By John Curley
The Jam were one of Britain’s most heralded bands from 1977 until their split at the end of 1982. Comprised of Paul Weller (lead singer, guitarist, and main songwriter), Bruce Foxton (bass and backing vocals), and Rick Buckler (drums) and managed by Weller’s father, John, The Jam became the favorite band for many of the British youth of their generation. The Jam were a versatile outfit, doing everything from straight-ahead rock songs like “In The City” and “Art School” to more introspective fare such as “Carnation” and “The Butterfly Collector” to stirring anthems like “That’s Entertainment” and “Town Called Malice.” The Jam dressed in sharp outfits and embraced the Mod lifestyle. As a result, they spearheaded the late 1970s Mod revival in the UK.
Forty years of The Jam is being celebrated this year with a number of releases and events. Buckler’s memoir of his time with The Jam, which is titled That’s Entertainment: My Life In The Jam, was published earlier this year by Omnibus Press. (The book was reviewed in the September issue of Goldmine—Ed.) A double-CD greatest-hits collection titled About The Young Idea: The Very Best Of The Jam came out in June. Growing Up With…The Jam, a book featuring remembrances of The Jam from fans, celebrities, influences like Ray Davies and Pete Townshend, and contemporaries such as Bob Geldof and Mick Jones, was assembled by Nicky Weller (Paul Weller’s sister), the disc jockey Gary Crowley, Russell Reader, and Den Davis, and was published in June by Nicetime Productions. An official documentary about The Jam directed by Bob Smeaton, which is also titled About The Young Idea, premiered on the UK TV channel Sky Arts on September 5th and will be released on DVD with extras in October. And late October will see the release of Fire And Skill, a six-CD box set featuring six live concerts from The Jam covering different stages of their career.
The biggest event celebrating 40 years of The Jam this year is unquestionably the exhibition about The Jam that is currently in residence at Somerset House in London. The exhibition, which is also titled The Jam: About The Young Idea, was originally slated to run from late June until the end of August. It has proved to be so popular that its run at Somerset House has been extended for an additional month, and it will now end on September 27th. Nicky Weller has been giving guided tours of the exhibition on Thursdays. On those tours, she highlights some of her favorite objects in the exhibition and tells the stories behind them. Since The Jam were something of a family business as her brother Paul was in the band and it was managed by her father, John, Nicky Weller also became involved at age 14 by running the band’s fan club.
Nicky Weller has done an e-mail Q&A with Goldmine, the results of which are below. In the Q&A, she discusses the exhibition, what it was like running the band’s fan club as a teenager, her work with the Nordoff Robbins music-therapy initiative, how The Jam got their name, and other topics.
GOLDMINE: How and when did the idea for the exhibition come about?
NICKY WELLER: I was contacted nearly two years ago by Den Davis, a huge Jam fan who has an amazing collection and archive of The Jam. He asked myself and Russell (Reader) to get involved. And once we started to look at our own family archive, we realized we had as much, if not more, items and loads more personal things.
GM: Why did you choose Somerset House as the venue for the exhibition?
NW: A friend of a friend put us in touch with Somerset House. To be honest, I never thought they would agree to The Jam going there. But they liked the idea and after lots of discussions, we all agreed on the way it would work.
GM: The exhibition has been a rousing success and was extended for an extra month. The photos I’ve seen from it look fantastic. What kind of feedback are you getting about the exhibition from the fans that have been to see it?
NW: It’s been amazing! The amount of press, TV, and radio, too, has been exceptional. The fans have also been truly amazing. They have got right behind it. Some of them have been three, four times. From all over the place: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the USA, Canada, France, etc.
GM: Paul, Bruce, and Rick all donated items for the exhibition. What do they think of the finished product?
NW: We were very nervous about them seeing the finished product, but they have all been several times and actually love it. Paul and Bruce said it’s a real tribute to the fans and them.
GM: Your father, John, managed The Jam, and part of the exhibition is devoted to him. His earthy introductions to welcome The Jam to the concert stage were legendary among fans. Could you discuss how vital his role was to the band?
NW: Dad was a huge part of The Jam. The fourth member of the band, I believe. His determination and drive got The Jam to London gigging and signed by Polydor. And also, Paul’s continuing success was a massive contribution. Everyone at the exhibition loves his documentary and tribute. And his introduction of the band has pride of place!
GM: I can still vividly remember that day in 1982 when I was watching MTV in my living room in New Jersey and heard the news that The Jam would be splitting up. I was devastated. It didn’t feel like we were just losing a great band. It felt like we were losing a valued and dependable friend. Hearing and reading about fans discuss The Jam in the years since, I know that I was far from alone in feeling that way. Why do you think that fans identified with The Jam far more than they did with other bands?
NW: They were all gutted, Bruce and Rick were along with my dad. A huge decision. But Paul felt it was time to move on and the band to finish on a high and to mean something. He’s been proved right and I think over the years the fans have come to understand that. The fans have said that this exhibition has made them feel better about their split. The fans identified so much with the band because they were writing songs about the time, their age. They understood the lyrics, and they meant something and educated them.
GM: You ran The Jam’s fan club starting at the young age of 14. What was that experience like?
