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Friars Interviews

Rick Buckler
The Jam

friars appearances :  26/11/77 (two shows) 17/06/78  17/11/79  02/08/80

Rick Buckler, Guildford, Surrey, 2009. (photo: Mike O'Connor)

After five years of plugging around the clubs, The Jam made it very big in 1977 with In The City and never looked back. They started the year playing pubs and clubs and closed it by becoming the only band to have played a matinee show at Friars. The Jam remained loyal to Friars even when they were too big to play here, coming back and doing the 1980 gig. The Jam's tenure at the top lasted five years when the band split in 1982. Paul Weller went to form The Style Council and become a long standing solo artist. Bruce Foxton was in Stiff Little Fingers for 15 years. Rick Buckler engaged in some solo projects and turned his back on the music business in favour of carpentry, one of his passions. However, in 2007 Foxton and Buckler reunited as From The Jam playing Jam classics to packed houses around the UK.

We caught up with Rick Buckler in February 2009 at a very nice pub in Surrey and he shares his thoughts on the Jam's success, why there won't be a full reunion and his love of woodwork. Thanks again Rick for your time.

Friars Aylesbury made big headlines when it closed and it had effectively outgrown Aylesbury Civic Centre...

A lot of people went there, it was a good venue. It was like Guildford Civic which was an important venue for local people. Woking is about seven miles away but Guildford Civic attracted a lot of musical interest because it had a great reputation...much the same as Friars. We knew it was a proper music venue.

[and like Friars] a wide variety of acts played there. Going back to 1977 when you (The Jam) first started to get properly noticed...there were you these three sharp suited guys from Woking, the time of In The City, you started the year playing pubs and small clubs and by the end of that year you were really massive. That must have been an interesting time?

It was, but we didn't really have time to stop and think about it because we got signed in early 1977 (to Polydor) and we did two albums in 1977 (In The City and This Is The Modern World). Looking back, it was pretty unheard of to do two albums in one year....

But it wasn't uncommon for the time though...

No, no it wasn't but there was lots of acts about and lots and lots of interest in live music. The thing for us was that we were coming out of working men's clubs and finding an audience that wanted to come to see and appreciate us rather than just being at a club. We didn't have time to stop and think - as soon as we finished promoting one album, it was on to the next album and into 1978 and 1979 it just kept going, rolling and rolling. We didn't stop at all. We were constantly either recording travelling, touring, rehearsing etc. It did seem like it just flew by that five year period (to 1982)

Of course, it really took off in 1977 and you remained the only band ever to play a matinee at Friars (November 1977)....

(laughs) Did we really?

Yes! That the only time that ever happened. By 1978, you were getting bigger and bigger and still able to play Friars but the juggernaut was getting bigger and you must have wondered when it was going to stop?

We were very reluctant to give up those sorts of venues [like Friars] and we did secret gigs going out as The John's Boys and went back to The Marquee and the smaller venues because they were so much fun to play. We didn't want to detach ourselves from the audiences too much [in a bigger venue] so it was good to go back and do some of those places. I don't know what the scene is like these days, there seems to be plenty of acts around and they seem to want to climb the ladder faster and faster...

Too much X Factor and Pop Idol.....
it's not real...

Yeah, ten minutes and they're gone. They [talent show winners] miss out on a lot. We found it really enjoyable and just wanted to play. It doesn't matter what the size of a venue is - the scenery changes but the job that you do and the vibe that we get is still pretty much the same, so it was nice to keep in touch with some of he smaller venues. I'd forgotten that we played Friars in 1980, but we obviously did!

It [August 1980] was a 'surprise'
gig which sold out in about ten minutes and was in advance of some other big gigs. You came back because of the Friars Aylesbury members poll. Each year the members were canvassed and The Jam did rather well! So this was slotted in as a warm up gig. This was made even more special by The Vapors coming back [a repeat of the 1979 Jam gig at Friars]

I don't know if you have seen TheJamFan.Net....?

