Jam Springs Eternal - Bracknell Sports Centre 02/12/1977
DOWN IN WOKING at three o'clock in the afternoon the Modern World seems miles away. Outside it's icy cold, but in number 44, with the simulated log fire burning and the TV on in the corner, it's snug, warm, cosy and safe.
Like a good housewife Mrs Anne Weller (reet petite with short blonde hair and a fashionably-cut green skirt) does the ironing while the rest of us watch a silly American actress prance a poor Jane Fonda across the twenty-three-inch screen. There's a huge brown sofa dominating the shoebox room and on it are seated one international adventurer (Adrian, who drives the Jam's minibus) and one intrepid cub reporter (that's me folks) – both within gobbing distance of a photograph of Paul Weller on the mantlepiece, taken at a New York press conference.
"We've got some nice pictures of the boys, haven't we, Paul?" chatters Mrs Weller as she runs the iron over one of her son's stage shirts.
"Yeah," says Paul with what could be described as curt disinterest.
The Jam's man of the moment is squashed into a small armchair along with his girlfriend Jill. They share the worst seat in the low-lit front room and can hardly see the television set. But that hardly seems to matter for, in the privacy of Paul's one-day-off-in-ten, the couple are more interested in each other than anybody or anything else.
A Pop Star in Lurve?!? Not this time, dummy. We'll have no Rod 'n' Brit, Sid 'n' Nancying round here. Forget your media stars. This here is a normal guy with normal needs, hopes, fears and frustrations. And a steady girlfriend. He could be you. This could be your front room.
Except, the only thing makes this scene radically different from a million others spread all over suburbia is the telephone which, quite literally, keeps ringing at least once every seven minutes. Every one a Jammed line. With the band on the road the calls come from tour manager Dick Bell, from the roadcrew, from Polydor (the Jam's record company) and from their PR man Geoff Deane too. One little girl fan from Scotland calls every morning and sometimes in the afternoon too. It's enough to drive a man mad.
Mrs Weller answers them all. Only if they're really important or from personal friends does Weller actually get up himself. But even then his natural phone manner is terse and short-sentenced. Paul Weller is no smooth spieler like many of his rock contemporaries. His words are awkward and his tone is dry. In fact, his lack of recognisable rhetoric and his taciturn conversation might tempt many to pigeon-hole this nineteen-year-old from the semi-dets of Surrey as hopelessly inarticulate and pig-headed. Many would be wrong.
Paul Weller's very real intelligence and communication skills are channelled into his songs and the Jam's hit records, of course. But, even though he and his band are one of the biggest names on stages and in the racks of SOUNDS land, in his own hallway Paul Weller is still very much the simple country boy suddenly thrown into a highspeed world of commercial sophistication. He feels the pressure. Sometimes, he says, he feels like it's all a puppet show. But he survives, almost intact, even as the strings and wires threaten to tear him limb from limb. His saving grace is a steely resilience, sharp intelligence and a huge creative urge which, he insists, will not be suppressed until it is completely exhausted.
And while others have already faded or are fading fast, Paul Weller, the privately shy and introverted, is still on the ascendant. Whether his mother irons his shirts or not, Paul Weller leads one of the most dynamic bands in the Modern World.
Boys and Girls. Put your hands together for the Jam!
BRACKNELL SPORTS CENTRE at five o'clock on a Friday is still milling with mothers and children. The judo and acrobatic classes, you understand. Nick, the perky young Jam roadie, causes a few raised eyebrows with his dishevelled crewcut and his dirty neck. By the time we tumble out of the minibus – that's yours truly, Bruce Foxton, Paul Weller and good mate cum lyricist and poet Dave Waller – Bracknell's temple to physical fitness has already been half taken over by the grit and grime of a rock 'n' roll circus.
Trunks and trolleys. Connection boxes and coax cables, mixers and mid-range horns all swearing and swaggering through a suburban schoolday afternoon. As we roll in through the swing doors the Good Wives Of Berkshire are already calling their young ones to their sides and making off in disgust. Another bastion of truth and light, health and efficiency falls to the dark forces of riot and disorder.
Inside the hall itself, (an aircraft hangar doubling as a basketball court) the Jam's big white banner is already in place yet the stage is all but bare. Two drumkits and a various assortment of Jam and New Hearts equipment is strewn all around. The plan was for an early soundcheck, but there is a delay centred around the Jam's new PA. Kinks in the wiring and speakers to be sited and stuff. Won't be ready for at least an hour.
So it's to the dressing room, a long low gallery that is about as cold and unfriendly as the vast gym below. Against one wall is a single table strewn with petrol receipts, Dick Bell's accounts book, a few quid of the Jam's cash float as well as guitar strings, a stroboscope tuner and all the other pieces of debris that fall out of guitar cases and travelling bags. For one night this windtunnel serves as home and office for a band on the road.
