Somehow, while based in Lancashire for nearly 25 years now, I’d never visited The Grand in Clitheroe until last month, yet now I’ve caught two great bands there within a month, with two of my teenage heroes visiting – Hugh Cornwell last time, Bruce Foxton this.
The occasion on Friday night was the 40th anniversary of The Jam’s All Mod Cons, put out a week after my 11th birthday and soon becoming one of my favourite albums of all time.
When it was released on November 3rd, 1978, I’m pretty sure I was unaware of the two Jam LPs that preceded it, other than the odd single, in the same way I knew little about the first Clash album when follow-up, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, landed a week later, another record that struck a mighty chord with this rural Surrey-based council house lad.
And in light of last week’s departure of the wonderful Pete Shelley, I’ll add that it was a similar tale with Love Bites, the second album from Manchester’s Buzzcocks released six weeks earlier and the first of theirs I heard in full, despite their debut arriving just six months before.
I’d grow to love all three first albums by those bands, and many more from what proved a golden era of new directions for those caught up in the first wave of punk (incidentally, I see now the Ramones’ Road to Ruin was released the day before Love Bites, and Blondie’s Parallel Lines a day later). But first love often strikes deeper.
Just six months before, The Stranglers, a band I was proud to know were formed on my patch, released their third album, Black and White, and now a trio from nearby Woking – from where my Dad and grandparents hailed – had proved they were here for the long haul too.
In time, I properly understood the magnitude of the shift in direction and chain of events that led to that amazing third Jam LP, a defiant Paul Weller – who said in 2006, ‘With All Mod Cons we knew we were going somewhere else, we were creating something new.’ – and bandmates Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton proving their critics and label wrong after a patchy second record and stuttering US tour.
But back then it was enough to hear that album on my brother’s tape recorder (I think that’s what we called ‘ghetto-blasters’ before they were dubbed that), and sit up and take notice, and at Clitheroe last weekend I was bowled over again on hearing it in full, Foxton and bandmates Russell Hastings (guitar, vocals), Andy Fairclough (tucked around the corner from my vantage point on Hammond organ) and Mike Randon (drums) doing it justice.
I’ve written enough about From The Jam in recent years to be able to skip the rudiments. The true spirit of the original band still lies within this Foxton/Hastings set-up, a group I first caught live 11 years earlier, when Buckler was also involved. It’s easy to be cynical about bands re-living past highlights, and I understand totally Weller steering away other than occasional reinterpretations, but Russ and Bruce continue to put heart and soul in, and there’s no doubting their commitment and how much they’re adored for doing it, not least by those of us too young to properly catch The Jam live first time around.
This is far more than just a Jam jukebox, and there are two fine albums carrying the Foxton brand and Hastings’ own songs out there too. But on this occasion, you could argue it was chiefly about nostalgia, celebrating one of the finest albums ever made, although ‘I guess it’s just the music that brings on nostalgia for an age yet to come’, as Pete Shelley put it.
Speaking of whom, there was added poignancy on the night, Russ paying tribute to Pete after a nice touch from support act Spark, a talented semi-acoustic bass and guitar duo who finished with a lovely rendition of ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?’ after singer Mark Stelfox revealed how he wouldn’t have had the confidence to be up there, doing his own thing if not for Shelley.
Then came the main act, Neal Hefti’s ‘Batman’ theme fading away and that opening salvo of title track ‘All Mod Cons’ and ‘To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have A Nice Time)’ kicking in and sounding so fresh, Weller’s pop at the Polydor doubters then his impassioned depiction of how it might have been all over if another stuttering album like The Modern World had been delivered in safe hands.
It’s a similar situation with ‘Mr Clean’, Weller’s bitter foray into Ray Davies storytelling territory still sounding angry, although I noticed Russ let his audience fill in the gaps during the most acerbic line.
