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Interview: Bruce Foxton of From The Jam

bruce foxton

THE JAM was a band of immense talent which did something most others never manage: splitting at the height of its power and fame and leaving fans wanting more. Quintessentially English, yet able to find audiences far beyond its native shores, the band’s singles list reads like a best-of of English rock from the last forty years.

With one foot in the punk scene and another in the mod-rock revival, the band found a larger audience than many contemporaries, and their music is as popular almost four decades later than it was when the original trio of Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler bothered the charts with a string of classic albums in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Now, bassist Bruce Foxton is keeping the spirit of the original band’s songs alive with From the Jam, with vocalist/guitarist Russell Hastings and drummer Steve Barnard. A new album is in the bag and an Australian tour is days away.

Hi Bruce, what have you been up to recently?

It’s non-stop. We had an album out earlier in the year called Smash the Clock. It was co-written with my friend and music partner Russell Hastings and it did very well over here in the UK. It charted; it got to number 31 and number 4 in the independent charts. It got some airplay, which was great, and we’re very pleased. The new material is coming along, plus we’re constantly on the road, which we love. We’re constantly kicking and we’re really looking forward to coming to Australia.

Can you tell me a little about when you realised there was a viable opportunity for this version of The Jam to be a band again?

It goes back to about 2006, when I was playing a relatively local show in Guildford in Surrey at a university. I was in a band called Casbah Club, which featured Simon Townshend, Pete’s brother, on lead guitar and vocals, Mark Brzezicki from Big Country on drums, and myself. We were on the same bill as [The Jam drummer] Rick Buckler’s band The Gift, and I got asked would I play a couple of songs with them, and I jumped at the opportunity. It went down a storm; it was the first time I had played with Rick for about 28 years or so. The crowd loved it and we loved it, and over the rest of the year I did a few more shows with the guys and we did a few more songs. The venues were selling out and there was a lot of interest; two thirds of The Jam was better than one third or none at all, and it has gone on from there. Come 2007, we sat down with Russell Hastings, who was also in Rick’s band, and realised we were having a lot of fun performing the Jam classics again. We got an agent on board and haven’t looked back.

Why do you think The Jam’s music continues to excite and interest people when so many contemporaries fell away?

You’ve kind of partly answered it, as it is very exciting music and it sounds very contemporary. A lot of the hits are still played over here on the radio, and lyrically we had something to say.

Do you think about the fact a lot of the issues in the Jam’s early-’80s lyrics are still relevant today? The issues of class struggle and “too many right-wing meetings”?

It’s sad that there are quite a few things we commented on all those years ago – sometimes naively, but those were our opinions at the time – that haven’t changed in 40 years. You can’t let it get you down; there are more important issues and you just have to keep going.

Do you get sick of being asked about Paul Weller and whether he will play with the band again?

He played on Smash the Clock as we recorded it in his studio. We loved the studio there and it worked for us; it’s very easy going and a great atmosphere. When we were in the studio Paul popped in, we had a hug and a cup of tea and I asked him whether he’d be up for playing on a song or two. He agreed and played a bit of piano on one track and some guitar on another. He did what he does best, and that’s really about as close as we’ll get to playing together. I’d love to play on some of his future material, if I get asked that is. We’re good mates and that’s it. He’s doing very well, and deservedly so. Rick has kind of gone down the author path right now and he seems happy, and there’s a lot happening in my camp and I’m happy. You’re talking about looking back, but we’re all looking forward.

Did you think this reincarnation of the band would last as long as it has?

It’s lasted almost twice as long as the original band. It was just exciting to do. Rick and myself, at the time, really took our time [deciding] on whether it was a goer or not. We didn’t want it to be detrimental to what The Jam were about. We didn’t want it to be a covers band, but when we started to perform again, the – dare I say it – old magic was there and I believe we do those songs justice. We’ve kept going and now the public are bringing their kids to shows. Doing the songs justice [was important], as we probably wouldn’t have even started if it didn’t sound right without Paul.

How do you pick the setlist?

The solo stuff is kind of weird because Russell has co-written the album. I’ll be putting two or three from the album, and although you’d think up against the classics they’d have their work cut out, they seem to be going down really well. Because the album was a minor hit and we’ve got airplay, people have heard it and are well received.

