ON such a warm and sticky night at a packed 53 Degrees in Preston, there were always likely to be technical imperfections in this From the Jam performance.
But while I couldn’t quite hear enough of Bruce Foxton’s backing vocals and Russ Hastings’ guitar might have been lost in the mix at stages, this was another storming performance from a band that have always been more than a mere tribute act.
Like the midsummer night itself, it was over far too quickly, yet it shouldn’t surprise me that a band carrying on the legacy of one that mastered the art of three-minute singles should have packed in so many quality tunes.
With such a great selection to choose from – in just five years of recorded output – it would be foolish to try and work out before what songs would be played on the night. Instead, you have to just go along for the ride and see where the band takes you. After all, The Jam left us a musical canon with added bang.
It’s been five and a half years since I last saw Foxton and Hastings at this UCLan venue, at which point original Jam drummer Rick Buckler was still on board and keyboard player Dave Moore also featured. A lot’s changed since, but – if anything – the returned three-piece dynamic proves the live power of this ensemble even more.
Hastings is certainly no karaoke Paul Weller, despite the similarities in singing and guitar style, but has a similarly dominant yet also engaging stage persona. Meanwhile, Foxton’s still his own man, with those great harmonies, occasional lead vocals and wondrous bass lines, and also one of the established music scene’s good guys.
Foxton and Hastings combined to wonderful effect with their own songs recently on Back in the Room, the former’s first solo album in almost 30 years, with two of those tunes given an airing at Preston, the superb Number Six and Window Shopping.
But most of this audience came to hear the classics, and while there are occasional airings by Weller these days, From the Jam have as close as possible to that original band spirit, completed by energetic young Tom Van Heel, taking over the drumstool vacated by Mark Brzezicki while he’s off on tour with Big Country.
They came on to the sound of the underground – late ’70s style – and launched straight into Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, The Modern World, and established Kinks cover David Watts.
From there, the hits kept coming, Going Underground just one of the audience highs before a storming first album Larry Williams cover Slow Down, then the more reflective b-side gem The Butterfly Collector.
After the new songs came Foxton’s signature piece Smithers-Jones then Setting Sons’ powerhouse Thick as Thieves, like everything else here still fresh all those years on.
As The Blockheads did at the same venue three months before (with a review here), Hastings dedicated a song to cancer-battling r’n’b inspiration Wilko Johnson, in this case Northern Soul tribute Non-Stop Dancing from that first Jam album in 1977, before the more reflective Ghosts from the final Jam LP, The Gift.
Then came a stonking That’s Entertainment, the bass-driven It’s Too Bad, and The Who cover So Sad About Us. And when the trio launched into a mighty Eton Rifles the joint was jumping again, with the sub-two-and-a-half minute classic Start keeping that focus, and Strange Town and When You’re Young as good as finishing off most of those no-longer-so-physically-young down the front.
Our winning trio came back once more for full-on renditions of In The City and A Town Called Malice, then voiced their heart-felt thanks to a truly passionate crowd, and gave a collective bow – just like the old days – before heading off into what was left of this all-too-short but pretty damn perfect summer night.
* There was also a winning performance on the night from Preston outfit Deadwood Dog, playing to a largely appreciative hometown crowd, giving their own alternative bar folk twist on life.
Think of the Men They Couldn’t Hang with Midnight Oil type vocals and a little Bellowhead thrown in, all delivered with a broad Lancashire accent. Add to that heady mix the band’s own description of ‘a supergroup made up of the Levellers, IRS-years REM and the ghost of Joe Strummer, all jamming in a Baltic bar’, and you’re not far off!
Despite plenty of their own compositions, the highlight for the first-timers was a bouzouki-driven cover of Kraftwerk classic The Model. And while this scribe will always prefer the Members’ version from Going West, this one fairly rocked too.
* For more on Deadwood Dog, head to their facebook page here and check out a couple of songs here. Their debut album, United Colours of Bigotry, is out on July 13, with pre-orders available at a special price.
* With thanks as ever to Mark Charlesworth behind the scenes at 53 Degrees