During the last half of the 1970s something changed for a suburban kid living nestled between council estates and sun-scorched park fields. Almost overnight Farah Fawcett's poster was unceremoniously taken down and the blu-tac recycled to affix three dapper looking, in not somewhat undernourished, blokes from not far off down the A3. Within a year there was no wallpaper to be seen. The Jam had not only stormed the UK charts but also my bedroom wall and my vinyl collection - sitting alongside my dad's worn out This Is Soul Atlantic collection and my mum's Beatles LPs. Fred Perry, Levis and feather cuts worn like a badge of honour and my political stance, bookshelf and badge collection all sprang to life prompted by a Weller lyric or interview throwaway.
Strangely enough, although the band's lead singer and main songwriter was as good a frontman as a kid could ask, for those posters pretty much all had the complete line up on them. Like a football team with a star striker you had to accept the centre back and the midfield water carrier as vital to the grand scheme. For me, and countless others, there was no band like The Jam. Whilst Dexys Midnight Runners would probably edge them out in a Desert Island Discs face off they defined my upbringing, sang about my life and made me feel represented. Some kids at that time might have liked to fanny about to to Duran Duran and their unfathomable and utterly banal warblings, others decided a metal collection meant not washing your hair was something of a fashion statement rather than a personal hygiene issue, but for me, and fuckloads more like me, The Jam really were spot on in every department.
With that in mind, when I was asked if I would like to interview Bruce Foxton, it was with a mixture of palpable nervousness and a surge of latent teenage pride that said yes as fast as my fingers could type.
A bit of diary tennis later it transpired I was to meet with all three of Bruce Foxton's current first team. I knew instantly that meant half of my questions were dead; too much Jam stuff and I was likely to get asked to leave by the band faster than I'd wish for. The irony of the band wanting to be seen as equals wasn't lost on me though, so I sharpened my pencil, set about chalking up a few questions and started worrying deeply about what shoes to wear.
Pulling up in a Surrey street of mock tudor and new motors I sat in the car with the sort of nervous excitement usually reserved for last-minute-in-playoff-final occasions. One more nervous test of the iPhone recording app and a whizz through my carefully prepared questions (logically arranged so as not to stumble about like the rank amateur I feared appearing as).
The Jam really were spot on in every department
Bang on the dot I walked up and rang the doorbell. No answer. Fashionably on time I was okay with being kept waiting. This was a rehearsal I was interrupting although try as I might I couldn't quite work out the sound of a not-so-amateur band rehearse in a nearby yard. A few rings later and lead singer Russell Hastings swung the door open and lead me into the kitchen. Ex-Big Country sticksman Mark Brzezicki was on kettle duty whilst Bruce Foxton finished up with his mobile phone. The first thing that struck me was how unfeasibly slim Foxton was. The swine. The second thing that hit was I was sitting drinking tea with the bass player from The Jam.
iPhone in the middle of the table, app rolling, I revealed I had a few questions prepared, produced some carefully typed pages and was met with something along the lines of "a few?!"
I mentioned I had seen the boys live playing some of the new LP tracks along with the Jam songs most had turned out to hear at a recent Kingsmeadow Live gig (at AFC Wimbledon's bar). Get in early with the credentials, first impressions and all that. I also congratulated them on the new LP, a genuine congratulation at that, and away we went.
I wondered when the writing process had started and Foxton confirmed it had been over the preceding 12 months or so. Bits and pieces strung together and then worked up as a band. I had a question that was to compare and contrast it to the process The Jam employed knowing it might be prickly. (The famous fall out between the three Woking wonders a few years back was apparently over song writing royalties.) Bruce pretty much confirmed this by saying that although Paul had ended up with songwriting credits the songs were still heavily reliant on contributed drum parts, bass lines, all ideas thrown in the pot. Clearly not only was The Jam a three piece live but also the song construction was viewed as such. It also served some warning that trying too hard to unpick Jam answers was rocky territory. Politely I made a mental note to try and ignore what I'd previously described as "the elephant in the room" - namely Bruce's previous band. Tricky stuff interviewing a band who play live as From The Jam.
The LP has a very live feel and sounds as if it was recorded without too many overdubs or convoluted arrangements. Russell Hastings made it clear that had been the intention all along, a faithful live sound and feel being the target; "we never wanted Beach Boys overdubs," says Bruce. A listen to the LP confirms they got what they wanted.
"That 'T' word you mention" spits Hastings, "people who use that don't know what they are talking about."
The recording had taken place at Weller's Blackbarn studio down in deepest Surrey. How was that? I wondered. "We had plenty of time to record and was pretty much left alone, in-between Paul, Steve Cradock and The Moons that is," Foxton informed. Songs were recorded in twos and threes whith the band all close together, live takes, with Charlie the house engineer lending encouragement.
Steve "Stax legend" Cropper appears on the LP, I'd been wondering since hearing that just how to had come about and just what it was like when he turned up in a Surrey village complete with a curry house, a great little boozer and open fields. Sadly Cropper hadn't made it in person (dashing my theory he'd arrive in a long black car armed with a Telecaster and bottle of hooch). The band shares management with the great man and after being asked and agreeing Cropper then missed the session to appear on Ronnie Woods's TV show. True to his word though the backing tracks were sent to Nashville for some signature Cropper licks on "Don't Waste My Time."
