It's not unusual, in this day and age, for prominent members of the music elite to be featured on TV talent shows. But when Welsh crooner and all-around legend Tom Jones opted to join The Voice, the knight of the realm turned heads. With a new covers album Spirit In The Room out this week (21 May), we speak to him about the record, leaving a legacy, what his pal Elvis would be up to now, working with Jack White, those spinning chairs and more...
How the devil are you? "Good! You know, busy. Very busy, but I like it like that."
You've tackled songs by a lot of different artists for your new record, which track would you say, personally, was the most enjoyable one for you to do? "That's hard to say really, because they are so different. I had a lot of fun with the Tom Waites song, Bad As Me. I wanted it to come off as being not evil-bad, but cheeky-bad, more tongue-in-cheek."
You cover Leonard Cohen's Tower Of Song on the new record and there's a line in it: "I bid you farewell, I don't know when I'll be back" is there any significance in that about your music career? "Yeah, well, I don't know if I will be back! My music will be playing when I am dead. So that's what got me about that lyric, but the whole song is like that to me. My friends are gone and my hair is grey, which is true - I ache in the places I used to play; I'm not trying to be macho - I know I'm 71 and the lyrics I was born with a golden voice; that's what I feel. I was born with this voice, I had no choice to do anything else, really. It dominated me, really, it led the way; that verse got me as well."
So you're using these songs to explain where you are now personally.? "Yeah. There's a lot especially in Tower Of Song. I was looking with these songs for something that seems real, coming from me. Y'know, where I am now as opposed to 30 years ago."
You often speak of your friendship with Elvis Presley. If he was around today, what do you think he'd be doing musically? Would he followed you's and Johnny Cash lead and done a similar thing with covers? "He was always listening to music. I think he'd be interested in a lot of girl singers that are around, because there are some strong girl singers out at the moment. Rhianna, Amy Winehouse - God bless her, when she was around - Maybe Adele. Paolo Nutini is one of the few young guys who perks me up because he has a different approach, I think Elvis would've liked him. Elvis was always into voices. I think he would have been a good judge on The Voice, because he was very opinionated about voices."
Do you think if that kind of thing was around back then, he would have been involved in it? "Oh yeah. The older he got, the more open he would have been to it. Elvis would have done it himself but [manager, Colonel Tom] Parker wouldn't have allowed him to do it. Now, though, I think he would have spread himself open more, to show people what he was like. He didn't do talk shows as it wasn't a thing to do back then, he was more aloof, except when he did movies which he didn't like. He wanted to be a serious actor, which he wasn't allowed to do. I think if he had been around now, he would have loved to do things like tour Europe. He was always talking about it but Parker didn't want him to. There was a lot of things with Elvis but he loved music so much, especially gospel music, that was his favourite, but I think he would have been very interested in the direction music has gone in, especially with the voices. I think there are a lot of good voices around now compared to 30 years ago."
How did you get involved with The Voice? "I saw the one in America, and thought it was a great idea. I liked the blind auditions, the fact that they had four singers as coaches as opposed to different people in the business critiquing singers. I thought it was a good idea, we all know what they did in the American one - they had been on stage and you know, you feel for these people who are singing more than if you are not a singer. I liked that straight away so when the BBC approached me for the UK version, I wanted to find out more about it and who the other three judges were going to be, which is very important as I had to get on with these people. They said Cee-lo Green was interested, as well as Jessie J and I said I think we need someone from a rock/pop background. That was great so when all that was sorted, we tried to get everything as right as possible, not to have many mistakes. I said as long as I can be honest, not to be pushed or tipped off so that was great. So I thought I am going to be on TV every Saturday night, I am going to be critiqued by the public, you have to be open to criticism. Thank God it's well received and everyone seems to like it. Kids are coming up to me, saying, I saw you on The Voice, you were great! It's all positive stuff now."
Is that the key for you, that all the judges are fellow singers? "I think it makes it different in this way. I'm not saying that the other people are not qualified to do it, it's just coming from a different place. They are listening to the singers with other things in mind like would they be good to record, all the managers would be looking at it in a commercial way, but we're just critiquing singers. Putting in what we know and helping them. That's what I like about it."
Do the chairs spin as easily as they look? "Oh yeah. I don't know how they do it but they go as soon as you hit the button. Sometimes, like when you are watching the Wheel of Fortune and you see the girl press those buttons, you wonder if it's that simple. You have to hit the button pretty hard for the chair to turn, it needs to go all the way down."
Despite being someone who's been in the public eye quite prominently over the past few years, do you keep abreast with what's going on in music at the moment? "I'm always listening to stuff. My son is great with that, he's constantly listening so if he hears something he thinks I would like, then he would let me know. But it can be the other way round, like Alabama Shakes - I saw them on the David Letterman Show and I thought 'they are definitely different' and you have this girl at the front, not caring about how she looks - I told him and he said 'I just got their album.' It's strange when we connect the things we hear."
You recorded a single earlier this year with Jack White (above). What is he like to work with? "He's very musical. He loves music. He's got the whole thing, like his own studio where he makes and presses his records. That's tremendous, but the whole getting in to the studio with him is just like he's a rock version of Ethan [Johns, producer on Spirit In The Room]. Ethan is more acoustic-led but the passion is very similar. It was great working with him because he called me and asked about these old songs that I knew. I was doing a show at The National and we met up on my day off, working on these songs in the studio. We did them in one afternoon." Joe Bishop @Joe_Bish
For more head to Tomjones.com.