It Was Thirty Year Ago Today: The Jam’s Last Stand.
Last Saturday, December 8, someone tweeted me to observe that it was thirty years to the day since they had seen my old band, Apocalypse, open for the Jam at Stafford Bingley Hall. This made me realize:
a) that they were paying a lot more attention to such anniversaries than I was, and that
b) in that case, it could only be a couple of days until we would be commemorating thirty years since the Jam’s final show, at Brighton Conference Centre.
That concert took place on December 11, 1982, and Apocalypse were once again the support act – the Jam’s last ever support act, in fact. It was a strange night all around, as this account I gave for Steve Malins’ Paul Weller biography back in 1996, should make clear:
As such, I’m not really sure this is an Anniversary I care to celebrate. I have so many fantastic memories of the Jam, some of which are recounted in my upcoming memoir, Boy About Town (as you might hope given that its title is that of a Jam song). I also had the fun of seeing a ferociously energetic Paul Weller perform at what was once CBGBs back in May of this year, closing out the set with ‘In The City’ and ‘Art School’ (a song he refused to play at the Hammersmith Odeon back in December 1977, the first time I saw the Jam, under the claim that “we don’t that one no more”), which did a lot to put me at ease with the band of my youth.
But then last night, in preparation for writing this short piece, I delved through the new book Thick As Thieves – Personal Situations with The Jam for the first time. It’s essentially a fans’ account of their relationship(s) with The Jam, and it’s full of first-person anecdotes, souvenir letters, tour passes, tickets and good old-fashioned Kodak photos. As mentioned in a previous post, I didn’t take up the offer to contribute to the book, but I’m thrilled to have a copy and will enjoy poring over it in more detail over the coming winter. One moment of amusement and discovery taking that trip down memory lane: I was somewhat surprised to see so many photos taken on board The Jam’s tour bus back to London after the final show of the Setting Sons tour, at Bath Pavilion in December 1979. I was on that bus, along with my school friend Mark Blakemore: we gratefully accepted the offer of a lift back to London, given that it was snowing heavily in Bath that night and there was surely far more fun to be had traveling with the band than staying in a Bed & Breakfast.
The long passing of time (and perhaps a desire for exclusivity) enabled me to block out the fact that we were not the only Jam fans on board, although the images do confirm my memory that Paul was absolutely slaughtered that night. One picture shows him sitting up on the kitchen countertop or whatever it was, barely able to keep his eyes open, with a tuft of blond hair down by his feet somewhere, which would appear to be my 15-year old self. I recognize the metaphorical appropriateness of my position in that picture, for yes, I did worship at his feet back then, but at the same time, I was on board the bus, quite literally, and as the quotation up above demonstrates, would later find myself and my band not only afforded the honor of helping close out the Jam’s career, but providing a shelter for Weller after the storm that was his final Jam show.
…None of which I really intended to write about in great detail today, because there is perhaps a more refreshing take on nostalgia to be had here. During my recent trip back to the UK, I was fortunate to be able to have a night out with my original two Apocalypse band mates, Chris Boyle and Jeff Carrigan. (We were at school together from the age of 11, formed the band at 14, gigged at 15, first opened for the Jam at 16, made our best tape aged 17, released our first record at 18, signed with EMI at age 19, and broke up at age 20.) This was only the second occasion the three of us had gotten together since 1984, in part because we drifted away from each other for 20 years after our break-up, but also because Chris now lives in Florida and it’s very rare for us to be in London at the same time.
Two nights after we had dinner together, I met with Tony Page, who joined the band in 1981. We’ve stayed best friends over the years; in fact, I usually visit him down on the south coast when I’m back in England. This time around, time was short at my end, and we met at a pub in Clapham instead, after our respective team’s football matches. And somewhere earlier in the week, I’d texted back and forth with the fifth member of the band, Kevin Bagnall, who had also joined in 1981, and who lives in Manchester; we weren’t able to meet on this occasion.
