There have been insider accounts of the story of The Jam from various angles since Paul Weller called time on the band in late 1982.
The first to made an impression on me – and I was barely 15 when the band split – was Paolo Hewitt’s The Jam: A Beat Concerto, an authorised biography that bass player Bruce Foxton was keen to distance himself when I first interviewed him in Captains Log in 1987.
There may be contentious passages, but it’s largely stood the test of time for me, giving insightful background on a story I was just a little too young to know first-hand.
Bruce and drummer Rick Buckler’s own version, Our Story, followed in 1993, put together by Alex Ogg. It too had revelatory moments, but was a little too quickly assembled, although of its time perhaps.
For me, John Reed’s Paul Weller: My Ever Changing Moods from 1996 struck a major chord, not least for the added colour about the band’s Woking roots and his main subject’s post-Jam days with The Style Council and his early solo career.
I’ve yet to tackle founder member Steve Brookes’ own version of those early days, Keeping the Flame, but it’s on my list, and writing this has inspired me to track down a copy.
And now Rick Buckler feels the time is right to tell the tale from his point of view, 22 years after Our Story, with help from biographer Ian Snowball, whose past works include co-written publications on everyone from Dexy’s and The Jam to Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene.
When I caught up with Rick earlier this week, It had been seven years since our last chat, backstage at Preston’s 53 Degrees after a memorable From The Jam performance in late 2007.
He was back on board with Bruce at that stage in a tribute band with a difference – having initially joined forces with Jam fans Russell Hastings and David Moore as The Gift to celebrate the continued appeal of one of popular music’s most successful bands.
Rick was on fine form that evening, joking with me about our shared Surrey heritage and my subsequent move to Lancashire, struggling to make sense of this scribe’s regular visits to Woking Football Club, something he couldn’t quite get his head around.
That conversation followed a typically-blistering performance behind his drum-kit, and – as with my chats with Bruce and Russ that same evening – seemed fairly indicative of the lack of distance between the band and their fan-base.
The Jam always had that great relationship with their fans. There was no elitism, just a shared love of great and somewhat timeless music and a real down-to-earth approach.
As it was, Paul Weller was always unlikely to re-join his old band-mates, but Bruce and Rick felt something of a compulsion to not only re-live the great times but also secure a little closure on a story that ended so abruptly 25 years earlier.
By the end of 2009 only Bruce and Russell remained of that From the Jam line-up, with Rick busy with other projects, albeit leaving in seemingly abrupt circumstances.
But now he’s back, promoting That’s Entertainment – My Life in The Jam, set for publication next month by Omnibus Press, including a foreword from Tony Fletcher and quotes from Paul Weller, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and broadcaster, presenter and DJ Gary Crowley.
And I guess the obvious first question for Rick when we caught up on the phone earlier this week was ‘why now?’
“There’s no real reason for now in particular, but I’ve been writing down things I intended to use as an autobiography over the last couple of years, then got approached by Snowy, who’d written a couple of other things that were Jam or music–related.
“He was up for helping me finish it off, otherwise it could have been one of these things I just kept adding to it and meandering on.
“He helped a great deal, giving it shape and form and putting me in touch with various publishers, making that process fairly easy.
“That forced my arm to a certain degree and I thought I’d just get on with it and do it.
“I’ve known Snowy on and off from other books he’d done and have helped promote or support him in one way or another, and it was nice to have a sounding board with regard to what I’d left out, what I didn’t need to put in and how to structure it.
“Only I can be a little flaky when it comes to office work!”
I assume Our Story didn’t go far enough for you. Besides, that was – rather frighteningly – 22 years ago now.
“Yes, there’s been some mileage since then. Also, Our Story was mostly anecdotal and really only about stuff on the road involving the Jam years.
“Then again, nearly everything in my life – and I’m sure this is the case for Bruce and Paul – has been because of our involvement in The Jam, so a lot of it does rotate around that.
“I’ve also encompassed the school days, growing up and how the band formed. It does keep coming back to The Jam, so in one respect it is like Our Story. But I think it’s got a broader remit.”
Personally, I always felt Our Story – although very illuminating in places – could have been done a bit better, at least presentation-wise.
“It was done in a bit of rush, and was written by Alex really. We just sat down and talked about those stories. I went back and read a few reviews recently and think people’s expectations of what they were going to get were higher than what we were going to deliver.
“It was difficult at the time. We were in a court case with Paul and weren’t going to get the knives out. I still haven’t got the knives out in this one. There’s no point.
