It was a cheap shot, but when I called Russell Hastings back seven hours after rescheduling our initial 10am date due to a dodgy signal, I couldn’t help but ask him, ‘So, Just Who is the Five o’clock Hero?’
“Ha! I definitely think my old man was. Bruce’s as well, and of course Smithers-Jones was written about his Dad, which oddly enough was the same story as with mine really. He worked all over, but it was a similar scenario, working for 25 years then called in one day and told there was no longer a use for him.”
Thankfully there’s been no such lack of appreciation in the workplace for Russell (guitar/vocals) and bandmate Bruce Foxton (bass/vocals), still loved All Around The World 11 years after forming From the Jam, the group borne out of Russell’s band The Gift, which initially also involved The Jam drummer Rick Buckler.
In short, what started out as a 30th anniversary project has gone from strength to strength, the pair continuing to do the rounds and now celebrating 40 years since The Jam’s debut single and album of the same name, In The City. Time moves on, eh, Russell?
“I know! We’ve actually got a Foxton and Hastings 10th anniversary celebration t-shirt. Yet none of us had any idea or clue where it would go when we started. When we came off stage the other night, I sat in the dressing room, looked at Bruce and the boys, and thought how everyone out there was buzzing and having a great time. And we were buzzing and having a great time too. End of story!
“Everyone had a fantastic night. You can have as much inverted snobbery as you like, and everyone seems to have an opinion these days, but all those people are having a great time, whether they’re having a nostalgia trip or it’s younger people watching and hearing those songs played live for the first time.”
While Paul Weller was resolutely never part of any reformation, the former Jam front-man and Bruce are back on good terms these days, Paul even donating studio time and his own services for two great albums out under Bruce’s name, 2012’s Back in the Room and 2016’s Smash the Clock. Have they had chance to pop into Black Barn in Ripley, Surrey, of late?
“Not since September. But of course we recorded all of Smash the Clock back in there, which was great.”
Any chance of a new Foxton and Hastings album coming our way during this upcoming hectic schedule?
“Yes, there is! We were only talking about it the other day. We already have a few ideas, as was the case with both of the other albums. It’s a case of making some time for it really. It wouldn’t be released this year but certainly would be next year.”
But for now it’s all about the live show, with Russell amazed at the continued positive reaction they get when I caught up with him, recovering at home after memorable St Patrick’s weekend shows at Dublin Academy and Belfast Ulster Hall.
“It was really good fun. To play Ireland is great, and Belfast blew us and them away really. Something magical happened that night, and I guess 1,500 people in the Ulster Hall and us with those songs proved a great chemistry for a fuelled night.”
Do you tend to find that when you go that little further afield, geographically, you’re appreciated more by audiences?
“I do think that‘s the case, although we hadn’t been to Belfast for nine years. We’ve played Sydney more times than Ireland. Last time it was Rick, Bruce, myself, and Dave (Moore, guitar/keyboards, also originally with Russell in The Gift), and we hadn’t really touched the surface in Belfast. So when we went back and found out it was practically a sold-out, huge hall, it was amazing. And then we came out on stage and the place erupted!”
It seems you have another busy year ahead of you, with those live dates stacking up again.
“Yeah, they are. We looked at Dublin as the start of that, and our year goes through until January really. And it amazes us that we can go out to that many venues in that many towns and still sell places out. It just seems to have got stronger in the last two years. And it’s still growing really.”
I get the impression the Preston Guild Hall show being rescheduled for August 18th (01772 804 444) was a good example of that interest. You’ve become victims of your own success.
“That’s exactly what it is. We sold out that gig and unbeknown to us the promoter switched it to a bigger venue but a seated one, and people aren’t going to appreciate that. Also, there was something else going on that night. So we decided to reschedule. We only like playing seated venues for our That’s Entertainment acoustic show. But now it’s back to a standing venue, and it’ll be a great night.”
Last time we spoke, three years ago, Russell and I talked about him living the dream, including a great anecdote about Bruce handing him a towel in the back of a boat, asking ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ Now it appears they even have a cruise-ship engagement lined up, albeit not in the Caribbean, and possibly leaving the jet-skis behind this time.
“Yeah, that’s weird, isn’t it! We get picked up in Liverpool, do two shows overnight then arrive in Dublin, I believe, no doubt flying back to Gatwick from there.”
You don’t strike me as a band happy to be on the retro circuit, and it all sounds a bit bizarre, From the Jam out on the high seas with the likes of Suzi Quatro, The Manfreds, The Yardbirds, Slade, The Animals and The Troggs.
“We’re not precious these days about who we share a bill with.”
So go on then, Russell – ‘fess up, was there ever a Suzi Quatro poster on your wall as a kid?
“Probably on my brother’s. Actually, I saw her on telly the other week, and thought she’s not doing so bad, really! But I always remember her floating around the charts in the early to mid-70s.”
And although it’s only half of the old band that bill includes some old favourites of mine, the mighty Slade.
“Well, we did a festival with them in Whitehaven three or four years ago, while me, Rick and Bruce bumped into Dave Hill and co. at a service station on the M40 about 10 years ago. When we got in the car after we said to each other, ‘Did that just happen?’ And of course Dave Hill looked like Dave Hill!