Any chance of a bit of ‘Alternative Ulster’ in there?

No [laughs]. My time with [Stiff Little] Fingers was excellent. I saw Jake [Burns, singer] probably about a month ago now; he had come over here to do a few festivals and we had a hug. We had some good times together and they’re doing well. Ali is back in the band now and I wish them all the luck in the world.

What does the future hold for From the Jam?

We’re not going to leave it as long between albums. We’re going to try to get an album out within the next year or 18 months. I’m still feeling good, touch wood. Our schedule is so busy and when you’re on the road so much, and we need some ‘normal’ time as well; we all have kids and pets etc. It’s like spinning plates or juggling balls, but we hope to get the next album out quicker next time. The next big thing we have is a few shows here, then a week’s holiday, then out to Australia. Busy, busy, busy.

FROM THE JAM PLAY:

Thursday 8th September | THE CAMBRIDGE HOTEL, NEWCASTLE NSW

Friday 9th September | METRO, SYDNEY NSW

Saturday 10th September | MAX WATTS, MELBOURNE VIC

Sunday 11th September | STUDIO 56 MIAMI MARKETTA, GOLD COAST QLD

Wednesday 14th September | SOLBAR, SUNSHINE COAST QLD

Thursday 15th September | THE TRIFFID BRISBANE, QLD

Friday 16th September | THE GOV, ADELAIDE SA

Saturday 17th September | CAPITOL, PERTH WA

For The AU Review

Interview: Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers

FORMED in 1977 at a time of deep political and social turmoil in their hometown of Belfast, Stiff Little Fingers are the original punk-rock mainstays. Known for their energetic live shows and angry lyrics tackling subjects from sectarian violence to teenage boredom, the band will make only their second ever trip to Australia to play Soundwave Festival. I spoke to singer-guitarist and chief songwriter Jake Burns.

Tell me about the recording of your new album, No Going Back. How does it sound so far?

At the moment we’re only getting started; the drum tracks are down and Ali is working on the bass tracks at the moment, and that’s kind of how it works, we build these things up in layers, you know? We all go in together, play all the songs through once and they get recorded, so Steve has a basic skeleton track to work with, and then he does the drums for real. Then Ali goes in and replaces his skeleton bass-lines with the real ones, and so it keeps going. Starting tomorrow, we’ll begin on the guitars. We’re actually slightly ahead of the game, which is always a good place to be, as you can never be sure when there’s a nasty little hiccup just around the corner; something which will take a day out of your schedule.

When are you expecting to have it finished?

February 5th is the last day in the studio. Then I get to fly home to Chicago on the 6th. I’ll have about six days to unpack, do my laundry, re-pack, then fly to Auckland. Then, we’re on tour until May. It’s a long time away from home, but it’s what we’ve signed up for.

In terms of lyrical content, could it be called a classic Stiff Little Fingers album?

I’m not going to say it’s a classic; that’s for the audience to decide. There aren’t any “I love her and she loves me” songs on there, because it’s not what I write, you know? I’ve never been able to do that; every time I’ve tried it sounds like bad schoolboy poetry or something. They’re all songs about things that have made me angry. Steve and Ian have both written a song, and they’re all songs about things that have fired us up in one way or another over the last few weeks and months.

You went down the crowd-funding route for this album. Are you surprised at how well it turned out?

I think everybody was. We allowed two months for it, and we reached the target in under twelve hours; it was incredible. I was sitting at home and I knew it had been launched, when my wife came running down into the studio in the basement and asked me if I was watching the pledge figures, and I said no, as it had only been launched that morning. She told me to stop what I was doing and come look, and we sat and watched it. The best description was made by her; she said it’s like election night, and nobody goes to bed until this thing reaches a hundred. Literally, within an hour of saying that, it reached a hundred percent. It was astonishing; I don’t think any of us realised the regard the audience has for us. We always knew we have an incredibly loyal audience, but that was truly – without wanting to sound fake – humbling. And they’re still pledging!

Do you see that as the future for bands making records now? Would you do it again, for example?

