I'm in a Jam again and loving every minute!
CHICHESTER can claim its part in a remarkable musical story that sees two-thirds of The Jam back together again for a string of dates in The Jam's 30th anniversary year.
It all started with Russell Hastings and Dave Moore, both from Bognor, touring with Russell's Jam/Paul Weller tribute band The Paul Weller Council.
But it wasn't long before former Jam drummer Rick Buckler came on board, and the band became The Gift '“ a band that soon attracted interest from former Jam bassist Bruce Foxton, who guested with The Gift at a number of dates last year, culminating in a triumphant date at The Venue in Chichester just before Christmas. That helped convince Foxton and Buckler that a permanent reunion was the right way forward.
And that's exactly what has happened.
The foursome are currently selling out venues across the country under their new name From The Jam - Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler on a busy schedule that will take them through to a historic night in Brighton, for on December 21, they'll bring the house down at the Brighton Centre, the very venue where The Jam played their last concert together 25 years ago.
For life-long Jam fan Hastings, it's a dream come true to be frontman in the Paul Weller shoes to two Jam originals. For Foxton, it's just great to be back in harness, playing those Jam classics again.
"We did about three dates leading up to Christmas," Foxton says. "It was great to be playing with Rick again and getting to know Dave and Russell. I think they are doing a great job. That's what it is all about, playing live and performing with Rick again after all these years.
"When you get a reaction like we did at Chichester and the other shows that we did with the band, it's a great buzz. It's just all part and parcel of what we are doing. The audience are still enjoying it. It's the 30th anniversary of The Jam.
"It's just naturally evolving. I played a couple of numbers almost a year ago with Rick and the guys as The Gift at Guildford University, and it just kind of snowballed. Casbah Club, a band that I am still part of, were supporting The Gift, and the guys said 'Why don't you do a couple of numbers with us?' I was petrified. We just did it '“ Tube Station and Smithers-Jones.
I was very apprehensive, but the crowd loved it and it was a bit of fun. It was just a one-off. I don't think Russell and Dave thought much more about it at the time, and I never did. I was with the Casbah Club and thought I would see it through. But later in the year the guys had a few other shows coming up on stages big enough for the four of us, and so we did Chichester and Brighton and Birmingham."
And the idea evolved that Buckler and Foxton would get back together again on a permanent basis.
Foxton admits it was a difficult decision in some ways. "The Guildford University gig was spontaneous and that was that. But I gave it quite a bit of thought. The Jam's music is still respected by the fans of The Jam. I didn't want to just dabble in it.
"And Russ and the guys also gave it a lot of thought. Certainly, at the shows before Christmas such as Chichester, we gave it 100 per cent because the music deserves 100 per cent. It deserves the commitment. It deserves you to be passionate about it. And we were."
And so the possibilities opened up. "The Jam has got a legacy that we didn't want to mess around with. After those shows last year we all had Christmas off, and at the start of this year we all spoke and said 'Yeah, it was great fun'. It was sounding really good and we couldn't really find a problem with it. And we thought 'Well, it is 30 years since (The Jam's) In The City . . ."
Not that it seems like 30 years, not at all. "It's bizarre, very odd. But then we had such a long lay-off with the music."
But it was rapidly evident that The Jam classics comfortably stood the test of time. "It's a testament to the writing of Paul Weller and myself to a certain extent. I hear the odd Jam song and it still sounds great."
And it's that quality which lay behind The Jam's huge impact all those years ago. "The quality of the songs was just bound to appeal '“ the quality of the music and our dedication to performing them live. We were very accessible as a band. We were never a supergroup that shot off in a limo. Invariably we were there for the fans. We would let them in on sound-checks."
It was that accessibility which helped keep it all sane '“ though Foxton admits that there were moments on tour when it all got a bit hysterical.
"But we weren't a band that wanted mass hysteria like The Beatles had had. We didn't enjoy that side of it. We were just very very into the music and performing."
Even so, it was still a pressurised time, particularly on Weller. "You could see and hear the pressure building. We crammed a lot into the six or seven years. There was the pressure to write the next single and the next album, but I think Paul coped with that pretty well."
When the end came, it was sudden. Weller announced he was quitting the group '“ a tough, tough moment. As far as Foxton was concerned, The Jam was far from having run its course. "I think the end came too soon. What I would say is that we had a lot more music to offer. Where would we have gone from Beat Surrender? I don't know, but we were expanding in terms of using brass."
But Weller set up The Style Council instead '“ a fact which perhaps retrospectively explained his decision to quit. And in that respect, Foxton concedes that Weller made the right decision given that The Style Council wasn't a musical route Foxton himself would have wanted.
At the time, though, all Weller said was that he was leaving The Jam.
"It's been well documented. We were devastated. The writing was maybe on the wall with the general feeling. You could sense that from Paul.
But I put that all down to the pressure of writing and the tour commitments. My feeling was that the band needed a break, six months out or whatever, just to recharge the band and come back to it. I said 'Are you sure? Take six months out.' But Paul was quite adamant."
Had they carried on, perhaps eventually they would have become "sad old dinosaurs", Foxton concedes. But again, he adds: "Who knows what would have happened? I don't know the answer. It was unusual for a band to finish at the top. But for me there would never have been an easy time to leave."
Difficult times indeed.
"When Paul decided to leave the band, he decided also not really to keep in touch. I know Rick and myself sent various birthday cards and Christmas cards to Paul, but when you don't get a response after a few years, you just think 'Well, the guy doesn't really want to keep in touch' '“ which I was very sad about. The band was finished and he just wanted to sever all ties."
But last summer there were encouraging moves towards a reconciliation, Foxton is pleased to say. He and the Casbah Club were supporting The Who at Hyde Park, and Weller was there, hanging out with Ocean Colour Scene.
"We had slightly awkward embarrassing glances at each other and not saying anything."
But when Foxton was in the gents a little later, Weller also came in, saw him, gave him a big hug and said "It has been too long!"
"I hugged him back and said 'Yeah, it's been too long but we had better leave the toilet or else people will talk!' It was only a short conversation but it broke the ice. I hope in future if our paths cross we will be able to have a nice chat. It really made my day '“ even better than supporting The Who."
At the time, though, the idea of getting back with Buckler hadn't been mooted, and Foxton remains in the dark as to what Weller might make of the two of them going out on the road with a major tour of Jam classics.
"I would like to think that Paul would just say 'good luck to them!'"
Can Foxton conceive of Weller ever wanting to complete The Jam reunion?
"I honestly don't know. The door is also open. It would be wonderful if Paul was interested, but I can't really see it happening. If he were we would have to find another role for Russell!"
In the meantime, though, Foxton is delighted at the way Hastings is helping him deliver The Jam standards. "It's eerie. He doesn't look dissimilar (to Weller). If you turn your back and listen, then the music is damned close. But he is not exactly mimicking Paul. He has got his own style. He has got his own way, his own phrasing. He has taken it to a different level, and that's why it works so well."
Inevitably, there have been just a few Jam fans who object to what Buckler, Hastings and Foxton are doing '“ but just a tiny proportion out of the tens of thousands who will see the tour.
"There are two things that I would say to them. One is just why not? I was part of The Jam. I am entitled to play those songs. Second is that if you don't like it, you don't have to come and see it. Nobody is forcing you to buy a ticket!"
But fortunately that's not a point Foxton finds himself having to make too much. The overwhelming response has been positive, and with plans to come up with some new material and a new album, probably early next year, he is definitely back for good.
"I would love to see it going on. We have got the tour. We have got some festivals. The new material has got to be good enough. There is no need to rush an album out."
For more arts and entertainments, see West Sussex Gazette December 12