Was this the third or the fourth time that we have covered 'From the Jam'?, I honestly cannot recall! Headed up by Bruce Foxton and ably assisted by Russell Hastings on guitars and vocals, they forge a strong partnership in proving that, despite the songs being nearly 40 years old, they still carry the weight that was delivered so many years ago and turned on so many people to music during their mid to late teens. We attended the show at Exeter Phoenix to see if they still had what it took to deliver the drive and passion that the original band managed back in the day....
Locally based support band “The Real Me” opened with a blistering version of the “Spencer Davis Group” song “Gimme Some Loving” followed by a rendition of “I Can’t Explain” that was faithful to the “Who” original. The energy created and the tightness of the sound was reminiscent of the very best British tradition of “pub bands” such as “Dr Feelgood”. The covers of “The Undertones” “My Perfect Cousin” and “The Vapors” “Turning Japanese” conjured up the spirit of a late 1970s school disco. The band was clearly in touch with their audience demographic. In the auditorium the years had fallen away and carefree adolescences were being fondly remembered and celebrated (and they say that nostalgia is not what it used to be). The large crowd belied the bands “Support” status. In fact I have seen headline acts with far smaller crowds than that which “The Real Me” managed to entice out of the bar.
Whilst the faithful reproductions of classic songs were brilliantly performed my personal favourites were the re-workings of the soul classics “Hold On I’m Coming” and “Respect”. Whilst It Is arguably impossible to improve upon the perfect 10’s of the “Sam & Dave” and “Aretha Franklin” originals these versions were great fun and were very well received by the audience.
If you get the chance to see “The Real Me”, go for it. You will not be disappointed.
If you were compiling a list of bass players who have created a distinctive sound that is immediately recognisable it would probably include John Entwistle, Lemmy, Peter Hook and Bruce Foxton. Whilst history records that Paul Weller was the principal creative force within “The Jam”, the band would not have been the force of nature that they were for that all too brief period in the late 70’s and early 80’s without Bruce Foxton’s distinctive bass playing which is at the forefront of the mix on all the bands songs. To help illustrate my point is there anyone who needed to read the sleeve notes to Paul Weller’s 2010 Album “Wake up the Nation” to be aware that it was “Bruce Foxton” playing on “Fast Car/Slow Traffic”?
In addition to releasing new material (the albums “Back in the Room” in 2012 and “Smash the Clock” in 2016) Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings (guitar/vocals) have been touring as “From The Jam” since 2007. Over that period they have justly earned a reputation for performing no-nonsense blistering sets of crowd-pleasing Jam songs. Tonight was to be no exception (subject to just one small caveat that I will come to later).
The band opened with “The Modern World” swiftly followed by “Strange Town” and “A- Bomb In Waldour Street”. To follow such an opening might be difficult if you did not have such a fantastic back catalogue to choose from. The quality of the material and the performance was so consistently high that it is near impossible to pick out highlights. Having said this, using the degree of animation within the “mosh pit” and the crowds vocal accompaniment as a barometer, “David Watts”, “Down in the Tube station at Midnight”, “Going Underground and “Town Called Malice” could be judged as having achieved the ultimate accolade - the footballers proverbial 110%.
I am too much of a gentleman to reveal Bruce Foxton’s age here (if you are that interested look it up on Wikipedia). let’s face it none of us are getting younger. With the passing of the years you would be forgiven for thinking that Bruce would be less animated on stage now than he was back in the day. All I will say is that some of his leaps on stage would put men half his age to shame. Fair play to him.
I alluded previously to the fact that the set list contained classics from “The Jam’s” back catalogue with a small exception. It is all too easy to let out an involuntary groan when an artist steps up to the microphone to announce that the band is going to play a song off of their latest album. Be honest we have all done it. In this instance, I felt no dread as I was aware of the quality of the songs on “Smash The Clock”. In fact, the song played “Round And Round” blended perfectly with the older songs and was well received by the crowd. Whilst it seems fit and proper for a band called “From The Jam” to deliver a set that concentrates on “The Jam’s” canon it is a shame not to air the recent material in a live environment. From my perspective it would be great to see Bruce and Russell playing the new material in the future perhaps separately from their “From The Jam” commitments. This approach would mean that audiences with a taste for nostalgia and those wishing to experience the new material would be independently catered for. This is of course a shameful case of special pleading from me rather than a serious attempt at artistic or career advice! But come on guys Norman Watt-Roy tours with “The Blockheads”, with “Wilko Johnson” and as a solo artist which proves that it is possible to please all the people all of the time by touring under different guises.
With the new material box having been ticked it was time to return once again to the bombardment of proven material. Usually over the course of concert the energy levels both onstage and I the auditorium tend to ebb and flow. Not Tonight. The intensity was consistently at the highest level.
When the band left the stage to rapturous applause and cheers the house lights remain dimmed. It was clear that we were to be treated to an encore. After several minutes of applause and cheering the band returned for a 20 minute encore that included a brilliant rendition of “Funeral Pyre” and ended with an extended version of “The Eton Rifles” that involved a large amount of audience participation. Before leaving the stage the band linked up at the front of the stage to accept the crowds’ cheers and applause. They evidently enjoyed the appreciation that the Exeter crowd were showing.
To have missed “From The Jam” on this latest tour might be considered a misfortune. To miss them when they next pass your way would have to be regarded as carelessness!
Review by Kevin Barnes
Photography by Steve Muscutt