In Haunt

Tim Keogh ‘Out of Time’ is the title of a hard-hitting play exploring the life of Brian Jones – the founder of iconic British rock band The Rolling Stones – who died aged just 27, in 1969. Whilst speculation on the circumstances of his death have circulated ever since, a North Manchester based playwright – Tim Keogh – is determined to look deeper into the vibrant, varied times of Jones and explore the life, rather than the end.

Keogh is after all no stranger to considering iconic figures of history within his work – yet with a personal, perceptive quality that brings real insight to the surface. He is also the writer of ‘Thorn’: a play exploring the early life of Steven Patrick Morrissey – the frontman of The Smiths – which was directed by Chantell Walker and widely acclaimed, winning Best Newcomer award at the Greater Manchester Fringe 2017, following a sold-out run at The Kings Arms (one of Haunt's featured venues, full article here) in Salford. In Out of Time he also plunges into the past, taking the audience into the gritty Soho streets of 1962, where Brian – only in his early-twenties – auditions Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for the band that will become The Rolling Stones.

 Not only was Jones the original founder of the group (including the name – which originally was ‘The Rollin’ Stones’) but a talented multi-instrumentalist; playing guitar on record, as well as contributing his skill on the likes of sitar, dulcimer and keyboards  (to name just a few) during live performances. He was capable of playing across multiple genres, perhaps inspired by his time as a blues musician, briefly under the name of ‘Elmo Lewis’ in the early sixties.  He even reportedly taught Mick Jagger how to play harmonica!

But what about the trouble behind the talent? Whilst The Rolling Stones went on to ramp up success after success – including London concerts and a lucrative recording contract, the cracks were already beginning to show. ‘Out of Time’ sensitively considers the struggles faced by Jones, including a difficult childhood in post war Cheltenham, the pressure of his peers… and what became the ruthless internal dynamics of band life. Rather than overlooking Jones as a hedonistic figure who fell victim to the excesses of the ‘swinging sixties’, ‘Out of Time’ is an encounter with the fascinating backstory, the hidden histories and curious qualities of a life.

Tim Keogh’s aptitude for looking beyond the surface is notable - and perhaps inspired by his own North Manchester upbringing, taking an interest in history and music from an early age. He grew up here during the ‘60s and ‘70s, a time of music evolution, football culture and post-industrial tensions.  Yet it was later in life that he documented it, publishing the books Nothing but blue skies in 2009 and This was our City in 2013 respectively. Whilst the former book follows his adolescent experiences in the area and travelling around the country to watch Manchester City Football Club, the latter looks at his journey into adulthood and the ‘80s: the Thatcher years, time in teaching and the explosion of punk rock.

Interestingly, Thorn (2017) was Tim’s first foray into playwriting – and proved particularly popular. It was in this fascinating piece of theatre he considered the young Morrissey, living in 1970s Streford and faced with questions of sexuality, identity and the power of Glam Rock inspiration. 

Now Out of Time seeks to provide another perceptive window into a time in history so often surrounded by myth and speculation.  Ahead of the play coming to Salford Arts Theatre on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th October 2019 (as well as tour dates including 1st and 2nd November at Hebden Bridge Little Theatre) we decided to speak to Tim himself to find out more…

Out of Time

Hello Tim! We have met in The Kings Arms, Salford. You have already staged ‘Out of Time’ here in March 2019, as well as your earlier play ‘Thorn’. Why is this place significant?

“The significance is - I’d been to see plays here on a Monday night, run by the brilliant Manchester ADP. This was back in 2016. Somebody at one of the sessions explained it to me: people submit plays, new writing – if they like them they’ll put on a 10 minute scene; usually from about four different plays in one night. So being driven to write a play – despite never having even aspired to do so in the past – must have coincided with me coming down to ADP. I think what they do is great, and I wanted to give it a try.

“By that point I had written two books about growing up and living in Manchester and didn’t want to repeat that. So I was encouraged to send a play off to them. I’d never written one before! I just thought – ‘well, I’ll see if I can do it’… and I did: that was Thorn. It was received really well – I was taken aback! I got back an email telling me that they didn’t just want to put an excerpt of the play on, they wanted to put the whole thing on! Being new to all this, I didn’t have any formal knowledge about the structuring of plays, the logistics of putting one on, working with a cast. In Thorn, I had 11 roles in the play, 9 actors – which was barmy! But that’s just how I saw it: in my head then on the stage.

