Jonathan Kelly was born Jonathan Ledingham in Drogheda, Co. Lough in Ireland in 1947. He came from a musical family, his father played ukulele and his brother George who was a wonderful boy soprano and later a tenor, played the organ in the school chapel at the boarding school in Dublin where Jonathan was also a student, it was here that Jonathan made his first recording… performing a solo part in a school production of the Messiah.
Coming from a musical family, Jonathan was interested in music from his earliest memories, but it was the dawning of Rock & Roll and artists such as Little Richard, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly and Elvis, which really inspired him. He Says " There was all this music in the late fifties, such as David Whitfield etc. and then one day on the wireless I heard Rock & Roll for the first time, it just blew me away, this vibrant music, music for young people, you can't imagine the effect it had upon me and others"
At school Jonathan met Eddie Armstrong and Ivan hill, who were in the school choir alongside him, they all shared the same young enthusiasm for Rock & Roll and decided to form a band called the Saracens covering Shadows songs amongst others, Ian Ellis was brought in to play drums. At first they were just a school band but they became popular and played a few concerts and then went on to do a summer tour of Ireland in 1962. Eddie Armstrong remembers " I played Lead, Ivan played Bass and Jonathan was a very solid rhythm guitarist something that is still very evident in his recordings from the seventies"
At the end of 1962 Ivan Hill left and returned to his native Yorkshire and the Saracens disbanded. Jonathan however continued playing and there are several photographs of him around this time playing as part of other bands with Jonathan often playing drums, something he is also good at.
After school Jonathan who was already in love with the stage decided to go to Drama school, also there was Brian Trench who had known Jonathan since they were small children. They decided to form the 'Boomerangs' along with Aiden Cahill, Alan Doran and Noel Richardson and released a single called "Dream World" this marks not only Jonathan's first record release, but also his first published song.
The Boomerangs were short-lived but it had served to bring Jonathan to the attention of the music industry and he started touring the folk club circuit as a solo singer. He released another single this time under his own name titled 'Without an E'. Although the song was not a massive hit it did attract the attention of many artists who could see that Jonathan had a great latent song writing talent and he was asked to write songs for other artists, amongst them Johnny McEvoy who was popular at the time. He was also asked to write a song for the popular Irish pop band 'The Greenbeats' this song entitled "The La La Song" would have been a sure fire Eurovision winner and it's so catchy that once you hear it you can't get it out of your head.
By the time the 'La La Song' was released in 1968, Jonathan had been influenced greatly by Bob Dylan and other Us artists such as The Band, James Brown. His lyrics took on a much more mature feel, his next single 'Love is a toy' was backed with an outstanding antiwar song called 'Thank you Mrs. Gilbert' which was vastly superior to the a side and yet less commercial, but this release showed that Jonathan's song writing and singing talents were a force to be reckoned with.
Jonathan was becoming more and more popular in his native Ireland, but he knew that England was where the music was really at, The Beatles, Carnaby Street etc. Jonathan's last two singles had been released in Britain and so he decided that it was a case of "England here I come"
Britain was awash with talent in the late sixties and even some one of Jonathan's immense talent and fame in his native Ireland was not assured success and he made several trips across the Irish Sea and played many small gigs in and around London before he got his break. One night in 1969 he was playing in a restaurant when in walked Colin Petersen who was formally a member of the Bee Gees said "I knew when I saw and heard him that this was a talent which should be encouraged and developed". Colin became his Record Producer and Colin's wife Joanne became his personal manager. He released another single this time called 'Denver' but again this single failed to get into the top ten. A follow up single was released in 1970 called 'Make a stranger your friend' another antiwar song. This song had a catchy chorus and Jonathan's talents were recognised by many people in show business if not yet by the record buying public at large. A choir was formed to sing the chorus amongst those who turned up to join in were, Mick Taylor from the Rolling Stones, Klaus Voorman, Madeleine Bell, Carl Wayne and Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, surely with a cast like this it would be a massive hit...but it wasn't.
Jonathan was soaking up all the musical influences in the rich musical world of the late sixties, His favorite artists included musicians as diverse as Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, Eddie Kendricks, "Rogers and Hammerstein, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Sly & The Family Stone, James Brown, Jim Webb, Stevie Wonder, J.D. Salinger, Miles Davies, John Sebastian, Tim Hardin and Randy Newman and particularly Donny Hathaway and Jim Web. Jonathan says "I remember hearing 'I was made to love her' by Stevie Wonder for the first time, the bass line by James Jamerson just blew me away! there was another bassist at Motown called Carol Kay, she was amazing I loved her stuff I really loved some of those old Motown records, I remember hearing Marvin Gaye singing 'What’s goin on for the first time' that definitely had a big influence on me" Amongst the other musical influences of Jonathan at this time was the Jazz scene " I thought people such as Miles Davis, Donald Bird and Herbie Hancock were just brilliant" says Jonathan.
