Boy Wonders Make The BIG STEP

PHEW. THAT was a close one! For a moment there I thought the Jam were going to blow it completely.

Really. I was rooting for them all the way, but it looked for a while like they were going to flounder, lead balloon style.

 

They were playing like Kings, you see, but they just weren't getting the feedback from the floor.

You know Brum. It's always well wary of the bands we toast to the heavens down in the Smoke. And the Jam are running wet with Media

 

Overkill, these days. No wonder the locals are treating them with real suspicion.

And although they were on Powerdrive already, the first twenty minutes of their set hung dangerously in the balance between Hype and High Energy. The crop-haired kids to my right and left stood watching them like hawks. Falter for one second and the Jam would be out for the count.

But I was waiting and hoping for Flashpoint and is it a long time coming! The Jam feel it too. The tension winds up tight and breaks out on Bruce Foxton's face. His desperate good looks are suddenly frozen in stone, his eyes popping wildly with the strain. He jerks across the stage like a puppet barely in control of his limbs. But his brain is on the beat and his bass guitar is pounding pure willpower.

Sweat is dropping too from Paul Welter's fingers, slashing at his strings like his life depended on it.

The Jam are looking mighty desperate, to say the least.

All except Rick Buckler, sitting up behind his drumkit, implacable in his Roger McGuinn shades. But those sticks are snapping at the high cymbals in a driving blur of strength and confidence.

Yep. The Jam are sweating their bollocks off like they did at the Rainbow with the Clash and for twenty nightmarish minutes it looks like it's all going to be for nothing.

Then suddenly the bass swooped low under the fizzing guitar chords and 'In The City' began to crackle and burn. The boys sparked across the boards like dodgems at a fairground, Weller's red Rickenbacker bursting like grenades, Buckler's snare drum showering shrapnel and Foxton's ack-ack bass decimating the cigarette smoke.

ZOWIEEEE!

The Jam have arrived. Their pent-up fury spilling out over the dancefloor is pure beat for the feet and they have the Birmingham crowd firmly in their grasp.

And it's not politics that's done it. Not posturing or pretentions either.

The Jam's songs are good and they're played well too. But that ain't the reason they've won through.

Birmingham is hopping and bopping because that band on stage really worked for their money.

In fact, the Jam worked hard enough to earn their fee three times over.

AND DOES IT EVER TAKE them time to wind down after-wards! It's the adrenalin on the rocks that takes so long to filter off.

No, No. They certainly move fast but they ain't on speed. The Jam need no chemical courage. It's all natural. They're good clean boys at heart.

Well, almost anyway.

So this is their first time on the road, eh! You wouldn't think it. Already they've acquired a taste for hotel fun.

Room 710 of Birmingham's Holiday Inn is an open house for the Jam and their entourage of roadcrew, record company and Press, and

 

Room 710 of Birmingham's Holiday Inn soon dissolves into a debris of foaming beer bottles, cheese sandwich struggles and shrieks of laughter.

The party stumbles on into the early hours and the Night Porter shoots up and down in the lift like a yoyo, adding fuel to the fire with tray after tray of lager bottles and gin. It begins to get very late (or very early if you prefer) and the liggers retire gracefully (including yours truly, soaked to the skin after a schoolboy prank involving a bath of hot water). But the Jam bounce on, a non-stop round of wine, women and song that ends only when the birds are chirrupping on the Bull Ring and it's time to split back to London.

"I tell you," mutters Jam Svengali and Polydor person Chris Parry. "When these guys get really big they'll be wild out on the road. They'll be smashing up hotels like the Who or the Faces never existed!"

If they don't burn themselves out first, Chris.

It's now nine o'clock in the morning, and they've got to tape a live session at Capital Radio and play Twickenham before they get to bed tonight.

And look at them. White faces. Red eyes. It's like a morgue in here.

It's just like the BBC. It's probably like every other radio station if the truth were known.

Zombie Zone.

Even in Euston Tower you can't escape all that advertising. Michael Aspel and Dave Cash ooze their young Marrieds drivel out of every corner.

There are even speakers in the bogs, for Godsake!

"Who are we doing this for anyway?" asked Paul as we stop in straight off the train.

It's eleven o'clock in the morning Paul is ashen grey from the festivities the night before, but the studio engineer looks fresh and spruce and clean shaven as he bustles about with microphones and screens.

"I dunno," he replies. "Nicky Home, (Capital's late night FM rock DJ) I suppose. There's no one else would play this kind of music."

 

Neat Neat Neat, eh? Slam it in the slot. Programme packaging.

