IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE a less compatible bill than The Jam supporting Blue Öyster Cult in America in 1978. And yet, in March of that year, Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler found themselves Stateside opening for Eric Bloom and company as the Long Island outfit revelled in their post (Don’t Fear) The Reaper success. The Jam were just one in a series of new wave acts that had the misfortune of playing in front of BÖC’s ardent, long-haired fans (Japan were another). The tour did not go well, with fans booing the be-suited neo-Mod three-piece off the stage on more than one occasion, and their second album, This Is The Modern World, subsequently failed to breach the Billboard Top 200.
“If this bombed, we’d be out on our ear. No pressure then!”
The Jam returned to the UK dispirited. To make matters worse, they had a third album to deliver and their principal songwriter, Paul Weller, was suffering from writer’s block. The demos that they recorded were knocked back by their A&R man and producer, Chris Parry, who suggested they retreat to their home town of Woking and write a new set of songs.
It was against this backdrop that The Jam delivered one of their defining statements, their initial punk ferocity injected with a stronger sense of ’60s R&B and a soulful invective. Weller’s sneering, lyrical indignation would reveal itself on the likes of Mr Clean and Billy Hunt, while more sensitive aspects of his songwriting emerged on English Rose and The Place I Love.
A double-A-side single preceded the album: a Kinks cover, David Watts, and the Weller-penned fury of A-Bomb In Wardour Street. Released on August 26, it reached Number 25 in the UK, beating the band’s previous single, News Of The World, by two places.
Single number 2, Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, went ten places better, reaching Number 15 in the UK charts in October, 1978. Thus set up, the album which emerged a month later rose to Number 6 and transformed The Jam’s fortunes. None of their three remaining studio albums would chart lower than that.
Thirty-five years after that career-defining release, bassist Bruce Foxton is revisiting All Mod Cons and playing the album live in its entirety with his band, From The Jam.
The shows start on September 11 at Kilworth House Theatre, Leicestershire, and run through until December 14 when they culminate at the Concorde 2 in Brighton. The full list of All Mod Cons dates can be found here.
To celebrate the album’s anniversary and the subsequent tour, MOJO took the opportunity to ask Foxton to relive the All Mod Cons experience…
The birth of All Mod Cons was tense. Your original demos for your third album were rejected by Chris Parry at Polydor. What impact did that have on you?
We were under a lot of pressure after the lukewarm reaction by the journalists to This Is The Modern World. It seemed they wanted an In The City 2, not slow numbers and acoustic guitars, God forbid! We went about writing the third ‘make-or-break’ album. If this bombed, we'd be out on our ear. No pressure then!
“Paul was really into Ray Davies’ man on the street’s perspective.”
Initially we were annoyed and hurt that our songs were panned by the label. On reflection it was a healthy thing to have an 'outside-the-bubble' objective view. It made us re-think our approach and we raised the bar. Once in RAK studios, we knew we had a great album in the making. I guess we had a point to prove. We were a great band with great songs and three great players.
Everyone knows you loved Motown and ’60s music, but what music actually fed into All Mod Cons? What were you listening to at the time?
You’ve said it in the question, We were really into that Motown ’60s vibe that Paul had gotten into. You can really hear it on tracks like It’s Too Bad and The Place I Love. Paul’s lyrics incorporated his newfound love of the streets of London, which he still loves today. Musically a lot was happening around us so I guess we were inspired by the whole scene.
How different was your approach to the material and the sound on All Mod Cons as compared to This Is The Modern World?
We knew we had to get it right as so much rested on it. But my memories of recording All Mod Cons are happy, as it was all going right in the studio and the songs were flowing. As I’ve said earlier, we knew we were onto something.
What made you decide to cover David Watts? And what made you decide to release that as the first single from the album?
We discovered this track on The Kinks’ Something Else By… album. Seemed like a good idea that proved to be right, I guess. It was the label’s idea to release it as a single which I didn’t mind as I thought our version did the original justice. Paul was really into Ray’s style of songwriting, and by that I mean lyrically, written from the man on the street’s perspective.
What inspired Down In The Tube Station At Midnight?
The bass line of course! Again, it’s really from Paul's view of how volatile the streets of big cities can be sometimes. Paul actually discarded the song and threw it in the bin at the studio only for it to be pulled out by [producer] Vic Coppersmith, who thought it was a great track. He was right there.
Both songs were hits, so how did the success of the album affect the band?
We were all really happy, of course. Who wouldn't be? It was a shot in the arm we needed and gave us new enthusiasm to carry on in the way we did.
There was an immense amount of pressure from the label to keep coming up with as good if not better material than the last album, which was a good thing in a way but still got to Paul, particularly as he was the main songwriter.
When you listen to the album now, how do you feel?
Very proud to have been a part of something so special and powerful. All Mod Cons was a great time for the band and the fans who stayed with us to this day. When I hear the album now I just think, Yeah, it's a great album!
What can the audience expect from your live version of All Mod Cons?
A great night of All Mod Cons and more! The band I’ve got with me really do it justice and I’m as into it now as I was then. I’ve always treated my time in The Jam with the respect it deserves and feel we do the songs great justice. Yeah, I’m excited about playing those tracks live again as I’ve not played some for 35 years. Rehearsals are sounding great as well, which is a good sign.