“Perhaps people wanted something a bit more salacious, but they weren’t going to get it.”
That was written 11 years after the split, while this is an amazing 33 years on. Did that make it easier or harder to write all about that stuff?
“One of the things we were well aware of was the fact that nearly everyone who was a Jam fan knows the general story, so I’m trying to convey an insight not just of being part of The Jam but being the drummer inside The Jam.
“I do worry that people are going to say the same about this – that there’s not enough in there exposing this and that, but I don’t know if I actually can please everybody.
“It is what it is, and it’s very difficult for me to judge it.”
There’s been plenty written about the animosity felt by Paul Weller’s band-mates after the front-man broke up the band to form The Style Council, and subsequent fall-outs. Is there a danger of this just being a re-tread of all that?
“To be honest, I’m actually sick to death of all that griping. A lot of it has come from Paul’s camp. I don’t know why, but I don’t even want to go there. This was really just from my point of view and the success of the band.
“It obviously had a big effect on my life as well as Bruce’s and Paul’s, but when I talk to Jam fans there’s this real connection that it had an effect on them as well.
“They were part of The Jam as much as we were. I think that connection was really important. I don’t think you see that with many other bands.”
Rick had access to a lot of material to help with the book through involvement with thejamfan.net website.
“It was an archive I put together over the years, fantastic to draw upon, all the information coming from tour itineraries and so on.
“It’s reasonably accurate, although I am pulled up every now and again by fans about something or other. But there you go!”
You still live in the Woking area, I understand.
“Yeah, I’m closer to the M3 these days but still on the outskirts of that same area.”
Do you still go into town now and again?
“Sometimes, when I have to! It’s like any big town these days, constantly on the change and it’s not the place I grew up in. Where the houses were that I used to live, there’s now a Premier Inn or something.”
Much is said of Stanley Road, where Paul was brought up, but what about your own base in those formative days?
“Not far from there, there used be a main road that ran right the way through Woking, called Church Street, and I was at the Goldsworth Road end. And if you carried on up Church Street you’d end up with Stanley Road cutting across it.”
My grandmother lived in nearby Arnold Road, Maybury and in her later days in the ‘80s when I’d ask her when she visited, ‘How’s Woking?’ she’d tell me without fail she hardly knew the place anymore, as they were forever pulling stuff down.
I’m guessing from that, even by then Woking was a different place to the town Rick knew when the band was coming together in the early ‘70s, and right up to when The Jam left to make it in London.
So how does he think today’s Woking fairs to those early days when the band were playing Michael’s, the Working Men’s Club, the Liberal Club and Sheerwater Youth Club?
“A lot of those have gone now, and even Arnold Road and Eve Road are not really the main trunk road to Sheerwater anymore. They’ve put a main road through further up. It’s constantly on the change, and it’s got a lot bigger than it used to be.”
It always struck me that while my Nan couldn’t get used to a new-look Woking, her part of town – largely Pakistani these days – now shows more signs of community spirit than in her later years.
“Yes, from the earliest times that was the case, because Woking was the first place in Britain to have a purpose-built mosque. Even one of Lawrence of Arabia’s entourage retired to Oriental Road because of the mosque.
“It does attract a lot of people, and it amazes me whenever I drive past the mosque how devote they are, and that they still go in droves to that little tiny mosque, which is a fabulous looking building.”
Have you ever been inside the Shah Jahan Mosque?
“I have. I went when I was in Time UK. We wanted to do a photo-shoot there because it was cheaper than actually going to India! The photos looked great, with the pine trees and the backdrop.
“It looked like we could have been in Pakistan or Northern India, and they were fabulous at the mosque.
“A guy came out with a big bowlful of huge oranges and gave us one each, and invited us in. I was actually amazed how tiny it was inside. I don’t know if you remembered the factory nearby, Walker’s … “
Yes, my Grandad worked there.
“I think nearly everyone who lived in Woking did at one point! I mention Walker’s quite a bit in the book, because John Weller (Paul’s late father, The Jam’s manager) worked there, I worked there, and the reason the mosque was there was because one of the buildings was originally the Oriental Institute. So Woking does have a history to it because of that.”
After our history lesson, we briefly get back on to more modern Woking, and how – while both Paul and Rick’s childhood homes have now gone – The Jam at least have an abstract presence in the town, through Richard Heys’ 2012 three-stump tree sculpture, outside a new block of flats on Guildford Road.