Obviously, it’s a good thing to still be in touch with your old band mates, especially when the break-up wasn’t too friendly (cf The Jam) and you all live in different parts of the world. But here’s the interesting thing about this particular go-round: none of us talked about Apocalypse. Not a word, which is quite ironic considering that the night I met with Pagey, December 1, was 30 years to the day since we had opened for the Jam on their first of five sold-out farewell shows at Wembley Arena; the night I had met with Chris and Jeff, November 29, was 30 years on since we had played at Port Talbot Afan Lido; and had I been able to meet Baggy for breakfast on the 27th, say, the morning after my reading in his adopted home city of Manchester, we could have celebrated 30 years since we set off on that final Jam tour, playing at the Poole Arts Centre.
So what did we talk about instead? Parents. (Chris was back in London, sadly, for his father’s funeral.) Kids. (We all have them; Tony even had one of his along with him at he pub.) Work. (To some extent.) And, amongst me, Jeff and Chris, school as well – and the fact that much of it is recounted in Boy About Town. It seemed like, at last, we’d been able to escape the shadow of our band, that which dominated so much of our youth, and which came so close to making it big – except that it did not.
Cognisant only this past weekend of the 30th Anniversary scenarios, I sent an e-mail out to the rest of the band reminding them we’d successfully failed to toast that final Jam tour. The memories came pouring back in, especially with relation to the show at Port Talbot in Wales. Quoth our drummer:
Ah, Port Talbot, who will ever be able to forget the warmth of the welsh, welcoming us with open arms and hearts whilst at the same time also managing to shower us with insults, spit and quite a few coins
And then of course we couldn’t even get out of that idyllic & picturesque village without getting stopped and breathalysed, by the copper – it turns out – who had been sitting in the pub behind us before he went on duty (you would HAVE to question the ethics of that nowadays, but that was a different time, when dragons roamed the lands and the BBC had never heard of Swansea, and a welsh wine bar was the room in a pub where the welsh went to moan and snivel about how feckin’ hard done by they were….)
Quoth one of our front men:
Hello all, I clearly remember asking a, what would have been at the time, old bloke (now about my age)!! for a light, he purposely put the flame of his ronson up to furnace power and nearly burnt my nose off . his flock of mates all bleated their approval. On stage I can remember how well we were received by the local rabal I think we calmed them down by me shouting oggy oggy oggy at them, which i recall is a chant something to do with rugby, but I actually think it was the road crew dressing up a sheep dogs that actually got them in order. happy days !!
For my part, I ended up a little more forgiving of the audience that night. One of my best friends at the time, the designer for Jamming! magazine and the artist behind Weller’s ‘Whaaam!’ Rickenbacker, now ensconced at the British Music Experience incidentally, was Robin Richards, who hailed from South Wales; he gave me a heavy duty history lesson about the London-based British Government’s treatment of Welsh miners and dockers etc., and why they might just have it in for a bunch of wide-boy cockneys lucky enough to be opening for the Jam. Ultimately, it was a draw that night in Port Talbot. We sucked up the insults, hurled them back, mingled with the crowd afterwards and still escaped unharmed. (Although, come to think of it, that may well have been the night that someone in the bar slowly emptied his entire pint over our bass player’s head. Said bassist, wisely, resisted the provocation and smiled instead.) There was a reason the Jam took us on tour, and Weller had been very clear about it in conversation with me: “You’re the best support band we’ve ever had,” he’d said. Unfortunately he didn’t mean it musically; it was to do with our mentality. “You’re the closest we’ve come to having our fans up on stage. You’re the only group who knows how to handle our crowd.” That’s not a bad compliment, all things considered.
So yeah, nostalgia has its place, and the book Thick as Thieves is as good as any. But life goes on. Tonight, 30 years after playing Brighton Conference Centre as the Jam’s last ever support act, I’ll be at my regular meeting of the Onteora CSD Board of Education, on which I serve as Vice-President. You think I knew THAT one was coming when I shelled out for a copy of ‘The Modern World’ 7” back in December 1977? Of course not. But it’s all part of life’s entertainment, isn’t it? Cheers to Jam fans everywhere. Didn’t we have a nice time?