Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler are delighted to be still jamming - with or without Paul Weller.
Pierre Perrone sits in on rehearsals
Published: 02 May 2007
"You've heard the best of it. You should have been here yesterday. You would have said 'that's atrocious'," says bassist Bruce Foxton when I tell him how good "In The City" sounded as I walked up the drive leading to the Woking rehearsal studios where From The Jam have been ensconced for the last few days, honing their 30 songs of repertoire ahead of a 24-date tour of the British Isles. He is joking, of course, as I soon realise when I watch the band run through "Smithers-Jones" and "Going Underground".
From The Jam is how Foxton and fellow Jam founder member and drummer Rick Buckler, together with guitarist and vocalist Russell Hastings and second guitarist and keyboard-player Dave Moore, formerly of Mod band Maximum High, have decided to bill themselves. Buckler and Foxton may well have been the heartbeat of The Jam, and co-wrote "Funeral Pyre" with Paul Weller, but the group's original frontman is nowhere to be seen.
Foxton and Buckler are quick to dispel any misgivings that diehard fans might have about such a venture. "We're doing the music justice. I can sleep easy. No qualms about whether we should or shouldn't be doing this," stresses the bassist. "I'm really excited about the whole thing. People ask: 'How do you reckon Paul feels about it?' I'd like to think he'd say: 'Well, I'm not interested but good luck to them'. If Paul came to see us, I think he would be pleased with the way we're performing those songs. He's more
than welcome to join us."
Rehearsing in their hometown takes them back to their early days as a four-piece from Sheerwater County Secondary School in Woking playing Chuck Berry and Beatles covers in pubs and working men's clubs. When the second guitarist Steve Brookes left at the end of 1975, The Jam became a trio with a slightly different sound. "Paul preferred to play rhythm guitar and sing so I tried bass," explains Foxton, who had originally joined as a guitarist but soon developed a melodic style of bass playing that helped to define The Jam's sound. "We became such a tight unit that it was almost impossible for anybody else to slot in there."
By the middle of 1976, they had recorded the odd demo including the Motownish "Left Right And Centre". The shaven-headed Buckler is sad that Weller has never allowed the band's first recordings to be released. "If you listen to all that early stuff, "Loving By Letters", etc, it was very Beatley: nice harmonies, love songs, that sort of thing. We never denied our influences. We weren't anti-everything like most of the punks," he says. "Dr Feelgood were one of our early influences. But the scene changed. It wasn't pub rock any more. The Stranglers were around. Once Paul had seen the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club in July 1976, that gave him a direction for his songwriting. He realised there were other things he could write about that related more to the way things were then."
The Jam even supported the Sex Pistols in Dunstable in October 1976. "It was fantastic to go and play to an age group similar to our own. We might have looked different but it was pretty much high energy music," remembers Buckler. The next six months were a blur of live dates and recording sessions for This Is The Modern World, the much-maligned second album that failed to match the Top 20 success of their first, In the City. "There were some great, really atmospheric songs on there - "Life From A Window", "Tonight At Noon" - but it wasn't quite what people expected," insists the drummer, while his bandmate admits they were worried. "We thought we were moving on, introducing a bit more light and shade, some acoustic guitars. It was too much too soon. The pressure started with the record company. Your third album has got to be good otherwise you're probably going to be
dropped," recalls Foxton.
They took their time, aborting several sessions until Weller felt confident he had the right material for what eventually became their breakthrough album, All Mod Cons, released in November 1978. "There was no lost third album, as some people think. It was a matter of taking the material we'd been doing rather badly and putting a lot more effort into it," stresses Buckler.
Between 1979 and 1982, The Jam proved unstoppable. They issued non-album singles like "Strange Town" and "Absolute Beginners", and three more albums - Settings Sons, Sound Affects and The Gift - but the pressure was getting to them. "We didn't turn down any work. We had a worldwide deal, we did tours of the States, Europe. We quite fancied seeing some of those places but Paul didn't like travelling. Our lives were laid out for at least a year ahead. It took its toll. At the end, we were probably in a better position to say: we're gonna stop now and take some time out, but Paul's view on it was, enough is enough, he just wanted to walk away from it completely," says the drummer, who has only spoken to Weller once since The Jam's last gig in 1982.
After the split, Buckler formed the short-lived group Time UK, dabbled in management, ran a recording studio and eventually went into antique restoration, famously appearing on ITV's After They Were Famous in 1999. "I didn't miss playing. I thought I'd spend a couple of years away but it turned out to be 12 years. I did some compering at a Mod event called 40 Years of Modernism and bumped into Russell and Dave and realised I wanted to get back into playing and revisit The Jam," he says. Hastings and Moore, who had followed the group around the country and were both at their last show in 1982, fitted in. "Going out last year, I rediscovered the strength of feeling from the fans," explains the drummer. "I was pleasantly surprised to find that the age groups were quite mixed. It was not just the old fans turning up to check it out. I suppose there's some nostalgia but the songs have stood the test of time."
Foxton stayed in touch with rhythm pal Buckler throughout his solo career, but the only time the bassist has met Weller recently was when he bumped into him backstage at a Who concert in Hyde Park last summer. "It wasn't a proper chat but he hugged me. He said: 'great to see you again, it's been too long.' Maybe it's broken the ice if, in the future, our paths cross again."
Buckler adds: "It's a bit of a shame that Paul is not into doing this. For a long time, he seemed to almost deny The Jam but I know he has been playing 'Running On The Spot', 'Thick As Thieves' and 'Town Called Malice' recently. It's almost like we owed it to the fans. They've been waiting and hoping and asking all the time: 'when is The Jam going to get back together again?' This is as close as they're going to get."
From The Jam's 20-date May 2007 tour is sold out; the band's autumn UK tour starts at the Plymouth Pavilions on 24 November (www.thejamfan.net; www.seetickets.com; 0870 264 3333)