Dies' Ist Der Modernische Welt
AND IN THE beginning there was darkness. Then, it has been written, the Mood formed the Pistols, Clash, Damned, Stranglers, Vibrators and the Jam and it was good. It is now approaching three years since the genesis, and the high rise, dole queue, boredom revolution is a global business.
We can find the Stranglers in Australia, the Clash in America and the Jam in Germany – we can even find ex-fanzine scribblers being flown on expenses to interview the local lads who've made good.
Don't ask a man to drink and riot, he'll forget his point.
If you've seen the excellent Blue Collar film you may have noticed that the role played by Richard Pryor is a very nice summation of the cooled scream of punk revolution – all those who initially made the effort have been 'rewarded' and are now comfortably indulging in other schemes to satisfy the customers that they once were.
But that's not as depressing as it reads. We all know how brilliant has been the soundtrack accompanying the goings on of these past years. Everybody's taste, too, has been in for a service – how many copies did ELP's Love Beach dive in comparison to All Mod Cons – plus there are still facilities for any Hairbrain Joe to get up and do it if he feels the strain of creation pulsing through him.
This is GREAT Britain. Just shoot onto the Continent and find out if we've got it sussed or what. There's us with umpteen Shades of speciality within any one brand of rock/reggae/soul, and there's our EEC cousins appearing like a huge clueless branch of W. H. Smith.
It can be ever so modern to whine about how reactionary the UK is and how the scene in France/Germany/Chad is a beacon to us all, but that, my friends, is more desperate bullshit from clueless posers.
OK UK, OK. In the Fatherland I just wish the Jam had retained one of their old standards and flown that Union Jack above the amps, because we can afford to brag.
BERLIN. The Jam are from Woking. I am from London. So we meet, of course, in Berlin. The theatre is on one of those highstrasses with a name as long as your arm, within a shopping complex where traditional traders like Burger King, C&A, and MacDonalds are still to be found touting their wares.
Inside, the house is well and truly full with a variety of punters – from a couple of dye-in-the-hair punks to a greying bearded man who turns out to be quite an enthusiastic old tomcat at heart. Past the toilets, through some curtains and into a bare concrete chamber which is the 'star' dressing room. Inside the mood is as dank as the trappings suggest, and faces don't perk up none when the member of the press is introduced.
Bruce Foxton, draped over a chair back, raises his head and breaks the thumping silence.
"Take a drink off the table, there's fuck all else happening..."
Ah, these wild rock'n'roll parties! Gathered are the band, a couple of roadies, Dick the tour manager and John Weller, Paul's dad and band manager. John is a big-built bloke with a thick shock of silver hair and a voice comparable to that of cockney comedian Mike Reid. Despite his initial appearance, the stocky frame belies an unobtrusive nature, and, although not the first person I'd choose to get leary with, I didn't hear him shout let alone get heavy during the four days I was around.
I was interested to know what Mr Weller Snr. did before coming to grips with the wild'n'whacky world of teenage beat music.
"Ah y'know, all over the place...bit a'buildin' – this'n'that. But y'know this might be twennyfour hours a day sometimes, what wiv the travlin an all that, but I don't never think o'this as work, d'ya know what I mean? It'll knacker ya as much as anything I tell ya, but the kicks I get from it well...it just never seems as though I'm doin' a job
"Now look at the group. They're gettin' a bit down because they're playin' these countries, praps for the third time in some cases, an' they might wonder why they ain't in the bigger halls, but even if they crack Europe next year or the year after, to me, that'll still be like making it overnight.
"Because of the way things went at home ya might get to thinkin' it's all a doddle but I know geysers...like, I'm an old mate of Ricky Parfitt's dad...and compared to an outfit like Status Quo, The Jam have just started. I keep tellin' 'em that but to them it seems like a million years..."
In the cheesy bunker backstage conversation occasionally spurts but it's all very claustrophobic and forced. There's not enough room in the room for the trunks with the group's stage gear, so when the nod is given the conversion from Levi's and baseball boots to the legendary suits is done partly in the outside passage.
