David Hepworth meets Paul, Rick and Bruce
It’s August 1979 and this is The Modern World. The Who are back in action for the first time in years, their films are on release, and Modrophenia has taken over the capital.
Crop-haired boys in parkas, Fred Perry shirts and target designs weave reconditioned scooters in and out of the London traffic in hot pursuit of ska and The Specials, R&B and The Little Roosters, hard pop and The Chords, and anything sharp in the clothes line.
They plan bank holiday weekends at the coast, they watch old swinging ’60s movies on the box late at night.
Just ask any of these young men in a hurry who they really rate and it’s an expensive three-piece made-to-measure mohair suit to a discarded Clash tee-shirt that’ll fix you with eyes wide with reverence and say, “Paul Weller . . . The Jam!”
It’s common knowledge these days that the current mod mania grew from a hardcore of The Jam’s keenest fans who got together to travel to Paris to see their idols, and discovered a shared enthusiasm for all things mid-’60s.
When The Jam played at the London Rainbow a few months back, The Chords were among the support bands, when they had previously been among the audience, and the place was packed to the roof with reborn mods. They seemed to have appeared from nowhere to form a ready made cult.
Paul Weller sits high above London in the Polydor building listening to a test press of the band’s new single, “When You’re Young”.
He is wary, a mite suspicious of interviews although not unfriendly.
His suit, his shoes, his feathery haircut, they’re all very neat indeed. Just so. The Godfather of the New Mod muses on the time four years back when he first connected with the style of dress and life.
“Course, I don’t remember the original mods at all. I was much too young when all that happened. I suppose I was just attracted to the style of it all.”
So it was just the clothes, was it?
“That was part of it, but there was the music as well, ” offers Bruce Foxton.
The music that they actually connected with came from old Who, Small Faces and Kinks singles, as well as the thousands of old soul singles on the Tamla Motown and Stax labels.
Paul and Bruce reminisce about the old Woking days before they broke into the London circuit, when they would do the rounds of the working men’s clubs and lunchtime pubs playing old soul standards, Motown dance numbers, anything that could earn them a few quid.
The audiences weren’t in the least interested, so they didn’t complain when Weller started to throw in more and more of his own songs.
But the obsession with mod music didn’t fizzle out there. The band’s first album included their version of “Batman”, a song The Who had once recorded, while Wilson Pickett’s soul classic, “In The Midnight Hour”, found its way on to the album, “This Is The Modern World”.
Unlike many established outfits, who see all new acts as competition, The Jam haven’t forgotten how hard it was for them when they started. They take pains to encourage new bands, even those who blatantly rip off their own style, material and approach.
I ask Weller what he thinks of the recent spate of mod bands and Jam lookalikes.
“I like some of them. There’s some really good bands around, but it’s pointless calling them mods or anything else.”
I ask them to name names. Paul expresses admiration for The Specials, but both slither out of nominating further examples, not wishing to see any band get tagged as “Jam proteges”.
(A few nights later I walked into The Music Machine and saw Bruce mixing the sound for a excellent young band called The Vapors. Nothing escapes my eagle eye.)
“I like nearly all the new bands,” says Paul Weller generously. “I like it all except all this electronic lot. Can’t bear all that stuff.”
I switch the tape machine off briefly while they discuss their opinions of Tubeway Army. Suffice to say that they’re not Gary Numan’s biggest fans.
Rick Buckler arrives, unzips a can of beer and conversation wanders back to their early involvement in the hard core punk scene.
Smash Hits has, in recent issues, carried interviews with John Lydon and Jimmy Pursey, both of them full of fury about their differing views of the sad state of the “scene”.
Do The Jam feel particularly disillusioned about the present state of affairs?
Weller gets nearly angry: “We never really thought of ourselves as part of any movement, the punk thing or anything else. We played The Roxy a couple of times in the old days and it was just full of posers drinking halves of lager at forty five pence and hanging around the bar looking at each other.
“But the thing is that the people who moan about the death of it all are the same ones who never do any gigs, who never do anything. All they do is sit around and moan. Now, we’ve just had about a month off and that’s been our first break for well over a year.”
The Jam’s schedule starts again in earnest soon. Back into the studio to cut a fourth album, then another major tour in order to play to the paying public like they always promised they would do.
They’re all concerned about the increasing difficulty of finding venues of a reasonable size where the audience can stand and dance without fear of bouncers.
Although they’ve already played a couple of large scale festivals, they’re determined not to repeat the experience, even going as far as to turn down a very lucrative offer to support The Who at Wembley Stadium.
“These sort of things,” says Weller emphatically, “are just run in the old ways and they’ve just got to change. You can’t do those things anymore.”
Rick Buckler admits that closing your eyes to the problems of being an in-demand live act isn’t going to make them go away. “In this country you can keep the lid on it by playing a lot. On the other hand you can say ‘we’re not going to work’, and then when you do play there’s so many people who want to see you that you have to stick ’em in a field and play to them all at once.
“See, on the last tour we tried to do all stand-up gigs and so we went to the universities, and that didn’t work because half the kids couldn’t get in because they weren’t students.”
There seems to be a solid core of principle in The Jam. They’re unlikely to spin you a controversial line in order to pick up a load of publicity.
They have their own circle of trusted associates. Their manager is Paul’s father John (“the thing about having your family involved is that at least you can trust them”), their fan club is run by his sister Nicky, and there don’t appear to be any music business smoothies in their entourage.
They currently have the germ of an idea for a label of their own, a label which will give opportunities to new bands that they particularly like. They politely fend off any attempts to find out who those bands might be.
“We want to do it properly and so there’s no point in us saying anything about it until we’re ready to get on with it,” argues Bruce. “We don’t want to do it like Pursey.”
That’s right. Being The Jam, I expect they’ll take care of business first.
Smash Hits, August 1979