I’m sure we would. When the Internet took off in all it’s glory, it was basically the end for traditional record labels. The writing was on the wall when even the likes of Madonna and U2 were doing deals based on touring and merchandise rather than record sales. At that point you think if U2 can’t sell bloody records, what chance has anybody got? When it came up we were hesitant, but then we realised this would make us a proper, independent band again. This takes us right back to where we started, but with thirty-six, thirty-seven years experience behind us. It can only be a good thing, and it’s turned out to be an astonishing thing. It seems like we’re masters of our own destiny, whereas in the past, when you’d go in to make a record you’d have it in your mind that you’re spending EMI’s money. Not that you’d be slapdash and throw it around – at the end of the day it’s your money anyway – but we’d just give the record to EMI and it’d be up to them to go and sell it. Now, it’s the audience’s money, and they’ve already bought the record; that’s effectively what this is. They’re putting a huge amount of trust in us, and what if they all hate it? They’ve all already bought it, pretty much. We feel a huge amount of responsibility – much more so than any record before – because this is our audience we’re genuinely playing for; they’re our bosses this time around. We don’t want to let them down.

You’ll be playing Soundwave Festival very soon. What can fans expect from the show?

We’ve only played in Australia once before, and even then it was only in Sydney and Melbourne. It’s a festival setting, and I don’t even know how long of a set we’ll be given. So what we’ll basically try to do is keep the chat to a minimum, play as many songs as possible, and try to cram as much of our career into whatever time we’re given. We’re doing two sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne, so we can stretch out a bit, but we’ll work on getting the balance of the set right. Sometimes it’s harder to work out what to leave out, rather than put in, you know?

Do you still feel that songs like ‘Alternative Ulster’ are relevant today?

That song was never specifically written about Northern Ireland. Yes, there are R.U.C. references in there, but it was basically a song about being young and having nothing to do. It was set in Northern Ireland, which of course just meant having even fucking less to do than if you’d been somewhere else. But, it’s just a fairly universal song about being a teenager, which I was when I wrote it. Sadly, that’s still the case with teenagers today. Those who were living in what was basically a war-zone in Belfast at the time; I could see why they were bored. It always used to annoy me when bands from London would say they were bored and had nothing to do. Are you kidding me? Hadn’t they seen the back page of the NME? There were always about ten gigs I’d kill to go and see and they were all on that night!

Can you tell me a little bit about how Ali (McMordie, founding bass guitarist) came back into the band?

When Bruce (Foxton, bass guitarist 1991-2006) said he wanted to go, we had a long talk about it. Those were a big pair of boots to fill. Bruce was a big name, and he is a fantastic bass player and singer. We tossed a few names around, and realised that auditioning people probably wasn’t going to work. After a while we thought about asking Ali if he was interested in coming back. I’d kept in touch with Ali over the years; if he ever passed through Chicago we’d go for a beer or whatever, and he’d come to see the band and stuff. But I hadn’t really spoken to him for a while, and I wasn’t even sure if he still had a guitar and was still playing, but eventually I gave him a call and left a message saying that he might be able to do me a favour. He returned the call, and as luck would have it he was due to come through Chicago in a few days time, so we met up and discussed it. Initially I asked him to only do the one tour to see how it went. He’d been doing tour managing very successfully, but he came back, seemed to have a ball and I don’t think we ever asked him to stay, but he’s still here (laughs).

And finally, I told my brother I was interviewing you and he wanted to ask you a question, so here it is. Why did Jim Reilly (drummer, 1979-81) leave the band? Was it because he’s a complete tit?

(Laughs). Umm… no! Jim just didn’t like the new songs I was writing and I think by that stage we had toured America a couple of times, and Jim had one eye on wanting to try his luck there, and that’s exactly what he did. He jumped ship and moved to San Francisco, and ended up in a band called Red Rockers, who got themselves signed to C.B.S.. They had a little bit of success with a top-forty hit and toured with the likes of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, so he had a half decent run. Last I heard, he was back in Belfast.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS PLAY SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL BEGINNING SATURDAY 22nd FEBRUARY IN BRISBANE. TICKETS FROM http://soundwavefestival.com/tickets