Jonathan Evans Coley aka Jon Coley

Something Classic!

Alan Dearling is well-impressed!

He reminds me of everything Laurel Canyon, Jackson Browne (think: ‘Something Fine’), Joni, the Byrds,  C,S,N&Y and James Taylor, the Mamas and the Papas … to name just a few….

Jon is a minstrel. A musical story-teller. His voice reminds many listeners of Tim Buckley (and his son, Jeff Buckley). High-end falsetto. He hits high G quite effortlessly. Jon’s words, song-structures and finger-picking guitar style are reminiscent of a diverse range of musos, including: John Martyn, Van Morrison, Fred Neil, Davey Graham and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Mississippi John Hurt, Jackson C Frank, Jim Croce, Nilsson and John Prine. But he is a larger-than-life character with his beard, glasses, and wacky humour, not dissimilar to Mark Volman, who was half of the Turtles and a long-time member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention in the duo, Flo and Eddie.

That’s quite a pedigree. And during the lengthy show, I found myself trying to both listen to Jon’s array of happy/sad songs, watch his playing on dobro and his old and seasoned, Martin acoustic guitar, and assemble my thoughts and words for a review.

Jon played much of his last album: ‘If all I ever wanted was all I ever needed’. Love songs, sad songs, up-beat tunes, with extra dollops of blues and harmonics. He referred to John Martyn as, “…my guardian devil”. There were so many extraordinary and unique moments poured into an hour and a half. Ones that resonated on and on and on, ‘You can’t make it rain’, a forlorn, bitter-sweet love song, and in a somewhat similar vein, ‘Only call me when you’re ready’ which mixes angst and hope into a wonderfully rich melange of sounds and images. Only call me, “…When I’m tired and low…Next time only call me when you’re ready to love again.”  It’s probably the most impressive love song I’ve heard in many a while.

The show was something classic. At times an almost ethereal experience. ‘Watch the world burning’ was akin to an incendiary, explosion. ‘Sympathy for Judas’ is almost a prayer for sympathy and regret. If you never witnessed John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, John Martyn, JJ Cale or Michael Chapman, or heard Dylan sing ‘Buckets of Rain’ – or ‘Cocaine’ from JJ Cale – or ‘Jelly Roll blues’ from Jelly Roll Morton … Wow, you really do need to get a slice of Jon Coley into your life! You might even look out for Jon guesting with the Eastbourne-based band, Grace and Danger. They include two of the late John Martyn’s nephews, Rory and Aiden Purdey.

He’s off to New Orleans again soon to rekindle his musical flame. But here in the UK you can often catch him live supporting other musicians. He runs regular music session at the Rose & Monkey in Manchester city centre. It isn’t quite the usual Open Mic or folk session. It’s called ‘Scribbling Town’, and proactively encourages artists to support each other. It also takes its ‘show’ and performers on the road out to other towns and venues around the North-West of England. Additionally, Jon hosts sessions at Matt and Phred’s in central Manchester.

Jon is originally from Barton under Needwood in Staffordshire, but has been based around Manchester for some years. There is relatively little video of Jon, but here are a couple: From 2018, ‘Break the Silence’, recorded in straight takes at Breakpoint Studios in Liverpool.

And, Jon Coley’s ‘You Can’t Blame a Boy for Trying’, his submission for GemsonVHS #GemsInTheRough2021:

His back-story, the life he almost-led, is also fascinating and distinctive. Here’s what Jon told Ellie in an interview with Ellie from the ‘Mancunion’ in 2022:

“Jon is from Staffordshire but moved to Manchester five years ago. Despite coming from a musical family, as a child he didn’t play much himself beyond a bit of clarinet at school. He tells me that when he was 22, a serious injury put a sudden end to the archaeology career he had just started. As he speaks, he points to a long scar down his forearm where a metal plate has been inserted. Unable to dig, he turned to the guitar as a means of rehabilitation, becoming very good, very quickly.

As a beginner, he saw open tunings as a gateway to more innovative playing. It opened up new chord voicings and – only partly in jest – he says by tuning his guitar to the first chord of a song, he had one fewer to remember. “It doesn’t quite work that way, but it’s certainly shifted what I do…” He then told Ellie:  “… (it’s) the nihilistic upside to bipolar disorder: sometimes, when you should be sad, your brain just won’t let you [be]”.

Here’s Jon Coley on: ‘Only Call Me When You’re Ready’. An amazing and cathartic song.

And Jon on Bandcamp with a live set from what he calls his ‘Woody Guthrie cabin tape’ session in Topanga Canyon:–li55lWgZ0

At the live, 3 Wise Monkeys’ gig, Jon had support from his Manchester musician friend, The Late Freddie Price. Freddie presents a visual image a bit like an early Oasis’ Gallagher. He told me that he tries to project his songs through his alter-egos, a Nevada-based Freddie Price and post- American Civil War veteran, Slim McLean. ‘Chameleon’, ‘Love songs’ and (I think) ‘Melody Unknown’ caught his zeitgeist of light and dark.

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