In the days before mobile phones, multiple television channels and social media, Peter Jones had an innate ability to unearth new talent, with his unparalleled contacts book and encyclopaedic knowledge of the music industry. He was a charming yet self-effacing character who endeared himself to up-and-coming musicians and established stars alike, both as promoter and as confidant.
During a career that lasted more than five decades, Jones played a pivotal role in the discovery of the Rolling Stones, and through his articles championed the likes of the Kinks, the Who, Dusty Springfield, Chubby Checker and Jimi Hendrix. He was one of the first to promote the Tamla Motown sound, with artists such as Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder. He was also entrusted with the first official biographies of the Beatles and the Stones.
With his well-coiffured, dark, swept-back, Brylcreemed hair, his trademark blue mohair suit, slim tie and suede shoes, Jones would hold court at De Hems Oyster Bar in Macclesfield Street off London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, where he would conduct interviews over drinks with managers, agents and musicians. He described the process as “making contacts with the rim of a glass”.
Occasionally taking brief notes but usually working from memory, Jones would return to the nearby Record Mirror offices, where he was the editor, and bash out the latest gossip and record reviews for that week’s edition on his battered, capital letters-only typewriter. The Record Mirror was second only to the New Musical Express, but both enjoyed enormous reach and influence.
In an era before the music press became slightly caustic and full of its own self-importance, Jones’ friend and colleague Norman Jopling recalled, “Peter was genial, good company, and, importantly, an easy touch for those precious column inches.”
Jones’ ability to spot trends and talent became legendary. Having seen the Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy club in Richmond in 1963, he was struck by Mick Jagger’s stage presence and his effect on the audience, particularly the girls. One day, Andrew Loog Oldham, then still a junior publicist for the Beatles, went to see Jones.
Oldham recalled, “I was trying to sell him something, probably a Brian Epstein act, but he wasn’t interested. He kept talking about this other group; they were still called the Rollin’ Stones then, playing around London.” Oldham saw them and became their co-manager.
In 1966, after seeing the unknown Jimi Hendrix’s first London gig, Jones was ecstatic, writing presciently, “NOW hear this, and kindly hear it good! Are you one of the fans who think there’s nothing much new happening on the pop scene? Right… here’s a new artist, a new star-in-the-making, who we predict is going to whirl round the business like a tornado.”
Born in Carshalton Beeches in Surrey in 1930, Peter Langley Jones was the son of Charles, an engineer, and Violet, a keen motorcyclist who managed a property portfolio. His father died when he was seven as a result of shrapnel wounds sustained during the First World War. His mother remarried and Peter grew up with his sister Vera, and family in Hampshire, attending Churcher’s College, a co-educational independent school in Petersfield.
At school he found he had a talent for English language and literature and was a good cricketer and footballer; he became a lifelong Chelsea fan and supporter of Essex County Cricket Club. Leaving school at 18, he began working as a junior reporter on the Portsmouth Evening News, writing about sport and crime but particularly about show business, writing the “Backstage” slot, featuring interviews with actors and singers appearing at the city’s three main theatres.
By 1954 he had left to become a trainee scriptwriter and talent booker at Associated London Scripts, whose clients included Frankie Howerd , Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes. Following a recommendation, he became feature and then show business writer on Associated Newspapers’ Weekend magazine, which in the mid-1950s had a circulation of 1.5m, writing a column called “My Friends The Stars”. Later in the decade he began freelancing for Record Mirror, which had launched as a weekly in 1954, two years after the NME; he became editor in 1964.
Although Jones’ vodka-fuelled afternoons suggested a Bohemian lifestyle, he was in fact something of a workaholic. By the mid-’60s, writing under a number of pseudonyms, he was writing most of Beatles Monthly, under the pen name Billy Shepherd, and the Monkees and George Best Monthlies. He wrote the first authorised Stones biography, as Peter Goodman, and the first authorised Beatles biography, as Billy Shepherd. He also ghosted newspaper columns for show business personalities and footballers, including George Best, Sandie Shaw, Dave Dee, Alan Ball, Denis Law and Mick Channon. His massive workload also took in hosting a sports show for Southern TV between 1961 and 1963 and the music series Newly Pressed for BBC’s Light Programme.
With the sale of Record Mirror to the US music industry weekly magazine Billboard in 1969, Jones went with it as editor, but after another sale three years later, he stayed on at Billboard, for the next 25 years, becoming UK news editor, and simultaneously the associate editor of Music Week. He continued to work as a freelance, including writing for the major partwork magazine series, The Story of Rock, and a 12-year spell broadcasting music news for Radio Sudwestfunk in Baden-Baden, Germany.
Leaving Record Mirror in 1972, he launched and edited a short-lived magazine, Easy Listening, which reflected his own tastes, including enthusiasms for Matt Monro and Ken Dodd.
Jones died of heart failure while watching an Ashes Test match on television at home. He is survived by his wife Barbara, a former actress, model and Miss Britain, and his two sons.
Peter Jones, journalist and author: born Carshalton Beeches, Surrey 6 January 1930; married 1963 Barbara (two sons); died 10 July 2015.