Paul Weller has said a million times in a million interviews that he will never reform The Jam. Their legendary back catalogue gloriously lives on in the shape of original Jam bassist Bruce Foxton’s FROM THE JAM. His main partner in crime is the singer and guitarist Russell Hastings who he’s been working with since Russell joined Foxton and (original Jam drummer) Rick Buckler in The Gift back in 2006. Russell also co-wrote and performed on Bruce’s solo albums Back In The Room and 2016’s Smash The Clock. In December 2017 FTJ released a live album (via Pledge Music) titled From The Jam Live in an effort to capture the celebratory atmosphere that naturally arises when the band perform live. Vive Le Rock‘s Guy Shankland caught up with Bruce and Russell backstage at the sold-out Rewind Festival in Henley-On-Thames. The band have just delivered a very short, jam-packed (sorry) set of hit after hit after hit to a bleary-eyed but enthusiastic early afternoon crowd.
This is the band’s fourth Rewind appearance, so how do they find these retro type festivals? “They’re just great,” explains Russell. “Everyone’s so friendly.” Bruce continues: “All the performers have really got their act together and are, dare I say it, probably grateful for another bite of the cherry. From our perspective, there’s a great vibe backstage. There’s no prima donna’s, everybody’s just wishing each other all the best and they [the festivals] pull big crowds.”
Indeed they do, this year’s Rewind is pretty much sold out and that equates to almost twenty thousand punters a day.
“Yeah we’ve done a few which were forty thousand, we know they’re not all here for From The Jam but overall this is proper stuff, proper gigs.” Russell continues: “We do notice when playing these festivals that the ticket sales for the winter tours spike, they go up a lot, these [festivals] are great platforms for us, good live exposure. The promoters always tell us when the spikes are happening in sales and as Bruce says we know that these aren’t our fans, they wouldn’t necessarily pay just to come and see us, so it really works.”
The band are allotted just twenty-five minutes today so how do the band choose the setlist or does it choose itself? Bruce cuts in laughing, “They’re thinking of my age, he’ll be good for twenty-five! my heart!”
“The setlist picks itself really,” Russell continues. “You’d be a mug not to throw in all the cherries and there’s a lot of cherries. The band had so many hits that everyone identifies with, how many bands out there have that many hits under their belt that they have to cut some number ones out.”
Bruce elucidates further: “It sounds like we’re blowing our own trumpet but it’s hard when you only have twenty-five minutes and you only play six or seven songs and you try to fit all the hits in. We are very fortunate, it’s a great catalogue of stuff. When your doing this kind of festival people expect it [the hits]. There’s no point in going on and saying we’re playing an upcoming album, what kind of reaction are you going to get?”
Russell has been with the band for over a decade so what’s been his FTJ highlight? “Aw man, it’s been a journey! One is my friendship with Bruce because he’s a dear friend to me so that comes first.[In the background Bruce just says “Likewise”] “That makes the whole experience. I remember being on Bondi Beach with Bruce, flying into L.A and being in New York with Rick and Bruce, trying to go up Sears tower in Chicago. It’s not just different countries but playing Newcastle Academy and The Glasgow Barrowlands, playing the iconic venues and seeing people so caught up in the music. I mean, what a delightful thing to do, to be part of something where everybody’s just in a great fucking mood.”
When the band play it feels like a celebration.
“That’s right, they celebrate it, it’s a great thing that unity. It’s such a lovely experience doing it.”
With the PR giving me the ‘One Minute’ sign, we go the last question. The years between 1976-1980 gave us such a rich vein of songwriting and bands. We had Punk, 2-Tone, The Jam and New Wave. They are still celebrated to this day, why do you think that is? Bruce nails the question with a quick as a flash one-word answer – “Quality” – before adding, “I sound like the old man now, ‘There’s a tune there, there’s a lyric!’ It’s the quality of the songs.”
Forty years (from 1978) on are we back in the same place socially? “In a lot of ways,” Bruce says before Russell steps in. “I’m not going to jump on any bandwagon I’ll just tell it how I feel it is and its a load of fucking shit at the moment. I’m also really disappointed [with the music industry], I think that iTunes and the big conglomerates are destroying…[pauses]. If you try to get a record advance now they just fucking laugh at you. You can’t get one, you can’t even get expenses for the train. They want a produced album laid on the table, they just want the final cut then and there.” And that’s a wrap as the smiling and incredibly polite duo head off to musically educate another British Festival.
From The Jam continue to record new material, tour the world and delight fans from Henley to Hanoi. It’s those songs, those cutting Weller lyrics, the angry but pinpoint controlled guitar sound and opening bass lines that are greeted like returning war heroes. I finally put the idea of FTJ playing The Rebellion Festival to Bruce and Russell both seemed interested but then with that arsenal of songs in their Levi back pockets they could play any festival, anywhere on the globe and win the crowd over. The sadly prophetic “They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs and too many right-wing meetings,” Weller words are as relevant now as they were in 1978. What they have said will always remain.