“Yes, Barratt Homes commissioned three oak sculptures, and some wit described them as Pole Weller, Stick Buckler and Spruce Foxton!
“I have to say though I was disappointed Paul or Bruce took absolutely no interest in that sculpture being put up. I don’t know that much about art, and how good a sculpture it is, but I think the gesture was there.”
Can 59-year-old Rick still clearly recall his first day with The Jam?
“Yes, it was about 1973 I think. It was Paul and Steve Brookes to start with, and they asked me to join them on drums, with one of the first shows at Sheerwater Youth Club.
“It was a matter of, ‘There’s a stack of Chuck Berry records there. Learn those!’ It was a music I wasn’t that familiar with at the time, being around 16 or 17.”
In fact, Rick’s own taste in music was more heavy metal back then, but while they were in different years at secondary school, a shared love of music brought the band together.
“Nearly anybody interested in music or played an instrument would hang around in the music rooms at lunchtime, and I knew Steve and Paul because of that.
“In the whole of Sheerwater School, there were three drummers I know of, A guy called Nigel Constable, myself, and ‘Bomber’ Harris.”
Bomber was Neil Harris, whose place in the band – so the story goes – went to Rick after he couldn’t commit to a particular live engagement.
“Well, I don’t really know what his place was. I think it was fairly temporary. It was more of a duet, although Steve and Paul wanted to make it into more of a band and have a full-time drummer.”
Did Paul stand out in those days?
“Not really. If anything, Steve Brookes was the proper musician, and still is. He’s a really good guitarist. I bump into him every now and again, which is nice. I’d first seen him in Sunningdale about three or four years ago, which was a real surprise.”
Bruce was next to join, having been with local prog band Zita, Steve Brookes soon quitting as the seminal three-piece took shape, Rick honing his skills.
“I pretty much taught myself by listening to records, but did have an older guy who was very good. He was very much into the big band thing and took me to see Buddy Rich play and was really good in showing me a few fundamentals.
“The rest I picked up as I went along. Looking back I wish I had maybe taken proper lessons, but as with any instrument you have to discover it, whichever way round you do it.”
Rick’s twin brother Pete played bass around that time, the two of them practising under the name Impulse with guitarist Howard Davies.
“We’d only really just started and never did any shows. So when I got offered the chance to join Paul and Steve and play at the Youth Club, I jumped at it.”
The rest is history, with many highs and a few lows following, The Jam amassing 18 consecutive UK top-40 singles between 1977 and 1982, including four No.1s, with major success all over the world.
There were so many great memories over the years, it must be difficult to pick out just a few. From supporting the Sex Pistols in Dunstable and that whole early London scene through to the first time they went straight in at No.1 and so much more.
Did Rick get to the end of this book and think of more great memories he’d neglected to include?
“It’s constant! All the time people remind me of things I’ve forgotten. It was for that very reason I got the idea of doing Q&A sessions.
“I was talking to a fan who really liked the idea of the stories – not necessarily what you read in the press but the things that happen behind the scenes.
“I did an event earlier this year involving authors who’ve done music-related books and did half an hour or so, and it worked really well. After about 15 minutes people started to open up. There were a few you’d expect, but a few surprises too. It was all good.”
“So if anyone’s got a question they’ve been bugging to know about, come along and ask!”
Talking of questions you get asked all the time, does Rick still think Paul was wrong to quit when he did, and that The Jam still had a couple more great albums to come?
“From the fans’ point of view I still get people saying, ‘You had no right to split the band up’. Because of this connection we had I think they were almost insulted.
“No artist is anything without fans, and I think a lot of people think that was out of order that wasn’t taken into consideration.
“I don’t know. I know myself and Bruce think we probably could have done a couple more albums.
“Looking back, we should have had the strength, probably of management, to say we’re going to stop, take a break, do our solo things or put our feet up on a beach for six months – just step away from it.
“We were in a position where we could have done that. I don’t think we needed to burn all our bridges, so it’s a real shame he took that view.
“We were all under pressure. Paul wasn’t so much the first to snap, but the one who decided he wanted to take control of his life.
“When you’re in a band, I’m not saying you don’t have a life, but it’s not your own.”
Oft-repeated questions, part two – what’s your favourite Jam album now? Or does that change quite a bit?
“Generally that does change. But because most of my memories of The Jam were of the live shows I think the live album would probably be the one for me, because it evokes such memories, and there’s a fair mixture of some of the best material in there.
