Fresh from a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia and Japan, From The Jam are now well into their Setting Sons 40th Anniversary UK tour which kicked off last month.
Despite another incredibly busy year, Bruce Foxton, Russell Hastings and the band showed no signs of slowing down at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Saturday (9 November), giving Jam fans an explosive night to remember.
Providing a pre-Jam treat were New Wave legends The Vapors, who supported The Jam on their original Setting Sons Tour in 1979, making this a very nostalgic reunion for the 40th anniversary.
Supported by his son Dan Fenton on lead guitar, vocalist and rhythm guitarist Dave Fenton belted out some of The Vapors’greatest hits, including Turning Japanese, which immediately got the audience moshing like crazy at this iconic tune.
Other hits by the band, discovered by Jam bassist Bruce Foxton and managed by Paul Weller’s late father John, included Jimmie Jones, Waiting for the Weekend and News at Ten, demonstrating what a class act The Vapors are. (I for one will be spotifying them to discover the lesser known gems that have sadly evaded my musical radar).
Sufficiently revved up after this energetic start, the audience gave From The Jam a rousing welcome on stage before dynamic duo Russell and Bruce belted out Setting Sons in all its glory; the album reached number 4 in the UK albums chart in 1979.
Standing right near the front towards the middle of the stage seemed like a great plan at the beginning but it turns out this was the eye of the infamous mosh-pit storm, where you can get swallowed up and spat out within seconds. Beating a hasty retreat to the more genteel sidelines, while getting splattered by a flying pint of beer, we were finally able to relax and fully appreciate the show.
And what a show it was, with Russell’s uncannily Weller-esque vocals and Bruce’s legendary bass playing prowess bringing alive the Setting Sons album, beginning with Girl on the Phone and ending with the Motown classic Heatwave, before the band played a stream of other popular hits.
Originally designed to be a concept album, Setting Sons is themed around the lives of friends growing up together and then being separated by war. Although it wasn’t fully conceptualised due to time constraints, the themes of childhood, adulthood and the destruction of war resonate throughout.
Now a middle-aged Jam fan, to relive these albums is not only a nostalgic trip back down memory lane but also underlines just how good The Jam were both musically and lyrically. The undoubted poetic genius of Paul Weller, who was producing material worthy of a Poet Laureate at the tender age of 21 (when this album came out), never ceases to amaze me. The material is still so relevant today with society grappling with the same old struggles with poverty, unemployment, corporate greed and threats of war, proving that Weller had a insightfulness and wisdom well beyond his years.
You realise that pull-out lines from each of the songs played by From The Jam resonate with you for a lifetime and soon come flooding back as Russell belts them out, recreating all the passion and attitude exhibited by Weller in his ‘angry young man’ days, with a voice just as powerful and gritty.
Most poignantly on the night before Remembrance Sunday were the heart-rending final lines of anti-war song Little Boy Soldiers: “Then they send you home in a pine overcoat with a letter to your mum saying find enclosed one son, one medal and a note to say “we won” - a powerfully stark reminder from Weller of the repercussions of war.
The struggles of working class life – another of Weller’s enduring themes – are artfully depicted in Saturday’s Kids, with the girls working at the Co-op and Woolworths and wearing cheap perfume, while the boys “live life with insults, drink lots of beer and wait for half-time results” – all wonderfully illustrating the bygone world we used to inhabit in our youth.
Bruce’s own lyrical and vocal prowess took centre stage with his rendition of his self-penned song, Smithers-Jones, a much-loved number in The Jam canon, telling of the heartache of redundancy and the insecurity of commuter life. The audience, many of whom have an enduring bond with Bruce, showed their exuberant appreciation of this song, chanting his name in unison.
Other crowd pleasers were Girl on the Phone, which resonates with today’s relentless telemarketing calls and customer profiling, while Thick as Thieves, tells of a close childhood friendship which ends abruptly. The unforgettable line, “like the perfect Lone Ranger you rode away…”is yet another lyric firmly embedded in the ‘soundtrack of life’.
The piece de resistance in this unforgettable show was a tantalising extended arrangement of Eton Rifles, which got the crowd moshing and pogoing like mad. You wouldn’t know that 40 years had even passed, with fans swept up in the energy and musical brilliance from Russell, Bruce and the band. Bet there were some achy legs the next day!
After Setting Sons came a string of Jam favourites such as That’s Entertainment, Start!, Town Called Malice, David Watts (a brilliant Kinks cover originally sung by Bruce) and a rousing encore including Jam favourite, Going Underground.
Once again From The Jam gave the audience an unforgettable night in Jam heaven, recreating an unprecedented canon of works that stand the test of time. Dynamic guitar duo Russell and Bruce were certainly on fire on Saturday night – creating quite a Heatwave on stage! Thank you FTJ for keeping Jam fans Happy Together! (forgive The Jam song puns! One for next time maybe?). Just cannot wait for the 40th anniversary of Sound Affects – yet another Jam masterpiece.