Mark Brzezicki made a point that the tracks were all left with some "space" in order for others to contribute. The "others" in question, aforementioned Cropper aside, involved one curveball and one more obvious contribution. Curveball- Spandau Ballet's Steve "Plonker" Norman. How that came about was a fairly long tale. Foxton had been working on a festival idea with Morrisons (yes the one that flogs so-so food to the masses) and during that time they became friends. Norman had even joined From The Jam on stage to play sax on Going Underground. A fascinating if somewhat unsettling concept. The festival ended up being binned off but the upshot was Norman appearing on the LP.
Now the obvious contribution. Obvious because it was recorded in his studio but even more obvious when you listen to the LP and especially the stand-out track and single release Number Six. John William Weller. The band had made the point that everyone had contributed their time freely and keenly once they'd heard the tracks. Weller in particular making good use of the freedom the tracks had offered joining in playing piano, recorder and it was noted just how much fun he'd had overdubbing a cymbal on one track.
Ah, a window. Back to The Jam… a gentle introduction by way of asking about playing live as what some see as a tribute act featuring an original member. Not so gentle it turns out. "That 'T' word you mention" spits Hastings, "people who use that don't know what they are talking about." I'll testify, having seen the band close up playing those songs there's nothing remotely odd about it. The passion and respect is evident. I think that's the point, it's more than heartfelt and certainly no cabaret. Foxton steps in: "When Rick (original Jam drummer and former From The Jam sticksman for those unaware of the twisting history) and I first discussed taking these songs live we thought very hard about it. But they deserve an audience." Something Weller obviously agrees upon having slipped more and more Jam material into his own set in the last decade. "We have massive respect for those songs" adds the man now charged with delivering the main vocals, "we know what they mean to people."
"I think we had 1-2 years left in us but I suppose there's something to be said about going out at the top."
I'm in. Time to unleash some more of the questions I'd prepared when I thought it would be just Bruce and I chatting. I was curious as to how The Jam would have fared if they'd stuck about given how "real" music was gradually replaced by synth strings and studio-based projects as the 80's unfolded. "Dunno, I haven't got a crystal ball. I think we had 1-2 years left in us but I suppose there's something to be said about going out at the top." I offered a "Beatles not Stones" line I'd remembered Weller consoling me with when the band broke up and broke hearts.
Switch. Back to the current band. I ask Russell what gear he used on the LP, obviously playing Jam era Rickenbackers live did he use anything else on the LP? "I've had my Ricky 30 years, I used that mainly. Some 6 and 12 string Gibson acoustic stuff. Paul did suggest on one track I re-record using his Gibson. I thought 'might as well give this old thing a try." Bruce, same gear as The Jam? In order to sound either educated or just plain fucking obsessive I noted he played live with a Rickenbacker 4001 but tried adding Fender Precision pick-ups as he'd been recording with said Fender. "I've still got a few butchered 4001's where I tried to change their sound but they are not for changing. They look great but I just prefer the sound of the Fender." Spotter's badge duly awarded. Same question re amps: "I'm back playing a Marshall head with 2 cabs. I tried Ampeg and used them with Stiff Little Fingers but the valves kept breaking down, so back to Marshall it was". Even the other two band members had glazed over at this point so I dare'nt think what those reading think…
I paid tribute to Foxton's playing, brazenly declaring him a bass legend much to his own embarrassment. I stand by that and it's one of the reason From The Jam are worthy, especially live and in your face. "Bruce isn't best placed to comment on that" jokes Brzezicki, "But I can answer. I know how good he is. He is up there with the greats". Whilst good humoured banter breaks out I ask Foxton how easy the switch was after naming McCartney, Jack Bruce, Bruce Foxton - all guitarists turned bass playing legends (fuck it, I was on a roll). "It's easier, there's only four strings" Foxton offers, an "in" gag that bands have probably been cracking since the first electric rehearsal ever happened. "I listened to a few, mostly Entwhistle, and loved it. I took it from there".
With the band itching to get back to the soundproofed rehearsal room in the back yard I spin through a set of questions for them all to answer…
Desert Island LP? Hastings goes for All Mod Cons, before a quick change to Never Mind The Bollocks and a confession of getting into trouble with the missus for playing Bodies to his kid whilst in the car. Mark Brzezicki, without flinching, offers up The Who's Live At Leeds which gets Foxton, in last place, pondering. "I was going to say My Generation but probably something by the Four Tops. Or maybe ToTo." He was joking, definitely.
Best gig you've seen? Mark Brzezicki stays with The Who, electing for a California gig 10 years ago, Foxton agrees, then reels off a series of Who gigs. "Any of them, simply another level, all of them." The man charged with singing Paul Weller's work proudly announces "The Jam, Newcastle City Hall, Settings Sons tour, 1980."
With that, Foxton cracks the whip, time's up, and the band have to get back to running through The Jam's debut LP (From The Jam will be celebrating 35 years since In The City was released by touring it live).
"What's next?" Hastings enquires. "Bricks and Mortar" confirms Foxton, before the band return to their instruments, 35 years after Foxton first ran through them. For songs to matter that much, after such a passing of time is the Jam's legacy, and with that I'm off. Not before nicking a Foxton signature on an In The City LP cover photoshoot out take. Sod it, I might never get the chance again.
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