By John Curley
The Jam’s About The Young Idea exhibition, which was such a big hit at London’s Somerset House last summer that it had to be extended for an additional month, has returned this year with a new and larger version at the Cunard Building in Liverpool. The exhibition includes a great deal of memorabilia as well as audio and video. In addition to paying tribute to the band—singer, guitarist, and main songwriter Paul Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler—the exhibition also highlights the contributions of The Jam’s manager (and Weller’s father), John Weller.
Last September, Goldmine did a Q&A about the London exhibition with Paul Weller’s sister and exhibition co-curator Nicky Weller. This year, we’re checking in with Den Davis, another co-curator of the exhibition and collector of memorabilia from The Jam. Our Q&A with Davis follows:
GOLDMINE: The Jam’s About The Young Idea exhibition that was held at London’s Somerset House last summer was such a rousing success. Why was it decided to stage the exhibition this summer in Liverpool?
DEN DAVIS: Last year was a very different exhibition, more of an art exhibition really and only had a fraction of the content we have included this year. The Liverpool exhibition is on a vastly bigger scale.
GM: What are the differences between the version of the exhibition that was in London last year and the current version in Liverpool?
DD: The whole style of curation is different, large-scale graphics, social content telling the story of the time, and a brand new interactive App addition, too. Last year, had 500 items on show and this year, we have ten times that.
GM: In my Q&A with Nicky Weller last year about the London exhibition, she said that you have “an amazing collection and archive of The Jam.” Could you discuss some of the items in your collection? And which of the items is your favorite?
DD: Strangely, a small autographed train ticket from my trip to see the band in Skegness in 1981 is my favorite. I was 14, and the train ticket was double the price of the gig. I got into the soundcheck and got the band to sign it for me. Still got it to this day. I have literally every version of every vinyl pressing from across the world. Thailand to Peru, Zimbabwe to Yugoslavia. Plus every newspaper and magazine cutting, books, and items of memorabilia with 750 different badges. I also own the band’s back line equipment from the final concert in Brighton, including all the amps and the great white Premier drum kit.
GM: Nicky Weller also told me in that Q&A that Paul, Bruce, and Rick were all very pleased with the London exhibition. Have they all been to see the new version in Liverpool? If so, what do they think of it?
DD: Rick opened the exhibition this year and he absolutely loved it. Bruce is scheduled to do to Q&As and acoustic sets with Russell Hastings on the 22nd and 23rd of August. Paul is on extended holiday but will ever here as soon as he returns. Last year, Paul came seven times and we know he’ll be blown away by the sheer scale of it.
GM: When did you first come into contact with Nicky Weller? And what was her initial reaction when you first pitched the idea of an exhibition about The Jam to her?
DD: I knew Nicky from the fan club and the merch stands from back in the day but it was her mum, Ann, who reacquainted us. Nicky was in remission having survived cancer and Ann thought it would be a nice challenge for her to get involved. She’s thrived on the whole thing, just like her dad, John, rolls her sleeves up, and gets on with it.
GM: You were one of the interviewees in the documentary film about The Jam that was released last year, which, like the exhibition, is titled About The Young Idea. In the film, you spoke about seeing The Jam for the first time on their Setting Sons tour in 1979 at the Manchester Apollo. How old were you at the time? And what was that experience like?
DD: My brother is five years older than me and he and his mates were big fans. I was a really good footballer at time and accepted by the older lads. I was still three months short of my 13th birthday at that time, but I held my own at the front of the stage and that’s exactly where I always watch a gig. I love it at the front and feeling part of it. Getting squashed is just part of the vibe.
GM: What was it about The Jam that made them stand out when compared to other bands?
DD: The power, passion, and attitude in the delivery of the performance complimented by the lyrical message just clicked with the kids of England. Paul Weller was so young himself. I was only a young fan but he was only nine years older than me. It all seemed so real and that’s why it’s stood the test of time. The songs, the message, everything about it is still relevant and fresh which is why we all still believe in it.
GM: If The Jam were a young band today, do you think they would’ve had the same impact?
DD: Today’s kids have no identity, no leaders. It's a different world, X Box and X Factor etc. etc. So I’m not sure it would be as effective. But it would certainly be better than anything else that’s out these days, that's for sure.
GM: Besides the exhibition, are there any other Jam-related things in the pipeline that fans of the band would want to know about?
DD: I've written a film script and that's my main ambition, to see that in the big screen would be brilliant. Hopefully, that will happen. There’s also talks about creating a West End musical, which sounds interesting, too.
GM: Have you seen the Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism show that is currently on in London? If you have, what did you think of it? And how do you think it compares to The Jam’s exhibition?
DD: I haven’t seen it as I don't relate to the Rolling Stones in any way but considering their budget was 20 times ours, I’m sure it must be a good day out.
GM: Are there future plans for the exhibition once the current stay in Liverpool is over? And is there any chance that it will come to America?
DD: We have interest from Glasgow, Brighton, and Woking in the UK, plus Amsterdam, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Brazil, Los Angeles, and Toronto. So hopefully it will be going to a few more places, though it will never be seen on this scale again.
GM: What did The Jam represent to you personally?
DD: Hope and belief for a better future because we did something about it. Pride in that we were a part of something very special that shaped our lives and made us who we are.
For me, witnessing the special relationship between Paul and his dad showed me the way of how I wanted to be with my own children and how I would be in my life. And I like to think I'm doing John (Weller) proud by following in his footsteps.
The Jam’s About The Young Idea exhibition runs through September 25th at Liverpool’s Cunard Building.
For additional information about the exhibition, go to http://www.nicetimeinc.co.uk.
To buy tickets for the exhibition, go to https://thejam.stikit.mobi/.
A review of the exhibition by the Liverpool Echo can be read at http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/sneak-peek-jam-exhibition-cunard-11546839.
Nicky Weller's interview with ITV’s Granada Reports from Monday, July 11th about the Liverpool exhibition can be seen at http://www.itv.com/news/granada/update/2016-07-11/paul-crone-is-at-the-jam-exhibition-in-liverpool/.
Den Davis was interviewed about the Liverpool exhibition along with Nicky Weller and The Jam's Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler on BBC North West's Inside Out program on September 12th. The segment can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckZNOphoGyI.