About Me

My photo

I'm a former hospital radio/club/mobile DJ, avid record collector and amateur musician (playing guitar, keyboards, recorder, harmonica and percussion.) I've even filled in on bass guitar for a couple of local bands as well (although that was quite a few years ago). Also interested in Motorsports, Wrestling/Mixed Martial Arts and Classic Television and Radio from the 1960s - 1980s.

Why am I on here? Well, I'm just trying to make some sense of life before it's too late...but who cares anyway?

Thursday, 10 October 2013

THE JAM - “The Gift” (Polydor) (1982)

So we’re in 1982, and the music in the charts was so varied around this time that it was not unusual to see the likes of Dollar rubbing shoulders with Motorhead,  Duran Duran fighting it out with Iron Maiden, and Renee & Renato preventing The Jam from taking the Christmas number one.  (Yes folks, you read that correctly!)

Rewind to March 1982 and the band’s final studio LP “The Gift”.  It was a marked change of style from previous albums, with Paul Weller & Co going for a more soulful sound with Pete Wilson taking over from Vic Coppersmith-Heaven on production.  Weller was once quoted as saying that he wanted this to be the best Jam LP ever, stretching his own abilities as well as those of Bruce Foxton & Rick Buckler.  To boost the sound, Steve Nichol & Keith Thomas were brought in on brass (they would also join the trio for the “Transglobal Unity Express” tour).  So how do the songs stack up?

We start with “Happy Together” after a reminder that “now for those watching in  black and white, this one’s in Technicolor”.  Foxton comes in with one of his trademark bass runs while Weller’s vocal performance here (and on the album as a whole) is probably the best he’s done up to that time.  It’s probably a good idea here to note that the overall sound on the LP has a more immediate feel than before,  complemented by Pete Wilson’s production work.

“Ghosts” slows down the tempo with minimal guitar work and a simple rimshot pattern courtesy of Buckler, before moving onto funk territory with “Precious”. (with just a touch of Pigbag’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” thrown in for good measure)  “Just Who Is The 5 O’Clock Hero” revisits “Mr Clean” from the “All Mod Cons” LP, but this time looks at the working class point of view.  “Trans-Global Express takes it’s inspiration from the Northern Soul funk hit "So Is The Sun" by World Column.  The only problem here is that the vocals are so far back in the mix that you could barely make them out, so a lot of the power of this militant call-to-arms is lost.

Flip over to side 2 and “Running On The Spot” which is vintage Jam, but seems too polished, while “Circus” (another one of Foxton’s compositions) probably wouldn’t feel out of place on one of those sporting retrospective programmes which usually crop up on ITV 4.  “The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong” shows how the restrictions of the basic format were becoming apparent -  the group trying their hands at calypso (with some steel drums thrown in), but not quite succeeding.  “Carnation” reflects the dark nature we all seem to have.  “Town Called Malice” (complete with Motown-esque rhythm track) is a pretty fair assessment of working class life at the time dealing with issues such as the everyday struggle of making ends meet and the lack of facilities in smaller towns.  It all seems pessimistic, but “The Gift” defiantly shows that there is hope - we’ve just “Got to keep moving”

It’s a bit of a mixed album if I were to be honest.  While some of the songs like “Malice” and “Running On The Spot” work reasonably well, especially in their own right (Weller has recently been playing them during his solo gigs) others like “Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong” appear to fail to get their message across.  Nevertheless, on this LP, one would be inclined to cherry-pick the best bits.

Anyway, by this time, Weller was keen to explore new styles, but one of the problems he encountered was that the rhythm section of Foxton and Buckler was so easily recognisable, that even if he had written a song in a completely different style, it would still be recognised as a typical Jam song.  This was probably one of the factors that led to the band splitting at the end of 1982, but not without going out on a high note when “Beat Surrender” gave the trio their fourth number one (and the third to enter at the top).  And it would have been the Christmas number one if it wasn’t for Renee & Renato.

So that’s it.  Six studio albums in six years.  From the punk explosion of 1977, through the mod revival of 1979 and through to 1982, which not only saw Weller & his cohorts develop musically, but also as people.  One door closed, but a whole new world waiting to be explored.  Well,  it was great while it lasted…

Sunday, 6 October 2013

THE JAM - “Sound Affects” (Polydor) (1980)

1980.  The dawning of a new decade.  Surely it couldn’t get any better for Paul Weller and co after “The Eton Rifles” and ”Setting Sons” both performed solidly in the singles and album charts respectively.  Well, we got our answer when “Going Underground”/”The Dreams Of Children” did the seemingly impossible -  by entering the charts at number one - the first single to achieve this feat since 1973 when Slade managed it with “Merry Xmas Everybody”.  (You have to give credit to Polydor’s marketing department here,  not only did they release the single on a Tuesday - which wasn’t the normal practice at the time - ensuring that it maximised sales, but also added a bonus three-track single recorded live in London towards the end of last year.

