For some of us who went to see From The Jam perform at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge on Saturday, it was our first indoor concert after the lifting of the pandemic restrictions – and what a great ‘Start!’ to the return of live music! (forgive the pun).

From The Jam’s rescheduled 40th anniversary tour of the release of The Jam’s 1980 LP “Sound Affects” included a stop-off in the musical heritage-rich Corn Exchange, which showcased The Jam when it first took off in1977 at the start of the post-punk/new wave era, alongside the likes of The Clash, The Stranglers, The Ramones, The Boomtown Rats and the Tea Set.

Kicking off the night were two-tone ska sensations, The Selecter, whose lead singer Pauline Black, Coventry’s “Queen of Ska”, looks as youthful and exuberant as ever, clearly still on a high after her OBE nomination in the Queen’s New Year Honours for services to the entertainment industry. Pauline’s voice hasn’t diminished whatsoever over the years, particularly evidenced by her pitch-perfect rendition of “On My Radio” – effortlessly hitting all those high notes and sounding just the same as she did when the single was released in 1979, reaching number eight in the charts. The band were a class ska act and got the audience shuffling their feet to the beat of their signature songs including “Too Much Pressure”, “Three Minute Hero” and “Missing Words”. Introducing the band members, Pauline paid a special tribute to original The Selector drummer Charley 'H' Bembridge. A ska-infused rendition of John Barry’s James Bond theme tune was a nice touch and one that really fitted that 60s ska vibe, going down well with From The Jam’s mod faithful.

There was no time for formalities when From the Jam entered the stage, with the band launching straight into “Pretty Green”, the first song on the Sound Affects LP, amidst rapturous cheers of appreciation from their fans.

Sound Affects was The Jam’s fifth and penultimate studio album which reached number two in the UK album charts and was the only LP to be co-produced by the band themselves. It was also the last album produced by the brilliant Vic Coppersmith-Heaven and is said to be Weller’s favourite Jam album, with its iconic cover sleeve being a play on the images used on the BBC Sound Effects records of the 1960s and 70s.

Pretty Green’s striking funky bassline and guitar breaks were powerfully delivered by Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings and immediately sparked the audience into action – the From the Jam appreciation party was officially underway!

The equally exuberant “Start!”, which became a number one single for The Jam in 1980, got the audience jumping up and down, as did the ever popular “That’s Entertainment”, which although was never released as a domestic single in the UK during the band's lifetime, charted as an import single and remains one of the two all-time biggest selling import singles in the UK, alongside the Jam's "Just Who Is the 5 O' Clock Hero?", which reached number eight as an import in 1982. Every other song was a joy to listen to, from the much-loved “Man in the Corner Shop” and Weller’s reassuring message that despite our different stations in life, “God created all men equal”, to the foot stomping military beat of anti-war song “Set the House Ablaze”. Weller has always written a great love song and although short and sweet “Monday” is a song of particular beauty, with Weller’s use of metaphysical metaphors worth their weight in gold: “Rainclouds came and stole my thunder – left me barren like a dessert, but a sunshine girl like you, it’s worth going through – I will never be embarrassed about love again.” Just one example of the sensitive observation and poetic prowess that make The Jam’s catalogue of work stand the test of time.

It was a joy to hear this iconic album brought to life all those years after listening to it endlessly on my old record player as a teenager. I was sadly too young to have seen The Jam perform live back in the day, having got into the band aged 14, just before they announced their break-up in 1982. Like many other fans, I was shocked and saddened by their split as I was just beginning my Jam journey as a modette (in those days you chose your musical and cultural tribe and as a lover of everything 60s, from the music to the fashion, the mod revival was my obvious choice). The Jam were the top mod band of the day with a devout following and I found myself swept up in their music, making up for lost time by collecting their albums retrospectively and enjoying every one of them.

And thanks to From the Jam, we can enjoy those great tunes all over again courtesy of original bass player Bruce Foxton, whose bass lines formed the bedrock of The Jam sound, in tandem with vocalist and guitarist Russell Hastings who has certainly earned huge respect from fans by bringing his own character, passion and creativity to the band. It also helps that Russell has a similar devotion to mod culture, always sharply dressed on stage and matching Foxton’s impeccable dress sense, with his trademark suits being a nod to the mod he’s always been.

Huge respect also goes to drummer Mike Randon, and Andy Fairclough on Hammond and piano, both of whom were going hammer and tongs in the background throughout the whole concert! Mike skilfully recreates Rick Buckler’s first class percussion skills, while Andy must be the most animated keyboardist in music – his power and energy is a sight to behold and helps recreate that powerful energy of The Jam in their young heyday.

Like alchemy, all four of the players come together to recreate that golden energy, power and passion of The Jam, bringing us right back to the epic years of our youths, when we had the time of our lives, forging our own identities as teenagers and experiencing all the thrills of the youth culture of the day. Our lives were undoubtedly shaped and transformed by the music, style and poetic magic that was created by The Jam. It’s uncanny how the lyrics are stored away in the recesses of the brain from all those decades ago and come flooding back when they’re played again; such is the powerful effect of music and those unforgettable lyrics by Paul Weller. I’m still in awe that between the ages of 19-24, from when The Jam’s debut album “In the City” reached the Top 20, to the final “The Gift” album, which reached number one in 1982, Weller had penned the vast majority of lyrics on all five studio LPs. The poetic metaphors, political commentary and razor sharp insights on modern day society were frankly the work of a genius – in fact they still resonate to this day, with poverty, inequalities and corruption still very much in evidence.

Interesting that one of Weller’s favourite poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley is quoted on the back of the “Sound Affects album”, with his Masque of Anarchy poem – ‘Rise like lions after slumber in unvanquishable number…’ a quote often used by socialist campaigners to fight injustice, a cause close to Weller’s heart back in the 1980s. Weller is not so much ‘an angry young man’ these days and seems to have mellowed in his political messaging, but his Jam lyrics remain as relevant as ever.

Sound Affects brings alive the sights and sounds of working class Britain through a sequence of urban poetry fused together with dreamlike psychedelic sound effects – a work of art on so many levels. Thanks to From the Jam for keeping this rich legacy alive, with the entire set keeping me spellbound from “Start!” to finish. Each song was an absolute gem that I hoped would never end. One thing the coronavirus pandemic has shown us is that life really is too short not to celebrate and cherish remarkable music, both old and new. Thank you to Bruce, Russell, Mike and Andy – now we’ve had our Jam fix, we’re really looking forward to listening to your new record, The Butterfly Effect. And after that we’ve got The Gift 40th Anniversary Tour to look forward to – now That’s Entertainment!
Catch From the Jam’s 40th Anniversary Sound Affects tour with The Selecter until the end of April 2022.