Jonathan was assimilating all these musical influences and was broadening his range of song writing and the type of musicians and arrangements that he liked to work with.
Two more singles followed and 1970 was to be a good year for Jonathan, though by the end of it the success he so richly deserved would still not be his. The first of these singles was 'Don't you believe it' this is a very sought after single because Eric Clapton was invited to play slide guitar on the track, even Slowhand's presence wasn't enough to get it into the top ten though. The next single wasn't released under Jonathan's name but instead under the name of 'Humpy Bong' the song 'Don't you be too long' was backed with 'We're allright till then' both excellent songs. Jonathan was the writer of both tracks and played guitar on the single but this time the vocal duties were taken by Tim Staffell. Humpy Bong were short lived and never played any concerts although there was one appearance on Top Of The Pops. 1970 also saw the release of Jonathan's first album, simply titled 'Jonathan Kelly' This album included many of his singles as well as other unreleased songs, it is now a hard to find item and is the rarest of all Jonathan's albums.
During the following year 1971, Jonathan released no records but concentrated of playing concerts and writing, something that was to turn out to be very fruitful. In the summer of 1971 Jonathan was invited to play the Cambridge Folk Festival and he took the event by storm. At last the record buying public had recognised his immense talent. All of the music magazines of the day were knocking at his door for interviews and when in 1972 Jonathan released his much anticipated album 'Twice Around the houses' his public were not to be disappointed, the music press were enthusiastic and the album received rave reviews. A single was released to help cash in on the album's popularity, 'Madeleine' bw 'Sligo Fair'
1972 was a busy year for Jonathan, he toured with the Strawbs between January and Match completing 25 concerts and help raise his profile considerably, Jonathan also appeared at several festivals in the summer including Bickershaw, Lincoln, Reading and Chelmford. Jonathan also managed to spent much of 1972 playing in folk clubs up and down the UK and was very popular, one person remembers Jonathan turning up unannounced at the Bay horse Folk club near Doncaster. "Jonathan was in the area and turned up to meet friends and watch some music, when he was spotted he was asked to sing, he politely refused saying he was tired, but the audience wouldn't take no for an answer. Jonathan finally agreed and performed three songs in the interval, as he tried to leave the stage, the audience pushed tables up to the front in order to stop him, begging him to sing more. Jonathan pointed out that the McCallmans, a popular folk group were due back on stage, at that point one of the McCallmans shouted out from the back of the room, 'You carry on John, we're getting paid anyway!' and so carry on he did, a wonderful performance and a night to remember"
RCA decided to invest more money in Jonathan's next album due to the popularity on TATH, his next album 'Wait Till They Change The Backdrop' (1973) was warmly received by an enthusiastic music press and the public alike. This time the album had a gatefold cover and featured amongst others the Sutherland Brothers who were a short while later to have a hit themselves. A single was released to coincide with the album 'Let the people stay', backed with 'Mother Moon' a song Jonathan often featured in his performances.
Jonathan was now fully embroiled in the hippy lifestyle and culture, believing in peace and love, indeed he signed autographs, 'Peace and love, Jonathan Kelly' unfortunately there was one side of this coin, which wasn't admirable, namely drugs! Jonathan was now an active drug-taker and the more he was embroiled in that scene the more his behavior changed and along with it his judgment
His next album "Waiting On You" featured not only Jonathan but an entire band called Jonathan Kelly's Outside, this was something Jonathan had always wanted, at heart he was always a bit of a Rock & Roller. The band featured amongst others Snowy White who was later to go on to have two hit singles and has also played with Thin Lizzy and Pink Floyd. Another member was Chas Jankel who later went on to play with Ian Dury and the Blockheads as well as releasing solo singles. This album cover was designed by Tim Staffell. However this album wasn't as warmly received and Jonathan was hurt by some of the criticism of it, the music press wanted him pigeonholed as a folk singer. A single was also released to coincide with this album called 'Outside' backed with 'Waiting on you'. Jonathan was particularly fond of Outside because it encompassed the musicians and styles which he enjoyed and which had influenced him and the type of music they played covered rock through to jazz and not forgetting the soul influences!
By this time Jonathan's problems with drugs were taking a real hold of him and people remember being shocked by his appearance on occasions.