Rik Buckler keeps his boots on and they loom like grubby ski's beneath his sharp narrow two piece. Bruce Foxton looks him up and down, chuckling.
"What do you fuckin' look like..."
In the few minutes of milling about before they go for the stage I find myself in front of Paul Weller. The pair of us stand for a few seconds feeling a bit awkward until we realise the roles we are both cast in require us to BE FRIENDS though because of the phoney chuminess that riddles rock/rock business relations, neither of us knows the correct procedure for establishing common ground and from there to wipe out the obvious distrust that is bound to exist.
A couple of years back it was a simple case of us and them, but now nobody is sure who's with who, why they're there and even if it matters. If I were a rock performer the temptation to view any journalist, particularly any hack on a trip abroad, as a person merely reviewing my band to fulfil a duty tossed his way during an editorial meeting, would be overwhelming.
Weller shatters our mental circles and speaks first.
"Alright?...you like a lot of disco stuff dunya?"
"Yeah...but loads of other stuff as well..."
Christ. You know how it feels when your mate sets you up with his girlfriend's best mate and after the cup of coffee and all that old bollocks you have to play the enquiring wooer whose life itself seems to hang on acquiring information like "Where do you work?" and "So how long have you known Sue?"
Well, there was me and Paul engaged in an equally closeted conversation. We were both rescued when the cry came for the gentlemen to take up their positions.
A FEW MINUTES after they'd punched into the set I realised why I'd wanted to do a piece on the Jam. This trio are just so excellent. From what had been one of the worst cases of backstage depression since Ally Macleod crossed Iran The Jam were flying hard and high, a flush of steel confidence.
It was during this set that I began jotting down about patriotism, their string of magic muscle music creating a mammoth pride in my chest.
'To Be Someone', 'Billy Hunt', 'Away From The Numbers'...I mean, even knowing the catalogue of strength they have to fall back on they were truly awesome, and, during an encore masterstroke of Martha and the Vandellas' 'Heatwave', literally breathtaking.
Honestly, this is no love letter. Later on when I was babbling to Weller about how good the set was he too saw how difficult it would be to write a genuine appraisal of a band's music when every other article you read will tell you so and so hold the key to the vaults of paradise.
"Maybe you shouldn't've come," he said. "People are suspicious of good reviews and anyrate I spose we're due some bad press...".
Last week they got some. In the singles column Ian Penman destroyed the new single on the grounds that Weller promoted poetic QPR and Woodbines imagery and in general did nothing to further mankind nor rock'n'roll.
Apparently countless reggae singles and the Public Image album do further mankind – but quite how escapes this poor stunted cloth cap. Maybe the prime reason that the Ayatollah seized control was that he advocated mass playings of 'Fodderstompf' or 'Best Dressed Chicken In Town', but I find that questionable.
The argument for the Public Image school of rock is that Lydon and Co are destroying existing rock structures and thereby creating healthy change. Well OK, but that angle of rock'n'roll only exists for those of you so obsessed by the importance of the hobby that it seems imperative to lay a cockamamie theory across everything that even vaguely comes into your idea of how things should be.
Why, for example, can't somebody be equally interpretive and say that the Public Image LP is an under-rehearsed expensive thrash that is not "a joke" nor "revolutionary'" at all.
Why? Because then, sir, you are a philistine, a reactionary and a blinkered fool who, in calling the album "under-rehearsed", can't see the wood for the trees. And it's a hard argument to disprove because you are standing by existing 'traditional' rock'n'roll and they talk in terms that can only be judged from hindsight, plus the "reactionaries" hardly ever bleat back because they'll take their action on the night rather than debate about whether it's valid throughout the weekend.
Enjoyment, another trait of ignorance...
In every branch of expression, be it jazz, rockabilly, sculpture, theatre or writing, there will always be factions continually screaming over what is stagnation, what is progression and what is bullshit. That is how the game is played. But the music should always be a firm second to the motives and – and this is touchy – the morals of the artist as far as reviewing the case goes.
