THE JAM: it's a family affair. A family of blood and/or loyalty, stick-together adhesion and sense of common purpose you might expect to come out of Sicily rather than Woking.
Of course there's Weller-Foxton-Buckler giving the impression they've been going around as a trio since they first handed in their nappies. Behind them there's the key road crew members who have been with them for years, there's Paul's younger sister Nikki running the fan club, there's his schoolmate Dave Waller working on their poetry publishing project . . . a lot of people with a lot more than the average commitment to their band.
And so this isn't an interview with the Jam.
I talked to John Weller, Paul's father, the group's manager and one of the most inspiringly dynamic people I've ever met, in the boardroom at Polydor and the quieter, middle-class Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, who has engineered and/or produced every Jam release, in a Hampstead tea shop near his home. In a New York coffee shop I spoke to Chris Parry, another dynamo, now owner of Fiction and manager of the Cure, because he 'discovered' the Jam played a big part in their early career, and is one of the few significant names in their story to have split to a critical distance.
In a Carnaby Street pub I asked Goffa Gladding and Norman, founders of modmag Maximum Speed, why they remained faithful to the Jam above all others.
JOHN: Our house was in Stanley Road which I think Paul wrote 'The Place I Live' about. A two- up, two-down terrace house. I could never give Paul anything on the financial side. I was just a bricklayer of sorts. But I knew music was something he could do.
The band used to practice in Paul's bedroom. You could stand down in the shopping centre in the middle of town and hear them good and proper. Downstairs we couldn't hear a bloody thing we were saying and it must have driven the neighbours crazy but we never had one complaint from any of them. I can remember Teds dancing on the pavement across the way. . .
Anyhow I got them a room to rehearse in every Sunday at Woking Working Men's Club. The bloke who ran it was a friend of mine. Then we started gigging, but after a while we decided we had to play in London because we weren't getting any joy out there.
The first time we got any music press was when we played in Soho Market. I got to know this stallholder and asked him if we could use his electricity. We plugged in a three-pin and played off the back of a lorry. Chas De Whalley and Jonh Ingham were there and Caroline Coon took some snaps. From there we went on to the Greyhound, the Hope and the 100 Club. I loved those days, it was magic.
It wasn't easy, though. One night when we were out fly-postering I overturned the Mini on the A3 and Rick broke his ankle. He did that gig at the Greyhound with his leg in plaster. Some people thought it was a gimmick when we carried him on, but it wasn't. That's the spirit that will keep them going. You want to be a bag of nerves, you can't become placid.
Another time we got a gig in Paris at the Palais De Glace. We drove down to Dover in the morning, over on the ferry, did the set and got four or five encores, then drove back to catch the five a.m. ferry home and back up to London to do 100 Club that night!
Norman: They was the most accessible out of all the punk groups. The Pistols meant nothing to me because they had a West End trendies atmosphere about them, the Roxy thing.
Goffa: Very cliquey.
Norman: And there was the Jam with their little following from Woking.
John: We were gigging two or three times a week and that's when the record companies started to come down
CHRIS: In January '77 I was in A&R at Polydor and I'd already been aborted on trying to sign the Clash and the Pistols. I knew a lot of punk people and one day Shane, who is now the singer in the Nips, said to me " 'ere Chris, come and see this great band called the Jam."
I went to the Marquee and liked them and went backstage to arrange with John Weller to do demos straight away. The first session was actually blown out by an IRA bomb near the studio.
John: That bomb made us sweat. The week's delay felt like the end of our chances.
Chris: We did an eight-track tape at Anemone studios and it convinced me. I went into Polydor and told them "You've fucked me around on the Pistols and the Clash – don't do it to me again." And they agreed.
We had a contract ready by the next week. They all came down to the office and I asked John if he wanted to take it away to check the small print but he said "No, if you say it's OK it's OK." It was a very lightweight deal with four annual options and a £6,000 advance. No-one could knock it and, with renegotiations, it remains one of the few in-house deals at Polydor which is successful. John was green then but I think it means something that he still uses the same agency, lawyer and accountant I got him then.
John: Sure, I trusted the guy. But also we were skint. Six quid let alone six thousand would have been handy.
Chris: It was quite funny. They didn't have a bank account so I had to put the money through mine to give it to them in readies.
