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Bruce Foxton - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 8 / 11 / 2019

Bruce Foxton - Interview


Bruce Foxton, the bassist with The Jam, speaks to John Clarkson about their seminal 1979 album 'Setting Sons' and its forthcoming 40th Anniversary UK tour with his current band From The Jam.

Bruce Foxton was the bassist in the massively successful mod revival trio The Jam, who between their debut in 1977 and their break-up in 1982 recorded six albums and had eighteen Top 40 hits in the UK. After The Jam, which also consisted of Paul Weller (vocals, guitar) and Rick Buckler (drums), split up, Foxton released a solo album,‘Touch Sensitive’ (1984), and spent sixteen years in the Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers. Since 2007, Foxton, who is now aged 64, has been in From The Jam, which also features Russell Hastings on vocals and initially until 2010 Buckler on drums. While From The Jam focuses entirely on playing material from The Jam song book, Foxton has also released two further solo albums, ‘Back in the Room’ (2012) and ‘Smash the Clock’ (2016), both of which were co-written and recorded with Hastings. Both these albums featured guest appearances from Paul Weller, who Foxton had rekindled his friendship with in 2009 after many years apart. From The Jam will be undertaking a lengthy UK tour from October in which they will be playing The Jam’s 1979 fourth album ‘Setting Sons’ in its entirety to commemorate its 40th anniversary. ‘Setting Sons’ includes ‘The Eton Rifles’, a damning indictment of the class structure and boarding school system in the UK, Foxton’s own much acclaimed ‘Smithers-Jones’, the epic ‘Little Boy Soldiers’ and a divisive cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ ‘Heatwave’. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Bruce Foxton about ‘Setting Sons’ and the forthcoming 40th Anniversary tour. PB: You are going out on the road in October in the UK to celebrate the 40th anniversary of ‘Setting Sons’. Will you be playing in its entirety from beginning to end and then giving the rest of set over to other Jam songs? BRUCE FOXTON: That’s right. We will be playing it from front to back. I am looking forward to it and revisiting it. There are some great songs on there. The rest of the set will be other Jam hits and album tracks. PB: It was at the time your most musically ambitious album. ‘Little Boy Soldiers’, for example, consists of three movements. How easy is it going to be bringing songs like that to the stage? BF: Well, that particular song we know works well live. We have played it quite a lot although not recently, but it won’t be a problem. I am just looking at the track listing now, and there is nothing on three that scares me. ‘Wasteland’, for example, is a brilliant song, and it was also quite ambitious. We were under a lot of pressure from the record label to get ‘Setting Songs’ out. Paul wrote much of it during the day, and Rick and I would then work through the night on my bass lines and his drumming. It obviously turned out really well in the end, but it was a bit of a strange way of working. PB: The most famous song on ‘Setting Sons’ is ‘The Eton Rifles’, which gave you your first Top 10 hit. The former prime minister and Etonian David Cameron listed it as one of his ten most famous songs. BF: I was actually doing a radio interview at the same time, and he was on the same programme. He said that to my face (Laughs). I don’t think that he really got the gist of the song, to be honest. PB: The other most famous song is your own song ‘Smithers-Jones’, which was written in reaction to your dad being forced to retire after being made redundant. BF: It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to understand that lyric. It sadly happens to most people in the walk of life. I went up to London a couple of days ago on a commuter train to do some interviews, and I know that it is needs must for most of the people on there. You just think, “Oh, here they go again.” As soon as they get on the commuter train, their laptops open up and away they go. It was half past ten in the morning, and then when I had finished my interviews I came back on the seven or eight ‘o’ clock train and they were still doing it. You are thinking loyalty ain’t going to mean a thing at the end of the day when you are no use and you are just going to be disregarded. I don’t think that it ever will get better. To be fair to them, they have got to earn a living and if that is what it takes then they have to do it. PB: It was originally released as the B-side to the single ‘When You’re Young’. Why did you decide to put it out on the album in a strings version? BF: It was forty years ago, but I think that it was down to the producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven or Vic Smith to his friends. I think he suggested that we should get ‘Smithers-Jones’ scored and it would sound great orchestrally. I was just thrilled, because I didn’t get that many songs on albums and to have it done orchestrally was a real buzz. I think that it really works. PB: ‘Setting Sons’ won five star reviews at the time, but the one criticism against it was its cover of ‘Heatwave’, which many people thought was out-of-place. It could be argued that as it came right at the end of the album it was almost like an extra track. Why did you put it on the album in the first place? BF: It was a great live track. It went down really well on stage and we thought, “Let’s put it on the album.” There was no other reason for it going on, apart from it was a real favourite of the audience in the live set. PB: The fans seem to have really warmed to Russell Hastings. It can’t be an easy job replacing someone as iconic as Paul Weller. Do you think he has gone down well in From The Jam because he has simply maintained a deep respect for the Jam’s song book? BF: That is exactly it. He has got total respect for those songs. All those years ago when we embarked on From The Jam we did some rehearsals with Rick and myself and obviously Russ to see if it would work. Rick and I both knew that the Jam’s songs are held in high esteem with our fans and audience, and we didn’t want to tarnish that or not do it justice, but after a few days' rehearsal I thought this deserves to be heard and out there. There was never going to be a reformation of the Jam, but this was to me the closest thing to it with Rick and myself, two thirds of the band. Russ was obviously wary about not trying to copy Paul, he is obviously similar but he brings his own take to the songs. PB: Is it true that he was at The Jam’s last ever gig in Brighton in 1982? BF: I believe so. It is strange how things come around. He