Marlon Jackson: 'Michael and I were the jokers of the family'
Half-a-century after they turned professional, The Jacksons are back on the road and Marlon tells Joe Nerssessian about losing brother Michael as well as the message of joy and unity they are hoping to convey
It's 50 years since five young brothers from Indiana introduced Jacksonmania to the world. An utter phenomenon, the child stars hit number one with their first four singles, had their own TV show and are esteemed members of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
The often told story is the graduation of Michael from the group's young lead to pop superstar. But before Neverland, Thriller and his tragic death, there was The Jacksons.
Tito, Jermaine, Jackie, Michael and Marlon - with an average age of 12 when they turned professional - were arguably the original boy band.
Five decades on from their first record deal, their youthful funky pop-soul continues to grace party playlists.
The longevity of their music is a blessing, a soft-spoken Marlon says down the phone. At 60 he has been part of one of the world's most successful groups (on and off) for more than 90% of his life.
Just 10 when the group were first signed in 1967, he is the youngest living member of the original line-up. Michael was the youngest.
"It doesn't feel like 50 years at all, it's gone so quickly," he says. "To see that people still enjoy the music and the fans are still there loving the music is an achievement."
During the height of Jacksonmania, crowds would almost pile up on top of each other close to the stage.
Some early footage shows young girls climbing frantically over seats to get closer, with police officers looking a little alarmed nearby.
The vibe is a little different now, explains Marlon, but he is still amazed at the number of youngsters they attract.
"It's like 'How do you know these songs?' They weren't even born but their mums and dads still play them and they fell in love with us and now they are playing them for their kids. It's amazing," he says.
The group's ongoing popularity means they continue to grace stages across the globe. This summer they will return to the UK as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, notably making their long-overdue debut at Glastonbury. It was overnight during the festival eight years ago that thousands of music fans learned of Michael's death.
It never gets easier, says Marlon, reluctant to explore the topic of his younger brother.
"You never get over it," he adds. "You have to learn to live with it. That's how I put it."
Happier to discuss the good times, he remembers their relationship as one filled with laughter and, of course, dancing.
"We were the jokers, we were always joking and messing around. My grandmother used to tell me and Michael, 'cut a rug for me, cut a rug'."
As well as Glastonbury, The Jacksons are also playing number of other UK dates and a headline slot at Newmarket Racecourse as part of Jockey Club Live events - horse racing and music combined.
Marlon jokes that the Queen, who they've performed in front of two or three times before, may decide to attend. But you won't catch him placing a bet.
"I've been to a few horse races, it's okay - but what I'm really there for is to reach a lot of people in Britain and spread joy through our music," he says.
Spreading joy and uniting people are phrases he repeats more than once. And it's a message he wants the group to continue spreading, particularly in the current political climate.
"My family has been blessed and we're now trying to unite people together as one. Over the years you kind of understand everyone wants the same thing, and that's peace. I don't care where you go, it's true," he says.
"That's still our message today. Because we have a responsibility to the next generation. They should have a peaceful environment to grow up in and it's not happening at the moment.
"It's our responsibility because they are the future and, if we instil the right beliefs in them by the time they get old enough and start ruling, trust me those beliefs we instilled within them will begin to shine and blossom. There's too much emphasis on violence and not enough on unity and togetherness.
"That's the message that was bestowed upon my family to deliver."
It's a significant responsibility. To dedicate one's entire life in trying to deliver hope and unity while also submitting your personal life to scrutiny. It was easier as children, he continues, when they were less aware of the other attention they received.
"We weren't thinking about the accomplishments and the other things then. We were just enjoying the music and enjoying doing it, seeing different people around the world, loving the music, spreading love and making people happy."
And the long career has clearly taken its toll. Marlon is adamant he won't continue to perform into his 70s.
"Don't forget I've been doing this since I was seven, eight years old, something like that," he says.
"You won't see me in 10 years or 15 years still," he adds. "Nope, no, no way.
"I will not be performing if I can't perform the way I want to perform on that stage. I've always said that. That's when I'm going to stop because you've got to be comfortable and you've got to feel like you've done your 100 or more percent."
But, fear not, those lucky enough to see Marlon and his brothers this summer won't be disappointed.
"I've still got moves," he says, clapping his hands.
"I can still cut a couple of slices for sure."
Tickets to see The Jacksons 50th Anniversary at Newmarket Racecourse on June 30 are on sale now at www.live.thejockeyclub.co.uk