In a career spanning three decades, UK band Jump have appeared on stage with many of the leading lights of the progressive rock world. With more than a thousand shows under their belts, they have built a solid reputation for delivering memorable live performances.
Breaking Point, their fourteenth album and their first in four years, has just been released through F2 Music / Festival Music.
Here, singer and wordsmith John Dexter Jones runs through the stories behind each of the nine new songs, and reveals plans to celebrate their 31st birthday next year with some lives shows and possibly a film. He also recalls why playing his first-ever gig in front of thirty people paying 50p a throw, was "utterly magical". DPRP's Andy Read takes notes.
[AR] First, congratulations on album number 14, it's been getting some serious airplay in my confinement cottage. One of the highlights for me in any Jump album are the very personal lyrical narratives and the way that you blend historical and modern events and perspectives. Can you begin, by giving some detail on the lyrical themes/stories for the tracks on the new album?
JDJ: Thank you. We're very pleased with the new album. Breaking Point comprises a collection of material built around its title track. The familiar narratives are here, this time set in a context defined by the tragedy of, and fallout from, a faraway conflict.
Simply put, Breaking Point wonders out loud about how refugees became scapegoats. Here are some thoughts about each track.
The Heroes (The Heroes We'd Be)
This song starts in the hall of the long-demolished Friars Upper School in Bangor. That's where Iori, the caretaker, played his part in releasing another troupe of music-obsessed kids onto the endlessly shifting sands of being in a band. He left the door open for us after school, and we reciprocated with a few cans of beer. That spirit of mutual understanding and respect set the tone. The formative experiences of creating music, the camaraderie, the pub-dreams, the absolute and unshakeable belief in your mission - they number some of the greatest memories in my life.
The first crack of a snare drum in that reverberant space was like the starting gun of a long-distance run that has not yet reached the end. Most of this album concerns the wider world, but thirty years into the career of JUMP and forty into my own, the magic of being in a band is undiminished. For the purposes of this album The Heroes We'd Be describes the narrators of the themes herein.
The King (The King Of Dark Arts)
On the album Over the Top, a song called Old Gods marked the perceived passing of an old guard. The traditional religious, political and legislative norms that I'd grown up with, and often railed against, appeared to me to be dissolving. Perhaps the global financial crisis sharpened up the process, but by the time we'd reached 2016, much of what we as a society took for granted, was being somehow upended and tipped out. By 2017 we knew for certain. What seems to have been laid bare, is that life is now even more subject to the actions of those who no longer make any particular pretence that they are interested in the greater good. There appears very little in the way of wisdom, but a great deal in the way of self-serving greed. Most likely that's always been the way. But has it ever been so nakedly vaunted? ... and all the king's men, indeed.
The City (Another Lucky Day)
It's another lucky day for the narrator here because he's still alive. His city is being destroyed, every norm he knew, every day-to-day activity, every hope for the future, every perspective he once had over what life was, is being stripped away. He asks if he should leave. We would look from the outside and think it was the obvious choice? But this is his home. Nobody has bombed my home so how would I know? And besides, if he leaves, where does he go? Does he join the lines of refugees queueing to be rejected by armchair warriors reading hostile newspapers? These are his friends and neighbours; the people with whom he breaks bread. It's not that easy. Nothing's that easy. Whatever he does, whatever he sees and however it ends, in the midst of it all, he stands by his values. Love, friendship and support. That's what he won't forget.
The Voices (A Thousand Voices)
When refugees began fleeing desperate situations in the Middle East, particularly as the conflict in Syria deepened, they did so to a hostile reception in many quarters. It struck me just how much you have to distance yourself from humanity, to attack people who have lived under the threat of instant death and slow starvation. But people did. Some people even went to the extraordinary lengths of linking that utter desperation with a threat to their own way of life; as though the way of life that produced the ordnance that showered down on other people's heads, was somehow superior. A Thousand Voices begins a wider reflection on that point. And of course, 'God' is ever-present.
The Cellar (In The Cellar)
Imagine living underground by dim light, running out of water and food. Imagine pissing and shitting in a bucket. Imagine that all you can hear is the sound of rattling gunfire, huge explosions and then the sound of your own pulse in the silence, before it all starts again. And it's stiflingly hot. And you can barely contain your fear that if the shells and snipers don't get you, you might fall into the wrong hands. And you don't even know which side is which any more, and you're wondering what is to become of your children who used to cry, but now just rock quietly and stare. So you make a break for it, across the trip-wires and the mines, and you give everything you ever had to find somewhere that even approximates to safety. Go on. Try and imagine that.
