The Journey to Here: An Interview with Jont

Jont (photo credit: unknown)

Jont
(photo credit: unknown)

Musician. Poet. Cricketer. Troubadour. Father.  

These are just some of the words that have been used to describe Jont on his remarkable lifelong journey.  It is a journey that has led Jont to Halifax, to Openheart, to the Infinite Possibility, to An Old Innocence.  It has been a journey to …here.

Born Jonathan Whittington in London, England, Jont’s family moved to America when he was just six-months old. With his father working in New York, the family (Mom, Dad, Jont and his two sisters) lived just outside New York until Jont was 4-years old. “Loved it. We all loved it.” Jont says of his time in America.   The family then moved back to North London, where Jont grew up and attended school.

From there, Jont’s biography is a fascinating story.  It is a story of music, of meeting Princess Diana, of playing his one (and only) cricket match with the first team at Middlesex, of travelling across the United States and interviewing American poets, of having dinner with Allen Ginsberg,  of organizing UNLIT – an underground travelling house-party gig where Ed Sheeran and many other friends played, of fatherhood, of moving to a new country and of changing lives along the way.

Today, Jont lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia – a province on the East Coast of Canada. He recently released a new single “Someone to Love Me” with his new band, Jont & The Infinite Possibility.  There is a new album in the works.  So this was the perfect time to speak with Jont about his past, his album and life in Halifax.  We hope you enjoy getting to know Jont as much as we did.

Poetry: An Old Innocence will Jont’s seventh album.  However, Jont’s first love seems to have been poetry.  We wanted to know “why poetry”?

I was obsessed with poetry” Jont says.   “I dug music and had played a guitar and sung [Bob] Dylan and [David] Bowie songs and had the odd “joke” band at school, but was under the impression I was a hopeless singer and musician, but poetry came easy, and people loved what I wrote at school, so I did that.”

At the age of 18, Jont travelled across the United States to interview 23 of the most famous living American poets, including Allen Ginsberg.  Jont even got to have dinner with Ginsberg in his Lower East Side apartment.  Jont returned to England, where he attended the University of Manchester to study English and American Literature.  “I turned down a chance of going to Oxford to my father’s dismay so I could go to Manchester” Jont recalls.

The poets Jont met in America put him in touch with the small press scene in the UK, but after publishing two years of an Anglo-American new poetry book called “MAD COW”, Jont says he “became disillusioned with the poetry scene and preferred the reality of playing a song to people”. So,  Jont “put my first band together at the crazily late age of 23 or so”

Jont’s Introduction to Music and his First Gig 

Jont was introduced to the music of David Bowie at the impressionable age of 12.  The “boys in the back of the bus going to scout camp played me Lady Stardust on a Sony Walkman. Didn’t even really get it but knew he was cool and I wanted to be cool. So I bought Ziggy Stardust and life began”.    Then Jont bought more Bowie: Hunky Dory and Changes.  After that, Jont’s musical purchases varied.  He explains that “being 12 I knew no better, so next I bought the new one from Howard Jones and Like a Virgin by Madonna” Jont also added Adam Ant to his collection before, as he says, he “settled in to my emotional teens with the visionary male songwriters who would clearly be my artistic role models: Springsteen, Van Morrison, Dylan, Tom Waits”.

Jont says that he never thought of being a rock star. “I liked acting. I loved writing poems”.  Then he watched U2’s Rattle and Hum one night and thought “I can do that, in fact he’s pretty cheezy, I could do it better than that”.  Looking back now, Jont just says “Ah, the power of youth”.

Jont’s first gig with band “Your Baby” was in Manchester. “I packed this small pub out in Chorlton on Medlock. I knew so little about bands and indie music and what you were meant to do.  I was 23 and had basically been to a few BIG shows (Lou Reed, Dylan, Springsteen) and that was it. Knew nothing about the indie scene. So I thought one did two sets, like a play, and that there should be an intermission”.  Jont recalls, “I printed up flyers on my letterpress printer and managed to get 100 or so people to come and we played all the 14 songs I had and at the end I threw my sweaty shirt in to the freezing Manchester fog and pronounced “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life!”

