It’s often cited that The Jam were signed to Polydor as record labels were scrambling about desperate for a punk band. At the time the three kids from Woking seemed part of that same bunch of upstarts. Retrospectively, though, it was more than just the black suits that marked them out as a bit different. It was ideas, ideals and ambition which gave them that something else for so many.
And so that brings us to the now, where retrospect means looking back not bringing back. The Jam - About the Young Idea is a delightful parade of assorted Jam related odds and sods on display at Somerset House. Not many bands could collate guitars, cuttings, schoolbook sketches and badges together and elicit quite the same amount of giddy enthusiasm. As a mate who went along last week texted me excitedly, “They’ve even got the fucking boxing boots there!”.
Alongside the exhibition is a 47-track remastered anthology that usually gets filed under “already own all that” but really does demand a listen. It’s full of sparkling stuff revealing the band had much more about them than your shitty transistor radio and battered vinyl once offered up. By and large that’s the genius of not only the band but also producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven’s magic touch (a name you’d spot on record sleeves and wonder who this ethereal and romantic sounding man actually was).
Not content with sounds and sights in two separate formats we’ve a documentary film now to pull it all together. To cut to the chase, Hit or Miss? Hit. Now to put that into some sense of the why.
First up all three band members share air time, despite the obvious frontman and chief songwriter status the producers and director have been savvy enough to spot what all Jam fans always felt: this band was three people, all of them making up the beast we all championed so much. If Weller was the head then Foxton was the pumping heart and Buckler the tireless lungs.
We get Weller on a nostalgic tour through Woking. This rightly nails his dad John Weller’s contribution to the wall nice and early, and leads on to original band member Steve Brookes jamming (if you’ll excuse me) on the sofa with Weller. There’s a warmth and humour to Weller which has only recently surfaced as his go-to attitude. As he says himself, he’s where he should be, and the timing of this look back is perfectly placed capturing him on glowing form.
You get video outtakes and large splashes of the music that mattered so much and still send shockwaves along my spine (the Jam didn’t do tingles). Along the way there’s debunking of myths (Tory voting punks), affirmation of intentions and generally a very neat package that ties up nicely with lots of rewards.
The only gripe anyone could have would be the line up of assorted talking heads: not all of them are obviously selected but all offer charm, wit and warmth and you could ask 5000 Jam fans for their take and you’d have heard the same thing after listening to just 10 of them. And that’s why the band remain number one in so many hearts. They were ours, we were theirs, it was a genuine two way street and those anthems about and to Saturday’s Kids remain as heady and heartfelt as ever. If getting older has dimmed the lights a bit, or your youthful newcoming hasn’t quite revealed just why so many aunties and uncles embarrass themselves so happily at parties when The Jam come on, this movie will remind and reveal all.
In those early scenes Weller and Brookes reveal how their lofty yet worthy ambition when they started the band was to be bigger than The Beatles. In the last week of The Jam’s career Weller was quoted as saying he wanted to be our Beatles not our Rolling Stones and was hence dismantling the band. They might not have shook the world in the same way as the Fab Four but they shook enough lives and I for one am grateful they were around to grow up with.
The film will have a broadcast premiere on Sky Arts on Saturday September 5 at 22.00, and Showtime Networks America in October. It will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in November. The CD is out now, and you can get it here