I have....

That was something I put together because I had all this information of what gigs we played and that sort of thing and I had a look on there to refresh my memory [for this interview] and I didn't look at 1980! I thought we hadn't played Friars after 1979 but we obviously did.

After 1980 you were too big!

There were big demands on our time and there were simply places we couldn't get to. We never played Northern Ireland, we never got to Australia and New Zealand. We had a worldwide deal and there were big demands on us to go and do these things, we tried to fit in as many as we possibly could, but it was impossible.

So after that legendary 1979 Setting Sons gig and the surprise gig in 1980, you also achieved in 1980 with Going Underground, going straight in at No 1, a feat not achieved since Slade in 1973. That must have been an incredible feeling?


Yes, the way things were going at that time, we had a pretty good idea that sooner or later we would get a No 1. When we heard we had gone straight in at No 1, we were in the States at that time and cancelled everything and came home. We only had two or three shows left on the tour anyway. It was a real buzz to come home. Funnily enough we bumped into Slade last year at a service station! We knew them as they had been on the same label as us.

Going back briefly to 1977....The Jam got bracketed in with New Wave but there were obviously Mod undertones with the styling. Some of The Jam's music was certainly Mod-inspired. The Mod revival of the late seventies with bands like Secret Affair and The Merton Parkas
, do you feel that The Jam influenced this?

Yes, I think we did. Much of that was down to the type of music we were listening to at the time. We loved the idea of the three minute single. You have to remember what things were like at that time....bands like Yes and other megabands would do tracks that would cover one side of an album, very drawn out, heavily arranged, guitar solos - we weren't into that, we were into the British songwriting way, like the three minute songs, like The Beatles and The Stones. So we helped revive that sort of format. Paul (Weller), much more than Bruce (Foxton) or myself was into the Mod fashion and the Steve Marriott look.  

So it was more than just co-incidence that you had a hit with The Kinks' David Watts?!

We were into The Kinks and Paul saw something in that song he could do something with. Up to that point it wasn't one of The Kinks really big hits. The Kinks went back and re-recorded a version of it after we did it and made it sound like our version which we were quite pleased about! We were flattered by that. When we were doing the clubs up to 1977 we were doing covers and that was the kind of thing we would have done along with Chuck Berry, The Beatles etc because that was the stuff we had to play to get the work in the clubs we were doing. It also gave us a direction [in terms of Mod]

Towards the latter years of The Jam, you were also being influenced by soul and Motown...............

Yes, I think again, we were drawing from things we'd experienced ourselves earlier..like I Heard It Through The Grapevine
. It gave us another direction really. We were always looking for new ways of doing things or approaching stuff. Most of The Jam stuff was a little experimental in that there's only so much you can do with a three piece [band]. We didn't want to get stuck in a rut musically. It was a fear of making the same kind of records so we wanted to push ourselves musically and the boundaries of what we could do. We would explore anything from disco records to soul to R&B.

There's one song of yours, the name of which escapes me which has a strong disco influence with wah-wah guitar and stuff...(Ed - it was Precious)

I know which one you mean, you've got me and it escapes me as well! It was very much like Pigbag.
Not one of my favourite Jam tracks but I know what you mean. I remember that because it was supposed to be a disco dance song and I took it down to a disco before it was released and asked the DJ to put in on. It cleared the floor! It was the wrong speed to be a proper disco dance song.

Then the horns came in, presumably another nod to the past and also to experiment and expand what you were doing as a three piece?

We did a lot of experimentation like that. We've got a steel band on one track and the brass section was always good. We took a couple of the brass guys on tour with us and a keyboard player. It seemed to work and didn't take anything away from what we were doing.

It was just evolution wasn't it?

Yes, it wasn't like David Bowie who would suddenly go off on a weird tangent or anything like that. We just were keeping ourselves interested and ourselves fresh. A good rock and roll band will never be boring. If you become boring, you've lost the plot completely.  That was the fear that we had, we didn't want to become boring.