Cricket: During this time in Jont’s life, music and poetry were not Jont’s only passions.   Jont was also quite a cricketer and at one time even played for Middlesex County Cricket Club. We wanted to know about Jont’s cricket career?

Jont tells us that he was the England u19 schoolboy bowler of the year. Then, he was Phil Tufnell’s number 2 at Middlesex for a season.

Jont played several games for the second team and one game for the first team at Middlesex “with all my heroes I used to get autographs from, before I went to University”. Jont’s cricket career was short-lived, however. Jont explains that “due to a mixture of bullying from the team, pressure / anxiety, I quite quickly lost the ability to bowl”.  It was “pretty traumatic”, Jont recalls. “I was dropped from the team at the end of the season. Tried for two more years to get it back but I never bowled the same as I had before it happened. It was too depressing to play any more so I stopped playing and have never played since.”

Since moving to Halifax, where cricket is played regularly on weekends at the Halifax Commons,  Jont has been tempted to play again and join one of the teams that play on the Commons. Jont says that “even this week, I met a cab driver from India.  He gave me his card and suggested I come and practice with them”.  

So, who knows? Maybe we’ll see Jont playing on the Commons some weekend.

Back to the Music: Jont recorded six studio albums from 1998 – 2013. An Old Innocence will be his seventh. Jont’s music has been featured on Grey’s Anatomy, Parenthood and Without A Trace and in the closing credits to the movie Wedding Crashers. We wanted to how things have changed over the years?

“Basically I feel that what one does is keep evolving as a person, keep purifying, keep working on the blockages that are holding you back from being the most fearless, the most open-hearted, the most transparent….and you can do that in a lot of different ways.” Jont explains.  “Personally I’ve been massively helped by meditation, but there are a bunch of healing modalities and indigenous ceremonial practices that also have been very influential.  I think you just keep doing that work, and as it happens.”

“I’m a songwriter and I’m a performer, so my role in this life is to do that, that’s my gift, that’s my mission to share this infinite love that comes through in the music, as clearly and as strongly as I can, with as many people, as many beings in all dimensions as I can.  So I think the only change really in my music is that my doubts and my ego have become less, and the clear medicinal qualities of the music have become stronger and clearer in the recorded work and in the live performance. The more one goes on and the more confident one becomes in what one is doing and who one is an artist, also the more one is able to really keep honing the recorded work more and more…..you realize quantity and output is less important than honouring the sacred nature of these incredibly potent depth charges of musical medicine you have been given when the song has come through…..they’ll be out there forever…..so it’s important to get them sounding as right as possible”.

We asked “What has been your Favourite Musical Moment”

“Messina, Sicaly springs to mind” Jont recalls.  “The Italians step in to save my life again.”

Here’s the story from Jont:  “I’d been touring a bit now and then out in Italia. These guys, I guess “fans” get in touch on my site asking me to Sicily to come and sing the song “Supernatural” at their friends Dario and Daniela’s wedding. So they fly me out to Italy and I get to surprise my superfan Dario at the bus station who lets me know how big I am in his world by uttering the phrase I will never forget: “In my music world there is Kurt Cobain and there is Jont” . Before he knew I was coming to his wedding all the tables had been given different names of different bands…The Beatles, Nirvana, etc.  And the top table where the bride and groom were going to sit was already called JONT!”

So the next night we surprise his fiance. I’ve taught him how to play “Supernatural” on the guitar and, in the pouring rain that has soaked us in seconds, we sing the traditional serenata up to the balcony where Daniela and her friends are standing.  Her Dad holding an umbrella over our head as she cries tears of romantic joy on the balcony, and her girlfriends film it on their iPhones and Dario, arms in the air, pumps out the chorus of “Supernatural” alongside me.

