YES, Tom Jones would hate me. But could I resist it? No, I just had to count how many pairs of knickers were thrown on stage. After all, the name Tom Jones and knickers are kind of synonymous in the world of showbiz. This was, of course, after he told me how it used to bother him when writers would let the underwear overshadow his singing or his performance. But there was no danger of anything overshadowing that booming Voice at the Sydney Entertainment Centre where Jones played to two full houses of 9,500 people each last weekend. No matter that the first pair of white panties went sailing on to the stage only 15 seconds into his opening number. 'The media has always been shrouded by the sexiness and the underwear. It was something that had never happened before; women taking their underwear off and throwing them,' the hearty singer said in his dressing room, before the show. 'I was having fun with it, thinking everyone knew how well I could sing. I didn't think anything could blemish that. The voice was there and I thought that people would have to hear that.' He found out he was wrong when time and time again, reviewers would be more preoccupied about the underwear than with his performances. 'People who hadn't seen me would think, 'well, this guy is just going on stage and leaping about, singing a few songs and having underwear thrown at him', ' Jones said. It bothers him that people still do it, although he concedes that nowadays he gets more from the 'young kids who do it for a bit of fun' but it is obvious that anything that detracts from his performance does not particularly please him. 'Last night when I was doing Walking in Memphis, which is a serious sort of song, a woman in the audience threw a pair of panties on stage. I could hear the crowd go 'ooh!' ' he said. One member of the crew whispered to me at the 'staff restaurant' before Jones arrived for the evening: 'Yeah, they're still throwing their undies at him. Man, I think Tom should start a second-hand underwear business. I hear it's a big thing in Japan.' At one time, Jones would think nothing of playing to women's erotic fantasies by picking up the underwear and wiping his brow with them. Not any more though. With the age of sexual health upon us and Jones' need to be taken seriously for his music, his only reaction these days is to duck. 'Hopefully, it will go away. I think if I don't react to it long enough, people will forget about it,' said Jones who will be in Hong Kong next week for the final leg of his Three Decades of Cool world tour. At the Sydney venue, it was obvious that the underwear ghost was still haunting Jones. The only difference being that besides women, young and old, men were throwing huge briefs at him too. But Jones' powerful vocals, his rollicking eight-piece band and three cohesive back-up singers left little room for the underwear to penetrate the slick and tightly-packed show. From start to end of the two-hour performance, nothing managed to lure attention away from the man's cool stage moves and, more importantly, The Voice. Jones has traded in the tight trousers which accentuated the sinews of his thighs and the unbuttoned shirts for more conservative suits which reveal only stingy glimpses of the man's well-built physique. From old hits such as Delilah, Green Green Grass of Home, Help Yourself and Never Gonna Fall In Love Again, to songs from his new album The Lead . . . And How To Swing It, such as If Only I Knew and I Wanna Get Back To You, Jones showed that they didn't call him 'Jones the Voice' for nothing. The man still packs a whopper of a punch but more than that, no music genre stumps him: he rocks, he croons, he does the blues, he even sings seconds . . . and, to give him credit, he has kept up with the times. Both the songs and his dancing are cool and hip - as he intended them to be - and if not for the familiar tunes and the blaring vocals, it would have been difficult to place him as the Tom Jones who has been around for three decades. The mixed age groups attending also testified to the singer's success in broadening his audience to include the 'young kids' as well as the older group who have been devoted fans since he shot to stardom with It's Not Unusual, way back in 1964. It is not always easy catering to audiences with such marked age differences but Jones loves it. 'The only difficulty is during the shows when the younger kids want to get up and dance near the front but the older people are usually the ones who get the front seats and they don't want the kids in front of them,' Jones explained. Usually, Jones says, they try to keep the kids back until the later part of the show but he has also managed to set up stints at rock clubs in the US 'where the young kids are'. 'When the older people come there, they know they had to stand because there were no seats. 'When you play venues like that the kids have the right. The others just have to go along with it,' Jones added with a grin of satisfaction. Since Jones confounded critics in 1988 by scoring a major hit with British techno-pop group The Art Of Noise on a cover of Prince's Kiss, the words 'resurgence' and 're-evaluation' have largely been mentioned in the same breath as his career. Suddenly, Jones was back in the Top 10 charts again in Europe and the Top 40 in the US. The music video also won the Breakthrough Video MTV Award that year. Kiss gave him back the respect that he craved and put him back in the eyes of the media - minus the flying underwear. 