The shotgun wedding that saved Tom Jones’ career
His girlfriend Melinda Trenchard, still only 15, had just revealed she was pregnant. The childhood sweethearts had consummated their relationship in a secluded field overlooking theWelsh village of Treforest. Now, in autumn 1956, they found themselves in trouble.
How different life would have been for Tom Woodward, as he was then, had he taken that cash and ran. There would have been no worldwide fame and no 100 million record sales, he would never have hung out with Elvis or sung for the Queen.
Luckily, he rejected his father’s offer. A family conference was called to thrash out the teenagers’ futures. An abortion was out of the question and Linda was offered the chance to go away, have the baby and put it up for adoption.
But Tom faced the adults down, insisting: “I want to get married to Linda and she wants to get married to me.”
Once Linda turned 16, the couple tied the knot at Pontypridd Register Office on March 2, 1957. A month later she gave birth to their son, Mark.
Theirs would be a tumultuous relationship but one that endured through extreme highs and lows until her death in 2016.
Although Tom committed to Linda in that fateful moment, she would forever feel that she played second fiddle to the other big love of her husband’s life – performing and the acclaim and adulation that followed whenever he let rip with that unmistakable rich baritone voice.
For, even as a very small boy, it was always about the voice. Tom calls it his “God-given gift” and his doting mum Freda Woodward believed her son was musical from almost the first moment she held him in her arms.
Tom Jones with his wife Melinda in their new home in Sudbury, 1967
“As soon as music came on the radio he would start to move like a jelly,” she recalled.
From a young age, Tom craved an audience, holding mini concerts for the family. “I had this voice and the love of it. So any chance I could get, I wanted to get up and sing.”
The Woodwards were originally from Cornwall, but moved to the small village of Treforest overlooking Pontypridd at the end of the 19th century, drawn by the prospect of working in the coal mines of South Wales.
It is a huge simplification to describe these areas as deprived or underprivileged. Working down the pit was considered a good job with a regular wage.
Tom’s dad, Tom Snr, was proud to follow in the footsteps of his father and two elder brothers even during the worst of times, when the General Strike of 1926 meant mining families had to queue at soup kitchens. By the time Tom was born on June 7, 1940, those days were gone. He was named after his father and soon realised he had a vocal gift. “It was my strength,” he says.
“A lot of boys in school were great rugby players or football players. But I was lucky that I had this voice. It gave me confidence.”
Tom Jones with his wife Melinda (nee Trenchard) and their son Mark
‘Linda heard gossip, ” But the boisterous Tom suffered a setback aged 12 when he was struck down with tuberculosis. Luckily it was diagnosed early but for Tom it meant his own private lockdown.
didn’t philandering brought doorstep’ Told to remain in his bedroom for 12 months to prevent the infection spreading, he was only allowed to venture outside after two years.
Free again, he wasted no time in picking up where he’d left off. Shortly before being struck down with TB, he’d enjoyed his first kiss with Linda. And when he emerged from lockdown she barely recognised him.
He was taller, broader and his hair had turned black. She was smitten all over again. With no formal qualifications, Tom left school at 15 and got a job as an apprentice glove cutter at the Polyglove factory near home. It was here he first heard RockAround the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets – a sound that would shape his future.
the but she He became a Teddy boy – the term coined by the Daily Express in 1953. Then, in early 1957, Tom was walking through the centre of Pontypridd when he heard Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On by Jerry Lee Lewis blasting out from a record shop.
He was stopped in his tracks: “Good God. To me that was it! I loved that record and it was a white man singing boogie-woogie that he had heard black men play.”
Soon afterwards, Tom bought his first guitar and set up gigs to sing in public. He got a lucky break at the Wood Road Non-Political Club when an act failed to show one Sunday evening and Tom stepped up to sing three numbers, including Elvis’s Blue Suede Shoes. The reaction was so good he came back on and sang three more, earning a £1 fee – enough for a few pints.
