THE MAYFAIR NEWCASTLE 18/11/1977
IT FELT bad to be in Newcastle, bad to be alive. A Scottish Polydor rep who is not unused to a little nastiness raged: "Glasgow like the Ritz compared to this I tell you. Animals!". And there around the balcony behind he stage was the trellissed cage installed presumably to avoid a repeat of the Jam's last visit to the Mayfair, when, I gather, 'fans' lobbed a table down at the band. Even so one member of the very capable support band New Hearts had his forehead split by a plastic beer mug.
But the worst was out on the street. A group of journalists, Polydor and Jam people arrived at the front entrance after the 'House Full' notice was put up and were harrassed by police and chased by their dogs.
Meanswhile, out in the Haymarket as I was walking to the gig I saw 8 coppers roughing up a teenage boy and girl and slinging them in the paddy wagon. I tried to give the kids my name as a witness and a sergeant, defending law and order, justice etc, told me to "bugger off". The air was like vomit.
I know. It's not about the music. But it is relevant. Like it was relevant to the people who Judge Jeffries hanged that he had chronic indigestion. The atmosphere could have had a lot to do with me not being bowled over by a band who the mettlesome Chas de Whalley rates as the bees' knees. It needed something inspiring. What we got was earnest, energetic, highly competent, but not quite in the lift-up-your-heart category, for me. OK, the crowd loved it, pogoed wildly, and proved that the Mayfair heavy metal sanctuary has been converted to welcoming New Wave. The Jam certainly didn't let them down.
But what were they putting out? Speed. The intensity of a ferociously workmanlike rhythm section, vocal harmonies hit with the exact precision. All admirable qualities. That was it though. Their tunes/riffs are undistinguished (which fact is mercilessly exposed by their choice of the ancient 'Slow Down' as a final encore). Their arrangements lack shape and dynamics to such an extent that the tiny harmonic twist in the hookline of their hit, 'All Around The World' comes across as a really radical departure. The trio does get some rhythm patterns surging, particularly in 'Here Come The Weekend', but their sound cried out for a lead guitar as a focal point to command space and clear thinking.
This isn't to deny their skill and potential. But I feel the 60s schtick is a blind alley for them. The more punk and the less pop they get the more I like it.
The finest moment in their set is the opening of 'The Modern World', all sullen defiance, aggression and contempt (and a thumping riff which they discard for the rest of the song). If Weller, and Foxton want their words to get across that's the kind of patchy clarity they have to develop as I'm sure they care about reaching people's brains too because Paul took the trouble to talk to the audience at some length between numbers quoting lyrics and emphasising that there were ideas behind the speed: "This is about systems. The combine – not as in harvesters"; "It's all so sickening and we're so satisfied"; "This is about the Housing Department in this country, redevelopment, undevelopment".
The Jam do have it to say. And yet there was something strangely impersonal about their approach to playing, with their uniform suits and deadpan faces. That could even be why fans enjoying the gig felt free to throw glasses. It was as if they weren't aware of the band as flesh and blood who could be seriously hurt. More like a rock'n'roll Aunt Sally, where part of the fun you pay for is to do damage.
Whether that theorette is right or wrong I'd like to see the spunk, aggro and character they put into the raps carrying on into the music. Unless this is all rubbish and I'm just pissed off.
Phil Sutcliffe, Sounds, 26 November 1977