Paul Weller takes advantage of the extra time to himself. From nowhere he conjures up a chair and seats himself in a corner with a brand-spanking new Roger McGuinn 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, of which he is particularly proud.
He starts playing away to himself through a small amplifier – far better than me, quite probably better than Tony 'Fingers' Mitchell (you must be joking – TM) and streets ahead of the infamous Snivelling Shits. In fact, in any terms you care to name, Paul Weller is a fair old axeman. Idly fingering at whatever comes into his head, he shows himself the master of country flat-picking style a la Byrds, as well as knocking out very close facsimiles of classic Who intros and outros.
New Hearts guitarist Dave Cairns listens eyes agog.
"Paul's great", he whispers. "His only trouble is that he keeps putting in those suspended chords that Pete Townsend always uses. He doesn't need to do that, he's good enough without them".
And perhaps the boy has a point. Paul Weller's affiliation to the Who does in fact go beyond his mod suit and short haircut to his instrumental style and his arrangements, But when Bruce Foxton appears, picks up a bass and the pair begin to knock one of those chord sequences into song shape then such criticisms become irrelevant. Weller himself reckons that on the Modern World album he and his band made some remarkable progressions. Yet, as Foxton slaps a busy bassline across Weller's flying chords and the two start working on some rough vocals, this brand new Jam wonder-in-the-making sounds even tighter and cleaner than anything like 'Here Comes The Weekend', 'London Girl' or 'Life From A Window'!
From the other side of the dressings room it is impossible to hear a single lyric and less of a tune. But there are 'Oohs', 'Aahs' and descending guitar lines in all the right places. Enough 'oohs' and 'aahs' and descending guitar lines to make it a supremely successful Pop song.
And, just in case you hadn't realised it, a supremely successful Pop song lays me out quicker than Sandy Robertson with a Kim Fowley single.
"I'D LIKE TO SEE A BETTER SCENE AS WELL, like. A new Pop scene. With lots of good Pop bands. Instead of writing just songs, people should be writing three-minute classics. That's how I write every song, right. As far as I'm concerned, if it's one of mine, it's a classic."
Is that arrogance? Perhaps it is, but I can take it. Sitting over a beer in the Sports Club bar before the gig, Paul Weller looks at you like a rat peering out of a drainpipe with a thin, almost Mona Lisa smile on his face. He shows little emotion, happy or sad. A twitch of the lip signifies disgust, while a split-second splash of teeth is all you'll get if you want a smile. In conversation (and especially with a tape recorder shoved under his nose) you'll see few instances of either. Paul Weller plays very close. Even in the Jam's pre-Polydor days, this boy was never the easiest interview and since then he has become hardly more effusive. Paul Weller sits firmly on his side of the table and acts the Loner. Living in a Modern World of his own.
Indeed sometimes, when you see the guitarist sitting quiet while Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler raise the roof and run riot with the chicks, you begin to wonder if the three are actually in the same band. But Weller shrugs that one off.
"Look, I keep myself to myself, right. That's all there is to it. Like on our first tour I did all the groupie scene and the drinking and all that shit. But it was totally boring. On the road I just get on with my job. After a gig I maybe have a drink or two and then I just go to bed."
The simple life doesn't tally with Paul Weller's image as New Wave star. But then Paul Weller satisfies few stereotypes. He's a Pop star perhaps, but secretly he wishes he could still go to the Nashville with his guitar on his back, play a gig and go home. His only ambition outside music, he tells me, is to open a clothes shop that wouldn't sell mohair sweaters at inflated prices, and yet he is too frequently blown up by the media into something of a guru and a figurehead for a disaffected generation. Some of his fans regard him as little less than a God.
"I'm not going to knock those kids, I'm not going to knock fan worship, now am I?" he says in all honesty, his voice broken on cigarette smoke. "But I honestly don't think I'm anything special. I'm not a leader or a spokesman. And I'm not looking for leaders either. I don't believe in 'em. I think people should lead their own lives. They're their own leaders.
"I'm not into politics either. After that NME interview kids ask me whether I vote Conservative? I wouldn't vote for any of the c**ts. It was all my fault making that statement. I was eighteen. It was my first big interview. I really wanted the trendies to hate us and I succeeded in that. I didn't even want to be a part of their scene. I didn't want to be liked by them even. You know the sort of people I'm talking about. But that Conservative thing was a bit of a mistake, I know. But we're prone to mistakes. Only the Clash aren't prone to mistakes."
The Modern World is Paul Weller's paradise. Contradictions, confusions and paradoxes. The smell, the hate and fear. And while he insists that the Jam are to be regarded first and foremost as a Pop group like his favourites the Who, the Kinks and the trailblazing Beat groups of the Sixties, he would still like to think that his songs pose subversive questions. And the little girls understand.