Here is where the demoralised and dispossessed meet demonisation. Here is where people with all their possessions in a sack on their back, fleeing from atrocities, bombs, snipers' bullets, chemical weapons and murderous regimes are met with hatred, spite, gracelessness, ignorance and sinister manipulation.
When in 2016, for questionable ends, political and media elements in the UK used nakedly-racist propaganda to stir prejudice against refugees, the die was cast for regression. The imagery and the choice of the slogan 'Breaking Point' to suggest that somehow one of the richest and most culturally diverse societies on the planet could find no room for people on their knees, left more than a bad taste. Who exactly is at Breaking Point?
The Parade (The Station Parade)
A simple poem follows from The Sniper on The Beachcomber album, and of course, Bethesda from On Impulse. David Richard Jones's ghost returns, one hundred years later, to discover that his contribution was as futile as that of millions of others. Somewhere on the bridge that crosses the river above Ogwen Bank, he and his brother carved their names. There are many names carved there into the slate. David's name was carved more neatly on the gatepost of St Mary's Church in Tregarth. His body is buried in France. As the narrator says in Breaking Point, and as David Richard's ghost determines a century after his own death: “Same mistakes, you never learn.” The mistake of course, is to trust what have become in common parlance, 'the powers that be'.
The Widow (Widow)
The physical casualties of conflict are tangible enough. The emotional casualties are perhaps less dwelt upon. The fear from being in the thick-of-the-action might be matched only by the strain of worrying from afar. It's difficult to imagine the aftermath of losing someone whose job is to fight wars on the ground, in the front-line of extreme danger, trained to kill, trained to survive. A myriad of complex questions surround the whole issue. But here there's just an imagined conversation between one left behind and one who ultimately did not return.
The Fire (Cold Fire)
And then there's the human spirit. Life on a tightrope. Conversations with God that everyone has had, whether they 'believe' or not. The desperate moments of doubt, fear, love and hope as they search for something better; some relief and some release from the pain, a chance to be part of something else, something better?
The producer's chair on this occasion is occupied by guitarist Ronnie Rundle, who also mixed the album. I think it's fair to say that this is one of the most guitar-focused / rock albums from Jump. Is that due to Ronnie's heavy involvement or were other factors at play?
Interesting. I've not really thought of it in that way. The songs always come first for us, so whatever is going on is working to support the mood and attack of the subject. We've always really been a guitar-led band, with Mo operating amongst the interplay to deliver more colour and texture. Ronnie worked with what we'd written, no more or less! - If it's guitar heavy, it's because that's what we wrote!
This year Jump were planning to celebrate their 30th anniversary with a series of special shows, which of course had to be postponed. Covid-permitting, what plans do you currently have to celebrate your 31st birthday?
The shows (both now sold out) are rearranged for May 2021. Fingers crossed. As well as those, a number of the shows we were part of have simply been moved back a year, so again, we're hoping that we can do all of those. Since the album has come out there's also been been noise about Holland and Germany for gigs. It seems to have struck a real chord. Who knows, perhaps we'll be an overnight European sensation!
For anyone coming a-new to the Jump party and wanting to try some of your other releases, can you pick five favourite tracks from the Jump discography and say why you like them/ why they mean so much to you personally?
I don't want to cop out here but to be honest, no I can't do that! I guess if a real newcomer wanted to get an idea, I'd say go on our Bandcamp, page and listen to the first song on each album. If you reach the fourteenth opener, chances are you're going to like a lot of the other hundred and fifty something pieces. That's not to say that they're the 'best' but somehow they might be some kind of representative sample!
Jump have always received positive feedback for their live shows - all 1,000-plus of them! So far there has not been a Jump-Live video or dvd. Are there any plans to do such a release?
Well, we've had plans before and they've never really happened for a few reasons. The cost is a consideration - putting resources into other areas has always seemed to take priority. Then there's the fact that no two JUMP shows are ever the same, so capturing the essence of what we do is pretty much impossible because it's always very much in 'the moment'...I think our preferred option will probably be some sort of 'film' that draws from years of bits and pieces of random video - my son Sam has already started sifting a ton of stuff - he's an excellent editor with a background in film and media, so let's see what happens!
I believe that your own first music release was a single with the band White Summer. Is there a moment (before or after) you recall as being the point at when you knew that being a singer in a band was going to occupy a large part of the rest of your life?
