“It’s not The Jam though, is it? It’s just Foxton with a bloke who isn’t Weller and another bloke who isn’t Buckler.” A young chap in the queue outside Concorde 2 who has perhaps been dragged along by his father didn’t seem overly happy with the situation. But to give him some credit, he was probably voicing what many of us were thinking.
The last time I saw The Jam was in 1982, when I was 14 years old and had to miss the encore so I wouldn’t miss the last bus home from Newcastle. It took me until last year to pluck up the courage to see Weller for the first time since, and it has taken me a year longer to face the music delivered by From The Jam. It’s difficult to explain why, but if pressed I would say that I was always afraid that I’d be somehow disappointed. Somehow it seemed better to remember a band who were one of the few highlights of my teenage years exactly as they were in their pomp, rather than trying to revisit that moment and seeing my memories tarnished.
As the band moved onto the stage to a background of Circus- an instrumental track taken from The Jam’s final album, The Gift- I was poised between excitement and trepidation. Foxton looked only slightly changed by the passage of the years, and as it soon became apparent had lost none of his verve nor his trademark moves. But my concern had never been Foxton. The lead singer, Russell Hastings, was not Weller, and that’s an enormous pair of bowling shoes to fill.
I’d forgotten my worries by around halfway through the opening track, Girl On The Phone.
The current From The Jam tour is celebrating 35 years since the release of Setting Sons, and accordingly the set began with the performance of that album in its entirety, and in order. Setting Sons was not their best album- in many ways and with the benefit of hindsight it seems like a concept album searching for a concept- but it does have a number of highlights, amongst them The Eton Rifles, Thick As Thieves and perhaps Foxton’s finest moment, Smithers-Jones. The band rattled through these with enormous energy and to great acclaim, ending with Heat Wave, a track as incongruous now as it was in 1979. Perhaps it was Weller’s idea to cover Martha & The Vandellas- after all, later in his solo career he also tried covering Sister Sledge- but whilst it is enjoyable it still doesn’t fit with their other work. But is was only after Setting Sons ended that the evening moved from enjoyable to truly memorable.
Prefaced by the ironic statement, “That’s enough of the slow stuff,” Hastings led the band into a rousing version of Going Underground. In between songs his attempts to engage with the crowd seemed somehow nervous; perhaps carrying the weight of Weller on his shoulders and having to entertain an audience that he knows aren’t really his undermines his confidence a little. That’s understandable, but it shouldn’t be the case; indeed, it might be fair to say that Hastings sounds more like a Jam-vintage Weller than Weller himself does these days. If you closed your eyes for a moment it could have been 1982 again.
The memories came thick and fast. We were treated to When You’re Young, Strange Town, David Watts and The Butterfly Collector. Start was followed by an energized That’s Entertainment and a large section of the crowd rediscovered their youth and jumped with wanton abandon whilst Foxton did the same. They also found time to sandwich in two tracks first heard on In The City back in 1977, Slow Down, a Larry Williams cover, and Non Stop Dancing, which they dedicated to Wilko Johnson. Both of these were good, but we’d undoubtedly have preferred Absolute Beginners or The Bitterest Pill in exchange.
The encore provided Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, To Be Someone and the ubiquitous Town Called Malice. Enormous joy abounded. As they left the stage to unbroken cheering and chants of “We Are The Mods” Foxton stopped to promise a return next year, when they will be celebrating the 35th anniversary of Sound Affects. Many of these dates have already been announced even though they are twelve months away, and undoubtedly much of tonight’s audience will be first in the queue for tickets.
As we left the venue the moment that resonated, however, was not a song but a comment made by Hastings as the evening reached its climax. Speaking about The Jam’s final concert, also in Brighton on 11 December 1982, he stated, “There were three thousand, two hundred people there that night. But if everyone who has told us they were there truly were, the venue would have to have held one hundred thousand!” That statement, in itself, is indicative of the place that the band, and its music, still holds in the hearts of so many. Let’s be clear, From The Jam are not The Jam. But they are undoubtedly the closest we’re ever going to get, and on sound alone it would be difficult to separate current and past vintages.
I’m not sure that I could bestow higher praise.
Published on in Random Ramblings.