Weller was also chided for "penning singles for a mythical jukebox".
Well, sure, but the jukebox isn't mythical. Jam singles can be found at Al or whatever and sound excellent. If, of course, the crime is to pen 45 gems for public-playing then the Jam are stone guilty.
On this side of the fence let it be said that the single 'Strange Town' is, along with the Gibson Brothers' 'Cuba', the real heavyweight so far this year, and that it should be better than any track off of the sublime All Mod Cons is astounding.
Recently Weller was summed up in a Record Mirror article as being "a dull and simple lad". Paul takes the umbrage and guns.
"I read that and thought how ridiculous it was. Alright so look...you've seen I'm not like Bruce and Rick in so far as they'll muck around and be loud'n'nat while I'll sit with Jill" – his everpresent and lovely girlfriend – "and prefer to sit and have a quiet drink most o'the time. So journalists see that and think, 'Ah well I've seen Paul Weller do that for 20 minutes therefore that is Paul Weller...'
"Plus, when they bung a tape down in front of ya it's kind of expected that you're full of hidden meanings about your songs or you're full of witty anecdotes about being on the road or slagging another group down.
"When, if you look at it, there's him trying to ask important questions and me trying to give important answers when they're never there in the first place. Now this is gonna sound like a massive cliché, but everything I've gotta say – or not got to say – comes out in the records. So just because I ain't got so much to go on about in interviews, which'll make boring reading, it don't follow that I'm a dull and simple lad.
"You can't say that the records are exciting but he ain't, even though I ain't claiming to be something special, cos, face it I'm responsible for most of 'em."
The conversation turns to promises, promises.
"I spose most, no all, of the groups went back on what they sort of threatened in 1976, and from this point of view you can't blame them. You just don't realise what you're getting into."
Yeah, but the Jam were never into hard-line militancy.
"No, right. But I couldn't say we've never compromised. I mean even little things. I regret like changing the word 'fuck' for radio play and that.
"Even today, though, I'm still pretty sickened by the rock business. There's still so much of that superstar shit all the way through it – getting away with murder when they ain't released a good record for years. You've got to stay dead accessible or you're finished.
"But with record companies...I mean, it's OK saying you hate 'em and that you're not gonna have anything to do with 'em, but the only people we meet are the employees, who're just like us and are really OK. You never meet the fat cats up top. You only see the people who're working for you and you can't have a go at them.
"The thing is, though, to guard against thinking that they're all like that. You've got to remember that the blokes upstairs are only after what they can get out of you..."
"All the time we're getting rich / You hang around to help me out But when we're skint – Oh God forbid – You'll drop us like hot bricks. I'll tell You what/I got you sussed/You'll waste my time when my time comes."
"Y'know, I've read reviews where it says that my words are pointless, useless. Well, I know that nobody is going to take action because of a song but...if I feel it here and it's important to me then what's to stop me putting it in a song...what's so wrong in that?"
SOME PEOPLE want blood, and I mean blood. In the Berlin theatre the crowd is on its feet, bobbing gently, which for Germany is quite a party. Still seated at the back are two hardcore punk rockers and the duo are plainly baffled. All their literature had told them The Jam were one of the originals, so when the band hit town it was obviously on with the old black'n'bondage twin sets and touch upon the two tone crop.
The pair had also slapped on some dodgy Dusty eye make-up and, festooned with their badges – "Punk", "I'm A Punk!", and several Sid Vicious and Rotten pictures – had come to see the group vomit on stage as per brochure.
They sat together while the fever raged about their ears, occasionally looking to each other for comfort. Bewildered, they had sought outrage and 48 thrills and had discovered exhilarating pleasure and 45 Motown.
As the reborn power of Martha and the Vandellas trashed their typecast demands for Slaughter and The Dogs our couple slunk toward the exit and the street where maybe some old couple's shock might slake their thirst to be the werewolves of Berlin.
