From the mid to late 70’s through until the early 80’s legendary English mod revivalists The Jam created a lasting musical legacy as eloquently angry young men with equal doses of style and swagger. With 17 consecutive top 40 singles in the UK and the band continuing to evolve creatively, the sudden decision by chief songwriter Paul Weller, very much the dominant force in the band, to end The Jam and pursue new musical challenges caught many by surprise. Including his band mates, with bassist Bruce Foxton having gone on record as describing their 1982 split as “the bitterest pill I ever had to swallow.”
But Foxton dusted himself off and stayed busy within the music scene, briefly managing new wave band The Vapours (of Turning Japanese fame) and becoming a member of class of 77 Irish punk stalwarts The Stiff Little Fingers for 15 years. But the love and lure of his original band was never too far away, and 2007 saw Foxton and various cohorts (including for a time original Jam drummer Rick Buckler) start playing together under the name From The Jam. With Paul Weller continuing to adamantly shoot down any hope of a fully fledged Jam reunion, From The Jam remains the closest and most authentic substitute for the real thing.
And on the cusp of their third Australian tour, Foxton took time out from his home in the UK to chat to Anthony Gebhardt..
So did The Jam ever play Australia back in the day?
No we never did, even when we were relatively close, like Japan for instance. Paul (Weller) was quite reluctant to be away for too long, and by the time we’d played Japan, he was ready to come home. And we had to go along with it to be perfectly honest. Which was a shame, because I would’ve loved to have gotten to Australia all those years ago. But I’ve been out here with From The Jam a few times now, so as they say, better late than never.
You released a new album, Smash The Clock, earlier this year. What’s the response been like to it, and are you playing many of the new songs live?
Yeah the response has been really fantastic over here in the UK. The reviews from what we consider the quality publications have generally been great.
We’ve also managed to crack some airplay on Radio 2, which is quite an important station over here. Bearing in mind that it wasn’t on a major label, it was much more cottage industry. We went via Pledge Music to raise the money to record it and then it came out on Absolute Records to get it distributed. Big record deals and signings are that few and far between these days. And Pledge Music was a great way of getting the fans involved, because they literally financed the album. It makes them feel good, that they’ve been part of making the record. If we record another album, which we hope to do, and not leave it as long, then we’ll go down the Pledge route again, because it’s just a great way of working.
We are playing two or three songs from the album in the live set. And they blend in very well up against the big hits from The Jam. So I’m very proud of the record basically.
On the new album I see that you roped in legendary Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson to help out. What was it like working with him, was he still as intense on guitar as that seminal footage of him playing back in the 70’s?
Yes very much so. Well I mean Wilko, what a guy. To go through what he’s gone through (surviving a serious bout of cancer), is amazing in itself. The Jam were quite influenced by Dr. Feelgood. I used to go see them locally two or three years before I joined The Jam. And I was just knocked out by them, the intensity of Wilko and Lee Brilleaux on vocals, another fantastic guy. When we recorded the album Wilko came in with his telecaster and did what Wilko does. He quickly tuned up, we played him the track and he jammed along to it. We got a few of his licks, which is his trademark. We did the recording in the control room, not in the studio, so we sat around on sofas watching him play, which was an honour and a privilege! As it was to also get Paul Jones, of Manfred Mann, who played great harmonica on a couple of tracks, and Paul (Weller) who played some keys and guitar on a couple of songs as well. I had to pinch myself every now and again, at having these guys on our record.
How do you see your contribution to The Jam from a songwriting perspective? Were there any desires in the early days of the band to replicate a Lennon/McCartney style songwriting partnership?
Well that’s a really over the top statement, it was probably more a Lennon/Ringo Starr partnership haha! I mean I dabbled in writing, I didn’t even try to compete with Paul’s writing. He’s a real talented guy. Playing all those Jam songs now 35 to 40 years later, and listening to the lyrics, I’ve got so much respect for him. To write that music and those lyrics at such a young age, was just incredible. So there was no way I was going to get into a competition with Paul. I just wanted to try writing. At the end of the day I was honoured that some of my songs made it onto albums and b sides.
From The Jam are about to embark on their third tour of Australia, delivering spirited and authentic takes on a swag of much loved Jam tracks, as well as a smattering of Bruce Foxton’s solo work. So look sharp and be sure to head along to one of the following South East Queensland shows:
11 September: Miami Marketta, Gold Coast
14 September, Solbar, Maroochydore
15 September, The Triffid, Brisbane