John: Getting into 'show biz' didn't frighten me at all. We'd spent three and a half years together doing working men's clubs, football clubs and wedding parties and when we got an offer we weren't exactly unready to accept it. I started picking a lot of people's brains: take six opinions, apply your own intuition and then hope for the best was my method. When I think about it the only chance I took was with Paul's life, not mine, because I never had nothing going for me anyway.
Chris: The next step was I designed a campaign for them. First loads of small, local dates pressure-cookered into about four weeks...
Goffa: The whole thing then was going to gigs in pubs and seeing bands I liked with my friends. Almost every night of the week and always new bands. There's no better thrill.
Norman: I picked up on Jam fashions straight away. That was half way through '77 when punk was really getting out of hand.
Goffa: It's funny how their style was the complete antithesis of everything else that was happening at the time.
John: Gigging I was familiar with except for the bigger rigs. The worst thing I went through was feeling left out – no. 'inadequate' is the word – when we were discussing longer-term plans. I didn't understand the politics as well as the figures and that. But Chris and Martin Hopewell from the Cowbell agency helped me on that. I'd expected to meet a lot of crooks but these blokes just weren't deceitful types of people. I'd spent my whole life in debt and hassles and I said to myself there was no way I was going to drop a group of 18-year-olds in the shit. Gradually my ideas developed. The artistic side is left to the band because I haven't got a clue, the politics we talk about between us and the finances are left to me. They know if the Jam has four bob we get a shilling each.
Chris: Knowing their whole repertoire I said they should record an album at once and I told them I thought I could produce it, which they accepted.
VIC: I'd been a producer already back in the late 60s. I'd had a lot of freedom but became less and less impressed with what I'd been doing. That bit of self-criticism was the best thing that ever happened to me. I went back to engineering and worker on all sorts of things from the Stones' ‘Honky Tonk Women' and Joe Cocker's 'With A Little Help From My Friends' to Black Sabbath and 60-piece orchestras.
Chris must have heard of me through Polydor. He popped up out of the blue, played me some tapes and took me to see the Jam at the Half Moon and the Red Cow. I was very excited by them and Chris was an amazing spirit and energy.
Chris: I remember that the whole recording and mixing of In The City took exactly a hundred hours in total. We all came out very pleased.
Vic: The band was very much into things happening quickly and not getting involved in the production side. They wasnted to get to vinyl as quickly as possible. We recorded in a small 16-track studio which was not flattering to anybody. In fact I took more time on the mixing than the Jam had on putting down the tracks. I felt very involved in what was happening, that was crucial to me.
Chris: The tour that summer was significant. They'd started off playing cluds with a little PA, no fold-back, loading their own gear and all that and it was good fun. But than they escalated. It sounded goood but the level on stage was so phenomenally loud I couldn't understand how they could enjoy it. I didn't like that. It was BOFish. I knew it was going to bounce back and it did when they had to deal with TV people who weren't prepared to have that much noise. The Jam have blown out so many TVs – it's still going on.
John: At first soundchecks were dynamite fucking murder because out euipment was no good.
Chris: The soundchecks were unnecessarily pressured because everyone was so loud they were all saying "Turn this up!" and "I can't hear that!" It spun off on support bands. In my opinion they didn't get a fair shake. The Jam weren't trying to screw anyone up but they took so long to set up the other bands got very limited facilities. It's all very well to be Jam, Jam, Jam but you owe something to the industry that feeds you.
John: We have been hard people with ourselves and with a lot of others. It's certainly not a rags-to-riches fairy tale, don't make it come across that way. Anyway it had been all good news up to that point. Then came the second album and it was all bad news. It was recorded under lots of financial considerations and it didn't give anyone any artistic satisfaction. It's not a good production and some of the songs were half-baked, they hadn't been thought out properly.
Vic: There were some excellent songs on The Modern World but I'm not happy with the outcome.
Chris: Another thing was Paul's insistence on using Rickonbackors. They won't stay in tune! We must have wasted two to three days just tuning...
Vic: Paul was constantly 15 feet in the air. I remember looking up from the desk in a sudden silence to see a Rickenbacker flying across the studio. It was totally wrecked.
John: At the time we all listened to The Modern World and thought it was great. But it probably started the rift between us and Chris.
Norman: There was loads of good stuff on the second album although nobody likes it.
Goffa: I couldn't believe it when everybody slapped it down. That was the biggest backlash the Jam have ever had.
