Fidelity!, the gutsy debut album from JP, Chrissie, and the Fairground Boys, is an epic love story, albeit not a conventional one. Everything you need to know about the heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting relationship between The Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde and Welsh singer-songwriter JP Jones is contained within Fidelity!’s 11 songs — from passion and desire, to sadness and acceptance. As Hynde sings in the wrenchingly candid opening track “Perfect Lover”: “I found my perfect lover but he’s only half my age / He was learning how to stand when I was wearing my first wedding band / I found my perfect lover but I have to turn the page / But I want him in my kitchen and standing on my stage.”
Of course Hynde, a fiercely truthful songwriter, and committed animal-rights activist, has never been one to mince words. She has been beloved for decades by fans around the world for what one critic has called her “steely exterior and disarming emotional vulnerability.” Hynde has met her match in JP Jones. The 31-year-old musician hails from Porthcawl, a holiday resort in Wales that is home to seven beaches and a large caravan park near where his mother settled after growing up on a traveling fairground. Jones’ father, a member of the Royal Air Force, met his mother while on leave, and opened an arcade on the fairground when Jones was a child. “I worked at a neighboring arcade on the beach every holiday and summer vacation,” Jones says. “I didn’t write a song until I was 20 and a friend encouraged me to stop noodling about on the guitar and actually do something.”
Gregarious by nature, Jones approached Hynde at a party in London in November 2008 without any trepidation. “I’m good like that,” he says. “I can speak to anyone. I just wanted to tell her I thought she was awesome. I said, ‘Lechyd da,’ which means ‘Cheers’ in Welsh.” Propping up the bar and five screwdrivers in, Hynde remembers being approached by “some scruffy-looking guy,” she says. “He was pretty hammered too, but we managed enough of a conversation for me to ascertain that he was a musician who had recently gone solo after his band split, and that he grew up on a fairground in Wales.” Anyone who knows Hynde is familiar with her connection to all things “fairground.” (Remember The Pretenders’ “Kid” video?) “I’ve always associated them with freedom and fun,” she says, “so when JP said he grew up near one, something in me lit up.” The party was too noisy for the two to talk properly, so Hynde gave Jones her number, told him to call her sometime, then promptly left for a U.S. tour supporting The Pretenders’ 2008 album Break Up The Concrete.
Jones texted her within a few days wishing her “All the fairground luck for your show tonight.” She replied: “Write a song called ‘Fairground Luck.’” So he did (“Fairground Luck” appears on Fidelity!) and sent it to her the next day. “His voice stopped me in my tracks,” Hynde says. “And the song was like something I’d never heard before — I was totally seduced.” When Hynde returned to London, the two went to see Jones’ friends’ band Big Linda, three of whom are now the Fairground Boys. When Hynde embarked on another Pretenders tour, Jones continued to send her song ideas and texts. “One of them said, ‘I don’t know why, but I think we could make a great album together,’” Hynde recalls. “No one’s ever said that to me before.”
After winding up The Pretenders final tour, Hynde returned to the U.K. in need of a “coming-down-from-tour-break,” as she puts it. She and Jones met up for coffee and Hynde surprised herself by impulsively suggesting a trip to Cuba. Two weeks later — in a big suite atop the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba overlooking Havana, surrounded by notebooks, empty rum bottles, and cigar butts — the pair wrote the bulk of Fidelity! The album tells the story of two people who fall in love but realize their future is doomed by a 30-year age gap. “We laughed a lot about the idea of riding around Wales in a caravan amongst kids and dogs — our kids and dogs — but, of course, that could never happen, so we put all of our irrational emotions of disappointment into a tale of woe, heartbreak, and ultimately, redemption,” Hynde says.
On Fidelity!, amid a backdrop of acoustic guitar-driven rock and folk with blues and country underpinnings, Hynde and Jones unfurl their story, both singing lead, trading verses, and wrapping their contrasting voices around one another so naturally, it’s as if they’ve been singing together for much longer than a year. “Australia” tells the tale of how they met, while the fiery “If You Let Me” conveys all the urgency of an unworkable but co-dependant relationship inspired by the Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In. The gritty “Courage” builds to its emotional climax with both singers repeating the refrain: “They got it wrong when they said that we were done.”
“It wasn’t an easy album to make emotionally, but writing and singing together was like falling off a log — the music was pouring out of us,” Hynde says. “We wrote to each other, about each other, with each other, and for each other.”
But don’t think Hynde and Jones are crying into their pints. Fidelity! (a title paying tribute to Cuba’s abundance of signs celebrating Fidel Castro) is a joyful rock and roll album. Their obvious affection for each other bleeds through every track, a sentiment conveyed in the organic instrumentation, live feel of the recording (two weeks in November 2009 at a studio in Oxford, England), and the pair’s crisp, uncluttered production. They are releasing Fidelity! on their own label, La Mina, through a partnership with Rocket Science.
“We don’t have a middleman,” Jones says. “Anything we want to do, we’re doing, and it feels incredible. Especially considering the experience I had with my band.” Jones’ previous band, Grace, was signed to EMI, released an album in 2007 called Detours, and toured the U.K. for two years. “The label splashed out all this money and we were going to be the next big thing, like every other band,” Jones says. But with record sales at an all-time low, the label’s plans for a quick-cash chart success failed. The label dropped Grace and the band split. Jones’ management company began to connect him with hit songwriters, in an effort to send him down an even poppier path, but Jones wasn’t feeling it. “While I was going through all of this, I met Chrissie,” he says. “I never knew who I was as a musician. It’s so easy to get pushed and pulled in different directions, but for the first time in my musical career, I’m saying exactly what I want to say and speaking the truth to people. That’s rock and roll, it’s real. Meeting Chrissie has made me discover who I am.”
The relationship has been equally rewarding for Hynde. She has collaborated with many musicians over the course of her long career, including U2, Ray Davies, Frank Sinatra, Sheryl Crow, Ringo Starr, Morrissey, and Brazil’s Moreno Veloso (a pairing she calls “one of the great musical experiences of my life”), but has never released an album under another band moniker until now.
“For me, it’s always been clear that music is a vehicle to encourage self-discovery,” Hynde says. “That’s my higher goal. And I think truthful music makes you feel joyful; it elevates your spirit. When your spirit is elevated, you’re more open and attracted to things that are correct. So we’ve been truthful on this album. We’ve proven that two people can love each other, override their base desires, and distill the love into something musical, something elevated, something rock and roll.”