"But the Jam are still guilty of all the crimes because we're a part of the Modern World. You can build your own system, but it's still a system and it's still going to ostracise somebody. I'm still learning to be honest with myself. I don't even know if I'm being really honest now. But you got to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with other people. Maybe when I get there, things won't be so good. Maybe I'll lose my inspiration, I dunno."
Paul's word "inspiration", not mine, although I would be tempted to use it too. As far as I'm concerned he is inspired. He's one of the only two guys in Britain today who are really out the front of the field. That's Nick Lowe and Paul Weller, carrying a cross fired with the spirit of the Sixties and burning with the flames of tomorrow. But while Basher Beak fiddles about perfecting today's studio sounds, Paul Weller proves himself again and again not only an unreally energetic performer, but a songwriter of surprising subtlety. Like his mate Dave Waller says, This Is The Modern World is only a taster of what's in store. I also agree with the sharp lad's opinion that there are definite holes in the sound and something missing overall. But subtlety is definitely the name of Weller's high energy game. Subtlety and Irony.
"I don't sing all the songs, you know. Sometimes it's somebody else singing and me answering."
"Like 'The Combine' and 'Here Comes The Weekend', That's like the fine upstanding citizens like, I dunno the names. The business men and the fat cats and all the jerks who push escapism so that people don't question their lives. For the next LP, right, by the lyrics I'll have it like a play. With different people singing the lyrics so that everybody will understand. 'Cos we've really been criticised for some of the things on the new LP that aren't actually what we think. They're what certain people say and we're showing 'em up. The thing about the Jam is that mums let their daughters buy our records because they think we're a fun band. But really we're subversive and the message is there for anybody wants to hear it."
FRONT OF STAGE, THERE'S TROUBLE. All good vibes, New Hearts have the Berkshire crowds pogoing with delight. But the sound is breaking up in the huge hall and showering down in razor-sharp shards of sock-hop echo. John Harty and Dave Cairns come off quaking at the monitor mix that almost shot New Hearts' kneecaps off.
Bruce Foxton looks distressed, but there is no time to do much about anything for the kids are herding the front of the stage, plainly restless and impatient. A 'We Want The Jam' chant breaks out sporadically.
Cracking his knuckles with nerves Paul's father and the Jam's manager silver-hair John Weller stups up to the microphone to introduce the band. The boys troop on to a massive roar of approval.
They break into 'I've Changed My Address' with Paul Weller's dentist drill of a guitar splitting the heads of the kids nearest the PA stacks. Weller opens his mouth for the first vocal and the Jam's three faces freeze in terror. Above the tin-treble sonic attack of the backline, there is hardly a word to be heard over the wedge monitors. High on his drum riser Rick Buckler signals wildly that he ain't getting any bass and guitar worth a mother-of-pearl cufflink.
The roadcrew run in all directions. Feverish activity breaks out in the wings and behind the curtain.
Little of the round-stage panic seems to register with the kids, whose pogoing heads look like a choppy sea. They applaud the intros and they applaud the finales. Half a set goes by in a blur of painful indecision and tensed fingers. But the crowd are with them, mesmerised by the visual impact of Paul Weller's suited snarl and Bruce Foxton's frenzied acrobatics.
Finally the foldback man finds his feet in the billowing acoustics of the concrete cowshelter, the wires are straightened out and the plugs gaffa'd in their sockets and Paul Weller's words come through loud and, more or less, intelligible.
"This song's about combines", he announces as he sheds his jacket to reveal a clean white shirt already sweated at the armpits. "It's not about harvesters – dig?"
It's the 'Combine', of course, from the Modern World album with its exciting changes, its whiplash rhythms and a smooth refrain that kicks like scotch on the rocks.
From then on in it's a straight sprint to 'This Is The Modern World', 'In The City' and the slippery staircase back to the dressing room while close on two thousand voices scream for more and there is a hint of teenage hysteria in the air.
So it's the encores and good night.
"HERE, GO ON. BUY a poster. I gave you a Jam tie, the least you can do is buy a poster." In amongst the press of 'plus-ones', 'special friends' and autograph hunters in the dressing room milling when the euphoria has died down, I spot Mrs Weller, now in jeans and a sweatshirt, sitting on a big cardboard box. A little drunkenly (Go on, you were pissed – Ed) I'm afraid, I enquire about its contents.
Yeah, you guessed it. Jam posters. Huge full-colour blow-ups of the photograph on the back of This Is The Modern World.
Almost dropping my paper cup filled half and half with New Hearts' vodka and the Jam's coke, my hand dives into my pocket.
"Gorra 'ave a pohshter ov th' Jamm for me wall 'aven't I? They're me fayvritts."
© Chas de Whalley, Sounds, 17 December 1977