NW: It was a necessity. When The Jam got signed, post started to turn up at our house. Piles and piles of it. So, me and my mum started to open it and answer it by hand to start with. Then it got a bit more professional. I got paid £5 a week!
GM: Is it true that you provided The Jam with their name?
NW: Yes, it is true. I said it around the breakfast table. Well, there’s been Marmalade and Cream and Bread. Why not Jam?? My claim to fame?
GM: You did a Q&A at the exhibition with your mother last month. I read that back in the days of The Jam, fans would sometimes stop by the family home in Woking, and your mother would make them sandwiches and give them cups of tea. And I read that you both sorted through many of the items that were used in the exhibition. How did you both feel about going through those items, some of which you hadn’t seen in decades? And what did you both find among the items that surprised you?
NW: Yeah, we did a Q&A, which was great. We spent weeks going through items that we had all kept for over 30 years. It was quite therapeutic, actually, if not a little sad going through my dad’s things. But we found an old home cine film from 1976 that dad filmed. Amazing. And Paul’s school books with poetry and songs and doodles. From very early days, ’73, ’74. I love these items.
GM: I’ve got the book, Growing Up With…The Jam, that is a companion piece to the exhibition. It’s very impressive, and clearly a lot of care and detail went into creating the book. Many fans of The Jam, from contemporaries like Mick Jones of The Clash to the actor Martin Freeman, give their remembrances of the band in the book. And the book includes scores of photos of items featured in the exhibition. How were those that contributed to the book approached? And how long did it take to put the book together?
NW: It was a team effort: myself, Gary Crowley, Russell Reader (the other co-curator of the exhibition), and Den Davis. We e-mailed all our contacts and had an amazing response. And as we were putting the exhibition together, we used items that had never been seen before. It’s a good coffee-table book you can pick up and dip into at any time. It took about five or six months to put it together, from concept to printing and delivery.
GM: I understand that you’ve also done work for the Nordoff Robbins music-therapy charity. Could you discuss what music therapy is and how it helps people?
NW: Yeah, I worked at Nordoff Robbins from 2006 to 2009 as their fundraising manager. I loved working there and, hopefully, it made a difference raising so much money for the amazing work they do. They really do change people’s lives through music. The outreach program has helped so many families, from autistic children to the elderly with dementia. The music therapists evaluate the client and work on a program for each individual depending on their disability, mentally or physically. I remember one particular story of a lady who had had a stroke and had lost all her use of limbs. After several months in hospital, they sent in a music therapist who, after a couple of visits, had the lady tapping her toes on a tambourine along to the music. Within a couple of months of music therapy, she was moving other limbs and joining in making music. This was a patient that doctors had said would probably not walk again, and yet she was reacting to music. Many stories like this happen every day at Nordoff Robbins.
GM: The company in which you are a partner, Nicetime Productions, produced the exhibition and the Growing Up With…The Jam book. Nicetime Productions’ Web site says that Nicetime will “co-produce all forthcoming releases on The Jam with Universal Music.” Are there any forthcoming releases in the pipeline that fans would want to know about?
NW: We set up the company to work on the exhibition, the book, and also to make it officially with Universal and the band. We are helping with the DVD extras and boxset at the moment with our archives which will come out at the end of October and November.
GM: An article about the exhibition by Mark Brown of The Guardian stated that in addition to being about The Jam, the exhibition would also “be part social and cultural history telling wider stories of family life and growing up in 1970s Britain.” Since Britain and the music industry have changed so much since The Jam’s heyday, do think that The Jam would’ve had the impact they did if they were a contemporary band? Or were they a product of their time?
NW: I think they were a product of the time: the three-day weeks, the bin strikes, lots of unemployment, and Maggie Thatcher coming to power. The punk scene changed a generation, made it seem that anything was possible. It certainly changed my brother’s way of thinking and writing. There doesn’t seem to be anyone saying anything at the moment. Maybe that’s the X-Factor generation?
GM: I’ve heard the exhibition may go on tour after it completes its run in London. Are there any firm plans in place for that? If so, where will it be going? And is there any chance that it will come to the United States?
NW: We have been asked to go to Japan and Brazil and maybe Scotland or Liverpool, but we would love to tour it anywhere. So, anyone out there give us a call!
GM: Since the exhibition began, you’ve probably heard from many people about their memories of The Jam and their feelings about the band. In closing, I want to ask you: What did The Jam mean to you personally?
NW: There have been many memories from fans. I suppose what they meant to me was the interaction with the fans. It was a family affair, a real cottage industry. A fun time. I was a teenager at school going to London to gigs and Top of the Pops. Quite an education!
Additional information about the exhibition can be found at https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/visual-arts/the-jam-about-the-young-idea.
The companion book to the exhibition, Growing Up With…The Jam, can be ordered at http://www.nicetimeinc.co.uk/shop.
A video preview of the exhibition can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA4HBXpR18w.
A video showing the exhibition being put together can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFlSLTuRkHs.
Nicky Weller discussed the exhibition in a June 25th interview with Britain’s ITV News that can be seen at http://www.itv.com/news/london/update/2015-06-25/the-exhibition-dedicated-to-paul-weller-and-the-jam/.