No different from any Kiss/Rollers/Liberace worshippers, their kind were the death of any punk politics as much as any record company fat cat.
The narrow minded duo had probably read a million words on the revival of flair and energy, and yet when presented with one of its finest exponents had sulked because the wrapping was different to that advertised.
ON THE COACH to Hamburg the next day, Rick Buckler insists on regailing us with his Devo cassette. Buckler and Foxton play gags off each other continually, trading insults and forever trying to top the punch line.
Upfront, John Weller – which, incidentally, is Paul Weller's name on his passport – has some of the road crew with him in a serious card school. At the back Paul is asleep in Jill's lap.
Through the windows East Germany is just like we pictured it – tanks, machine guns and hatchet-faced officials. Very grey and absolutely No Fun. We are stopped for nearly 45 minutes as we go through the Russian sector, our passports being checked at least four times.
As soon as we are back in West Germany we stop for nourishment. Wurst is sausage and Bratkartoffel is fried potatoes. Afterwards, and let me tell you Bratkartoffel are magic moments, the band pose for some photos by appropriate signs. I ask them how many photo sessions they've done – an impossible poser.
"No idea," comes back Bruce, "but the real killers are the ones we used to do for Jackie and Pink'n'at. Some bloke says 'hold this bit of card' and you'll say 'what bit of card?' and WHOOSH the flash bulb goes and the next thing you see is yourself on the cover of Oh Boy with a placard saying "Happy New Year To All Our Oh Boy Fans!".
It was seven hours to Hamburg and the Star Club. Nobody ever actually discovered whether it was the Star Club because on arrival nobody cared. Not a poster in the window, let alone name in lights, it's an off-the-highway nightclub with an interior a la Barbarella's, red velvet and alcoves.
Weller and Jill sit at the back of the place, totally shattered. I pass him and he looks up.
"We're booked to play two nights here an' all...they aint sold enough tickets to warrant the bar opening by the look of it...".
On the night there were maybe 50 customers top whack. As often happens on disasters like this, the gig was honed with that something extra, Weller still encouraging the few to get with it if they knew the words. The set was different from Berlin, no breaks yet unhurried, but the highlights remained the same – 'Heatwave' and a classic rendition of 'Tube Station'.
It must be destroying to be delivering one of the finest rock'n'roll sets to be caught anywhere in the world when all you see over the footlights is some bloke wandering mindlessly across the hall to offer a girl a cigarette. From Wembley Arena to a yawning Star Club...it could drive you round the twist.
The next night was cancelled and the promise of a luxurious free day in Hamburg soon turned to the reality of dull day in a merciless stone metropolis. When the four of us finally got sat around a cassette machine the result was predictable. We passed an hour or so rabbiting about the past few years but threw up nothing that would cause ripples in print. When I mentioned the first album faces were pulled.
"God, I could never play it now," Weller confessed. "Not that we're ashamed of it or anything. It's just that, like everything else from that time, it seems to have been done so long ago.
"Besides if we did it now we'd know exactly the sound we're after. I still think a lot of 'Modern World' but 'Mod Cons' is The Jam album and 'Tube Station' is the single. Don't worry about it though...we ain't peaked yet...not at all."
With songs like 'Strange Town', 'Tube Station' and (fill in any one from choice) behind him and still not 21 years old, Paul Weller is phenomenal. With Foxton and Buckler – and we must repeat that they are not simply backers – The Jam become tougher, better than the rest.
Enough people cried out that they'd blown it after the second album – enough to shatter them to pieces. But now they can feel entitled to strut; now all the favours are theirs to be dished out.
In a couple of years – and, believe it, they'll be around – Weller will be handling interviews with the passion he now keeps exclusively for his "work".
Y'see, it's just that his mind and his heart aren't into sitting down and telling somebody all about himself. He'd rather be somewhere proving and living his rock'n'roll. 'Sgotta be yours too.
Dull and simple lad? C'mon now, you've heard The Jam. Don't you wish you could be like...
Danny Baker, New Musical Express, 17 March 1979