Paul winces. He's no newcomer to radio sessions. The Jam did one recently for Peely's show on the BBC; out in Maida Vale. That one wasn't too much fun. Paul doesn't reckon Big Brother Capital is going to be any more electric than the ageing Auntie.

He is right. The Jam's producer Vic Smith appears to offer tactful advice, but nevertheless, it still takes the Capital crew a good four hours to work out where to put the mikes to strike the right balance in the cans. For four hours the Jam stand on the other side of the glass, chain-smoking in tedium.

Finally they get down to it and cut the backing tracks to 'In The City', 'Bricks and Mortar' and a new song, not on the album, 'All Around The World'.

The tracks down, the Jam pile back into the control room. Playbacks? Sorry lads, there's still two more numbers to do.

Whaaat?

It's three o'clock and John Weller is anxious to get the show back on the road. With London traffic as it is, it'll take over an hour to get to Twickenham. Maybe even two. And the roadcrew can't leave to set up the gear until Paul's amp is back in the truck. It's going to be a terrible rush.

"Put the amp in the back of the car, John," says Parry. "This is good PR we're doing here. It should do a lot to promote the album. They use live tracks again and again, you know. We must do a couple more at least."

It's only an AC 30 so John ain't too worried about the amp. It's the time factors that disturb him. He doesn't want the boys to step straight out of the car and on to the stage. The logistics of Needle Time and the Musicians Union don't impress him. But this short stocky man with the big builders hands hanging at his side is easily swayed as the Polydor men lay on the pressure.

The band are jostled into agreement too.

"Who are we doing this for anyway?" mutters Bruce wearily. He's slumped across the mixing desk, half asleep it looks like, and there's still the vocals and overdubs to do yet.

Sometimes even he must wonder if the Jam aren't pawns in someone else's game.

THEY'RE SIMPLE LADS REALLY, when you get down to it. A bit wide-eyed and innocent. That loose-limbed partying the night before really suggested that they were going into this tour like schoolboys on a drunken jaunt to the seaside. Not treating it as a serious make or break venture.

At Capital the pressure of being a top band and big news (with an album in the charts and their physogs on the front covers, don't forget) slaps them round the face like a wet fish. Or rather clips them hard above the left ear with a loaded glove.

The Jam have been catapaulted to stardom, you see.

And as former semi-pros from Surrey their experience of the rock'n'roll slide show is strictly limited. Two years spent gigging twice, maybe three times a week in Woking's Workingmen's Clubs and Cabarets is great training, but it doesn't fully prepare anybody for life in the ring. The crowds may be roaring approval as the new Boy Wonders make that BIG STEP up under the ropes, but there's a lot of ducking and weaving to be, done before the end of the first round. Every trick of the trade will be learned the hard way.

Knock 'em down and pick 'em up.

And just because they're a big name doesn't mean they don't still get fucked over from time to time.

They're all obviously intelligent and hardly shy. But they don't talk nineteen to the dozen like your average super inflatable egos hanging around the rock business. In fact their conversation is frequently limited to answering questions. They have no tales of their own to tell.

Rick Buckler is the only one I get through to above and beyond the call of duty. Taking the train and my car to the Twickenham gig we talk about everything from the Clash dates. "Offer Bernie Rhodes solid gold guitars and he'd say 'No, I want them with silver streaks in"...to motor cars. Rick. It seems, is an expert at backseat boogeying, and expounds upon the advantages an A40 like mine has over the MGB he used to have before he rolled it.

Yeah, Rick Buckler is a regular guy still, and he's into all the things regular guys are into.

Two months on the road will change all that.

ON THE OTHER HAND, you might already call Paul Weller devious. Look at his eyes, they flit from side to side as he talks and a slight frown clouds his sharp features almost all the time. When he smiles thinly and fleetingly.

His jacket is tailor made in Carnaby Street houndstooth. Very Mod. It's buttoned on the top button only, so that two folds of material crease down from his armpits. With his straight legged jeans, too short and revealing inches of bright white sock, he looks faintly ridiculous...a little like a sack of potatoes on stilts.

But he arrests the attention of passers by, cos he looks like he means something.

He looks like he is not to be crossed.

I found that out the hard way. I crossed him a month ago, you see, when I had some uncomplimentary things to say in print about the Jam's In The City album.

Phrases like 'immature song-writing', 'Too much too soon' and 'Weybridge's Flamin' Groovies' showed me up as a real cunt.

I couldn't even get the name of the Jam's home town right!

That's why I was dumped in the bath at Birmingham (just in case you were wondering) and although it was essentially a joke, it was sweet revenge nonetheless.