You were never boring, your success is testament to that!  A bit of a weird question I guess....throughout The Jam's career you were managed by John Weller (Paul's father), it must have been a bit strange having a family member overseeing you - you must have had clear parameters over what was business and what was family?

It wasn't that strange at all actually, because Paul's relationship with John was really good, really open, he was almost more a mate than his dad but he had a vested interest in it. He was an old teddy boy so he was really into the rock and roll side of it and I genuinely think he did like what we were doing. We liked the idea of going to the clubs and seeing him at the gigs. He got most of our work in the working men's clubs so it wasn't too much of a strange arrangement. It worked well, he was somebody we felt we could trust and be on our side. so we didn't really have any problem with that at all. When Polydor said to us that they wanted to sign the band, they said we'll sort you out with proper management, an agent, a decent publisher, a lawyer. They wanted us to have 'professional' management so we said we weren't signing unless John stayed as the manager. He had put in quite a lot of work over the previous five years (1972-1977) so we thought it wasn't right and we felt it would be wrong for someone else to step in and when push came to shove, Polydor agreed so long as he learnt the business as he was a bricklayer and taxi driver. None of us really knew about the business as such, we were all as thick as thieves so to speak. But John was wise enough to know he would have to take advice from the agent, the publisher and the record company and the lawyers etc. The record company was happy with that as we signed to them. A lot of people found him abrasive to talk to (laughs) but that was John's way.

When The Jam split in 1982, there's a couple of schools of thought on this. Do you go out at the top or past your sell by date. The Jam didn't go past their sell by date, I've always had the impression it was never a group decision to call it a day, it was always Paul's decision.

It wasn't a group decision. It was Paul who wanted to leave the band. Although we knew about it quite early on, we thought we'll do all the work we're committed to do and maybe he'll change his mind. But he obviously didn't. The thing that Bruce and I didn't like too much was that we weren't consulted on it. We put forward several suggestions, one of which was putting everything on hold for a couple of years, then he (Paul) could go off and do his thing and if his thing turns out to be what he really wants to do, then fair enough, then we can make a decision. But to pull the rug out so quickly from under our feet for purely his own reasons I don't think was quite right. Not only did this leave a bad taste in mine and Bruce's mouth, also John's as well as he had put a lot of work into the band. Nobody knew what was going to happen to Paul, whether he would disappear or go on to greater things or what. The record company weren't happy about it, in fact nobody was happy about it, because here we were with a dream come true and the stops have been pulled on it. Are you crazy? Are you mad? But that was what he wanted to do and there was no question of continuing without him so we had to resign ourselves to getting on with the rest of our lives.

That couldn't have been easy...

No, it wasn't.

With the type of music The Style Council started out with, do you think, given previous experimentation, that this direction is how The Jam might have gone on to sound?


No. I think if The Jam had moved in that direction, we wouldn't have lasted five minutes, we would have gone downhill. I mean The Style Council never had the same kind of success The Jam ever had. I don't think we would have gone in that direction. If we had, we would have sounded a much tougher sounding band than what became The Style Council but this is all speculation.

So this clearly was never going to be a logical extension to The Gift?

Weller obviously felt that he needed to do something completely different and that was that. One thing I didn't expect, but got a lot of, was anger from fans saying we had no right to walk out on them. The bond between the band and fans was very strong and vice versa.

So you were the people's band!

Without being too pretentious about it, yes. No band exists without its fans and to turn round and say we don't need you anymore because I'm going to have another group of fans and go off in this other direction....I don't know....I couldn't get my head round that sort of thinking at all. When Paul said he was doing this because he wanted The Jam to mean something, he missed the plot because The Jam meant something already and the fans knew it, and we knew it and I think he was rummaging around for a romantic idea to try to cover his tracks.