1980 also saw something of a change of sound for the band‘s next album,“Sound Affects“, influenced by bands like Wire, Gang Of Four, Joy Division, and, to an extent, Michael Jackson (Weller was once quoted as saying that the next LP was a cross between The Beatles’ “Revolver” and Jackson’s “Off The Wall”) so it would be interesting to find out how it all turned out come release time…

Starting with “Pretty Green”, and one of those insistent basslines from Bruce Foxton, it very nearly was a single if it wasn’t for Weller, standing his ground and insisting that “Start” was the better bet (more on that later). The song (about the power of money) is as solid an opener as you could find on any of the band’s L.Ps.  “Monday” is a bit of a departure though, as the guitars take on a jangly, slightly psychedelic quality which is also evident on the likes of “Man In The Corner Shop”, one of Weller’s “photographs of suburban life”, and another of those numbers that Ray Davies would have been proud of writing.

There are still elements of the old “Jam Sound” evident in tracks like “But I’m Different Now”, “Dream Time” and “Boy About Town” (the latter two adding the occasional brass section). “Start” meanwhile nicks elements from The Beatles’ “Taxman” (especially that bassline) and uses them to good effect - and gave the trio their second successive number one single - although for this version, the brass section again is called into service (pity it isn’t credited though).  “Set The House Ablaze” powers through at a furious pace.  Hang on though, do I detect the slight influence of Whistling Jack Smith (ask your grandparents) here.  “Scrape Away” and “Music For The Last Couple” are the closest the band come to that edgy sound that Weller had intended for the LP, while pride of place has to go to “That’s Entertainment”, an acoustic number which (so the story goes) Weller reeled off in a matter of ten minutes after coming home from the pub one night.  It wasn’t an official single, but it did get into the top 30 purely on import sales.  (Polydor would release it officially in 1983 in the wake of the band’s split, and again in 1991 to promote the “Greatest Hits” collection.)

It’s the group’s most adventurous effort to date, (Weller still cites it as his favourite Jam LP), but it took me a few plays to get used to the new sound when it first came out.  Sharp eared listeners would probably have noticed that a lot of the volume had been lost in the mastering process - in fact when it was remastered for a special edition CD, one reviewer went as far as to say that you could actually make out the tape hiss during the quiet parts.  Some of the songs seem unfinished but there’s plenty on the LP to warrant repeated listening.

There would only be two new singles released by The Jam in 1981 (“Funeral Pyre” and “Absolute Beginners”, which would both reach the top ten), but the following year would prove to be more successful.  However, 1982 would be the last year that the band would be active together - with Weller announcing that they would split at the end of the year.

So what would the band leave as a parting gift?  (Nifty clue about the title there).  We would find out the answer in March 1982.….

Friday, 4 October 2013

THE JAM - "Setting Sons" (Polydor) (1979)

Just in case anyone’s picked up on this blog a little late, let me bring you up to speed on what I’ve been doing so far.

In November, Universal Records are bring out a limited edition vinyl box set featuring all six of The Jam’s studio albums, plus two extra L.P.s covering non-album singles and B-sides.  So to mark the occasion, I’ve been digging out my old vinyl, and giving them a bit of a re-assessment.  We’re now up to 1979.  By this time, Margaret Thatcher had been voted in as Britain’s first woman Prime Minister and we’ve endured the winter of discontent.  The Jam’s fortunes were on the upturn following the respectable performance of “All Mod Cons” in the LP charts in 1978.  Two strong singles had been released during the year (“Strange Town” and “When You’re Young” - both of which made the top 30) but Paul Weller & co now had the unenviable task of trying to maintain that momentum.

Weller’s original idea was to record a concept album, telling the story of three friends and their individual journeys through life.  However, that idea fell by the wayside, but instead, we were presented with a mixed collection of songs, some of which would have worked well within the original concept.

