In just over half an hour from now, Paul Weller will take the stage at the Derby Assembly Rooms which is around 14 miles from where I live. In 12 days time, Weller will be 50 and yet it only seems like 5 minutes ago since he made his onstage debut in Derby with The Jam. In fact, it was the fag end of 1977 , just 6 months after their debut album IN THE CITY. Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler had been together as a group since the early 70s, playing cover versions from the likes of Little Richard and Chuck Berry. When Punk arrived, the group stood out from the majority of 'one chord wonders', displaying Mod sensibilities and a love of classic 60s rock. If IN THE CITY was indeed their 'punk album' (fast and loud), it also showed their roots were elswhere.
Their second album, THIS IS THE MODERN WORLD, was hailed by many as a disappointment, but I found it to be confirmation of an exciting band who were really getting into their stride. The rabble-rousing title track, the brilliant 'Life From A Window' and 'In The Street Today' showed us the group were moving at a pace towards a real humdinger of an album. After a few hiccoughs with regard to would-be album tracks failing to make the grade, Paul Weller caught fire. The result was the mighty ALL MOD CONS; one of the finest records to have come out of these fair isles. Thank God Polydor didn't pull the plug when things were on top because we would have been deprived of an absolute classic. Even what seem like lesser tracks ('To Be Someone', 'It's Too Bad') drag you into the mix , refusing to relinquish their grasp while the real meat is.... simply awesome. The Kinks' 'David Watts' ("I am a dull and simple lad. Cannot tell water from champagne") is a joy on vinyl and live onstage, with Weller spitting out the lyrics like a lizard on heat while 'A Bomb In Wardour Street' is even more relevant today than in 1978 when this album slapped us across the face. Here, Weller's lyrics warn us of a place where "the streets are paved with blood" as his Rickebacker drops depth charges in tune with the venomous delivery of those highly charged words. Even better, is their anthem: "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight"; a song that I've always had in the front of my mind when travelling on the London Underground late at night. Told from the POV of a victim of violence, this is an extremely potent account of the lawless breed that shatter the lives of others . Weller's slow storytelling, marking with an entirely vicious condemnation of racism and violence, magnificently culminates in a breathless conclusion as the victim realises that "They took the keys and she'll think it's me". One of the most chilling songs ever penned, and the one they always closed on live before the always magnificent encores. For me, The Jam never quite topped this album, but they did go on to record some truly stunning cuts with SETTING SONS, SOUND AFFECTS and THE GIFT all containing some great Jam standards.
Yes, the albums were all excellent, but The Jam on 45rpm were quite simply magnificent. From the nostalgic 'When You're Young' to 'Strange Town' (still the finest song ever written about the loneliness of London) to the socio-political 'Going Underground' ("It's the kidney machines that pay for rockets and guns"), the sublime 'That's Entertainment' ("A police car and a screaming siren, pneumatic drill and ripped up concrete, a baby wailing, stray dog howling") with its account of YOUR childhood, right through to the swaggering 'Precious' and the wake-up call that is 'A Town Called Malice' ("Stop dreaming of the quiet life, cos it's the one you'll never know"). Perhaps 'The Eton Rifles' was close to being their best? "Sup up your beer and collect your fags, there's a row goin on down near Slough" served as a call to arms for many an impressionable young man who dreamed of taking on the upper-classes and going to bed with a charming young thing. Together with The Clash and The Banshees, The Jam were probably our finest singles bands and, like the aforementioned groups, they were quite superb live. I was lucky enough to see them on 14 occasions, and they never let me down. I remember being almost heartbroken when they split up, but, years later, can see exactly why that decision was taken.
So, it's back to the present. We couldn't afford to buy tickets to see Mr. Weller's concert tonight and, to be honest, I haven't really been a fan of his solo career. He did do a short interview in our local paper and declared there would never be a reunion of The Jam with the original three members. "I just think certain things are best left as they are, so you have a sweet taste in your mouth and a good memory". I think he's absolutely right. Tonight, my mind won't be at The Assembly Rooms. Instead, I'l be back in a smaller venue called The Kings Hall, which was situated just 200 yards down the road from tonight's venue. That's where I first saw The Jam in 1977, and revelled in the sounds of a great band. Paul Weller, genius. Take a bow and enjoy your show!