CHRIS: Then the first American tour was a nightmare. Paul was taking a hell of a load of pressure. He'd been an outgoing, heavy-drinking type earlier. Now he'd just got together with Gill and he had to leave her for a month or so. And of course they couldn't get the rigs to take the volume. When it happened in San Francisco John just said they wouldn't do the show. That killed me, I 'couldn't take that attitude. People had come a long way to see the Jam and they cancelled because of something that could easily have been solved. Well, John said that Paul was banging his head off the wall and they were coming home. So they lost a few dates – they always do.
John: That was what I call a 'compromise' tour of America. We needed to do it otherwise we'd have been completely unknown over there. But the boys were really pissed off about it. We supported Blue Oyster Cult partly, and the sound we got was terrible. We played to 23,000 people in Chicago and everyone there went away hating the Jam. I was forever popping up to give the engineer a few dollars lo turn it up but I got nothing. A lot of the trouble was due to my inexperience I expect. Still, headlining in clubs like CBGBs we were fine.
Chris: I'd worked pretty hard on the band for six months and I even had a management contract with them which is still sitting in my cupboard-though I never tore it up. Fancy owning 15 percent of Jam! But it was starting to get too hot, too much tension. I wasn't enjoying it. It's not that I didn't like them as people. I was just piggy-in-the-middle.
I was eternally frustrated at the way they operated. On the road John would always be in the launderette cleaning the suits when the band were supposed to be doing interviews. I had to do an amazing amount of patching up for them. But l'd have to do things more or less as directed by John. I was close to both John and Paul but blood is thicker than water so. . .
Vic: When we came to All Mod Cons Chris and I started offworking together; but I knew it wasn't going to work. It wasn't his fault, it was just a matter of too many cooks. I had very particular ideas about the sound. .
Chris: When they were preparing for the third album in '78 Paul's writing came to a grinding halt. Eventually they came to me with a tape of several Foxton songs, a couple of good Weller ideas and a few half-thoughts. I told them it was crap and they shouldn't do the album on that basis. That whacked them hard.
Buckler and Foxton never forgave me but a week later Paul told me he agreed and they cut the Ray Davies song 'David Watts' as a single to give themselves a breathing space. (Paul now dismisses the material he scrapped as o 'silly love songs' phrase.)
Vic: I don't think Paul's always right in his decisions about scrapping songs. He's very impatient in the studio, the Jam being so much a live band. For instance, at ono stage he wanted to dump 'Down In The Tube Station At Midnight'. It wasn't working and he said it was rubbish. But when read the lyric I was totally knocked out and told him he had to be joking.
Norman: 'Tube Station' was probably the best lyric of any chart single.
Goffa: It's that gut feeling – down there with all the echoes, the herberts shouting, you filling your pants. Its your own experience. It's a bad line to come out with; but Jam songs are easy to relate to.
Chris: Paul had been disappointed in Modern World and I don't know how he apportioned the blame but I didn't come out smelling of roses, which I accept.
Vic: In the first stages of All Mod Cons Chris, who was heavily involved on the administrative side with Polydor, was popping in and out of the sessions. Trying to do two jobs really. He'd appear after we'd been working for a while and tell us we should be doing things differently. It came to the point where I said quite openly that it had to be either Chris or myself.
Chris: John Weller came into the office and said "Have you fallen out with Vic Smith? I think you'd better get down to the studio because they're all saying they don't want you to produce any more." Driving over I thought it all out. Fiction and the Cure were coming up.
When I got to RAK I asked each.of them individually whether they wanted me to go. Rick and Bruce said "Yes". Paul said he liked what he'd done but as Vic controlled the desk * agreed with the others that I wasn't essential. So I went down the pub with Vic and did a deal for the work I'd already dome on 'All Mod Cons' and that was the end of it.
It needed a clean break. I don't have any regrets. I got paid for what I did. It was great training. It did me good in terms of name and I learnt everything I know about production through the Jam.
Vic: I wasn't a matter of "Now I'm in charge I can do what I like." No sudden power trips. It became very much four-piece production. I could work more closely with the band and they became more aware of recording – how to use acoustic guitars or pianos while keeping within the Jam sound which has to dominate the subtle embellishments.