…(Phone’s ringing!)  Well, not quite - this is actually the opening track called “Girl On The Phone”  About a character who appears to know the narrator so well, even down to his most intimate details.  Could this be an early reference to stalking?  Just saying.  “Thick As Thieves” is next, recounting a group of friends who promise to stay together through thick and thin, but eventually drift apart.  (Oh well, such is life…)  A theme which the trio return to on “Wastelands” and “Burning  Sky” but we’ll cover those songs shortly.

In the meantime, “Private Hell”, which is probably one of the best tracks on the album focuses on a woman’s struggle with day to day living. The husband not at home as often as she would like, “working late as usual”. The children having moved on with their own lives.  “Little Boy Soldiers” is a bit of a departure from the usual format.  Here, the song’s broken into sections, almost like movements in a symphony.  The band even throw in a bit of cello and timpani for dramatic effect.  Even a recorder gets used in “Wastelands”  where the three friends meet up and discover that things appear to have changed, but not for the better.

Onto side two which opens up with “Burning Sky”  in which one of the friends writes a letter to his companions, all of whom have now seemingly gone their separate ways for good.   The next number “Smithers-Jones” (which, by the way has been cited as Bruce Foxton’s best composition) first appeared on the B-side of “When You’re Young”, but for the album version, is re-arranged for string quartet (as suggested by Rick Buckler).  The story tells of the loyal employee who’s hoping for that promotion he’s been promised, only to find that he’s not seen as part of his boss’ future plans.

The next track, “Saturday’s Kids” paints a vivid picture of suburban life, with the girls working in the local department store while the boys are thinking about “lots of beer and half-time results“.  (well, it’s a scenario you could see in any town centre I suppose.)

Then we get the trump card in the form of “The Eton Rifles” (apparently one of David Cameron’s favourite songs.).  Crashing in on a combination of power chords, feedback, rapid-fire drum fills and a bass line which  has you hooked in a matter of seconds, the song sorts itself out into a classic pop form.  Recounting the story of a “Right To Work” march which passes one of the major English public schools, the schoolboys jeering as the march passes by.  Weller summed it up in a radio interview once as “the privileged and the underprivileged clash”.   which to me is a pretty accurate assessment which holds true even today.  Anyway, released as a single a few weeks before the LP came out, “The Eton Rifles” became their first top ten hit, and set the standard for the next three years, when they would be a near-permanent fixture at the top end of the UK singles charts.

The album closes with “Heatwave”, another nod to their earlier soul and Motown influences.  This time a cover of the old Martha & The Vandellas classic, staying faithful to the original, but with that signature guitar sound just prominent enough to make the song their own.

On the whole, it’s a good album, but it would have been interesting to see how it would have developed had Weller persevered with the original concept.  Besides Weller,  Foxton’s and Buckler’s contributions are as solid as ever, and with the occasional guest thrown in for good measure (including future Style Councillor Mick Talbot on keyboards - billed here as “Merton Mick”)  the album does bear repeated listening.

So The Jam ended the 70s on something of a high note, but few would have predicted how 1980 would have started for the band…

Thursday, 3 October 2013

THE JAM - "All Mod Cons" (Polydor) (1978)

So this was the scenario as we moved into 1978 - “This Is The Modern World” had failed to live up to expectations, and after a U.S. tour in which they ended up supporting Blue Oyster Cult, The Jam were seemingly at a crossroads.  A stop-gap single, “News Of The World” (the only A-side written by Bruce Foxton) hardly helped matters, while Paul Weller’s songwriting was running into problems.  And by the time that demos for a proposed third LP were rejected, it looked as though there was no future for the threesome.  Weller moved back to Woking in Surrey, and wrote a new batch of songs which would turn the band’s fortunes around in startling fashion - culminating in “All Mod Cons”.

For starters, the sound of the album was a far cry from “The Modern World”, with Weller experimenting with guitar overdubs which added to the overall feel without overpowering the music.  Foxton was now using a Fender Precision bass as opposed to the Rickenbackers he favoured on the earlier L.P.s, and Rick Buckler’s drums had a more powerful sound to them.  As for the songwriting, Weller had begun to take a different approach with some of the new tracks, creating characters, and developing stories for them in song form.

So we kick off with the twin-pronged assault of  “All Mod Cons” and “To Be Someone”.  The former possibly reflecting the situation faced by young bands trying to make their mark in the music business while the latter warns about the fleetingness of fame (with guitar-shaped pools, and “Reporters at my beck and call”) before the protagonist ends up “out on my arse with the rest of the clowns”.  Well, it was good while it lasted.