Ah, not quite. We started mucking about as kids in '79 and formed White Summer officially in the 1980/81 school year when our drummer actually got a kit! We all went to uni' at the end of that year. We did our first gigs in the summer of '82 after rehearsing during the holiday periods. Our single, Power Poison, came out in '84 and we parted company at the end of '85. The first song on Breaking Point, The Heroes, commemorates those brilliant, youthful days.
The moment I knew that blagging my way as a singer would be central to my life was at approximately 11 o clock on the night of July 14th, 1982 in the back room of The Angel in Aberystwyth. I was 18. That was when I took a bow at the end of my first ever gig. The feeling of having performed songs that we'd written, the camaraderie of the band and the connection with an audience of thirty people paying 50p a throw, was utterly magical. I've never ever lost that feeling. Each gig remains a special occasion. I still revel in every moment of being in a band and never truly having had a proper job!
Jump — Breaking Point
I've got a rather soft spot for this British band. For 30 years, Jump has been ploughing-on through the British music scene, producing a string of quality albums and building an enviable live reputation. Not for pigeonholing (by their own admission they should be filed under "whatever takes your fancy"), they've resolutely stuck to their own mould and have built respect and a solid fan base across the UK, and increasingly overseas.
They don't fall into a strict "prog" category, but as they actually fail to fit into any category at all, I know they have a lot of fans from the prog community. Not afraid to take on any style, their sound is a delicious pick'n'mix of blues, folk, prog, and hard rock, all brought together by the unique vocal talent that is John Dexter Jones.
DPRP has been covering Jump for more than two of their three decades, first jumping aboard with their 2000 release Freedom Train.
My first encounter followed two years later with their highly enjoyable On Impulse. I have since purchased all of their available albums, with each having its own definable character and charm.
Breaking Point is their first since Over The Top was warmly welcomed four years ago.
A comparison between these two most recent releases, shows why Breaking Point could well become the most successful album of the band's career.
The appeal of Over The Top was its free-wheeling diversity. Leaping freely in musical style and subject matter, it was lovely example of the joy of expression that is allowed by not being fixed to a particular 'sound' or genre.
Whilst in no way being afraid to incorporate different influences, Breaking Point is probably the most focused album of Jump's career; both lyrically and musically. Even the song titles follow a similar format.
The highlights for me in any Jump album are the very personal lyrical narratives. Often political in their message, John Dexter Jones has a canny ability to blend historical events into modern-day perspectives.
Breaking Point is, for want of a better word, a concept album on the theme of refugees. The central collection of songs sets its critical-eye on the injustices of the current crisis, that has been caused by people fleeing warfare. The King is seen as the cause of it all. The City through to Breaking Point stays with the victims, whilst The Fire offers a flicker of hope.
However the three supporting song-stories can also be seen as taking a more abstract definition of refugees. The Parade and The Widow are powerful reflections about those lost in previous conflicts, whilst The Heroes recalls young people being offered a home for their musical dreams. Our interview with John Dexter Jones covers each track's story in more depth here.
Musically this is Jump's most "rock" album. The guitar of Ronnie Rundle (who also produced and mixed the album) is very much to the fore, with every song showcasing his delicate riffing and flowing solo work. There is a heavy blues sense here, especially in the style of Gary Moore (listen to the solo on The King), whilst the riffs and solos on Breaking Point and The Fire bring to mind Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler as heard on their tracks such as Private Investigations.
The end result is an honest collection of nine meaningful and enjoyable songs. Highlights? It's hard to choose.
I love the melancholy for the memories-of-times-past in the first track. The cajun opening and the wonderful blend of textures and dynamics that builds into the rousing folk-stomp of The King is just wonderful. The desolate sadness of the lyric, is perfectly matched by the evocative arrangement in The Voices, and I just love the rock energy of the title track and the classic rock riffage of The Fire.
However the highlight of the highlights is The Parade. It is here that John Dexter Jones' ability to draw pictures and messages from times-gone-by, reaches its pinnacle. I first listened to this song while staying in an old Welsh cottage where the builders, (now but ghosts) had chiselled their names on the roof slates that had been recommissioned as window sills. Translate that to those going off to war in this song, and neatly marking their names on the slate of their hometown bridge, not knowing that they would never march down The Station Parade again. Powerful song-writing.
After 30 years of making music, I think Jump have produced their best album so far.
Indeed, the only complaint I have with this CD, is in the manufacturing process. For some reason every time it hits the final few notes of The Fire, it seems to automatically skip back to the opening track and play all over again!