Friday, December 05, 2008

from the jam

The biggest regret of my life is that I never saw The Jam. They were the first band I loved, the first band that were really mine.

Living in homogeneous suburbia it was stunning to discover these kinetic, driven, muscular songs that knew the feeling of restless dislocation, that promised a life away from there where things would be more real, more exciting, where you could be who you wanted to be and nobody would push you into a stupid soulless job.

The politics, the passion, the swirl of righteous anger, the romanticising of the city, they all called me onward, protecting me against the forces of mediocrity, galvanising my spirit and empowering me.

It's a pat little shorthand phrase I use, but essentially a true one, that most of me can be explained by an adolescence spent reading Vonnegut and listening to The Jam.

On their final tour I was old enough to love all that about them and to be reading the music press but still a little too young to travel for gigs. Janet Barrington's big sister went to see them and I saw her next day in school. I knew then I'd never quite get over it.

I stuck by Weller in the Style Council.

Style Council ticket, Empire Theatre Liverpool, 15 June 1985

There was a ripe rich wit that railed against and rose above the preening attitude of the times, and there was an increasing militancy and focus in his politics. There are some great tracks on the first two albums and a lot of gems on the B-sides too. But fuck me, they ran off a cliff with that cack third album.

I even bought all the Bruce Foxton solo stuff and went to see him live. Jesus friggin wept.

I mean, imagine pretty much any decent band. Say The Cure or The Stones. Now imagine going to the bass player's solo gig.

Bruce Foxton ticket, Royal Court Theatre Liverpool, 17 May 1984

I still remember being profoundly unsettled, having a sort of anti-gig feeling, a sense of total alienation from the two thousand people around me when, between the set and the encore, there was a chant of 'we all agree - Brucie is better than Weller'.

I even rejoined Weller in his darkest time, after the Style Council and before the solo stuff when he was without a record deal and he toured as The Paul Weller Movement.

Paul Weller Movement ticket, Manchester Academy, 25 November 1990

Whilst it was a joy to see him play a mix of Jam and Style Council songs there was a clear sense that the Movement was, ahem, going through the motions.

I never really got much out of his solo stuff, though live - at the Glastonbury sets I saw and whenever he's on summat like Later - he's been great value, a prowling snarling firebrand that shows up all the contemporary indie guitar landfill as so much tickle-your-guitar damp nothingness.

I never wanted The Jam to reform. Weller has so clearly moved on, it wouldn't have the power and the passion. And that's what it's really about. It isn't in the songs.

I saw Billy Bragg last week and he said that you can't capture the meaning of The Clash in the records. The real value was in that sense that they were out to change the world and that somehow by them being The Clash and you fighting the good fight you would, together, make it all happen. That was a lot of what The Jam were about too.

A couple of years ago something odd happened. In Oxford I saw a poster in the window of one of those tribute band pubs. There was a forthcoming gig by people called Rick Buckler's The Gift. It was a Jam tribute band featuring the actual drummer.

I missed the gig but it played on my mind. I mean, it could be really sad. Then again, if someone said 'gis a tenner and you can watch Rick Buckler play the drum part to Funeral Pyre' my wallet would be open before their mouth was closed.

One time, Bruce Foxton got up to play with The Gift. They loved it so he joined permanently. They're now called From The Jam and they play pretty big gigs, that 1500-2000 seater circuit.

We need a new name for these bands that are half reunion, half tribute. The Jam aren't the only ones. Queen just reformed with Brian May, Roger Taylor, some bloke and then macho tosser Paul Rodgers from Free on vocals. A tribunion? Tribune? Re-tribution?

Whatever, I've dithered about seeing From The Jam, but tomorrow night I'm going to go.

From The Jam ticket, Leeds Academy, 6 December 2008

I'm nervous. It could be the most depressing pathetic thing I've ever seen in my life. In their eye-wateringly dull and axe-grindingly bitter autobiography Our Story, Buckler and Foxton concluded, 'there were three people in the Jam, and two of them weren't Paul Weller'.

Yeah, but, guys. It's not a numbers game. The one who was Paul Weller wrote all the songs, played the guitar, sang, and was generally your meal ticket for years on end.

Indeed, as your present set list is over 95% comprised of his compositions, Weller is still being something of a benefactor. The Jam without him? Will it be like seeing Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke perform as From The Smiths?

I have an inkling it'll be more. There is nobody else on earth who can sing Smiths songs properly, whereas there is a punch and fury in Jam songs that lets them stand on their own; there is a life that those two breathed into them. Buckler was my big hero in the time when I was a drummer. The guy is a cymbal-smashing nutter, all over his metalwork all the time, fuckin great.

They've said they've a love for the harsher songs - Eton Rifles, Funeral Pyre - that implies it'll be fuckin loud as opposed to a delicate tinkle or polite facsimile.

It could, though, be the the worst gig in the world. Imagine the most depressing point-missing elements of a tribute band combined with the post-shelf-lifeness of a 30 years on reunion applying both kinds of desecration to a supreme body of work.

But I can readily imagine it being most other places on the spectrum too, from sad and lame, to bouncy and boisterous fun to a blistering affirmation of the immortality of this magnificent canon.

There is something beyond that though, something about the fact of it happening at all. I have such mixed feelings about reunions. It's so great that Joe Strummer's last gig was a political benefit in London with Mick Jones rather than a corporate sponsored reunion nostalgiafest in an American enormodome.

Despite my eternal and visceral love of the seminal Never Mind The Bollocks and their lack of any crap later albums to ruin a set list with, I actively avoided the Sex Pistols reunions. It was just too opposed to all that they stood for.

But in the week when the original Specials line-up have announced a tour next May I find there are one or two bands who can make my excited self be stronger than my purist.


