Ever wonder what became of JESSICA JONES, the voice behind Sunday, Monday,Tuesday, Waikiki Man, Baby I Love You and Wake Up, Wake Up, all big hits in South Africa in the early 1970s? The good news is she is alive and well, living in England and still making music. BILLY SUTER reports.
HAVING come to South Africa from the UK, to work on the hotel band and cabaret circuits in mid-1969, Jessica Jones was a young woman who was quickly catapulted to fame after she met local record producer David Gresham and released the first of a string of hits.
That first hit song was Baby I Love You, which enjoyed many weeks on LM Radio and led to even bigger success – the catchy pop gem Sunday, Monday. Tuesday, which reached No 1 on the SA Springbok Radio charts and earned Jones three gold records.
Jones then had success with the singles Wake Up, Wake Up and Waikiki Man, the latter of which also charted in the then-Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It also did so well in New Zealand that Jones toured that country, alongside the UK band Blue Mink, whose ’70s hits included The Banner Man, Randy and Melting Pot.
I tracked down Jones – now Jessica Malachias – to learn that she married Greek entrepreneur Nick Malachias in 1980, has a daughter called Crystal and, having since divorced Malachias, now has British guitarist and film and TV composer Alan Parker as her partner.
The relationship brings Jessica full circle, as Parker was a member of Blue Mink and, together with other members of that popular band, he also performed as a session musician on Elton John’s eponymous first album. Parker has also featured on guitar on Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man, Mike Batt’s Road to Agidir and on the Top of the Pop’s theme tune version of Whole Lotta Love.
Asked about memories of her heyday in South Africa, Jessica fondly recalls loads of standout moments. She smiles when asked to name her favourite among her hits.
“I love them all, but Waikiki Man is most fun to sing. It took me to New Zealand, as it was a big hit there, and in Rhodesia it spent nine weeks at No 1, so I performed there many times,” says the singer, who celebrated her birthday on June 4.
Jessica continues: “I recorded 13 singles and two albums. Mutt Lange, who produced Golden Girl, went on to be a world-famous record producer, and recorded and married Shania Twain. We are the only two female singers he has ever produced, as he has always been involved with rock bands.”
Jessica, who was born in Warwickshire in England, the seventh of 12 children of Welsh couple Gwladys and John Henry Jones, recalls that she first came to South Africa in mid-1969 to sign up with an agency in Johannesburg.
“It was an agency called Keliti, the top one in South Africa, which had written to me ‘by hand’ to tell me all about South Africa and the prospects for me.
“I was first introduced to South Africa by a doctor from Port Elizabeth. I had met him whilst working in Iran, or Persia as it was then. He told the Keliti agency about me.”
Incidentally, the agency was run by Hungarian-born Hugo Keleti, father of legendary singer Eve Boswell.
Jessica initially performed locally with a band called The Pleasure Machine, at Port Elizabeth’s Executive Suites, where she took to the cabaret floor to entertain mostly business people. The Pleasure Machine’s line-up included popular Durban musician Errol Fellows.
Says Jessica” “I was in PE for three months, then was contracted for three months to a hotel in East London, called The Kennaway, right on the beachfront. Fabulous place. Then the agency brought us up to Johannesburg – to Taylor’s Travel Lodge, not far outside the city, again for three months.”
After that Jessica performed at Top of the Town in Johannesburg, where she worked with Bobby Angel, Eric Smith and others.
“It was Eric who said to me one evening: ‘Have you ever recorded any songs?’ When I said no, he said a friend of his, who he did some recordings with, was looking for a female singer for a particular song.
“He was David Gresham. I auditioned, he liked me, and Baby I Love You was the result. It was on the LM Radio charts for 22 weeks, longest ever for a female vocalist.”
In the years that followed, during her recording career, Jessica often performed for soldiers doing military service, worked in many nightclubs, toured with The Dealians and Dobie Gray, and appeared on TV with Rolf Harris.
She also toured for a time with The Bats – “We played at every dorp in SA, I think” – and, after returning to the UK for a year following the success of Waikiki Man, appeared with the band in the hit stage musical, I Love My Wife.
Jessica also starred in a sci-fi stage musical called The Archon and featured as nerdy Janet in the 1979 South African production of The Rocky Horror Show, which also starred Mike Huff (as Brad), Sue Kiel (as Magenta), Rod Alexander (as The Narrator), Len Cooper (as Rocky) and Dave Nicholas (as Dr Scott and Eddie).
“I was also, by then, recording songs on the Bullet label. Great songs, but not as successful as those on Nitty Gritty Records. I think, with David Gresham, I had more airplay.”
Her first recording after Waikiki Man was on Bullet Records. It was I Was Born to Be Loved by You, and Jessica was excited to recently come across a 1976 video recording of her singing the song on The Knicky Knacky Knoo Show, the first variety show series on South African television.
Discussing her former husband, Nick Malachias, whom she married in 1980, Jessica says: “He was from Rhodesia; ran a nightclub. I stayed there for a year and that probably didn’t help my career, as I was too long away.
“Then, when we went back to SA, I had my daughter and eventually we left for Athens, Greece, for three years, where Nick had a club. The marriage, unfortunately, didn’t work out, so I came back to the UK. All in all, I spent 16 wonderful years in South Africa.”
Having first met Alan Parker of Blue Mink while touring with the band in 1974, Jessica reconnected with him in 2017.
These days, Jessica shares her time between London and her home in the Cotswolds. She loves to go to the theatre, concerts and visit beautiful gardens in The Cotswolds. And, yes, she is still singing.
“I sing in a choir, keeping my voice well oiled, and also sing occasionally in concerts locally. I also sing solo for charity, in a variety programme,” she explains, adding that she did some new recordings a few years ago.
“I recorded an album of songs in 2011, but so far it has not been released in South Africa. Alan and I create some songs together, but we don’t perform them,” she adds.
She has the Jessica Jones Music Page on Facebook and says she loves hearing from fans in Africa:” “It brings me joy to know they love my music still!”
Jessica last visited South Africa – Cape Town and, briefly, Johannesburg – in 2018, and says she would enjoy singing in this country again.
“I’d love that – getting the right band and venues together. That would be great fun. Alan has his own studio her in the grounds of our home, so he could record any material for me, if necessary, as backing tracks or similar.”