That was a pretty amazing thing to be a part of. Afterwards, I sat on my bed in the hotel and think “what do I really want to do with my life?” It’s September 2010. That moment inspired me to leave London and just head out on the road and follow my instinct, which was: just go. Just set off. No plan, just your guitar. Be a troubadour for real. Don’t worry if your parents are going to freak out. Don’t worry that your conditioning says you’re being a loser. Go and live and do it now.  You’re going nowhere staying in London miserably trying to get on the Radio Two playlist and find someone to release your next album.  So I set off …. and head for Australia…that’s another story, a long one, but it ends with me coming back to the northern hemisphere and then soon after that discovering I am a dad and coming to Halifax”

Jont and Ed Sheeran: Ed Sheeran is one of the biggest names in music today.  Sheeran has commented about Jont’s music on Twitter on a couple of occasions  “Jont rocked it, getting ready for another day of work tomorow, dangnabbit” (from January 26, 2010) and  “Check out my mate Jont’s new video x” referencing the video for “Lucky Leaf Falls” (from September 3, 2013).  Having young children who love Ed Sheeran, I wanted to know more about this friendship.  So I asked.

Jont tells me that “several big names of the last few years – Ed Sheeran, Newton Faulkner, Charlie Winston, etc all played at UNLIT in the day. Many many more big names that came through between 1998 and 2010, too many to list, played at UNLIT.” About Sheeran, Jont says “I met Ed for the first time at a show in Kings Cross when he was 14 and we chatted outside the venue.  In 2009, he came and played at UNLIT several times.”

Jont took his daughter to see Sheeran play in Bangor last summer.  “He is just the same”, says Jont. “A wonderful magnanimous man, utterly down to earth. He played ping pong with my daughter and brought her her dinner to eat in his trailer. Foy Vance, Ed and I jammed after the show backstage by the fire. “I didn’t think you knew him that well” my daughter said, utterly gobsmacked as we left…”.

Author’s note: score one for the cool dad.

UNLIT: I wanted to know more about the “Unlit” series that Jont started. 

“UNLIT was my life, a little like cricket was in my teens. UNLIT became one of the cornerstones of my existence from my mid 20s to mid 30s.” recalls Jont.  “I started organising an underground, acoustic music night called UNLIT almost 20 years ago in London, England at a legendary now non-existent venue called The 12 Bar Club. It was small, grimy and when you stood on the stage your head was level with the people watching from the balcony. It got smokey, yeah people were allowed to smoke inside then, and it fitted about 100 people max and it got sweaty and intimate.”

In 2006, Jont took UNLIT onto Myspace and then on Youtube.  He says “as the little movies we made were seen by people round the world, UNLIT became a legendary travelling house party gig and I was the lucky person who organised it, presented it and often played songs at it.”

“Many many wonderful artists played many beautiful songs, recited poetry, dj’s played sets to lift us up after we had all gathered at the centre of a house party, open and free to anyone, to share an hour or so of live performance together.  Many friends would meet, many lovers would be introduced to each other.  It was a glorious time, captured often by my friend Dave who filmed a bunch of episodes you can still see online.  Just google “Jont unlit” or to see all of them easily, just go to my youtube channel.”

You have travelled and played music throughout the world. What brought you to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada?

“My daughter. she and her brothers and her Mum live here and it was my privilege to join them here in 2012.”

Other than music, what are the most rewarding aspects of Jont’s life 

“Two of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life have happened in the last few years” Jont says.  “One, I came to Halifax to be a Dad. Second, for the last year and a half I have been an assistant to Jen Powley, a local activist, environmentalist and writer. Jen is a quadriplegic with progressive MS and has just finished her autobiography which is being published at the beginning of 2017.”

The New Album: An Old Innocence

Jont’s new album An Old Innocence will be coming out later this year.  The Halifax Musicphile will have more on the album when it comes out.  The new single “Someone to Love Me” is available now.

The Future: What does the future hold for Jont?

“Music, fun times, pumpkin date muffins, exquisite coffee, passionate love affairs, sun-scorched bangs, twinklings of eyes”.

Yes, Jont’s journey has been a fascinating one.  There have been twists and turns, good times and bad.  It is a journey that has taken him to many corners of the world.  And now, to a small province on the east coast of Canada.  To the Infinite Possibility. To his daughter. To…here.

To learn even more about Jont, head over to his website.

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