“The Kings Arms… they’ve always been fantastic with me here, very open, very welcoming. I’m incredibly grateful. It was here Thorn sold-out for four nights – we even ended up having to turn people away - and Out of Time came here in March 2019 for three nights, which sold out a week before. Now I’m bringing Out of Time to another great Salford venue, Salford Arts Theatre… and later to Hebden Bridge Little Theatre.”

The Kings Arms

Tell us a bit more about ‘Thorn’ – your first play – which saw you win Best Newcomer Award at the Greater Manchester Fringe 2017 awards?

In terms of Thorn, I didn’t write it with a purpose in mind. Although it is ostensibly about young Morrissey, that’s not how it was advertised. Ultimately, it was about a boy growing up in the Manchester area who was 14 years old in 1972… like me!

“The play itself was inspired by a very distinct image – something that was a watershed moment at the time. It was one of David Bowie’s first appearances on mainstream British television in June 1972. Although a lot of people mention Bowie’s feature on Top of the Pops around the same time, the first was actually on a programme called Lift Off with Ayshea on ITV. He played Starman… and I remember watching it. That programme sent out shockwaves, opened up a generation gap, it shattered everything. This was a man wearing makeup, being creative, being an individual. So many artists quote that as a key inspiration, even now, the first time seeing Bowie. That moment was massive… and it opened up questions on themes such as identity, sexuality and masculinity that are a key part of Thorn.

“I am a huge Smiths fan as well. In terms of Thorn though, it wasn’t advertised as a ‘Morrissey’ or a ‘Smiths’ play – I just wanted people to have the conceptualisation that it was about a boy growing up in Manchester. It then went from the ADP in 2016 to play  at the Greater Manchester Fringe in 2017… and that’s when a great thing happened. After one of the Fringe shows, a guy came up me, saying that in the course of watching the play, it was only then he realised the character was Morrissey!

“Another thing, one of the very best things – and a moment that still touches me -  is that straight after the first night, I was out the back of The Kings Arms with the actors. That’s when a lad came up to me and said ‘thank you for writing my story’. He told me he was gay, 19 years old, and that he loved the play and what it covered. And that hit me, that the themes within the play had really connected with him. That’s why I defend my plays, even though they look at stories of the past, against being defined as ‘period pieces’. Their themes are very much relevant now… exploring issues such as sexuality, gender confusion, family, identity. In Thorn, I was writing about being 14 in 1972… but it resonates across the decades.”

Thorn

Do you think that growing up in the North Manchester of the ‘60s and ‘70s has influenced your writing. If so – how?

“I think so. Talking about Thorn – at the centre of it is the big question: what’s it like for someone who’s a bit different to everybody else? It was a physically tough time for many people back in ‘60s and ‘70s Manchester… and I’m talking from experience of what was a very masculine culture. During the week schoolteachers  would hit you, at the weekend – football fans were hitting you. Some people were even hit at home. So for the people who were sensitive, into the likes of music and poetry… how was it for them?

“I’m interested in this as I was a kind of gentle lad myself, I felt different. I went to the local Grammar School where we were hit by teachers, in Cross Country practice there was the ethos ‘if you’re not muddy, you’re not doing it right’. Yet I was into books, reading, music, magazines like Sounds. I should have been in a band but wasn’t… that’s something I wish I’d done. That raises a significant point though. Back in those days, growing up in Manchester… I felt that culture and creativity was all being done by somebody else. Writing books, being a musician, being in the charts – it was a thing for others, not for the likes of people like us. It felt out of reach.” 

“Consider the line sung by Morrissey himself – has the world changed or have I changed?  A lot of what went on in the ‘60s and ‘70s still goes on now, though perhaps we wouldn’t like to admit it. Sexism. Homophobic behaviour. Racism – even just this week in the England vs. Bulgaria football game. It is disgusting- and I want to highlight that too. Since Morrissey has recently come out with controversial statements on race I haven't played a single track of his. It is so alien to me. I am upset and disappointed… I think especially because Morrissey seemed to speak up for so many people in the 1980s, covering real life experiences, struggles, making connections. Not now.”

Morrissey is a local, well-known figure. Why did you decide to focus on Brian Jones for the next play?

Joolz and Tim

“I’ve always been a Rolling Stones fan – and Brian founded the band, devised the name, even auditioned the members! When he died I was only ten, it was front page news …yet now, hardly anybody knows who he is. Or they just know about his death - found in a swimming pool, aged 27. This seems unjust.