I'm sure that he [Weller] is quoted as saying he split The Jam before "it became embarrassing". I'm not sure what he means. I don't think he is suggesting you were embarrassing at the time but if The Jam carried on, maybe the quality control may have slipped, I suspect that's what he was driving at....

Maybe he walked into his own embarrassment and didn't want to take me and Bruce with him! (laughs). I don't think The Jam would have become an embarrassment. We were disciplined enough to know when we were doing something bad and when we were doing something good.. Before the All Mod Cons album, Chris Parry (producer) said some of the arrangements weren't so good so we took his advice on that. There were enough good people around The Jam who would have stopped us if we started coming out with 'hey nonny nonny'! The fans are the best gauge as they would stop buying your records.....

..and coming to your gigs!

Yes. Even when the press were slating The Modern World and it wore on and the record company weren't happy as it didn't sell as many as they would have liked, my memory is that people were still coming to the gigs and they were still enjoying what we were doing. So what the press were saying and what was happening was something else. You have got to look to that fan base you have spent so long building up. These people were involved in every thing we did.

The fans with you in 1982 at the end had largely been there since 1977..

Yes and a lot of them are still there now as we've proved over the last couple of years. The first From The Jam tour we announced two years ago sold out in ten days. We thought what's this going to be like?

There must have been some nervousness and trepidation at the first couple of From The Jam gigs as to how people would perceive you?

We did a few shows with the band I was in (The Gift) when Bruce guested and the reaction was good. I thought The Gift had a lot to offer and it was something I wanted to do and I wanted to revisit The Jam songs. When Bruce came along it gave it more momentum. Although we knew there was a fan base there, we were more worried about the press reaction - would they accept Russell (Hastings) as the new front man and that sort of thing. Once the original fans saw us play and realised we had the same sort of commitment, I don't think they particularly worried. The music counted for them and that spoke louder than anything.

I saw Bruce interviewed on Sky News one Sunday morning....

(laughs)...I should have been there as well! I couldn't get myself up!.

Well it was a Sunday morning! He was talking about From The Jam and the fact it wasn't the original three piece line up. I presume you are called From The Jam to try to make it clear where you are and also for legal reasons?

Yes and there are legal reasons as well. Out of deference, we thought we aren't The Jam because Paul's not here but we are two thirds of The Jam so it was for that reason. John Weller was up to that point anyway quite litigious and we didn't want any of that, we just wanted to get on with it, so it's Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler from The Jam. It's an obvious thing to do. We did get a few complaints from the Wellers because 'From' was in small letters and 'The Jam' was in big letters or it was in different colours so it all had to be the same! Maybe John thinks Paul was The Jam and this sudden preciousness.

I think it's pretty clear what's going on [with From The Jam] ...

Yes, we want to be open and transparent about the whole thing. Honesty is the best policy..

From what I've read over the last couple of years since you've started touring as From The Jam, there seems to be real hostility from Paul. You'll have read these articles as well.....

It's a shame as I think there's no need for it.

You're not here to speak about his solo career, but he until recently has distanced himself completely from The Jam....

Yeah, I can't quite get my head around that. For a number of years he wouldn't talk about The Jam or play any Jam songs. It was like it almost didn't exist. Yet there is nobody else [Weller aside] in the world with the right to play these songs than Bruce and myself and he seemed to get upset about it. It's a shame, he should be proud, he was part of that group. You could argue he was a bigger part because he wrote the songs, fair enough, but I mean....it's given him a nudge as he now plays some Jam numbers in his set. He should be proud of it. There's no mileage in moaning about it.

In that Bruce interview on Sky News, he made it clear, possibly tongue in cheek, that he would welcome Paul back for a gig or two so long as Russell Hastings didn't mind standing aside! If that opportunity to play as the three piece did happen, from your perspective, would you jump at it?...