“You sort of get used to some weird things happening. We also played a festival back last year where Leo Sayer was on the bill, and he came and chatted to us. Then two months later we’re in Sydney, played this amazing gig, came off stage and after about five minutes the dressing room door burst open and Leo ran in. We had photos with him, then when he went, Bruce was again asking, ‘Did that just happen?’”
I think that’s another reason why we love Bruce. Being at the top table doesn’t seem to have changed him. He’s still a music fan above all else.
“Absolutely, he has no concept of stardom! He doesn’t really get it, and is always quite surprised when he gets stopped. We’ve been all over the world and sometime when you get stopped by people you do have to take a second look and think, ‘Are they talking to me?’ Walking down the street in Perth, Western Australia, 9,000 miles from home, you think, ‘How can anyone possibly know me here?’ But it’s a joy really, a pleasure.”
That Irish Sea cruise engagement also gives Russell and Bruce a chance to catch up with Big Country drummer and past writewyattuk interviewee Mark Brzezicki, a former member of From the Jam’s touring band, who also featured with them in the studio.
“Yeah, we have a great love for each other. He’s a wonderful guy, genuinely nice, one of the funniest characters I know, and hasn’t got a bad bone in his body.”
Seeing as they’re sailing out of Liverpool, I mention how the 2017 itinerary also includes a few shows at The Cavern. I know it moved from its original spot, but that must still be something for a big Beatles fan.
“It is! The first single I ever bought was a Beatles song, Ob-la-di Ob-la-da. I got my Mum to go and get it from Woolworth’s. That was 1969 and I was four. I got into music very young.”
Now your own sons are 18 and 13, do they tend to come and catch you live from time to time?
“They do, especially in this area, like Brighton.”
Either of them following your musical lead?
“Not just yet. I did ask one the other night, ‘When are you gonna pick that guitar up? I told him, ‘When you’re ready, I’ll show you.’
You can’t force it, can you. You need a proper hunger for it.
“Exactly, you’ve got to have a reason to pick it up. In my case, I just wanted to play some of the songs I knew and had no idea how to go about that. I felt my way around a guitar first … and I’m still doing that really!”
And what will the band set-up be for the In the City 40th anniversary tour?
“We have Mike Randon on drums, and while Tom Heel has now joined Paul’s band, we now have on keys Andy Fairclough, who was with Secret Affair and also fits in well. He’s another great player and a really nice guy.”
Having recently written on this website about the 40th anniversary of The Clash’s first single White Riot and the self-titled debut album that followed, another big punk and new wave anniversary is almost upon us. You’ve told me before how the Locarno in Portsmouth later that year was your first Jam gig. But what were you up to when In the City came out at the end of April ’77? Were The Jam on your radar then?
“They weren’t at that time, but certainly were a few months after. But around that period I was listening to the (Sex) Pistols, having got into them early. At secondary school I remember going on a sponsored walk with school when someone had a ghetto-blaster with them with a load of batteries and were playing their first album.
“I still put that on from time to time, and really enjoy it. It’s a fantastic album and I listen to it with fresh ears every time, rather than going down any nostalgia route. The production’s so good on it, it doesn’t sound like ‘70s production and has so much energy. In fact, I think it’s more profound these days to listen to than it was then.”
You were barely 12 then, so did you have older siblings getting you into all that?
“I have an older brother, four years older than me. I was already very much into music but he would come home with his record collection, and like little brothers do I’d nick his records! There was a lot of Bowie going around, which is the case again around my house now, like Aladdin Sane and Hunky Dory.”
Will there be a band pilgrimage to Stratford Place. London W1, to mark the anniversary of that debut Jam single and album?
“Well, there’ll be a whole year of pilgrimage! And the thing is that I can still remove myself from it all and listen to a Jam album as an outsider and think how great it is. I like delving into some rarities and old demos.”
And are you still hearing new stories about those early days from Bruce?
“Erm … I’ve probably heard them all by now. I hear him tell others then help him out when he can’t remember all the punchlines!”
And will there be a tour marking the anniversary of The Gift next, that final album in 1982, 35 years on?
“Yes – we start that in September. First we have this tour, playing a selection of songs from In the City, some of our favourites from the album, then it will be the same with The Gift. There are some great tracks there too. That way it keeps everybody interested throughout the whole night, not just the die-hards.”
From the Jam’s In the City tour continues this April at Lowestoft The Aquarium (21st), Bedford Corn Exchange (22nd), Warrington Parr Hall (28th), Kendal Brewery Arts Centre (29th), Barnoldswick Arts Centre (30th), then in May at Leicester Academy 2 (6th), Norwich The Waterfront (11th & 12th), Manchester The Gorilla (13th), Milton Keynes The Stables (17th), Derby The Flowerpot (18th), London Under the Bridge (19th & 26th, first night sold out), Leeds Cookham Moor (20th), Runcorn The Brindley (23rd), Liverpool The Cavern (25th), Worthing St Paul’s Arts Centre (27th) and Southend-on-Sea Garon Park (28th). For details of those and the many dates that follow, head to the band’s live page here. You can also keep in touch via Facebook and Twitter.
This is just the latest Jam-related feature on this blog, with links to previous ones here:
About the Young Idea – talking about The Jam with Nicky Weller (August 14, 2016)