But, as we sit sipping beer at the Winning Post not half an hour before the Jam are due on stage, Paul is still eager to answer my criticisms.

"I don't know why you didn't think we were ready to do an album. 'Cos we're easily the best band around at the moment. And with the exception maybe of the Stranglers, we're the most capable musicians on the scene.

"The Stranglers are from a different age group to us, so they should be more capable than we are. Otherwise, we're the best.

"Anyway, if you don't believe you're the best, you never get anywhere." Weller's arrogant tone cracks for a moment and he flashes a knowing smile.

He refutes entirely all suggestions that the Jam are High Energy bandwagon jumpers. The songs may differ, he says, but the Jam were presenting the same show two years ago. And he's getting increasingly tired of being asked whether the Jam are ripping off the Who too.

"People only ask that because we wear the suits. Of course I'm into the Who. I think their first albums are some of the best rock ever. But the Jam have always worn uniforms. We used to wear white satin bomber jackets once. Anyway. Let's face it, everybody wears some kind of uniform. Even the Clash and the Pistols wear uniforms. I think the Pistols look very smart. But they could wear anything and still be the same band."

What about the criticism that much of your material bears a resemblance to the Beat Groups of the Sixties?

"Of course some of it does. What's wrong with that? The Sixties is part of our heritage. Same way as the Fifties. If the Stones and the Beatles were influenced by the bands of the Fifties, why can't we build on what the Who or the Kinks were doing? In ten years time the bands then will be ripping us off. I see nothing wrong with that."

Paul Weller eats and sleeps music, and the Jam takes total priority. He was most distressed to find political views attributed to him plastered round certain music papers. They made him out a straight Tory. Yes, he says, he's in favour of Free Enterprise and he thinks the Queen is the best Diplomat Britain has.

 

"But I didn't vote in the last election and I won't vote in the next one. All that stuff about the Tories was only a trivial remark taken out of context. Anyway, I don't believe politics should have anything to do with music."

Which means the Jam's guitarist and songwriter doesn't hold with the Sociological 'Brought Up In A High Rise/Spokesman for A Generation' perspective often laid on the New Wave either.

"It's just Pop music and that's why I like it. It's all about hooks and guitar riffs. That's what the New Wave is all about. It's not heavy and negative like all that Iggy and New York stuff. The New Wave is Today's Pop Music For Today's kids, it's as simple as that. And you can count the bands that do it well and are going to last on one hand. The Pistols, The Damned, The Clash, The Ramones, and the Jam."

THE JAM ARRIVE at the Winning Post in Twickenham, fresh from the Capital Studios just as the bar is filling up with an uneasy cross-section of kids, vinyl rubbing shoulders with denim and oily leather.

A rumour spreads that Pete Townsend himself might well put in an appearance tonight.

Twickenham lies in the soft white underbelly of South London, not a stoned stagger from those old Who hunting grounds, Eel Pie Island and the Railway Hotel Richmond. If Townsend really wants to check out the Jam he could pick no place more appropriate.

Of course, the Jam are secretly excited, although they don't let on.

"I can't imagine he'll have much to say for himself these days," muses Paul, blase. "Did I tell you I met John Entwistle the other week? He was really ordinary and boring. So I gave him my autograph. 'Best Wishes. Paul' that's what I wrote."

Sadly, the mainman doesn't materialise, although Streetwalker Roger Chapman and various members of the Saints and Wayne County's Electric Chair flood in through the doors with the kids.

By nine o'clock the Winning Post is packed solid and when the Jam take the stage, crashing into 'Art School' the dancefloor heaves and seethes like the Chelsea shed on speed.

By the time they got to 'Carnaby Street', 'In The City' and the tremendous 'London Girl' the Jam are playing like the hounds of hell are behind them. Bruce is zigzagging across the stage and colliding with the drumkit while Paul zooms in on the front rows to pick out the breaks at twice his normal speed and twice his normal arrogance.

If the kids in the crowd knew that these boys have yet to go to bed since the night before in Birmingham and that they've crammed five wearisome hours at Capital Radio too. I reckon they'd stop pogoing to a punk and open their mouths in sheer amazement.

Which they do later, after the Jam have left them with 'Bricks and Mortar'. They open their mouths and scream for more. And more. And more.

This was a gig that was never in doubt.

Tomorrow, though, it's Eastbourne, then Cambridge and all stations North, South, East and West. With the Jam pitching themselves beyond human endurance yet again.

And what's to follow?

Well, if they continue to play sets like that last one, the Jam might just take over the world.