As a result, Tom was encouraged to think he could sing for money, or at least beer money, in the pubs and clubs around Treforest and Pontypridd. He joined a concert party called The Misfits before leaving to join The Senators.
He appeared on television for the first time on the popular BBC Wales show Donald Peers Presents.
Senators’ bassist Vernon Hopkins told Tom to look after his voice and suggested singing lessons with his neighbour Brenda, a music teacher.Tom emerged from his first lesson red-faced and flustered.
“You’ll never bloody guess, Vern,” he spluttered. “She sat on my chest.”
Linda came to the occasional gig but mostly she stayed home with their son Mark. That meant the group were able to try their luck with the few girls hanging around to meet the band.
One night Vernon and Tom picked up a couple of air hostesses. They were so busy getting steamy with the girls in the car park that the others drove off, leaving them to walk five miles home.When the rain started they sought refuge in a shed. In the morning they woke covered from head to toe in pigeon poo and only then realised it was a dovecote.
Senators’ bassist Vernon Hopkins told Tom to look after his voice and suggested singing lessons
The girls, who found it less funny than the boys, kicked them both very firmly in the shins as a thank you.
Clearly, Tom wasn’t being faithful to Linda and, if the stories are to be believed, he never was. She knew that. She heard the gossip. She felt uncomfortable seeing other women chatting up her husband and certainly didn’t want the knowledge of his philandering brought to her doorstep.
But she would see even less of her husband when pop manager Gordon Mills caught sight of Tom at the Lewis Merthyr Club in Porth one Sunday lunchtime. Initially he declared, “Who’s that scruffy bastard?” Mills watched Tom several times – once when the Senators moved up the bill following a cancellation by Mandy Rice-Davies, a central figure in the Profumo scandal then launching a career as a singer. He persuaded Tom and the band to sign with him and move to London, where he’d take 50 per cent of their earnings.
Linda, as always, gave her husband her blessing, which, in effect, made his mind up for him. She did her best to visit him in Notting Hill, where he struggled to survive on £1 a week. Once she drove in a pal’s Mini filled with tins of baked beans for them to eat.
At the time, Tom and the band were so poor they cleaned their teeth with salt because they couldn’t afford toothpaste.
They made their professional debut in London as the supporting act for The Rolling Stones at the Beat City Club in Oxford Street. Hoping to cash in on the popularity of the Oscar-winning film Tom Jones, Mills suggested Tom change his name. Thus was Tom Jones born.
At first London was a disaster. Linda was struggling at home and Tom, broke and feeling like a failure, walked to Notting Hill Gate Tube station and stood on the platform wondering what was the point of carrying on? At the “lowest point of despair”, he seriously thought of suicide. He suddenly realised he could end it all in front of the next train. He recalled: “I thought, ‘I’ll jump’.”
Instead, Tom pulled himself together, sold his leather jacket and bought a train ticket home to ask his wife if he should give up the dream. Linda said no – she would get a job at a sewing factory to support him.
His big break came in October 1964 when Gordon Mills sang him a new composition meant for Sandie Shaw. It was called It’s Not Unusual. Tom had to beg Mills and co-writer Les Reed to let him record it.Tom said: “It was a good song, but commercial as well. It had everything in it I wanted.”
The Senators had since changed their name to The Squires but were now seen only as Tom’s live band. He duly recorded the track as a solo artist.
A press release accompanying the single was to have a profound effect on the rest of Linda’s life. It said Tom, then 24, was 22, single and a miner. It also made him 6ft, adding two inches to his height.AfterTom’s appearance on Top of the Pops in February 1965, the song became a worldwide smash.
From then on, Linda stayed in the background. Years later, she said: “I never felt good enough to be Tom’s wife.” Global success was just around the corner and life would never be the same.
Tom Jones: The Life by Sean Smith is published by HarperCollins and available as an ebook.