Thursday, October 18, 2012

1982: You left your mark

I can't even think of The Jam without being reminded of my schoolfriend Paul.

He was mad on them, properly mad. I wasn't a fan at all really. In fact up until this point they'd not been on my radar very much at all. A Town Called Malice, their most recent hit was good, but I never bought it.

So when Paul and I became fast friends on the second day of the first term at boarding school, I was subjected to them. At the time of starting boarding, I was mad on anything indie or what I considered to be trendy, with the odd bit of cheese thrown in. The Jam was serious music. But their songs went into my brain whether they liked it or not. And they have never left.

Like me, Paul was from ordinary stock, and like me his parents were ex-pats, but working in Nigeria for Shell. We had a lot of Shell brats at school, mostly those whose parents were in Africa, but some from further afield. He was from Essex, sounded like he was from Essex and dressed like a Jam fan from Essex. He was the first person ever to shorten my first name to what it is and has remained ever since. Both smokers, he was the one who boldly marched us into the common room (where you could smoke). Without him, I'd probably have dithered on the edge for a few more days and missed my window.

We were in the same school house, though he was in this poky, nasty low level new-build with the thinnest walls ever called The Annexe. It was but a minute's walk from the main house but over there more liberties could be taken, especially with loud music. All those musics going at once: Lionel Richie v Tears For Fears v Kid Creole & The Coconuts  v Evelyn King v Kool & The Gang v Eddy Grant v The Human League, etc. It was like being hermetically sealed in Tupperware that was having a provincial disco.

And then there was The Jam of course. Their album The Gift was released around this time, and we listened to it a lot. Tracks like Ghosts, Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero, their No.1 Beat Surrender and of course this song, The Bitterest Pill, whose intro is the sound of autumn leaves falling from trees in the land of post-punk rock.

I've never loved a band so much I've been consumed by them. I have three friends who are Springsteen crazy, and Paul was not the first friend I had who was Jam-mad, though this other fan was also bonkers over Level 42, which was nice. The closest I've come was discovering Fairport Convention, but it was more a case of plundering their back catalogue rather than waiting for the new single to come out.

Paul remained a Jam fan, then a Style Council fan. I preferred the Style Council much more and bought the awkwardly phrased Speak Like A Child. Then they got a bit jazz funk until Long Hot Summer when I was back on board. Then jumped ship again forever, though I still think they've got a lot to offer.

Like most Weller devotees, I'd put money on Paul having followed his career since. I have no idea, not having seen him since 1988 (see 1988: Slowing down, and yes, I still owe him a tenner).

I have grown to really love The Jam over the years. I think they're far superior to anything Weller did after that, with an oeuvre of the most amazing songs. Yes, I've got all their albums, yes I'm a fan. Paul would be proud.


  1. They were one of the first bands I ever saw live, and they were head and shoulders above anything else. I remember elbowing my way to the front of The Rainbow like I'd found the Messiah. Their performances were incredible and remain so in my memory, even after thirty years of dogged gig-going. They burned so briefly and so bright.

    It's always fascinated me that despite Weller's longstanding prickliness about the Other Two, he so clearly needed them more than he can admit, to ignite that incredible alchemy and bring his songs to life. Almost everything else he's done since then has sounded like pretentious toss or laboured, self-important guff to my ears (I know plenty disagree with me but hey ho, that's how I feel.).

    I wonder if I ever met your Essex chum down the front at one of their gigs...

  2. I always get tarred with the Weller/Jam brush - although they're still not clicking for me. His early solo work (Acid Jazz era) is a treat. And Bitterest Pill - a peach. There was a Marc and the Mambas tune (opening track on Almond's solo album)that came out at the same time with a similar autumnal vibe - very The The too

    Give it spin here

    See also The Damned here
    All autumn 82 strangely

  3. Paul Weller was my ultimate hero from about 1979 right through until about 2006 (when he became a bit too much of a lad's lager drinking hero and the guitar solos became about an hour too long). Essex Paul and I used to chat about him a lot and admire the posters on my wall.

  4. I loved all of their records, but above all, "That's Entertainment" always sounds to me like the end of the era, the end of the affair, end of youth, etc.

    Like a time capsule of their all too brief period at the cutting edge, maybe?

    Anyway, God bless Polydor and their extra-pungent vinyl. Smells like teen spirit.