With “Mr. Clean”  the focus moved onto class issues as Weller reflected on the people living on the stockbroker belt travelling to Waterloo station to get to the city, the sort of song Ray Davies would have been proud of - oh, speaking of whom… we get a spirited cover of The Kinks’ “David Watts” next.  Featuring Foxton on lead vocal, the song became a firm favourite when the band played it during their live gigs.  The pace slows down for “English Rose”, a gentle acoustic ballad finds Weller in reflective mood, before “In The Crowd” concludes side 1 - returning to the battle of trying to fit into the system reflected in “The Combine” a year earlier.  This time though, the song starts out in a classic pop form before fading out in a cacophony of power chords and Beatles-inspired backwards guitar effects.

Flip the record over, and we continue by meeting the downtrodden “Billy Hunt”, whose only aim in life was to make sure that “the whole world’s gonna wish it weren’t born”, while constantly running into characters like “the foreman, Bob” who constantly put down Mr. Hunt at every opportunity.  The Beatle-esque “It’s Too Bad" follows next, a pleasant enough number where Weller’s and Foxton’s harmonies are spot on, as they are on “The Place I Love”, which probably refers to the sort of retreat we’d all like to go to escape the pressures of modern life.    "Fly" starts out as a gentle acoustic ballad interspersed by short electric passages  which work well without ruining the overall effect. We’re brought back down to earth though as  “’A’ Bomb In Wardour Street” and “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” are unleashed.  Both songs reflected the violence occurring in London around this time, the latter telling the story of a man getting beaten up by thugs on the underground.  It’s an unsettling end to the album, but with those songs plus the more powerful production provided by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven,  the band’s fortunes had begun to turn for the better. Would the momentum last into 1979?  We’d have to wait until “Setting Sons” to find out….

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

THE JAM - This Is The Modern World
(Polydor) (1977)

By late 1977, the punk explosion had all but fizzled out,  with most bands left treading water without some form of direction.  This appeared to be the case with The Jam by the time of their second LP “This Is The Modern World”.  Things did appear to be looking up however, after their second single “All Around The World” reached number 13 in the singles charts that summer, and with “In The City” gaining favourable reviews (and reaching the top 20 albums chart as well).

Things took something of a nosedive with “The Modern World” single barely nudging into the singles charts, quickly followed by the LP.  Quality control seemed to have been pushed to the side somewhat, as the bulk of the song writing appears to have been rushed through at short notice.  The production seemed to suffer as well, with Bruce Foxton’s bass not as prominent has it had been on previous recordings up to that point,  Paul Weller’s guitars not as clear and crisp as on “In The City” and Rick Buckler’s drums appeared to sound a bit tinny to this listener’s ears.

On to the songs then. “The Modern World” could be seen as Weller’s attempt to tell his detractors “I’ll do things my way, and if you don’t like it….”  The single version was censored for radio play (“I don’t give a damn about your review”) but you could sense the anger in his voice if you were to hear the album version.   As well as Weller, Foxton contributes two numbers on this LP.  “London Traffic”, though probably shouldn’t have been on there according to producer Chris Parry, describing it as “an awful track”, while “Don’t Tell Them You’re Sane” reads like a third form essay on a mental patient.  As for the rest of the songs,  the lyrics for “Standards” could easily have been lifted from soundbites from one of those party political rallies while “The Combine” bemoans the difficulty of an individual trying to fit in with “The Crowd”.  Other songs like “London Girl”, “Here Comes The Weekend” and “I Need You (For Someone)” would have worked had they been better developed and produced. (And if you want a good illustration of that point, compare live recordings of those songs with the LP versions and you’ll see what I mean.)

As for the rest of the material, In The Street, Today” (which credits Weller’s friend and former band-mate Dave Waller as a co-writer) is rushed through to the point of failing to get its message across, whereas “Tonight At Noon” and “Life From A Window” sees Weller adding acoustic guitars to the arsenal, and although it doesn’t quite come off as successfully as he would have liked,  the results are mildly encouraging - as they’d be used to greater effect on later songs like “English Rose” and “That’s Entertainment”.  A hastily rushed version of Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” - another favourite from the band’s early live sets - closes out the album .

It’s probably easy to see why the critics were as harsh as they were when “This Is The Modern World” first came out, but it probably shows that there was a lot more to this LP than just “In The City” part 2, and when I first bought the album a few years later I felt that it was one of those which would probably grow on me after several plays.

It may have been something of a low point for the band back then, especially as their label Polydor rejected demos for a proposed third LP in 1978.  But Weller and co. just picked themselves up, dusted themselves down, and started all over again…