings. She was famous for her research in paediatrics, and she also worked at the Chailey Heritage.

Jack in the Green 1999

Jack in the Green 1999

It was a good move to Hastings, that was in 1976. I played the mandolin in Mad Jack Morris, which was one of the most enjoyable musical things I’ve ever done. And I’ve taught the guitar at most schools around here, and had private pupils. When I retired I gave a farewell concert at Holy Trinity Church, Robertson Street, I played Spanish and Elizabethan music, Villa lobos and Bach. I’ve done other concerts.






Final Recital at St Lukes Brighton 2016

Final Recital at St Lukes Brighton 2016

These days I stay at home a lot, I don’t enjoy going out much, I go to the Stag on Tuesday nights. I don’t perform any more, I’ve no interest in that any more, and I’d have to practice a lot.

CM: How do you build up a repertoire from memory?

TJ: I’m not gifted in the way many folk musicians are. I don’t improvise and I don’t learn music by ear – I wish I could, but I can’t. Learning to play pieces by memory from consulting a musical score is quite an involved process. Muscular memory on its own is unreliable as any interruption to the flow causes a complete stoppage. I start by dividing the piece into phrases, these phrases belong to a larger block; pieces vary in the number of these blocks, and those with only a few blocks can be learned relatively quickly. A sonata lasting twelve minutes could take months, unless you’re Langlang or someone equally gifted. I have a pupil at present who has the most amazing memory I’ve witnessed in fifty years of teaching.

So it’s part muscular memory, and part the memory is the sound. The cognitive memory is where you can visualise the page, which acts as an aide memoire, rather than reading each individual note. Not being a gifted player made me a better teacher, because I’m more involved with the problems.

CM: What sort of music do you listen to?

TJ: It depends what day it is, I’ve a huge record collection, let me see, for example this week I’ve listened to John Coltrane, some early Spanish music, William Byrd’s three-part mass, Dire Strait’s ‘Making Moves’. Next week it might be entirely different, I don’t have a favourite kind of music, though it’s very unusual that I haven’t listened to any piano this week, maybe tomorrow – Schubert piano sonatas are my favourites, and Beethoven’s.

Baroque music is different now, it’s played so fast – Vivaldi would be ecstatic if he heard it, with a professional orchestra – he would have found it very exciting. But you have to be so technically perfect these days, and with recordings – Rubenstein would play a handful of wrong notes, now if he did that it would be all over Youtube – perfect technique is now just a given you have to have. But I’m not convinced about music competitions – I realise they are a necessity in order to start a professional solo career, but for me they are not the best listening environment.

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Posted 13:48 Monday, Jun 8, 2020 In: Hastings People


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. John Baker

    A delight! What an admirable man, who’s led such an interesting life. Let us hope that in days to come he returns to The Stag. Hastings has such a rich assortment of citizens, & so well interviewed! Thank you for bringing it to us, Chandra. I look forward to the second instalment.
    John Baker

    Comment by John Baker — Friday, Jun 12, 2020 @ 03:04

  2. Edward Tuddenham

    What an interesting and worthwhile life, teaching the love of music through classical guitar. The vivid, short, even terse descriptions of people and events remind one of W.H Hudson (Far away and long ago) or Aubrey’s brief lives. I look forward to his views on where Britain is heading.

    Comment by Edward Tuddenham — Wednesday, Jun 10, 2020 @ 14:39

  3. Cyril Gould

    Lovely article Chandra. He sounds a great guy, and the history is fascinating.

    Comment by Cyril Gould — Monday, Jun 8, 2020 @ 20:38

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