Talking of Ray, we were soon into The Kinks’ ‘David Watts’, Bruce taking lead vocal and perfectly delivering, before the order of the LP was changed and we got the mighty ’In the Crowd’, another game-changer, Weller incorporating Revolver-esque backward guitar with Vic Coppersmith-Heaven’s encouragement and cajoling from the booth.
That fresh creative approach certainly paid off, previous producer Chris Parry first to acknowledge they had something special. And live it remains a tour de force, its late ‘Away from the Numbers’ echo a reminder that this was where the band had sought to head from the start. But while that first LP was full-on Feelgoods and Who R’n’B passion, this was more measured, more experimental, more now, while still incorporating those long-held influences.
While I totally get ‘Billy Hunt’, I find it a little clumsy looking back, not least the naive lyrics. But Russ does it justice all these years on, and it’s a neat gateway into ‘It’s Too Bad’, where Weller moulded his love of The Who into a great pop song, one followed live on this occasion by a track truly embodying what The Jam were about, ‘The Place I Love’, no less inspirational today, a delightful number taking me back to my old Surrey backyard, streets, lanes and woods, but more than just a nostalgia trip.
The band needed to draw breath, and Bruce and Russ took to stools at stage-front, Weller’s uncredited love song ‘English Rose’ arguably stronger in Hastings’ hands than when committed to tape by a loved-up songwriter barely 20 at the time. But if maturity was missing from that, Paul certainly nailed it on ‘Fly’, the next sit-down selection and for me the first of many great songs in his Tales From the Riverbank series, another bringing to mind real and imagined childhood and teenage wanderings on my old patch, the imagery just gorgeous in places.
Russ and Bruce veered off the main theme for a few minutes, Bruce’s evocative ‘Smithers-Jones’ and Weller’s claustrophobic ‘Private Hell’ from Setting Sons following before they were back on their feet and straight into ‘’A’ Bomb in Wardour Street’ and ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’, the tracks that ended All Mod Cons but also announced its arrival, the first fruits of this new beginning for The Jam, the first having shared billing with ‘David Watts’ in single form in August ’78, and the second following three weeks before the LP, another clue added in a cover of The Who’s ‘So Sad About Us‘ on the B-side.
If anything, ‘’A’ Bomb’ also signalled Paul’s dismissal and disengagement from a faltering punk scene (despite seemingly adopting a more punk style in its delivery), while Vic’s ‘Tube Station’ production suggested the gloves were off with regard to experimentation, a Davies-like story song given extra edge. And yet neither would have worked without being cracking songs, as proved by the excitement they still generate four decades later, live and on the turntable.
They didn’t finish there, and I highly commend the bobbing heads up front for their stamina throughout. I get the feeling many of those were there first time the band played these songs in the North West and are still going strong. While Bruce’s jumps are rarer these days, the band still give it their all and the audience reciprocate.
It’s not just re-energised Lee Perry-bedecked balding blokes either. At least a couple of generations of fans were mouthing the words and wigging out, including a mother and daughter near me, I reckon. And not just for the hits. Here was someone clearly weaned on The Jam.
On the show went, masterpiece after masterpiece tagged on, ‘Town Called Malice’ followed by ‘Butterfly Collector’, ‘That’s Entertainment’, ‘News of the World’, ‘Start’ and ‘Strange Town’, before the band headed off, returning five minutes later to finish in style with ‘In the City’, ‘Eton Rifles’ and ‘Going Underground’. Everyone a winner.
For a link to this site’s review of From The Jam at The Cavern in Liverpool in May 2017, head here. And for an April 2017 interview with Russell Hastings, with links to past WriteWyattUK Jam-related features, interviews and reviews, head here.
From The Jam’s 2018 itinerary ends with sell-outs at Reading’s Sub 89 (December 13th) then Brighton’s Concord 2 (December 14th/15th). For details of next year’s dates, the From the Jam Live! album, and much more, head to their website. You can also follow their antics via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.