FIRST PERSON: Torfaen's Elvis Darren 'Graceland' Jones
5:04pm Wednesday 28th May 2014 in News
TORFAEN’S own Elvis tribute act, Darren "Graceland" Jones, 42, is aiming for bigger competitions after being named as The Best Welsh Elvis three years in a row. Reporter HAYLEY MILLS finds out more.
I GREW up in Cwmbran and I would never describe myself as a musical child but I knew from a young age who Elvis was as my relatives used to listen to him.
So I grew up knowing his songs and I can remember seeing a broadcast of the Aloha from Hawaii concert on the television. He was an enigma and my whole family watched it and everyone seemed to be talking about it.
Elvis died in 1977, and I was only five, but I remember it being a massive thing and everybody was affected by it.
To me, at such a young age, it was like someone speaking about God, and his death had a huge impact as everyone knew who he was.
The first music that I remember following was by Adam and the Ants, as I liked their stage presence.
When I went to comprehensive school, I had a quiff and one of the kids called me Elvis and then it stuck.
All the children used to call me Elvis and this sparked my interest in finding out more about him.
I watched his movies and listened to his music so I could learn more about him.
I was at Croesyceiliog School at the time and my favourite subjects were cookery and drama and I always wanted to be a chef.
But my talent was in doing impressions and I was always doing Elvis and even impressions of Worzel Gummidge.
I loved being the centre of attention and I was a showman, not that much has changed over the years.
Teachers who I have bumped into more recently have even said that they knew I would end up being an impersonator.
I was told in my 20s to do something about it, but I never had the confidence to pursue it.
As a teenager I worked in a butchers, before becoming an assistant manager at a sports shop in Cardiff and then became a labourer in construction.
Around this time I also started DJing and then got the position of manager and DJ at the Pleasure Dome nightclub in Cwmbran.
This was closed down and I decided to move to Ipsos in Corfu to pursue a DJing career, I ended up running a night club and even taking up scuba diving.
In 2001 I took part in a reality TV show called Bar Wars, which saw two rival teams, one boys and one girls, compete to run the most profitable bar and the losers had to vote off a team member.
I thought that appearing on it would boost my profile, but it only did locally, and after about two weeks I was voted out.
I came back to the UK and worked on building sites again.
My son Jack was born, and he is so much like me. It’s uncanny, as he’s a right character.
The first real turning point came in 2006 when I went to a wedding and ended up performing on stage with a live band.
I was asked later if I did Elvis impressions as a profession and when I said I didn’t, I was told that I should seriously consider it.
So I went out and got a suit and a wig and did performances on the odd occasion for friends and family. But it was just a bit of fun.
I started performing for charity and raised funds for All Creatures Great and Small.
Around this time I started to take it more seriously and I wanted to up my game so I started studying his videos to get the vocals and moves right.
I also entered the Porthcawl Elvis competition but didn’t get anywhere at this point.
Then, in 2010, a Welsh Elvis was due to perform in St David’s Hall in Cardiff and had fallen ill and I was asked to take his place.
So suddenly it went from a bit of fun to standing in front of a huge audience.
The biggest boost came when Torfaen council asked me to star in their promotional video that illustrates the work of the gritters.
At first I didn’t want to do it as I didn’t want to be disrespectful to Elvis.
But I changed my mind after listening to what they wanted to do and I’m now over the moon with it as the positive feedback has outweighed any bad.
The video was watched thousands of times by people from all over the world and it got me a lot of publicity.
I have now won Best Welsh Elvis for three years in a row.
I am the first person to do it consecutively. I never thought that I could do it.
But I won’t enter it again as I hope to go into bigger European competitions.
I was the Best Festival Elvis 2013 runner up and now I aim to win it and I was a finalist for Wales In The Elvis World Cup.
It’s great with these competitions as you get to sing a range of songs.
I work at Just Rollers in Cwmbran and I rehearse when I get home, so I am sure I annoy the neighbours with my practicing.
I love Elvis – the man himself, not just his music and I am very passionate about it.
My favourite song to listen to of his is Just Pretend, but my favourite to perform is Tomorrow Never Comes.
I won’t sing Jailhouse Rock because I murder the vocals, and I won’t perform Old Shep because it’s so depressing.
I’m more of a showman and prefer powerful vocals.
I am trying to continue Elvis’ legacy so that future generations can enjoy his music and learn of him.
I am not an impersonator as you can’t impersonate perfection, but I am a tribute to him.
I never want to give up performing and when I get older I might have to do Tom Jones instead.
This is now becoming more of a profession for me, as I have a busy diary of performances lined up, especially in the run up to Christmas where I will be doing shows in hotels and some high profile gigs.
I still do a lot of charity work for Ieuan the Lion Memorial Fund in Newport, Tenovus, St Anne’s Hospice and Hospice of the Valleys and other local charities, which keeps me busy.
I have been supported by my wife, Debbie, who I married in 2011 in Gretna Green.
We then had a special blessing in Benidorm with a priest, who is also an Elvis impersonator, performing it.
Elvis has featured throughout all of my life, so I will definitely want to leave this world to his music and already have Return to Sender picked out for my funeral.
I am just enjoying doing my act in honour of this great man and with around 1,500 songs to choose from, there‘s a lot to keep me going.
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