|Paul Weller and Martin Freeman|
The Jam: About The Young Idea is a new comprehensive exhibition dedicated to one of Britain’s best loved bands. Or, in the words of Paul Weller’s father which greet entrants painted in huge letters, “The best fucking band in the world.”
Whichever way you slice it, during their five-year and six-album recording career, The Jam achieved that rare balance of attaining huge commercial success whilst maintaining their integrity. Much has been written and said about Weller’s decision to split the band in 1982 but to have continued without his heart in it would have made a mockery of the band’s honesty and openness. It was the right thing to do and in keeping with their/his ethical code.
That doesn’t mean it’s not nice to have a little reminisce now and again this exhibition provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on those days. It also offers a look at what young Britain was like for many during the 1970s and early 80s. With the entire band and the Weller family opening their archive plus items from collector Den Davis, and curated by Nicky Weller, Tory Turk and Russell Reader it’s packed with memories.
The launch party was last night and thanks to Mrs Monkey’s contacts and the kindness of photographer Martyn Goddard and his wife Bev, we were in for an early view and to hobnob with an array of obvious and less-obvious guests. After passing Bar Italia Scooter Club’s line-up at the gates we wandered into the courtyard of Somerset House and a quick scan revealed, among others: Mick Talbot, Martin Freeman, Paul Cook, Glen Matlock, the Strypes, Gem Archer, Mark Powell, Jeremy Vine, Steve Craddock, Paul Whitehouse, Mark Lamaar, Matt Berry, the grey haired bloke out of Phoneshop, some Mods, the occasional female and, wait for it, Trevor & Simon.
Yet the very first person we spotted was Bruce Foxton and naturally we nabbed him for a photo and asked what he thought of the exhibition. He still hadn’t been in to see it. Bruce, probably wary he was going to get accosted all night, wasn’t very chatty and appeared slightly disorientated so we left him alone before I could ask him to explain that “Freak” single. As a kid I always thought he was quite tall but he’s not, he just jumped high.
After a few glasses of champagne it was time to mooch around the exhibition. It had everything you’d expect: items of clothing (boating blazers, Union Jack jackets, suits, bowling shoes, “Eton Rifles” jacket, boxing boots etc); instruments (row of Rickenbackers including the Wham!, the red one with “I Am Nobody” scratched into the body, the black one, Bruce Foxton’s white bass from “Town Called Malice”, Rick Buckler's drum kit etc); posters, fanzines and music press front covers; photos, badges etc.
All well and good but the real treasure came in the early rooms (think there were six in total) which had gone through Paul Weller’s teenage drawers and uncovered his early dreams and schemes. Like many (guilty) he’d drawn himself in cartoon format (“The Adventures of Paul The Mod”); designed early ideas for imaginary single and album covers (guilty); sketched a row of Black Power fists (“Right On Brothers”); and made attempts at poetry and songs. These were circa 1972-3, when Weller was about fourteen. He had it all worked out but unlike most of us dreamers had the steely determination to see it through. The family photos and pictures of a kipper-tied Jam attempting to entertain working men's clubs are a treat too.
Martyn Goddard was a photographer for Polydor (starting with Queen in 1973, luckily he moved onto better things...) and worked with The Jam all the way from In The City to Sound Affects and chatted us through some of his work: the picture of Bond Street tube station at midnight, the In The City wall, strolling down Carnaby Street, his own jukebox on the sleeve of Sound Affects which he still has and uses. Martyn said he knew right from the start the band were special as they had something about them and everything came directly from them. They weren’t controlled by managers or external forces, it was simply them and they knew what they wanted. Although Martyn saw them progress from new band with a debut record to a having records enter the charts at number one he didn’t really see a change in them as people. It was noticeable in Martyn’s images that although Weller was the creative driving force the photographs were always of the three of them. They – Paul, Bruce, Rick – were a band. Martyn suggested Paul felt strongly tied to the fact they were a band and that was a contributing factor in splitting to allow him greater freedom, unencumbered (my word, not Martyn’s) by the other two. I don't think there's any argument in that. More of his work can be seen in a separate exhibition, Golden Faces: Photographs of The Jam 1977-80 by Martyn Goddard at Snap Galleries and in a new book, Growing Up With The Jam.
I wouldn’t have put much money on Paul Weller attending the launch do but he was there. There were scores of Wellers in fact. Getting access to him was nigh on impossible though as he was scuttled in and then out by security. He did grab a few folk for a hug, a couple of photos, a photo opportunity with Martin Freeman - who rather than prepare for his forthcoming role as Steve Marriott had come as Max Headroom - and then off to a secret hideaway away from pestering acolytes desperate to touch the hem of his garment. Not sure about the blue lensed shades but he looked fit and well. I cannot answer Mrs Monkey’s query as to whether he uses a spray tan with any great authority.
Back outside and on to the free beer we had a good chat with Paul Cook about the Sex Pistols and their contribution to Britain’s history; working with Edywn Collins; and getting the Professionals back together (Cook and Steve Jones, not Bodie and Doyle). Author and man-about-town Mark Baxter and I chewed on the idea of an equivalent Style Council retrospective, something I put to Mick Talbot shortly afterwards (I can work fast sometimes).
Mick didn’t really think there would be much call for a Style Council exhibition in this country but Italy or Japan might be more accommodating. Ever the Internationalists the Style Council. Like Paul Cook, Mick wasn’t a hoarder of stuff but did have a few pieces knocking around. “Haven’t you got a pair of your old espadrilles in the bottom of a wardrobe?” Mick couldn’t confirm that. I should say this was the third time I’ve spoken with Mick and he’s always been interesting and good fun. He also spoke about playing on The Jam’s version of “Heatwave” (I love that version) and memories of joining the band at the Lyceum to do it live. He sounded like a Jam fan, just like the rest of us.
The Jam: About The Young Idea is at Somerset House, London. Open daily until 31 August 2015, admission £9.50.
Golden Faces: Photographs of The Jam 1977-80 by Martyn Goddard at Snap Galleries, 12 Piccadilly Arcade, SW1 from 1 July to 8 August 2015 (Tuesday to Saturday), admission free.
Details of Growing Up With… The Jam can be found here.
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