“There also was a particular moment that inspired this one – and the reason why I particularly wanted to put the play on in Hebden Bridge. I went to a gig at The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge about three years ago, to see Donovan – a singer-songwriter well-known in the ‘60s who still gigs now. I was a big fan, and knew that Donovan comes out to speak to his fans at the end, he speaks individually them… so waited on purpose, last in the line after the gig, in the hope of getting plenty of time to chat. So, I met him and we were talking for about five minutes… when he introduced me to a young lad, 19 years old. This was Joolz Jones, grandson of Brian Jones. We got talking, and one of the things Joolz said that really struck me, was that he wished his grandad would be portrayed for his life, not his death. (Picture left:  Tim talking to Joolz Jones, grandson of Brian. Taken by Mel Tripkovic)

“After that conversation I went out and bought anything I could on Brian Jones. I thought: here is a great story and one that needs to be told. I feel that Brian Jones is a figure who has been written out of history… yet this was the man who founded The Rolling Stones, dealt with the logistics of the band, decided what they would play live and in what order. He was a highly talented musician, a pioneer. He was sensitive too.

“It became my mission… to paint a better picture of Brian Jones. Look at people like John Lennon and Jimmy Hendrix – they have endless dedications, monuments – Lennon has an airport named after him! Brian was no saint, just like these figures weren’t either – but he had many positive qualities too. Yet in Cheltenham where Brian is from, they won’t build any kind of statue to him. Some people wanted a street in the town to be named ‘Brian Jones Close’, but that was talked down. He is treated like a figure of embarrassment.”

Can you tell us a little more about the process of writing ‘Out of Time’ itself?

“It was 2017 when I started writing it – and a few years previously I had taken early retirement, which was a fortunate happening for me: it gave me time. I hadn’t had this when I was writing my books – as that was when I was working full-time too – and would use the hours between midnight and 2am to write! Yet since early retirement, I had lots of time alone in the week to get writing.

“I wanted to elaborate on themes that aren’t always talked about in terms of Brian Jones… and I’ve been thinking about it coming down to this interview today. One of the key themes is love – and the absence of it. I don’t think Brian Jones was given enough love when he was growing up. It was the 1950s then, a middle-class upbringing in Cheltenham… very efficient, but not necessarily affectionate. His dad had a high-powered job in aviation, his mum was a classical pianist. Brian was intelligent, he went to Grammar School, did A Levels. It was a well-heeled upbringing so to speak… but I think he lacked being given fondness and love. I don’t think the books written about him always illuminate that. Then I came across the quote by George Harrison: ‘there was nothing the matter with him that a little extra love wouldn’t have cured. I don’t think he had enough love and understanding.’

“By the time Brian was in his teens, he and his parents were living completely different lives. He loved music… the type which was unpopular with them. He started getting into The Blues, often treated at the time as ‘Black Man’s Music’. Yet he pushed against what he was told to think and believe. He was interested in the Blues, in women, got involved with people he shouldn’t have… all very young.  Family and love are the fundamentals I think… and when you don’t have this, what does it do to us creatively? Our decisions?

“One of the most fascinating things that I learned – is about Brian’s kind of yearning for a ‘lost childhood’, elaborating on the point about love and upbringing I’ve just mentioned. When he had to get out of London towards the end of his life in 1967 – the Police were closing in on him, the implications of his actions catching up – yet he was the only one who pleaded guilty, owned up. He also expressed that he didn’t want to disappoint his parents. There was a child-like quality… it was at this time in the late ‘60s that he bought Cotchford Farm, Sussex – the house where AA Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, used to live. In the play, the character of the housekeeper says, ‘you have a look of Christopher Robin’ to Brian.

“It’s become a key theme of my work without me ever really meaning it to – family.   This is what  interests me the most… people’s upbringing, their early teenage years. It’s your formation, it’s what makes you – Brian Jones, he even had a train set in his attic… a passion started off in childhood and carrying onto the end of his life.”

Tim and Emily

Why the title ‘Out of Time’?

