Belfast Telegraph

'All these rumours that Michael didn't like his family... when people try and separate him from us, we don't like it'

More than five decades after they brought Jacksonmania, Tito, Marlon, Jermaine and Jackie are as energetic as ever. The four brothers talk to Joe Nerssessian about why the world needs positive music and how they feel nine years on from their pop superstar brother's death

It's not every day you get to sit in a room with four members of arguably America's biggest ever pop group. An utter phenomenon, as child stars they hit number one with their first four singles and are still gracing the stage more than 50 years on. They are, of course, The Jacksons.

Tito, Jermaine, Jackie, Michael and Marlon - with an average age of 12 when they turned professional - were quite possibly the original boy band.

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 Jackson 5.

Interviewing four people at once can be a little tricky. Particularly when they're four brothers who finish each other's sentences, tease constantly and break into song.

Despite being spread across the globe (Jermaine lives in France), when they are back together it's like slipping on an old shoe, Jackie says.

"You never forget. It's like getting your first piece of booty," Marlon adds, sending his brothers into howls of laughter.

Jumping up on stage with a moment's notice is just as easy. After all, as kids they would be sprawled across the living room, watching cartoons or The Three Stooges when their father would clap his hands, indicating it was rehearsal time.

"We'd move the table, get up off the floor and start performing. Just like that. And that's still in us," Jermaine says. It sparks a memory and he turns to his brothers beaming. "Do you know what? I'm hooked on the Mighty Mouse cartoon. We grew up with it. I watch it all the time, it fills me with nostalgia."

Struggling to place the show, Jackie looks confused. Marlon pounces instantly. "He's got CRS, do you know what that is?" he asks.

"No idea."

"Can't remember s***," he replies, as belly-laughter fills the room.

It's like this for almost the entire 30 minutes we spend together. An exhausting, hilarious experience full of cackles. And it's exactly what the world needs, the foursome tell me as they prepare for another run of UK shows during festival season.

"Everybody's scared, everybody's afraid. People want to feel happy because everyone's afraid now," Jermaine says. "They are afraid of their president back there. I'm saying 'theirs' because I don't live there. The world needs positive stuff."

"And that's what the Jackson 5 music is. We can unify the world through the music," Marlon agrees. "Peace, harmony, love, togetherness."

This ambition to spread joy is not a revelation, it's been the Jackson way since ABC. Tito thinks it came from them dancing around the living room as kids and remembers them dreaming of success by looking out at the California sunset and imagining the clouds were mountains.

"We were die-hard. We wanted it, we wanted our success," he says.

The sense of innocence around their music has often led to a lack of appreciation in some quarters. Marlon recalls meeting someone who suggested the Jacksons had helped with the integration of black students into all-white schools during the 1970s.

"I don't think people really give us the credit it deserves or the justice it deserves," he says, pointing out that the first single came out in the late 1960s "when integration wasn't going well in America".

"At this all-white school the teacher gave them a project to do, to write about their favourite music, and everyone wrote about The Jackson 5. It was the first time the white kids and the black kids were coming together," he continues.

"It helped America accomplish what it was trying to accomplish, bringing black people and white people together.

"Music is a universal language, it is healing, it brings people together and the Jackson 5 music does that for sure.

"I don't care what nationality, what language you speak, when you hear music you love, you come together and rejoice and have a great time."

The message of unity was one spread with the help of Michael and this month marks nine years since the pop superstar's death.

There are just a few occasions when you can recall exactly where you were for an earth-shattering event but his death is almost certainly one.

With all the tributes, public mourning and eventual court case, it can be easy to forget these four brothers lost one of their own.

"We lost something very special," reflects Jermaine. "Nobody ever talked to us about how we feel, because we were a unit and now we're no longer The Jackson 5. We lost someone so dear to us."

Jackie, who lives in Las Vegas, still says hello to his brother every time he drives through the Strip, where there's a permanent advert promoting a Michael Jackson tribute show.

"There's Michael's face right beside me on the cover. And I say, 'Nice to see you big brother'. I get teary-eyed because every time, there he is - sat right beside me at the stop light. Every single time. I feel him. I like seeing that."

"Is that right?" Jermaine says to his brother with a smile before turning to me. "All these rumours that Michael didn't like his family, when people try and separate him from us, we don't like it," he says. "He had tremendous success but he also had tremendous success with us and that was the launching pad, the foundation."

Tito, wearing a black bowler hat and sunglasses, labels the rumours "bulls***".

The four have had to learn to live without him though, they agree. And they believe Michael would be proud of his daughter, Paris, who grew up on his Neverland Ranch and was just 11 when he died following an overdose of drugs including the anaesthetic propofol.

"She's finding her place," Tito says, before Marlon chimes in: "You've gotta let them find their way into the world and fit into society where they want to fit in."

The Jacksons headline the Rewind North festival, which runs from August 3 to August 5 in Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire

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