Any musician worth their salt will have learned a great deal by getting along to the mystical East at the weekend (well, East Lancashire, any road), for a masterclass in maximum r’n’b and impassioned post-punk.
While The Jam material played by the band’s latest incarnation was more familiar to this packed-out crowd, there was plenty to warm to from specially-chilled guests Nine Below Zero, on a night when a cold wind blew down Albert Road and snow was forecast.
I’d hate to guess the average age out there, but reckon I helped bring it down (says he, in his late 40s). Yet there was enough adulation from young and old alike to suggest there’s no best-before date on great music.
Dennis Greaves’ openers have certainly been around the block a few times, this respected South London quartet soon causing a live stir with a set chock-full of rhythm’n’blues standards, including many of their own making.
There was a proper Dr Feelgood vibe too, a great influence on each band (in fact, Wilko Johnson’s 20 Yards Behind got a welcome airing), and by evening’s end we were left in no doubt as to the enduring attraction of both outfits.
Much of the crowd were outside the main hall at this characterful venue early on – at the bar or in a nearby local – but the whole building throbbed from the outset.
Perhaps we got used to the volume, or the larger numbers soaked up some of that, but by the fourth number there was movement out on the floor as the band gave their own spin on classic blues and soul, alongside their own revered numbers.
From I Can’t Help Myself, Hoochie Coochie Coo, Boom Boom Boom, Can I Get a Witness? and Got My Mojo Working onwards, we were a captive audience.
All were given a Greaves twist too, the frontman’s gruff delivery and esteemed fretwork neatly aided by Mark Feltham’s heart-felt harmonica (the respected session musician featuring on Bruce Foxton’s new album, I believe) and a rigorous engine room stoked by Brian Bethell (bass) and Brendan O’Neill (drums).
Don’t Point Your Finger at the Guitar Man, Three Times Enough and Treat Her Right kept the groove going, all three featured on the 1981 album that featured on the band’s backdrop cover art – helping give us a ‘then and now’ outlook.
I can’t say I expected Area Code 615’s theme from The Old Grey Whistle Test when I set off, but I was far from disappointed. And we also pondered on Dennis’ delivery of Rockin’ Robin against little Michael Jackson’s version, before Wooly Bully and Eleven by Eleven (the volume level of the amps, maybe) saw them out in style.
The floor was packed by the time Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings stepped on stage, with assured backing from Paul Weller session player Tom van Heel (keyboards and occasional guitar) and drummer Mike Randon.
The audience were eating out of their hand from the opening bars of A Town Called Malice, and the joint rarely stopped rocking from there.
From Bruce’s take on The Kinks’ David Watts to fellow All Mod Cons rave To Be Someone, there was no doubting this was the real deal, Weller and Rick Buckler’s absence not an issue.
The next section, from Man in the Corner Shop, Pretty Green and But I’m Different Now to The Gift reminded us – as if we really needed reminding – of the depth of those final two albums and young Weller’s songwriting, all respectfully delivered by Russell.
Bruce – restricting himself to just a few trademark leaps these days – was back to the fore again with the ever-poignant Smithers-Jones, before the evergreen Boy About Town, a song that never fails to set up an evening out for this perennial teen.
When You’re Young and Saturday’s Kids fall into that same hallowed territory, while 1982’s Ghosts gave us a chance to reflect, and Pictures and Diamonds proferred an intriguing glimpse of what’s to come with the eagerly-awaited new Bruce Foxton album, Smash the Clock.
But while much of the newer material would deserve a place in this set, Foxton and Hastings never deny the average crowd what they really came for, and as The Public Gets What The Public Wants show title suggested, from there on it was it was all tried and tested, classic Jam.
A sing-along That’s Entertainment and Start followed, then a storming run through the debut LP’s Larry Williams cover Slow Down and modern anthem for disaffected youth The Eton Rifles.
The band finally got their collective breaths back and returned, Down in the Tube Station at Midnight rattling powerfully down the tracks before frenetic debut single In the City and the inevitable Going Underground saw us home, our revision session in great live music complete, and this punter pleased to get back down the M65 without having to use a snow shovel.