was there at our last show and here he is fronting the band. PB: On the subject of things coming around your support band for most of these dates will be the Vapors. They played some dates with the Jam back in 1979. Do things in some ways seem to have gone full circle by inviting them to play? BF: I suppose that you could say that. It will be a pleasure to have them as special guests on the tour. They did a show last year with us in Salisbury, a one-off, and they still sound good. They look good. It will be fun to have them with us. PB: You used to manage them in the late ‘70s with Paul Weller’s late father John. BF: There was a pub, the Three Lions in Godalming. Its nickname is ’Scratchers’, and I used to go there. We used to have a lads’ night out once a week many moons ago and the Vapors used to play in there. I used to really enjoy them, and we got chatting and I became friends and I said, “Would you be up for me representing you going to a record company and seeing if we can get you a deal?” They were up for it, and United Artists signed them up. I asked John Weller if he would help because we were obviously very busy and it was too much for me to manage them on my own, so I helped them with the musical side of things and John took care of the more serious side of things such as publishing. PB: Usually when musicians go out on the road doing their old songs again after an initial surge of interest their popularity wanes, but you have now been doing From The Jam longer than you were in The Jam and that has never really happened before. Has that surprised you that people are still so enthusiastic about seeing your shows? BF: Yes, absolutely. It is a testament to the quality of the songs lyrically and musically. I am very grateful. Our audiences are getting bigger rather than reducing which is very encouraging. Our agent phoned me up about something else and, all joking aside, said, “Look, Bruce. We have to phone ahead and book ahead early if we want the better choice of venues. Do you think that you’ll still be up for something when you’re seventy?” My reaction was to laugh when she told me. My wife laughed when I told her also, but after a brief burst of laughter I said, “Why not?” The audience still wants to hear this music, and basically it all comes down to if I am physically capable. I hope that I am. If I am in good health when I am seventy I will be out there still doing it. They are great songs. Paul Weller also keeps it alive. He plays a few Jam songs in his set. I understand that the latest ‘Spiderman’ movie has got ‘A Town Called Malice’ on its soundtrack. These songs have a permanence. PB : There is no reason why you should not go back on the road at seventy. The Who do it and they keep getting better and better. BF: Yeah, the Stones as well. I can understand now why. When I was younger, I thought, “Why are they still going at forty? Go on. Give it a break now!” But now, I am kind of in that boat now myself and I love it. I love playing those songs. I love being out on the road. I am very grateful and lucky. Russ and I are really good mates now and on the road. We have got a great drummer, Mike Randon, who has been with us for five years now. Our keyboard player, Andy Fairclough, is another great player, and we all travel together in a car to the shows and have a laugh. What a great way to spend your time really! PB: You have now co-written two albums with Russell Hastings, ‘Back in the Room’ and ‘Smash the Clock’. Why did you decide to release them under your name rather than as From The Jam? BF: It just wasn’t From The Jam. We wanted to run it in parallel, I guess. There will be another Foxton and Hastings’ album out at some point. We have probably got enough songs. We keep recording bits and pieces when we are at soundchecks, but it is just a question of time. You have got to have a bit of home life amongst all of this. I don’t know when the album will come out. We have got to try and find the time for that as well. PB: How is your relationship with Paul Weller now? You have said in the past that it means everything to you that you are friends again. BF: It took the passing of my first wife Pat and the passing of John Weller for Paul and myself to bang our heads together and to realise how trivial and ridiculous what we fell out over was. Paul was very good when Pat was having treatment for cancer in Israel. He phoned up a couple of times to see how she was doing. It has brought us back together again, and I am sure that Pat and John would welcome that. We are good mates. I don’t phone him up every day but he would be there if I needed him. He would answer the phone. We spoke briefly about doing another Foxton and Hastings album. Paul often pops into the studio we use because it is his and he often has business to take care of, and I would like to think that if he happened to pop in he would like to play on a track. It is very loose with Paul. I think that is the way he likes to be. If it happens, it happens. PB: And what is your relationship like with Rick Buckler these days? BF: I would say non-existent, to be honest. I do not know why he has not got back to me at all. I have sent him a few emails and Christmas cards over the years, and it got to the point as it did last Christmas in which I didn’t bother sending him one. It is a real shame. I would like to honestly know why he doesn’t want to speak to me. It is very sad. There have been a few opportunities in which we could have buried whatever the hatchet was. When we had the Jam exhibition at Somerset House in London in 2015, I went along. Paul was there. We hung out together for a bit. That was lovely. There was no sign of Rick. He made out that he had something else to do, but that would have been an ideal opportunity to reunite us really. Nobody was planning a reformation of the band, but it would have been an ideal opportunity to say hi and take a few photographs. PB: Last question! From The Jam are touring Hong Kong and Australia in September, and then you are touring here on the ‘Setting Sons’ tour between October and December. That is going to take you until 2020. What are you plans after that? BF: Well, the actual ‘Setting Sons’ tour goes on until April next year. We will take e a break in February. We like to take February out. We need it by then. We need a bit of time off to re-energise, and then out we go again. I know we want to do a lot more acoustic shows because they have been going really well, and we will also do some festivals next year. It goes on. Maybe next year there will be the third Foxton and Hastings album. PB: Thank you.

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Bruce Foxton - Interview

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