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Sir Tom Jones may go down in history as the only knight who once had panties thrown at him onstage.
But the 80-year-old Welshman who crooned such ’60s classics as “It’s Not Unusual” and “What’s New Pussycat?” — as well as the 1971 hit “She’s a Lady” — isn’t done yet. In addition to keeping his coach’s chair on “The Voice UK,” he’s releasing “Surrounded by Time,” a collection of covers, on Friday.
Here, the “Sexbomb” singer dishes on turning 80 in a pandemic, the truth about Prince Philip once insulting him and if he still wears leather pants.
How has this past year and change been for you with quarantine?
It’s been all right because I’ve been doing “The Voice UK,” so that’s kept me busy. That’s really saved my life, you know, being out with people.
How did you celebrate turning 80 last June in the middle of lockdown?
With me, it’s a large cognac and a Cuban cigar. [Laughs.] It’s strange because in 2019 we were doing a tour, and I thought, “Wow, wait till 2020 comes. I’m going to be turning 80. I feel great, I’ve got a great band. What could possibly stop me now?”
Did you get vaccinated yet?
Oh yeah. I got my first one before Christmas and then I had the second one on the 6th of January. One good thing about being 80: I was first in line!
So how did you go about choosing the covers for your new album?
I saved the songs for a long time, and I didn’t record them ’cause my wife [of 59 years, Melinda] passed away five years ago and I wasn’t all that keen on recording. But time has gone on, and I thought, “Well, it’s time to do [an album] now.” I worked with Ethan Johns, who did my last three albums, and my son Mark co-produced it with Ethan. And it was the first time I recorded in Wales … Every song on the album has meant something to me during my lifetime. The opening track, for instance, is “I Won’t Crumble with You If You Fall.” Well, when my wife was sick with cancer, she knew she was dying, and she said, “You can’t fall with me now. I gotta leave, but you don’t have to. You carry on.” So that song is for her.
You also cover Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee.” Has Sir Tom ever met the Bard?
I’ve never actually met him. But the closest I’ve gotten to it was six years ago [at the MusiCares Person of the Year tribute in Dylan’s honor]. He said, “Look, the only way I’ll be involved in this is if you can get 10 people on the show that I like singing my songs.” And I was one of the 10 because I’d recorded a [Dylan] song called “What Good Am I,” so I went and sang it there.
Prince Philip just passed, and he once seemingly insulted your singing. How’d you feel about that?
We were at Buckingham Palace having cocktails before we went to do this [benefit], and he came over to me and explained what it was all about, which I thought was really nice. He said, “I’m sure you’ve read that I said that you must gargle with pebbles. Well, this is the way it went: I was at a small businessmen’s meeting, and they were complaining about not being subsidized by the government. So I used you as an example, in a good way, of a coal miner’s son from a little town in Wales [who] has become this huge pop star … This man’s voice is so powerful, he must gargle with pebbles.”
Do you still rock your leather pants, Tom?
Ah, no. An 80-year-old man in leather pants? I don’t think that would cut it.
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