“I like all of them though … but I would, wouldn’t I!”
It’s a fair point, but why shouldn’t he?
Moving briefly onto From the Jam, why did Rick quit when he did? I got the idea Bruce and Russ weren’t expecting that.
“Well … to put a quick answer on it, the fun was literally gone out of that for a couple of reasons which unless you’re actually in a band you wouldn’t understand.
“There were things going on there that shouldn’t have been. I really started The Gift (the band’s name before Bruce joined) because I wanted to revisit The Jam songs. That was the itch I wanted to scratch.
“When we did the last shows in December 1982, I was reading the set-list as I was playing the songs and had it in the back of my mind I’m never going to play these again, and this is the last time we’re going to be doing this.
“So this was my chance to go back and be able to again. I couldn’t really see Bruce coming on board when I started, but then he found himself out of Stiff Little Fingers and eventually came on board full-time.
“But from then on out, unfortunately, it fell apart quite quickly, which was a real shame.”
For all that, I still get the feeling there shouldn’t really be any animosity. Maybe you could just go round and make friends, give each other a big hug and get on with it.
“Erm … yes. I’ve absolutely nothing against Bruce or Paul, despite what people might write in the press, which is one reason why I get so fed up with it.
“When me and Bruce got together again, we did reach out to Paul and ask why don’t you just come along and do a couple of numbers. We didn’t even get a ‘good luck but no thanks’. That would have done.
“I didn’t really understand that and still don’t. I know sometimes the press want to sensationalise some of this stuff, but sometimes it’s a lot simpler than you think.”
Bringing us right up to date, is Rick still keeping his sticks in as a drummer now and again?
“I did a couple of things not so long ago with a two-drummer set-up with Ian Whitewood and including Alan Campbell on bass, called If.
“It was a bit of a stop-gap thing but I enjoyed it because I’ve never done anything like that before.
“So yes and no really. I’m not doing anything at the moment because I’m focusing on the book and the Q&As, which I’m finding enjoyable as well.”
You’ve done a fair bit of band promotion too, and a little production over the years. In fact, I was only recently reminded when looking through what was left of my LP collection that you’d produced The Family Cat’s debut album Tell ‘Em We’re Surfin‘ as far back as 1989.
“I came across them because I owned a recording studio in Islington and they came in there to do some stuff. They were very insistent on doing everything themselves if I remember right. But that was fair enough, and they did include my name on their album.”
Are you still involved in promotion work?
“Yes, I was involved with a local band called The Brompton Mix, who I believe might be going through a few personnel hiccups at the moment. But they were really good and I got them shows with The Blockheads, The UK Subs, Stiff Little Fingers, and various others.
“It’s not very much to give back, but it is a little.”
I get the feeling that despite everything over the years, the huge highs and a few lows, you’ve still got that love of the whole scene.
“I’ll always remember how difficult it was as an unsigned band trying to get some work, not really knowing much about the mechanics of the music industry, live shows and so on.
”And you see bands not knowing exactly what direction to take, and I think they find that a big help.”
There was also a more conventional spell as a furniture restorer too. Do you still dabble in all that?
“No, I don’t. I was in a band called the Highliners, and when that petered out I decided I was going to indulge myself in something of a personal passion, carpentry.
“I pestered a cabinet maker, hoping to learn cabinet-making properly, having made my first drum-kit at school, something which lasted as long as it needed to.
“I really got into that and ended up doing all that for around 10 years. I enjoyed it and still have my workshop.”
Could that ever have been a full-time job then? And do you ever wonder how much different you life might have been if The Jam hadn’t happened or Neil Harris had remained the band’s drummer?
“I don’t know. It’s really because of The Jam that I found myself in a position that I was able to do that, and only really because I wanted to take a break from the music industry. It wasn’t anything that was on the horizon other than that.
“I know it sounds odd but I don’t think I would have taken it up as a career if I’d not had the opportunity to spend two or three months without having to earn any money, particularly at the age I started that.”
That just left me time to thank Rick for his time and above all his honesty, although I did voice my thoughts that I didn’t think he was capable of being anything other than honest.
And his response? “Mmm. Well, I try to be.”
For details of Rick’s forthcoming Q&A shows go to http://www.strangetown.net/q-and-a-tickets/4588154498.
In the meantime, there are plenty of Jam-related links on this blog, including live and CD reviews for Bruce Foxton, From the Jam and Paul Weller, plus interviews with Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings.