During a couple of rare days off, Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings of From The Jam talked to Tootal Blog about their new ‘Live!’ album, their Winter 2017 UK Tour, and looked back over their ten year partnership.
What are you up to at the moment?
Bruce: I just had a Sky engineer come into the office, he’s been up on the roof, threading cables through and I’ve been helping him. When I say “helping” I mean making cups of tea. I’ve not been ‘doing a Rod Hull’; my insurance wouldn’t cover it.
Russell: Bruce and I often tell people we travel for a living. We spend a lot of time living out of suitcases. When I get a chance I listen to music to relax. The other day I had my iPod on shuffle and it went from Erik Satie to Never Mind The Bollocks. I get as much pleasure from both but then that’s my taste. Drummer Mark Brzezicki and I used to listen to songs just to check out the harmonies. Things like Don McLean, barbershop type arrangements; a good harmony really does it for me.
Some of the songs on the new ‘Live!’ album are now 40 years old. Why do you think they have endured?
Bruce: It’s obviously all Jam songs; we record every show good bad or indifferent, but we had a few shows that captured the band live basically, and we selected about a dozen or so songs from there. People want to hear those songs and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. It’s live, it’s not perfect but it captures the band… what we’re all about, basically.
The crowds are getting bigger. There’s a real cross section from parents, like my age or a bit younger, and they’re getting their kids to come along. Or they want to come along because they like what they’ve heard their mum and dad play on the old radiogram, or whatever, all those years ago.
It’s still very healthy. Those songs, we love them, we play them with as much passion and conviction as we can muster every night. I love playing those songs still.
I’m very, very lucky to have been able to do this for so long, at this level. That is a testament to the quality of the songwriting and indeed Paul, Rick and myself.
Russell: The fans have stayed loyal because Paul’s lyrics captured what was happening in their lives at that time. I understand that because I was a fan too. For me, no one has caught the energy quite like that since. Ultimately they are simply great songs.
However I do think people overlook the brilliant production from Vic Smith. A lot of people aren’t aware what a big part he played in shaping The Jam sound; great double tracking, particularly on guitar and vocals. Vic was very good at distance mics, it gave the sound a great depth. The 30-foot guitar sound, often recorded at the other end of a corridor. Listen to ‘Monday’ or ‘Scrapeaway’ – two completely different songs but both with phenomenal production.
Bruce will tell you how one of the first bands he saw was Dr. Feelgood. And it’s well documented how Paul and Bruce caught the early Sex Pistols gigs. For me “In The City” is a brilliant combination of Dr. Feelgood and the Sex Pistols.
How would you describe your style? Does it go hand in hand with the music?
Russell: I think what I wear, like my music, that’s who I am. I try to find different or unique bits of clothing but it’s not easy. I like hunting further afield, I will often look for new things when I’m in America. I’m a big fan of basket weave shoes. And jackets. Sometimes I think I should be saying “Hello, my name’s Russell, and I haven’t bought another jacket for a week”.
Bruce: Onstage or offstage? I mean I might look a bit eccentric if I took the dog for a walk, with one of my stage suits on. In terms of putting a suit on for a performance, that is almost as important as playing the songs well. For me the style – how we appear – goes hand in hand with the music. It’s a very important part of it. It makes me feel we are about to do something of quality, going out there and perform those great songs. If I just went out there in t-shirt and jeans, it wouldn’t work for me; it’s too casual. I want to feel up for it in every sense. Looking – hopefully sharp – is part of it for me.
Bruce, have you still got that red leather box jacket?
Bruce: We’ve, at last, got round to having some wardrobes fitted at home. Since we’ve lived in this house we’ve had to keep all our clothes in those temporary clothes rails you get from Homebase. At the back of one rail I found my red leather jacket. I can just about still get in it, which ain’t bad, really. The leather probably needs a bit of treating, it’s a bit like cardboard.
Do you recall the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?
Russell: Yes, I have a crazy memory for this kind of thing. It was a matching pair of jeans and jean jacket, from Shirley’s in Chichester in 1974. I think that song “Float Like A Butterfly” was in the charts around that time. I fell in love with vinyl at the same time as I fell in love with clothes.
Bruce: I can’t actually remember when it happened, I think it was just a natural transition, really. Probably, towards the end of school, I imagine. I honestly can’t remember saying “Right, Mum, you’re not dressing me in short trousers anymore. I’m going to go and buy some long trousers.”
The Jam suits, when we first started wearing those, they were made by Burton’s. Are they still going? I know John Collier isn’t but I can still remember the bloody advertising tune for that. There you go, showing my age again…
Ever looked at some old photos and thought “Why did I wear that?!”
Russell: There’s loads that I look back on and wonder “what was I thinking?” I still have a habit of buying things in the wrong colour.
About 10 years ago we were in New Zealand with Bruce and Rick. Just before we went on they looked at my trousers, raised an eyebrow and asked when are you going to get changed? So now, just before we go onstage you have to glance at someone else’s outfit and raise your eyebrow. An unspoken and long running joke. I do recall saying to a drummer – who shall remain anonymous – you can’t wear that shirt tonight!” But clothes are very important to all of us. The only time you’ll see me out in a pair of tracksuit bottoms is if I’m off to the gym.
Bruce: Well… Yes. There is a classic photo that resurfaced not that long ago, much to the band’s amusement, It’s myself at a soundcheck, I think it might have been Guildford, actually. Obviously the weather was nice outside because I’m wearing, well, shorts, basically. Very short, Seventies shorts, with white socks and trainers. It just looked awful. The thing is at a soundcheck, you wear whatever you feel comfortable in and think, “Who’s going to notice?” But these things have a way of finding their way out, unfortunately.
