“When we were in the band, I would never have thought that some 35-odd years later, there would be an exhibition in our name at Somerset House.” Paul Weller
I love the Jam, not the sugary preserve you spread on your toast but the band headed up by Paul Weller that produced such classics as Town called Malice, Going Underground, Start and my favourite Down in the Tube Station at Midnight. Lead singer and guitarist Weller along with former band mates bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler have opened up their own personal archives to provide memorabilia for the The Jam: About The Young Idea an exhibition currently showing at the iconic Somerset House in London. Living proof that advertising in the underground is effective, I was alerted to the exhibition’s existence from a poster I saw while ascending a tube station escalator.
The exhibition, which opened in June and runs until 27th September (extended from its original end of August finish date) is a must for any Jam fan and I for one really enjoyed it. Curated by Weller’s sister Nicky, who ran the band’s fan club from the family house back in the 70s/80s, the exhibition relives the band’s success from 1977 until their untimely spilt at the height of their fame in December 1982, a mere five years later.
Alongside an array of instruments including their Rickenbacker guitars there is unseen footage of the band performing, original stage outfits, posters, records and Weller’s own scrapbooks and school books with his doodles, poems and lyrics detail his early dreams to be in a band. A video showing Weller’s home town of Woking where he lived with his family in Stanley Road (honoured as a solo album title in1995) documents his early years playing on a loop in an alcove narrated by an old friend. Woking is where the dream began, where Weller started the first line-up of the band with his schoolmates and original members Steve Brookes and Dave Waller, while attending Shearwater Secondary Modern together in the Surrey town.
As well as the three bands members personal artefacts, additional items were sourced from Weller’s late father John’s paraphernalia (the band’s manager and Weller’s manager until his death in 2009) including the Weller family vinyl collection. With music archivist Den Davis treasures also on show fans have a unique glimpse into the band’s fascinating history. I found myself sitting for ages watching old video footage and singing along to some real Jam classics. A handful of middle-aged Fred Perry (one of the sponsors of the exhibition) clad fellas with the obligatory Weller-esq sideburns where milling about too, tapping their toes and singing their favourite lyrics!
The Jam were a punk rock/mod revival band that had eighteen consecutive top 40 singles including four UK number ones and had a great influence over the youth of that day with Weller’s (aka The Modfather) lyrics representing normal British life and he stayed true to his roots. After the introductory part of the exhibition that includes a full stage set-up, six further rooms celebrate the band’s six albums; In the City (1977), This Is the Modern World (1977), All Mod Cons (1978), Setting Sons (1979), Sound Affects (1980) and The Gift (1982). The final room also details the band’s break-up and their final concert at the Brighton Centre on 11th December 1982.
Weller formed the band, was the driving and artistic force behind it and its incredible rise to fame but he was also the one who called time on the trio at the height of their fame after becoming restless and wanting to create a more soulful sound. He stated at the time “I want all we have achieved to count for something and most of all I’d hate us to end up old and embarrassing like so many other groups do. I want us to finish with dignity.” and it seems he hasn’t regretted the decision since saying “The Jam’s music still means something to people and a lot of that’s because we stopped at the right time, it didn’t go on and become embarrassing.”
Weller went on to form The Style Council before going solo, still performing and releasing albums to this day. The other half is a massive fan and we have seen him perform twice in the last couple of years but he limits the Jam back catalogue these days (boo hoo) and was pretty grumpy in both gigs I saw to be honest (read about the Cardiff gig here in Welsh Weekender). Foxton joined Stiff Little Fingers (the other half’s most favourite band ever) playing with them for fifteen years and is now successfully touring with From The Jam with Russell Hastings. We were lucky to see them recently in Abu Dhabi and they were excellent (read about that in Music Medley). Buckler formed The Gift which Hastings played in and the Foxton later joined. Just last month we saw The Jam Movement tribute band at the Half Moon in Putney, even more proof that the music has stood the test of time.
Weller and Foxton have put aside their former hostility and are now friends again after not speaking for twenty years or so, prompted it would seem by Weller losing his dad and Foxton’s wife dying. However, Weller is still adamant that he isn’t nostalgic public declaring “there’s not enough money in the world” to persuade him to reform The Jam, allegedly he and Buckler still don’t communicate either.
If you, unlike Weller are nostalgic and fancy a blast from the past The Jam: About The Young Idea exhibition is a great way to spend a couple of hours, I guarantee you will be singing along and really who doesn’t love visiting the beautiful Somerset House. My advice is to start with tea and cake at the cafe before you enjoy the exhibition and then indulge in a cocktail or two at Tom’s Kitchen at the bar alongside the Thames. happy days!
The Jam – About The Young Idea Exhibition
East Wing Galleries, East Wing of Somerset House, London
Dates: 26 June – 27 September 2015
Opening Times: Daily 10.00 – 18.00 (last admission 17.15). Late night Thursdays & Fridays until 21.00 (last admission 20.15) Exhibition Ticket £9.50 (concessions £7.00). Visit the website here to check the information before you visit.
A limited edition CD entitled About the Young Idea – the Best of the Jam has been released to coincide with the exhibition. The Book: Growing up with… The Jam and other memorabilia/souvenirs are available for purchase at the exhibition.
In the words of John Weller, father of Paul and band manager of The Jam
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved. Black and white photo of The Jam’s last gig at the Brighton centre on 11/12/82 used courtesy of The Argus.