'It wasn't a reawakening for me personally because I'd always been doing the stuff in my shows. 'I've been updating my stage show all along but, not being able to get the songs first-hand meant I had to do covers,' he said. 'I was doing INXS songs, you know, all the stuff that was coming out that I liked. And the kids would come up to me and say, 'why don't you record some of this stuff?' 'But because I could not get a record company to think that way . . . until I did Kiss. Then it clicked. 'So when the record company asked me what it was I wanted to do, I told them more of the same kind of contemporary stuff.' The result was The Lead And How To Swing It, a collection of 10 very contemporary songs ranging from R&B to a little rap and rock'n'roll, produced by some of the top and most hip names of today, such as Flood, Trevor Horn, Teddy Riley and Youth. 'A lot of uptempo stuff is on there, which is great, and a lot of dance stuff too. 'There's some ballads as well, recorded right, not as though they were recorded 20 years ago,' he said. The ability to keep abreast of the changing music scene comes with strict discipline and always being on the ball. Jones finds himself a voracious listener, grabbing every chance he gets to hear new songs and watch new music video programmes. 'A lot of it I like, a lot of it I don't, but I just keep listening,' he said. 'When I get back to LA, I try to concentrate on what's around . . . you know, something that hasn't already hit me.' And, if there's anything he misses, Jones' son Mark Woodward, who is also his manager, can always be relied on to bring them to his attention. 'He'll bring me something and say, 'what do you think of this?'. So I'm always listening, always aware of what's going on. I love great sounding records. When a record sounds great, [the music] jumps out at you and I think, 'who the hell produced that?'. 'When my son brought me the Nine Inch Nails CD, the songs were tremendous and when I found out that Flood produced it, we got in touch with him. 'I wanted to work with those producers such as Teddy Riley who did Bobby Brown's record. They were strong-sounding records. 'The best producers always make it sound hot and more alive. You've got to take time with it and concentrate on the tracks. 'We were looking for producers like that.' Originally, the idea was to look for about two producers to do The Lead And How To Swing It but with the busy schedules of the top producers that Jones had chosen, it would have meant a six-month delay in the release of the album. 'We were getting a wide variety of songs and I was liking a lot of them, so we thought that if we could get a producer to do one or two tracks, to go from there.' While it may be difficult for his adoring public to keep up with Jones, there certainly does not seem to be any problem for Jones keeping up with public tastes, not only in music but in dancing as well. AGAIN, the wonderful invention called the television has come to his rescue, providing him with plenty of videos and dance shows to draw new moves from. 'I would never like to be Michael Jackson because his kind of move is unique. Fifty per cent of his show is what he does personally,' said Jones. 'I like to be in the groove and not do something that is old-fashioned unless I do old songs. Moves have changed, styles of dancing have changed. It's now more of a cool thing, more slick.' While it is obvious that Jones has filled out a little in the past few years, the rippling muscles have not given way to fat, thanks to a strict regime of exercise and healthy living. Despite his busy touring schedule of close to 200 shows every year, Jones makes sure he gets round to working out 'most days'. His regime varies with the amount of time he can spare. 'Even if I can't leave the room, I do crunches on the floor and squats to get the blood pumping and get some movement into it,' he said. If he has more time, it's on to the stationary bikes in the gym or running with a band or crew member. 'I make sure I am fit enough to go on stage. That means making sure also I have eight hours' sleep, I haven't eaten too much in the daytime. 'I don't drink alcohol until after the show. So when I get on stage, I'm the best I can be. I think it's good,' he said. '[The shows] keep me disciplined. Maybe if I wasn't on stage as I am, I wouldn't be as disciplined. I wouldn't have to be.' If Jones still appears to be a driven man, he said it was because of his audience. 'They give me my drive. When you go out there and see and feel an audience, you don't want it to stop. 'It puts life into me. It's like a shot, a drug that picks me up.' That is why, the biggest worry Jones has is that The Voice may finally give in to the ravages of time. 'Time is my biggest enemy. My voice is as strong now as it ever was, but I'm wondering when the day will come when I won't be able to sing like this. And I don't want that to happen,' he said. Judging from the way our ears were still ringing as we left the auditorium after Jones' two-hour show, that day would seem to be very far away. And, incidentally, 16 pairs of underwear landed on the stage that night. Not bad for a grandfather. But, then again, not many grandfathers can claim to be the hip, cool cat that Jones is. Tom Jones plays at the AC Hall of the Baptist University on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tickets are $380, $580 and $880.