A Welsh dragon of purpose and passion: Bernard Jones OBE
It comes as little surprise that Bernard Jones OBE greets you with a friendly, businesslike handshake; a very successful businesslike handshake in fact.
He set up the Just Rentals Company with his friend Gerald Coleman in 1972, a business that grew into the highly successful Buy As You View organisation employing over 700 people throughout Wales and the UK.
They sold the business around ten years ago – sealing his family’s future financial security and ending a 40 year love affair with electrical retailing.
Fruits of his labour
However, not content with sitting back and counting the cash, he decided to use the fruits of his labour to benefit some of the great passions of his life; the ongoing fight against cancer and kidney disease, grassroots Welsh rugby – and brass bands.
For a man who confesses to hate losing and to have a burning competitive spirit to be the best at anything he does, his philanthropy in helping others achieve their own goals has been nothing short of remarkable.
And over a cup of tea he modestly revealed why.
“I have always realised the importance of investing profits in the communities where the money was made in the first place,” he said. “And it’s been something I’ve been fortunate to have been able to do ever since I started in business over 40 years ago.”
“Helping with cancer care and health initiatives comes from very personal experiences,” he adds. “I lost my wife, Dezna, my business partner, Gerald Coleman and have even suffered myself, so you can understand my desire to do what I can to help there.
Welsh rugby is the same. Investing in the future at youth level has such long term benefits for local youngsters and for the community they come from.
The pride in representing your town, region or even your country has a hugely positive effect on everyone involved.”
Brass at its best - Cory wins yet another Welsh Regional title
It is however, when it comes to the third strand – brass bands, that he almost jumps from his seat.
“It’s been a life-long passion of mine,” he says. “I grew up in a Salvation Army family in the Rhondda, playing in the corps band and enviously listening to the then Tonypandy Silver Band.
The players seemed so good to me, so when I had the opportunity I jumped at the chance to join the Mid Rhondda Band under the great Fred Prior.”
His business acumen and expertise has also ensured that his involvement in each particular strand of philanthropy has been hugely successful too, recognition of which came with the award of the OBE for his contribution to business and the community in Wales in 2002.
The financial assistance to projects and schemes through the Dezna Robins Jones Charitable Foundation has enabled literally thousands of people to benefit with additional cancer care needs, whilst the investment in rugby has seen the Rhondda become a hotbed of emerging sporting talent – producing a string of championship winning teams in what has become one of the most successful youth rugby set ups anywhere in the UK.
Startling success: The 2009 European is won again in Ostend
However, his support of the Cory Band in helping to develop them into multiple major championship winners, and the undisputed number1 ranked band in the world, has been nothing short of startling.
And whilst acknowledging that he has invested well over £1 million of his own money in the process, his intuitive banding instinct pinpoints the reason why he believes it became such a success: Dr Robert Childs.
“It’s all about the man in the middle,” he says.
“I have such respect for Bob – he was a business man’s dream. He had a complete understanding of the dynamics of the working partnership; what was required and needed and what the band could achieve year on year. Everything he did was so professional, focussed and relevant.”
He goes on: “We could hold anything from high profile black ties events at the business headquarters with the band providing the music, to open rehearsals, concerts and even small events – all undertaken with an understanding of just what was needed for each occasion.
If he had grown tired of banding I would have asked him to join the business – that’s how much I thought of him.”
Black ties to small events - Dr Robert Childs understood the dynamics
Money well spent
It was money well spent then?
“This wasn’t about a vanity project,” he adds with clarity.
“The band reflected my belief in being the very best – and in showing that the very best can come from the communities my company was part of. I insisted we provided our customers with a service that was second to none – and the band reflected that too.”
He adds: “Bob shared the same philosophy. When I put on something for the company or the Foundation, Cory was a key part in anything we did. Bob understood that completely – and that is why I think it became such a success.
He always kept me fully informed, and as a result I always had complete trust and respect for his opinions and ideas. They always seemed to work out well too!”
The victories are well documented: Historic Millennium ‘Double’ champions, multiple European and British Open winners, Brass in Concert and World Championship titles, a hatful of Welsh Regional successes.
Add to that the host of award winning recordings, high profile concerts and projects, radio broadcasts and music commissions.
The enduring highlight - The Nationals at the Royal Albert Hall
Surprisingly though, Bernard Jones doesn’t pick on any individual Cory achievement as his enduring highlight – but a very specific brass band contest: The National Finals at the Royal Albert Hall.
“That is what banding is all about for me,” he says.
“It’s the reverence of the occasion, the silence when the bands play, the atmosphere and the expectation. It still sends a shiver down my spine just thinking about it. I try to make it there every year if I can – it’s such a magical event.”
His own four Albert Hall contest experiences as a tenor horn player are recalled as if they were yesterday.
“I remember practicing those difficult runs with our flugel player in the hotel the night before I played with Mid Rhondda on ‘Les Francs Juges’ in 1961. Then – walking up onto the stage, the sense of anticipation and the feeling of real pride in what you were doing.
I always try to explain to business people just what that unique feeling brings to you – and do you know what?
When they get to hear a world class brass band playing live, they are simply blown away by the experience. I’m sure the very best bands don’t realise just how good they are at times – but I do.”
Creating the level playing field...
Bernard Jones revels in the opportunity to recall other great banding memories, but he is no sentimentalist looking back through rose tinted spectacles.
“The bands of today are so much better than those when I played,” he says. “Just listen to what they can now play.”
He goes on: “We were all in awe of the great bands like Black Dyke and Fairey, but listening now to how the best bands perform, it is so much better. All I wanted to do was to give Cory the opportunity to compete against them on a level playing field. When we did that, it was the players and the best MD who were able to win.”
He does however reveal something of a soft spot for the classics of the brass band repertoire.
“Eric Ball and Gilbert Vinter are two real favourites of mine. I understand the new music and the tests it imposes on bands, but give me a Frank Wright arrangement of ‘Force of Destiny’ to listen to in the car when I’m travelling around the country and I’m happy. I can’t get enough of it!”
Modern excitement - Cory in European action
So does modern banding of the 21st century excite him as much as it did when he enviously listened to the Tonypandy Silver Band all those years ago?
“Of course: I always read about what is going on – who is winning what and which players and conductors are on the move.
It does concern me that some bands are not perhaps as realistic about the way in which they project themselves to the general public as they should be, but the best run, best prepared bands with the best conductors will always be the ones to beat. Nothing has changed there.”
You suspect Bernard Jones OBE could sit down all day and talk about brass bands, but such is the pressure on his time, he modestly apologises for talking so much, and politely makes his way to another meeting.
A quite remarkable man leaves as he begins – with a businesslike, but very friendly handshake.