I watched The Jam live, now I pass them towels in the back of a boat
From the Jam have been regular callers to Lancashire, but remain far more than just another tribute band, as Russ Hastings told MALCOLM WYATT
It’s strange to think The Jam were only together a decade and spent just five years as recording artists.
But they made a major worldwide impact, with nine UK top 10 hits, four number ones and six studio albums, and continue to inspire 32 years after their demise.
While Paul Weller left to form The Style Council before forging a successful solo career, fellow members Bruce Foxton (bass) and Rick Buckler (drums) took a while to get to grips with the split.
But after several side-projects, Rick formed The Gift in 2006, playing the old material with devoted Jam fans Russell Hastings and David Moore.
In time, Bruce guested with them live, subsequently joining full-time as they became From the Jam.
Over the years, Russ and Bruce became close friends, also co-writing Bruce’s successful 2012 album Back in the Room.
Their other band-mates moved on, but they kept going, returning to Lancashire several times for live dates.
The most recent visit was on their on-going acoustic tour, aided by Paul Weller session drummer Tom van Heel.
And From the Jam call at Wigan The Kaff on May 9 and Blackburn King George’s Hall the following night.
I caught up with Russ at home in West Sussex the day after the acoustic tour opened in Milton Keynes. So was it a promising start?
“It was. It’s always nervous first night, especially on an acoustic tour in sit-down theatres, with people sat round.
“It’s a very different vibe, not something myself or Bruce are used to.
“But once you overcome that and realise everyone’s having a great time, despite not jumping up and down, there’s something civilised about it.
“And there’s always a few that get up though, which is always welcome.”
It’s the tour that never stops, really – going from acoustic to full band shows and festivals.
“Absolutely, and we’re lucky we can keep doing that, keep filling places.”
From the Jam have a variety of dates up to Christmas, some with Steve ‘Smiley’ Barnard, who took over from Big Country’s Mark Brzezicki, and others with Tom.
They met the latter at Paul’s studio while recording Back in the Room. Russ mentioned that his dad was a big Jam fan, so he grew up with that material.
It does seem that it’s the next generation coming through now, appreciating The Jam’s rich back-catalogue.
“That even surprises me. We see people at gigs that weren’t even alive when The Jam split, yet so passionate about the band.
“They understand the lyrics too. It gives an understanding of what politics were all about back then. And there are so many great songs.
“Tom said the other day, ‘how did Paul go about writing songs like When You’re Young when he was only 21 himself?’ I guess that’s where you’re gifted.”
The band promise a few live surprises, including unexpected song choices and Q&A sessions with the audience.
“I’m familiar with all the stories from over the years, so can help steer it from the stage. Last night we were asked about Going Underground going straight in at No.1.
“Bruce told how they were in America and John Weller (Paul’s dad, the band’s manager) said ‘let’s fly back’ – so they all jumped on Concorde!
“Stories like that and everything else make for an interesting evening. It’s great fun.”
Russ also gets a chance to break down the songs to play them live, inevitably leading to insight from Bruce.
“While Paul was no rocket scientist at that age with regards to playing guitar, that’s what makes the songs so magically fantastic.
“His musical genius was in-built, but there’s nothing fancy in there – the chord structures are pretty straight-forward.
“You do get an insight. Around the time of Setting Sons and Sound Affects they’d kick a little idea and guitar riff around, and Bruce often tells me how a line came about.
“Paul was a young guy and wouldn’t go about anything complicated, but it’s that simplicity that makes it.”
The forthcoming Wigan and Blackburn dates are on The Public Gets What the Public Wants tour. So what does that involve?
“Those will be with a full band, and a big mixture of the whole catalogue.
“We’ve been touring an album each year, starting with In The City then All Mod Cons, but this time we’ll pull out a few of the gems that got left off those albums.”
And later this year they’ll be back at Preston’s 53 Degrees (Friday, October 10) for the Setting Sons 35th anniversary tour.
“All Mod Cons, Setting Sons and Sound Affects are my favourite albums, and I can’t decide which one’s best – so it has to be all three of them!”
While Russ wasn’t credited on the front of Back in the Room, his part was vital to the album’s success, with some of the songs he wrote now part of the regular set.
“I live in No.6, which is all about my house, where I’m speaking to you at the moment, where my kids grew up.
“I wrote in that song about the love of the house, not something I’d normally be sentimental about.
“We’re also playing Drifting Dreams in our acoustic set, and I proudly stand by all those songs. The album also works because of the period in which we wrote it.
“It was a happy time in our lives. Bruce had remarried, moved into his new house, things were going well, it was approaching summer, and a magical time.
“We were left well alone at the studio, but Paul would often pop his head in and see how things were going. He wouldn’t stick his oar in, but would say what he liked.”
Word has it that anything you can’t attribute to the band was played by Paul.
“Yes. I remember one day he was in there with a drumstick on a ride cymbal doing over-crashes, then he picked up the xylophone, glockenspiel, tambourine…
“That’s the way he works. He’s pretty mad. I was playing guitar and he was at the piano, transposing the chords I was playing.”
One problem with the band’s touring is fitting in studio time for the next album, but they’re back in soon.
“We’ve a shed-load of ideas to put down, having just got back from a holiday together in the Caribbean, with our families, and time for a bit of fun.
“I took my acoustic and we were playing a bit of golf and talking about work but from a different perspective.
“It was nice to be out from under the microscope.
“You see your lives in little blocks of gigs sometimes. This was a chance to get away from that.
“We wrote a couple of new songs, really uplifting, capturing that summer mood. I like things that make me smile. Sometimes you need to be cheered up.”
Russ is a family man, based in the small South Coast town where he was brought up, with 15 and 10-year-old sons, while doing what he loves for a living.
“Sometimes I have trouble differentiating between me a few years ago, there to see Paul, Bruce and Rick coming out of the Brighton Centre, and now, in a situation where I’m handing Bruce a towel in the back of a boat, or on a golf course together! It’s mental, and so surreal.
“But I’ll claim Bruce as my best and dearest friend, and we have a relationship where I know exactly what he’s thinking.
“One day while we were away, I pulled up by jet-ski on this beach and Bruce pulled alongside me and shouted ‘Russ! Where did it all go wrong?’ Man of the people!”
Did this devoted Jam fan ever envisage a career playing with Bruce, Paul and Rick?
“Not at all. But if someone told me a UFO had landed on the green opposite my road I’d have gone to have a look. You never know what’s around the corner.
“It’s become so surreal, yet that’s my reality! But I’m just one of the cogs in the wheel, hoping to play the songs the way they were written, and for Bruce to do his bit.
“Once people get over that, that’s fine. There’s nothing where we’re trying to hoodwink people.”
There are times on Back in the Room where it’s difficult to differentiate Russ’ vocals from Paul’s.
“Well, I come from the same area and my accent is similar. I only know one way to sing!”
Russ’ first Jam gig was when he was 12, at Portsmouth Locarno in 1977. He was there for the last shows in 1982 too, at Wembley, Guildford and Brighton.
Has Paul ever spoken to him about From the Jam?
“He hasn’t, but he did say it was nice to meet me and that he thought I’d be ‘one of those look-a-likies’. I just said ‘no, I’ve a bit more respect than that!’
“It’s a pleasure to see him and Bruce having a good laugh again.
“He was on his own patch and relaxed, very comical, and a decent, nice bloke.”
For tickets details for the Wigan, Blackburn and Preston shows, head to the venues’ social media pages or the From the Jam facebook page.