By PJ TAYLOR
One of New Zealand’s great roots musicians plays to a Howick audience soon, sure to light the stage with his masterclass songwriting and playing abilities.
Paul Ubana Jones is a captivating, mesmerising performer, who can play different styles in the blues-folk-funk landscape, capable of lightning fast, finger-plucking guitar work and earthly, worldly vocals and words.
One moment he can be soaring and howling, the next soft, slow and feeling, such is his craftsmanship and creative gifts.
No one sounds like Paul Ubana Jones, so is the distinction of his singing voice that’s a deep and rich, soulful bluesman’s.
And sure, time flies, but it’s still a surprise to learn Paul is now 67 and a grandfather-to-be, an age when traditionally bluesman start enjoying the appropriate acknowledgement of their life-formed riffs and grooves. After thousands of gigs all around the world, he’s surely paid his dues.
Born and raised in 1950s central south-east London to a Nigerian dad and Yorkshire mum, Jones arrived in NZ from Zurich with his wife and eldest two children in February 1987.
“We were looking for a change and easier lifestyle,” he says, crediting former Immigration Minister Aussie Malcolm, then (and now) an immigration consultant, for assisting the family’s residency application. “He took a shining to us.”
Malcolm also guided him to join the musicians union, and Jones recalls he got gigs quickly in central Auckland, including the fondly remembered Performance Café, and Corner Bar of the legendary The Gluepot, at Three Lamps, Ponsonby.
Paul’s just back on Kiwi soil after a tour and holiday in Europe. He plays Howick’s Uxbridge Theatre on Friday, October 18.
“Being on the road with a sense of true purpose would be a highlight,” he says, with audiences “totally locked into every word, every moment of phrase and cadence.
“It’s a profession whereby I have to almost put that spell on them. That spell of focus without distraction.
“My gigs took me to places that I love, well, most of them. St Moritz – I do love the geographic landscape from that part of Switzerland.
“I played at the jazz festival there and it was in a beautifully strange mansion – out of Mervyn Peakes’ Ghormenghast Trilogy. The Swiss do it well when it comes down to refinement and style.”
And if Jones ever contemplated thinking he’d seen it all, then came the show at the Carl Jung Clinic, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. A thinker, in other words.
“I played a midday concert and my connection to this ‘world famous psychiatric clinic’ being via a friend that was a nurse there,” he says.
“As I was into a particular song, a patient wandered upfront to the performance area and looking at me with a ‘glazed look of semi-sedation’, proceeded to turn my tuning pegs, and smiled a smile – that’s better!
“He was gently guided back to his seat… and in the security of his medical haze attempted to do it again in the second set. What a place that was to play!”
Jones has for three decades been known as a hard-working, well-travelled, highly respected, incredibly gifted musician and entertainer. When he plays, audiences pay attention.
“There are always new venues to play and that’s important,” he says. “One needs to not only diversify with material to play, but also, where to play one’s music.