❉ Rob Fairclough reports back from last week’s From The Jam gig in Norwich.
“Y’know, I’m pretty sure something important was supposed to happen today,” quipped Russell Hastings, From The Jam’s scarily Paul Weller-alike guitarist and vocalist after the opening numbers, a taut Girl on the Phone and an arms-aloft Thick as Thieves. In response, theres an agreeable rumble of anti-Brexit feeling from the audience. Partly, it’s because it’s something Weller himself would surely have said, if he was standing on the Norwich Opens stage as part of the original Jam with his bassist Bruce Foxton, the focal point of From The Jam’s tribute to the original band.
Last year, I was here to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Jams third and, in some ways, defining LP All Mod Cons, which Russell, Bruce, keyboardist Andy Fairclough and drummer Mike Randon delivered to a rowdy, appreciative and in the end ecstatic audience. Another year on and it’s the turn of my favourite Jam LP, 1979’s Setting Sons.
The record was originally meant to be a concept album examining the lives of three friends who meet up in adulthood after a (civil?) war and realise they’ve all grown apart. Apparently, the idea wasnt developed enough to Wellers satisfaction, but the bitter-sweet taste of friendships forged and lost, together with ideals betrayed, informs the terrific quartet of songs Thick as Thieves, Wasteland, Burning Sky and Little Boy Soldiers. The latter song, detailing the inner voice of a disillusioned serviceman, still seethes with memorably cynical indignation: Better to take your shots and drop down dead/Then they send you home in a pine overcoat/With a letter to you mum/Saying Find enclosed one son, one medal and a note/To say he won.
The latter goes down a storm tonight, and I’m left wondering if this tour is one of the first times the song has been played live, as it’s made up of distinct movements that, perhaps, can be produced more convincingly on stage all these years later. It’s a high point in a set that reminds you just what a stunning LP Setting Sons is, song after song: the kitchen sink drama of Private Hell, the 9 to 5 rat trap of Foxton’s Smithers-Jones, the Ken-Loach-put-to-a-mod-stomp-soundtrack of Saturdays Kids… the cover of the Motown classic Heatwave ended the LP on an uncharacteristically lame note, but in the Open it’s delivered with a swagger and a vigour the song didn’t have on vinyl back in ‘79.
Then there’s The Eton Rifles, which would, of course, have been the theme song to If…. – Lindsay Anderson’s surreal tale of public school class war – if the film had been made in 1978 rather than 1968. The song was made topical again recently, when ex-prime minister and Brexit instigator David Cameron claimed it was a jolly favourite of his during his time in Eton’s cadet corps, a statement which brought a predictably unimpressed response from Weller. Tonight, the song tumbles and peaks, as dramatic as ever, encouraging chants of Hello! Hooray! with lyrics that are a razor-sharp critique of the English class system, as incisive today as they were forty years ago.
tAfter that, it’s a crowd-pleasing gallop through the highlights of The Jam’s back catalogue, including A Town Called Malice, David Watts, That’s Entertainment, a tense Start! and a triumphant Strange Town. By the time From The Jam reach the final encore, an appropriate In The City, the young, alarmed-looking bouncers are clearly wondering how many heart attacks they’ll have to deal with in the grey-haired mosh pit.
It was a great night, because Bruce Foxton said so. And you can’t argue with a national treasure.
See you next year for the 40th anniversary of the next LP Sound Affects? Goes without saying.
❉ AGMP present From The Jam ‘Setting Sons’ 40th-anniversary concert with special guests: The Vapors. Click here to view all current tour dates.
❉ Robert Fairclough is a film and TV journalist and blogger and a regular contributor to We Are Cult, ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ and ‘Infinity’. He is the author of books on the iconic TV series ‘The Prisoner’, and co-author (with Mike Kenwood) of definitive guides to the classic TV dramas ‘The Sweeney’ and ‘Callan’.