Yeah! Would there be issues to overcome? There shouldn't be really...anything else could be sorted out whatever those problems could be. In the early days of The Jam, we were always in a band mentality. Like The Kinks were The Kinks. If you took someone away, they wouldn't really be The Kinks any more. So there's this whole thing aspect. hence a little trepidation from us. I think Paul thought we couldn't get the band together without him in no shape or form and I think to a certain extent Bruce and myself felt that as well for a while. Then we thought why does that have to be, why can't Bruce and myself do this. So we thought, let's be damned and do it. So maybe there's some reticence from Paul. Every interview you see, he says there's no way he's going to reform the band. It's categorically no, it's not going to happen....

He's widely quoted as saying he'd have to be destitute to reform The Jam...

Yeah, but me and Bruce can't hang around waiting for that day. I don't want to live by his leave so we thought sod it let's do it. Why shouldn't we?

You've every right to.......

And it's worked. People have enjoyed the gigs, we've enjoyed the gigs. Russell has to keep pinching himself as he was a big Jam fan and all of a sudden he's in the band! He's very passionate about it although he comes from the fan's side of the fence. He understands that side more than me and Bruce do because you can't really be fans of yourselves can you! But it works. Maybe Paul didn't like the idea that we had done it without him, more than the fact that we'd done it at all.

So it's safe to say that a full Jam reunion is highly unlikely?

No, I don't think it's going to happen. It's a shame, but I think that Paul has dug himself a hole. He's so entrenched in the idea that it can't happen without him, and that he was The Jam. He can't back track [now] without getting a lot of egg on his face. What can I say? That is the attitude he has taken.

But you're out pleasing people again....

Yeah, I never saw this coming. If you'd said 10 years ago I'd be doing this, I wouldn't have believed you!

When The Jam called time, you did Time UK.........

I did Time UK, and I also owned a studio in London. We started off by knocking some demos together and they were Sharp [with Bruce Foxton] but nothing happened with them. Bruce then went and joined Stiff Little Fingers so it got no further than that [the demos]. It was good to stay in touch with Bruce, I could pick up the phone or go for lunch whereas Paul was completely unapproachable.

In The Jam, there seems to have been this genuine camaraderie and then a sudden abrupt halt. I remember Bruce being Simon Mayo's 'God of the week' on his old Radio 1 show [about 1994/1995] and he said that he sent Paul Christmas and birthday cards and got nothing back and wished he got some kind of response.

It's silly after all those years - five years in the clubs and five years professionally and we can't even say hello to someone.

Tell us about your carpentry....

I closed the studio down and then I was involved with the Highliners [who had one Top 40 single] and I managed them initially. I found myself at a loose end. I was always very much interested in carpentry. My first drum kit I made when I was at school. I really enjoyed that. So I decided to walk away from the music industry and do something for my own self indulgence. So I ended up doing it for twelve years. I spent two years with a cabinet maker learning everything there is to learn to do with joinery and cabinet making and really to earn some money, I used to restore antiques. I did French polishing and that sort of stuff. I really did enjoy that. I've still got my workshop in my garden. Is French polishing difficult? It's not as difficult as you think to do, but it is difficult to get it right. It's an easy trade to learn but difficult to get it right.

I saw some stills the other day from After They Were Famous [an ITV programme from a few years back] and you appeared to be throwing your drum kit out on to the compost heap! That was for show wasn't it?

The TV people did that. I had some old toms that the kids used to muck about with at the end of the garden. So they put the tag on it that I had dumped them at the bottom of the garden!

I had a feeling that was the case! Are you still doing the cabinet making in your spare time?

I don't spend as much time [in the workshop] as I used to but you don't forget. I've made six dining chairs and table for the house and some stuff I had to sell because I couldn't get it in the house!

I have this image that you don't have unlevel shelves in your house?!

No, I don't!!!

Rick, thank you so much for your time, really appreciated.

Cheers.

From The Jam official site    The JamFan.Net - Rick's Jam archive   Paul Weller official website

This interview and its content are 2009 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.

 
 
 

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