THE gravestone stands dark and deathly grey, a slab of cold granite that gives no clue to the life of the man whose last resting place it marks.

It’s all rather ironic, really. Because there was nothing other than primary colours flooding through the short life and times of Brian Jones, the Cheltenham grammar school boy whose broad brushstrokes of sound and image back in the 1960s combined to create the first real rock star the world had ever known.

Paint it grey? No, never. Someone, tragically - and perhaps even intentionally - obviously didn’t get the point.

Yet the plastic flowers, now faded in rain and shine, and the portrait, further washed by time and climate, seem sadder still as that once angelic, lantern jawed half-smile once again leers at us from just above the neatly trimmed turf of the spa town’s cemetery.

Behind the gravestone is a memorial diary for visitors to write their comments. The entry dated Thursday, February 28, has been signed by someone called Pat.

The inscription to ‘Golden Stone on his birthday’ brims with undisguised affection, hints at memories… a longing for what might have been.

My guess is that this was written by Pat Andrews, one-time girlfriend of Brian Jones, and mother of his son Mark.

But this is the only warmth in these acres of the dead and departed, for the wind that whips in from nearby Cleeve Hill tugs at you with icy fingers, reminding us that there is nothing so cold as the grave…

Nearly half a century has passed since Brian Jones died in the swimming pool of Cotchford Farm, Sussex, his home of just a few months back in the summer of 1969.

Whether his death was caused by horseplay that got out of hand, or was deliberate murder, we will probably now never know.

It’s quite obvious that the authorities were not all that interested in the demise of a long-haired, anarchic rock star. The trail of evidence has probably long gone cold.

Whatever happened on the night of July 2-3, 1969, the fact remains that at the heartbreakingly young age of just 27, Brian Jones, the multi-talented musician and founder of the Rolling Stones, really didn’t deserve to die like this.

One of the oddest things that strikes me about the gravestone is the inscription which reads ‘In affectionate remembrance’.

There is no ‘Much loved’ or ‘In loving memory’, the sort of inscription that is normally seen on memorial stones.

It’s almost as if the words have been carefully considered with a crafted detachment to form what seems to be an almost grudgingly granted epitaph.

You might have expected a grief-stricken family, who had lost their only son at such a young age, to express their loss using a more emotion-drenched form of words.

But of course, this reticence-in-stone fits the Brian Jones story perfectly. The rebel son of staunchly middle-class parents, he would routinely trash their respectability, right up until the very end… it could even be argued that his own death represented a final two fingers up to 1950s post-war Cheltenham and its short-back-and-sides values.

Several rock generations have grown up since Brian Jones’ death. And as each one comes and goes, the memory becomes more distant. Yet his musical legacy remains undiminished.

Look at any one of the thousands of bands that have come, gone and maybe stayed the course over the last 50 years, and you will see a Brian Jones clone playing guitar.

The dome of hair, that easy blend of grin and sneer… he most surely lives on in template form, his trademark leer reproduced time and again by any number of adolescent guitar slingers the world over.

The facts speak for themselves. If Jones hadn’t left Cheltenham for London in 1962, there would certainly have been no Rolling Stones. Just a cursory glance at his input proves this without a doubt.

The harmonica playing on Come On, Not Fade Away, slide guitar on I Wanna Be Your Man and Little Red Rooster, his musical colouring and texturing that permeates the Stones’ 1966 album Aftermath, those snaking sitar lines on Paint It Black… these creative outpourings not only turned a three-chord blues band into stars, but crucially changed the course of much of the pop music that followed.

And Brian Jones also laid the foundations of what would become known as roots or world music with his ground-breaking recordings of the Joujouka musicians while on a visit to Morocco in 1967…

But here in real time on this unseasonably cold day, with my coat buttoned against an unforgiving chill wind, I stand by the grave of a man who was unjustifiably vilified by a fearful Establishment in his all-too-short span of years, and - worse still - never received the credit he was due.

And that is why in this, the 50th anniversary year of his death, we should continue to honour a supremely talented artist who tragically left us before his life’s work on Earth was anywhere near complete.

John Phillpott