By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
Who’d have guessed that The Jam would end up in the grand halls of Somerset House? That’s the venue for About the Young Idea, a small exhibition on the career of one of the UK’s most successful bands of the late 1970s and early 80s (on until August 31).
The Jam, from Woking in Surrey, weren’t punks; nor were they Mod revivalists as they were once accused of being – the lead singer and guitarist Paul Weller objected that he could hardly be a “revivalist” at the age of eighteen. They were simply them: writers and performers of tight, tough, politically engaged, anti-Thatcherite three-minute songs. They rode along with the punk movement, and were caught up in it, but they always had a distinct identity, as a sharply dressed trio. (Weller, the youngest, was the leader and songwriter; the other two were Bruce Foxton on bass and backing vocals and Rick Buckler on the drums.)
Some of those early songs, the debut “In the City”, “All Around the World”, “Going Underground”, still sound pretty fresh today. As does the menacing “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”, for all its clunky occasionally comical lyrics: “They smelt of pubs / and Wormwood Scrubs / and too many right-wing meetings”. And personally I don’t buy the line “the wine will be flat and the curry’s gone cold”. Wine, rather than beer, with curry? Urghhh.
When he was still Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron talked about how he used to listen to The Jam’s “Eton Rifles” at school (“I was one”). It always struck me as a vaguely incoherent song (“What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?”), but it clearly had a protest message of sorts. It doesn’t surprise me that it could have been appropriated by those it was supposedly attacking – and, of course, Cameron was perfectly entitled to listen to what he chose, even if Weller expressed surprise when he read about it.
The Jam broke up acrimoniously in 1982 as Weller wanted to pursue a solo career, which he does to this day. There have been some high points, including the Style Council’s soul-funk “Long Hot Summer” (1983). And the solo Weller single “The Changingman”. Are he and Bruce Foxton now on speaking terms again?
On YouTube you can hear The Jam being hosted by a rather camp and possibly not entirely lucid Marc Bolan on his new television show, in 1977. It's great.