“You are the first person to ask that! I was listening to the actual record of the same name, The Rolling Stones put it out in 1966, and I was listening to the words. I thought: they could be singing this about Jones. Although the lyrics seem like it is referring to a girl ‘you are obsolete my baby’ – this also seems to link to how they viewed Jones by that point, his ‘usefulness’ to them in their eyes had waned significantly. I also think he was ‘Out of Time’ – in that he was way ahead of his time. He was one of the earliest pioneers of World Music– he played what would have been seen as really exotic instruments: the sitar, marimbas, dulcimer, he was a very early user of the mellotron. He gave tracks such as ‘Under My Thumb’ and ‘Paint It Black’ such a distinct sound with his instrumentation.  

“He also was ahead of his time as he championed black artists… at a time when in Western society even the finest black musicians were treated differently. How black people were treated then was appalling, especially in America. Yet Jones did not agree with such divisions. He wanted black people and their creativity to be celebrated – for example, he helped black artists get onto television. There was a Rolling Stones gig on TV which he said he wouldn’t let the band play, unless the black US artist Howlin’ Wolf got to play too. There’s a great YouTube clip of that.”

So why write a play about it all?

I’m trying to write plays I would like to go along and watch. It reminds me of something along the lines of what the great Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney said – she’d seen plays at the theatre, and thought she could do better. I’d like to create a play that people can come and enjoy even if they would never go to the theatre normally.

“I’m very excited for Out of Time too as it has a brand new cast, including a new director: Ben Rivers, who is 24. The lad who is playing Brian is called Jake Bush, coming up specially for rehearsals on a train from London – all for the love of it, that he will get to be Brian Jones for a few weeks. It’s amazing. I like working with young people. And the whole creative process… and I don’t always know why I’m doing this, but I’m loving it!

“I think the importance of writing about Brian Jones was underlined to me in terms of another strange co-incidence too. During the summer, I went to a Brian Jones 50th anniversary concert, set up by Kenney Jones (no relation – of The Faces, The Small Faces, The Who) who organised this concert in memory of Brian featuring artists such as The Waterboys, The Stranglers, Donovan. That’s where I met Joolz Jones again. He thanked me for writing a play about his grandad. This meant so much to me.

“It matters to me that it is a play exploring real-life themes… family, identity, gender. Even though the plays Thorn and Out of Time show another era – they hold a light up to issues such as toxic masculinity. Men often treated women really badly. Yet in Out of Time there is the character of Anita Pallenberg, Brian’s girlfriend – a real modern woman in the 1960s, a strong woman.

“I’ve been taken aback by all this… I never saw myself as a playwright. Take what happened with Thorn, it sold out at The Kings Arms, was nominated for awards and won Best Newcomer. This is a bit of a funny story. When it was the GM Fringe 2017 Awards evening, it was hosted at the old 53two. Lisa (of The Kings Arms) asked me if I was coming down, so I thought ‘OK’.  It was a nice night weather-wise, and when I approached the venue, there were lots of people stood outside with their drinks… and I was too nervous to go in! I didn’t have the courage to go in there, I was worried that I didn’t fit in. This was all new to me. So I went to Rain Bar by myself for an hour until I finally vowed to go back… that’s when I was met with so many surprises. Not only did people welcome me and encourage me to sit with them, but Thorn had been nominated for a number of awards and won Best Newcomer! And I had been too scared to go! I think that’s what connects with my earlier point, when I mentioned growing up and thinking that the arts, creative success, things like that – were all for ‘other people’. I couldn’t believe that I had won, I was 58!

“I suppose it really doesn’t matter how old you are… and there are certainly are so many supportive, creative people out there. Someone I thanked on that night was Hannah Ellis Ryan, the local actor and director who had been so helpful. There are plenty of people out there creatively saying YES rather than no… what an opportunity to give someone. That’s what I love: enthusiasm and opportunity.

“Now on to Out of Time. This really is the best time of my life, because it is now and it is exciting.”

For more about Tim Keogh, visit his website.

By Emily Oldfield

Image 1: by Ian Rothwell (Tim featured on Ian's 'A Bit of Everything' show) at Salford City Radio

Image 2: by Shay Rowan

Image 3: Daniel Murphy plays Steven in 'Thorn'. Taken by Shay Rowan

Image 4: Tim talking to Joolz Jones, grandson of Brian. Taken by Mel Tripkovic

Image 5: Tim and Haunt's Emily at The Kings Arms, Salford

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1 Comments

Comments

  1. Pen
    Thank you so much Tim to write a play about the talented musician and human Brian Jones. He deserves to be well known everywhere and he also should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hopefully we live enough to see it.

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