By the time of Jonathan's last album " Two Days In Winter" in 1975 Jonathan's behavior was losing him friends and his judgment was so badly impaired that he was easy meat for those who wished to exploit him. This last album sold steadily but by no means in the number that TATH or WTTCTB did. Jonathan says, "Towards the end, my girlfriend and I were breakin' up, I was doin' loads of dope, I was canvassing for the Workers Revolutionary Party, 'n gigs were goin' crazy, I was fallin' off stages an people were laffin' on echo."
Left with no money after a series of bad business decisions Jonathan was in a bad way, in fact many people didn't expect him to live very long, but something happened which saved Jonathan's life, he recalls "A man came to my door and said "I'm looking to talk with people who'll like to see a change in the world. What I mean is, an end to war and poverty and hunger. Do those things concern you?" I said, "Come in." "And now 30 years later I'm still a very busy member of a very active Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses where I live. You see when you find the answer to all your questions, why go on searching anymore? I have a beautiful wife, two big sons, and two beautiful grandchildren."
Jonathan had at last found something more important to him than fame and fortune. He settled in the countryside and started his own small carpet cleaning business, he lived in an area where nobody knew Jonathan Kelly, he was just plain Jonathan Ledingham, local nice guy. There the story would have ended but his fans had not forgotten him and Gerald Sables who knew Jonathan from his countless appearances in Doncaster tried to find him over the years, "Nobody knew what had happened to him, it was as if he had disappeared off the planet" said Gerald. " I heard many different stories including people who could tell me in detail that he was dead and how and where he died, including a car crash in London". Gerald decided in 1996 to start looking for Jonathan via the internet, he made many friends along his journey to Jonathan, occasionally he would hear tales of people seeing Jonathan perform in folk clubs in the 1980's. One thing was for certain, Jonathan had at least survived into the late 80's and hopefully beyond.
In 2002 Gerald contacted several web chat boards and also a few record companies, but nothing much happened until BGO records decided to release two of Jonathan's albums as a double CD 'Twice Around The Houses' & 'Wait Till They Change The Backdrop' perhaps all the messages on chat boards had made somebody remember Jonathan at BGO? Gerald wrote to BGO plus several journalists hoping to track Jonathan down, the sleeve notes for the CD release said that Jonathan was alive and well.
All Gerald's enquiries came to nothing and the trail went cold and then in late 2002 Gerald received out of the blue an email from Jonathan's son Greg, saying that Jonathan was going to write to him. Several months passed without any message arriving and Gerald could only wait. Then finally Jonathan wrote and they struck up a correspondence via email.
Gerald was able to put Jonathan in touch with many of his old friends including John Leonard who used to run the Bay Horse Folk Club near Doncaster and now runs a successful TV production company, He also put Jonathan in touch with Eddie Armstrong and Ivan Hill, Jonathan's old school friends and members of his first band the 'Saracens'. He has also managed to put Jonathan in touch with Tim Staffell. As a thank you to Gerald and his other friends in Doncaster Jonathan came out of retirement to perform a one-off gig at the Rockingham Arms Folk Club near Rotherham on January 9th 2004, he was nervous as he hadn't performed in 30 years and so wouldn't let his appearance be announced. He started off nervously but soon found his confidence amongst the warm applause and it was an evening to remember for all who were fortunate to be there.
Gerald and Jonathan met up again in April 2004 at Jonathan's home and Gerald discussed the subject of Jonathan having an official website, Jonathan agreed for Gerald to do this and loaned him many items from his personal archive for the site.
What the future holds for Jonathan nobody knows, but hopefully it will be a bright future. His friends and family are trying to encourage him to perform some more concerts and Jonathan is keen to produce a new album, he says "I write as much now, if not more, than I ever wrote before. I can't help it. I've got music in my mind everywhere I go. Songs come to visit and if I'm quick and copy them down before they leave, then I can play them to someone else. Many times they just come and stay a while and then slip out the back door never to be heard of again. It don't worry me, it was just nice to have them around for a while.
Jonathan certainly isn't the rich person you would expect him to be, you would think that after all his success and years in the music business that he would have a few bob stored away, but sadly he made little from his music career and today lives in very modest surroundings, he says "I never earned a penny from the music business. Many of those around me were crooks and I was always stoned, more fool me. See, I hated Capitalism. How could an artist do his work for monetary reward? Art is unselfish and seeks no reward save the joy of creating works of art that are honest and innocent of greed and done only to add beauty and reason to our beautiful earthly home.
Love & Peace
Written By Gerald Sables
This site is the copyright of Gerald Sables and nothing may be used or copied in whole or part without permission
Grateful thanks go to all those who helped with the compilation of biography, including Eddie Armstrong, Ivan Hill and Christophe Simplex