Before The Jam, I was a printer. I went to Guildford Art School for a year, and I won the Best Student Award. There’s a photo of me at the presentation wearing Oxford Bags, a shirt with a big collar, a velvet jacket and a kipper tie. It looked I was in The Sweeney.
You worked together on your albums Back In The Room and Smash The Clock. Any plans to record more originals?
Russell: We have an aching desire to record more new material. We’ve got loads of new ideas, plenty of basic demos and rough recordings.
The song ‘Number Six’ (from Back In The Room) was written about my old house, which I lovingly restored around the time my children were born. The working title was “This Old House”. Charles Rees said, “You can’t call it that! So, I told him the story and he said, “What number was the house?” So the title changed in an instant. It was great fun to play; it came together so easily. I reckon once we had the parts Bruce and I pieced it together in about 20 minutes.
Bruce: We’ve got quite a few ideas, either choruses or verses. If Russ or I get half a riff, onstage at a soundcheck you can kick it about a bit, record it onto your phone. We’ve got to knuckle down early next year and crack on with that. Recently we enjoyed a couple of weeks off but then it gradually builds and builds. After Newcastle we go up to Scotland, and there on in it’s busy enough for us, so there won’t be time.
We’re thick through to Christmas, which is great, but the odd days you get off, that’s the time to get your laundry done, and a little bit of time with your Missus. So, we won’t be able to get to the studio but it’s coming along, we’ve got some good ideas, it will be next year at some point. Hopefully we’ll record it at Paul’s place again.
The new ‘Live’ album has a couple of vinyl editions. How do you feel about the vinyl revival?
Russell: I’m just glad that people can once again appreciate the artwork, not just the sound. I started to despair when it looked like everything was going to be download. I’ve known our art designer, Tony Ladd, for a few years. He is an amazing concept person. His design for the new album is great. I love the whole package, the sound, the smell, everything.
Bruce: Definitely. Vinyl is more my era; that’s all there was, so I still think it sounds better on vinyl than it does on CD or Download. And it’s nice that you get more packaging with it, with a record there’s a lot more to look at. I’m as guilty as anybody of downloading tracks but, that’s it; you’ve got the music but you don’t get anything to mull over and look at.
You’ve worked with Steve Cropper, Wilko Johnson, Steve Norman, Paul Jones – who is left on the wish list?
Russell: I’m a big fan of Glenn Tilbrook. I think he’s an amazing songwriter; he has a knack of finding the magical chord, then knowing how to resolve it. For me he’s up there with Paul McCartney and Paul Weller. A master of his craft. A bit like Bruce really… though he’s too modest to admit it. He doesn’t realize the effect those great melodic basslines have had on people. The Jam songs wouldn’t have been so great without that great backline.
Bruce: That’s hard. Some of them are dead. I would have loved to have done something with The Who, and I’d still like to work with Pete Townshend; our paths have crossed here and there, he’s a lovely man. And I was actually involved in a band called Casbah Club with his brother Simon Townshend for a while. I would like to work with Paul McCartney, as well, but he plays the same instrument as me, which is a bit tricky. I’d have to show him how to do it!
And I’m not just saying it but Steve Cropper. Wilko Johnson… they were all so lovely. Not pretentious or up their own backsides, and some of the stuff they’ve done… you, know, it’s amazing. We were so lucky and proud to get them on our record.
Russell: And I’m a big fan of Dennis Greaves, of Nine Below Zero; a lovely humble bloke. The measure is would you buy a secondhand guitar from this man? And Mark Feltham, their harmonica player – he joined us onstage recently for a version of ‘Non-Stop Dancing’.
Bruce: We’ve done a few shows with them (NBZ), and again, they’re not pretentious. They’re experienced, they’re great at what they do and they got on with it. And they are nice guys as well. I think that’s perfect; it’s a pleasure working with them.
From The Jam have been together quite a while now. What keeps you going?
Bruce: 2007 we started out From The Jam proper, and here we are in 2017. I love playing music; I love The Jam material. It’s good to keep it alive, and it keeps me alive. Otherwise, what else am I going to do? I’m very fortunate to be in this position; that I can still play those songs and enjoy it, and the crowds are still coming in good numbers.
Russell: Over those ten years… we speak on each other’s behalf. He knows what I’m thinking, what I like and vice versa. We even get up to go to the bar together. I think we might be turning into the new Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt.
What’s next for you?
Russell: We’ve got a few festival dates then it’s off on tour again, starting in Oldham, right through to two nights in Brighton just before Christmas. It’s the 35th anniversary of The Gift, so we’ll be throwing in a few songs from that album each night.
Bruce: We are playing a few towns that are off the beaten track, so to speak. We have done some strange towns before, strange names, but wherever we go the crowds come and they really appreciate it. Perhaps they think, “Wow! Bands at this level don’t normally come out to see us; we have to go to so-and-so to see ’em”. It definitely goes down well.
A lot of fans have pre-ordered the new album on Pledge Music. It looks like you’ve got a lot of album signing to do.
Bruce: And I’ve got a load of lyrics to write out as well. We’ve got to crack on with it but it’s the least we can do.
‘From The Jam Live!’ will be released on 1st December 2017, on CD, Vinyl and Download. For details of all packages visit www.pledgemusic.com
For details of forthcoming live dates, and to keep up to date with all the band news, visit www.fromthejamofficial.com
With thanks to Bruce, Russell, John Waller and Derek D’Souza at www.blinkandyoumissit.com