The opportunity to grow with the material is really important. That's why I've turned down dozens of other offers over the last two years and kept my involvement down to three acts (the other are the Vapours and Johnny Warman). That means I have time to go to Jam gigs in the US or Europe often. Getting the real picture of the band. I want to be as familiar with a song as the writer himself – or almost.
We like working during the day when there's most energy. It's not night-time music is it? But I can take a day or two mixing one track. It's got to be right. I sat at the desk for 15 hours mixing 'Tube Station', two days on 'Strange Town' so that the interesting guitar lines Paul had played would sit right in the threepiece sound Cutting can take edges too. I did 40 acetates of 'Going Underground' before we got the master.
The band often leave me to it, but then they are very critical of the results and they know exactly what they want to hear.
Mind you, Polydor haven't always been so happy with my production. They've tried to get rid of me several times. The worst occasion was when we were doing 'When You're Young'. We'd spent four to five thousand pounds recording two versions and we weren't satisfied with either so I was about to try a third different studio because I thought the Jam were in a good situation where they could plan and wait rather than rushing out something that wasn't right.
I was pulled in for a meeting along with Paul and John and I was told I didn't know what I was doing. The managing director of Polydor was there and he said it was quite possible I wouldn't produce the Jam again. There was talk of an American producer.
Naturally I was pissed off. But Paul was fantastic. I couldn't have had a better friend. He stood by me totally and although I don't think the Polydor people understood at all they had to go along with him. I suppose it stemmed from America being the biggest market. But I think an American producer would destroy the Jam.
Goffa: I could somehow understand why the Jam haven't gone down well in America. They've got an essentially English quality.
Norman: Maybe it's coming from Woking rather than the city. I couldn't see the Jam doing anything like London Calling. I think Weller would rather die than give up his ideals like that.
JOHN: We've always surrounded ourselves with steady people. Even the roadies seem to stay with us for ages. But then I've threatened them with getting their arms broken if they leave!
Vic: I'm quite surprised the Jam haven't wanted to produce themselves yet. They're quite capable of it. One can expect that in time. I coudn't stop it and I wouldn't be against it.
John: If I left tomorrow they would carry on and be just as good. But there's an intuitive feeling I suppose that I wouldn't hand over the reins to anyone because I'd be afraid they'd screw the band up. Now I know what I want and I know what the Jam want. I know what the business people are talking about. So I'm Johnny Blunt, I tell people what I think.
But the only side of the business I really like is being on the road where things are happening. The rest is tinsel to me.
Chris: John Weller is completely straight, a geniune salt-of-the-earth type of person. And these days he knows an awful lot about the music business.
John: What I get frightened about sometimes is that maybe I've put a lot of pressure on three young guys. Then I feel a bit guilty about what we have created between us. But you get one magic night and that's all gone.
Any dad has those feelings if he's encouraged his son to be a solicitor or whatever and it doesn't work out. But the Jam have come to No.1 in the country and, better than that, they are still in the studio knocking out new numbers with the same zeal they always had.
Paul did always want to be someone. I don't think he got that from me and his talent certainly didn't come from me. But I did give him a "Let's do it" attitude – nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Thinking back it must have been a funny feeling for Bruce and Rick at first having Paul's father as their manager. Would I favour Paul? But I've gone out of my way not to. Paul appreciated it and Bruce and Rick are like sons to. me anyway. I never speak to Paul secretively. If there's a row it's out in front of everybody, it's finished and we don't hold grudges – naturally living in each other's pockets you're bound to get on each other's tits at times.
No, I'm a lucky guy. I've always loved the kids. I used to run football teams, thirty of us on the top of a bus going off to matches. I've spent that much time with youngsters than when I meet anyone in their 40s I look on them as old farts (John is 48). Now when normally my kids might have gone away I'm seeing Paul whenever I want to and working with him. It's great.
I do feel the generation gap when I'm sitting in a hotel foyer at three in the morning because I've got to be there in case there's any hassles. I reckon I must be a lot more tired than they are. But maybe it helps at times because being older I'm a bit more patient.
Vic: The Jam are a tower of strength to work with. They are spiritually very strong. There has to be that bond between us to work together all these years.
John: Touch wood, whistle and cross my fingers, everything we've done has come out all right, and it's all down to the bands. They can handle a crowd. They think of them as people, that's why. People they know and like not just a bunch of strangers.
Phil Sutcliffe, Sounds, 19 July 1980