Anonymous said...

Good luck. I hope it turns out well.

Personally I'd give something like that a wide berth, but then, I was stung by the (full) Velvet Underground reunion. So bad it actually travelled back in time and made the original records sound shit to my ears for years afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I saw Billy Bragg myself last night. And I was dead impressed. Hearing almost everyone in Vicar Street signing "There is Power in Our Union" was pretty special.

merrick said...

I said I could imagine From The Jam being anywhere on the spectrum from worst gig ever to 'a blistering affirmation of the immortality of this magnificent canon' It was the latter. They fucking rocked.

I'd feared a bit of tribute band technique over fire, or reunion cash-in and limpness, but there was neither. The energy and commitment were staggering.

I'd also feared it might've been a bit of The Bruce Foxton show, shuffling his compositions to the top of the deck, but no. They only did News of The World and Smithers-Jones (and the cover of David Watts that he took the lead on). His three decent contributions, none of his lame B-sides or second rate album tracks. And the three were put in the set fairly early on, not elevated beyond their worth.

They didn't do a greatest hits set. They missed out corking singles like Beat Surrender and Eton Rifles. Instead, it was like what I know of the Jam gigs. It was a lot of the dark, menacing songs with venomous social commentary, snarlier ones with sarcastic observation and fangs, the ones with real meaning rather than the ones that sold best.

I was there belting out the lyrics and listening to the words thinking yep, this is still my politics. All they have to say about power, privilege, class, authority, individuality, non-conformity, it all still holds true.

More, I was bouncing and sweating and singing with hundreds of others who still live by this feeling, these ideas and this passion. This music gives voice to those told that they're too much of an outsider to 'get on in the world', too unacademic or rebellious.

Frankly, this was a lot better than seeing a Jam reunion or Weller solo. Weller's got his groove but little of the attack any more. These songs had a point to make, they are questing, angry, intense in a way that Weller just isn't.

And a Jam reunion, even if Weller were magically really into it, would be a huge affair at arenas, attracting the half-arsed Greatest Hits owners.

Whereas this, on stage and off, was just people who were really passionate about this music. And at about 1,500 people, it fitted with what the Jam were in the day, big enough to bounce and lift but small enough to really connect.

Had I seen From The Jam earlier it might've been a bit empty, but now they're of a size where something really happens in the room.

Weller-replacement Russell Hastings has no real frontman charisma, and that's all to the good. You don't want him showing off with these songs that aren't his, it would be arrogant and twattish. But he's got the chops, plays with the sound and the voice, and a clear sense that these songs are *in* him, that he's not having to think or concentrate.

Not that Weller was much of a showman in his day, Foxton was always better known for stage energy, and he still wheels and leaps and rocks. He and Rick sing out loud even when they're not on-mic. They're for real.

It reminded me most of seeing Brain Wilson's Pet Sounds tour or McCartney in 2004. It’s not like the music would've been at the time when it was fresh and contemporary, or even like seeing the original band. But it does justice to this body of great songs, it is a band who make them come alive and breathe and kick.

Fire and skill.

Anonymous said...

'kinell, sounds great man.

I'm really glad it was Pet Sounds and not Live MCMXCIII. Never really been a big fan of The Jam... but they're one of those bands I can see the worth in, even though I was never in the right place at the right time to board the train.

What did you think of Billy Bragg, by the way? I loved the music and he's still got the fire... but when he started trying to defend Labour, I got a wee bit pissed off.

merrick said...

I thought Bragg was superb. He didn't do much Labour praising at Leeds. But he will always have that lefty party loyalty thing. He had a previous tour sponsored by the fuckin GMB for fuck's sake.

I loved his stuff about realising in 78 that our generation would define itsel
ef by its opposition to racism sexism and homophobia.

I really recognise that. I remember well the battles fought in the 80s, and am amazed now I know so many people under 30 who don't, and who are shining from the benefits those battles won.

I also loved the way he cut himself off mid-rant about how great the Clash were and said to the teenager at the front, 'I'm sorry son. You're going to spend your whole life listening to people like me and your dad here going on about the Clash. Still, you'll get your own back one day. In 30 years time when your dad's nodding off on the sofa say to your kids "here, put London Calling on, watch what grandad does. No, make it the first specials album".'

The vision of an arthritic old bugger being suddenly startlingly awoken and gamely but pathetically trying to skank as mystified children look on is just great.

The set was wonderful, a proper mix from throughout the career, what a solid fuckin body of work and what a great fiery spirit too.

Welsh Jam Fan said...

Saw From The Jam in December 2007 at Brighton Centre - 25 years after the original trio played their final gig. Gary Crowley DJ-ing. I even wore my white shirt and original 1977 thin black Jam tie.

Like many, I was too young to watch The Jam originally, but have been a huge fan of them since about 1987/88. From The Jam was well worth it - I even drove down from Wales to see them.

I hear that Rick Buckler has now left them. So its Brucie From The Jam, Russell Hastings (who is a good front man) and the drummer from Big Country with the surname that nobody can pronounce.

I see that Weller and Foxton have also patched up their differences, with Bruce playing on two new songs on Weller's 2010 solo album.

I hope The Jam do not reform too. It would not be the same. I am content seeing Bruce knocking out the old numbers in small venues, as it should be. It has enhanced his status with Jam fans.

I went off Weller's solo material around 1995/96. It was this self-centred belief that he wanted to play heavy stuff (without being a heavy guitarist), then would mix them in with poor acoustic tracks.

I hope Bruce and From The Jam can produce a new album that has a few good tracks on it. Bruce deserves a little more recognition than just 'a good bass player.'

It's nice to read this blog and know others feel the same.