I had the grand pleasure of participating in a late night phone call with Bruce Foxton last night. Bruce is, of course, best known as bass player for The Jam as well as Stiff Little Fingers & Casbah Club. He’s recently completed a successful tour with Rick Buckler in a Weller-less ‘From The Jam’. The tour quickly sold out all 20 dates so FTJ have just announced an additional 21 UK dates for November/December.
You can imagine my childlike giddiness as I spoke to an icon from my childhood, so forgive me any overly ‘typical’ questions I may have asked. Bruce and I chit-chatted about the time differences between Arizona and the U.K. and then jumped right into it:
SEAN: Just starting at the beginning of it all, what was it about the bass that drew you to that particular instrument?
BRUCE: I was kind of thrown into the deep end really. I joined The Jam as a rhthym guitarist and at that time there was a guy called Steve Brooks on lead vocals & rhythm guitar, there was Paul [Weller] obviously on bass guitar and vocals and Rick on drums & myself as a sort of second rhythm guitarist. Then Steve left the band around ’75, early ’75ish and we had to re-jig the lineup. We did audition for another guitarist but we couldn’t find the right person for whatever reason, so Paul said well, why don’t I play bass and he’d pick up rhythm and stroke lead guitar and I took it from there. So I was sort of forced into it really. [Laughs]
S: So it sort of wasn’t even a choice.
B: Well, I mean it would have been obviously but I thought I’d give it a shot and see how it goes. And that lineup stayed until the end of The Jam really. It obviously worked really well.
S: Were there any bass players that you drew inspiration from?
B: Yeah, there was John Entwistle at that time, McCartney, etc.
S: What’s your fondest memory of that time when you were all still together in the band?
B: Wow. I mean, there’s so many things…I’m pleased to say it was good fun all the way through. I mean, getting your first record deal ever, that was a very exciting moment in time because we’d obviously been working hard at small venues & clubs around the Woking area where we were all based and then moving into the London pub circuit at that time all with the hope of getting recognized by a major label. It’s just fantastic. Then going on from getting your first record deal, having your first vinyl 45 single released and you go into your local pub and your mates have put it on the jukebox and your embarrassed but it’s still kind of fantastic, ya know? [Laughs] From there it’s going in at #1 with ‘Going Underground’ in 1980…and you know, really it’s a lot Sean, it’s a lot. I’m pleased to say there are so many moments.
S:That’s good though. Better to walk away and be able to pick from so many good memories rather than the opposite and having to really search for a good one.
S: Now obviously, when the band kind of called-it-quits (or Paul called it quits) in 1982 I know Paul went his own way and neither you nor Rick [Buckler, drummer] had much contact with him. Did you keep in close contact with each other?
Ruby and Rick Buckler – Photo: (c) Gary Clark
B: Well, close in terms of I had his phone number and he’d got my number and we’d speak to each other a few times throughout the year and Rick was there if I needed him and vice versa ummm…we’d never really kind of hung out together that much outside the band in the first place, but yeah I was there for him and he for me as I’d said. About 5 or 6 times throughout the year there’s always, I mean to this day there’s Jam business to discuss, things to do with the label, reissues, etc. so I still speak to Rick obviously. But yeah we kind of keep in touch and exchange Christmas cards & such. Paul, unfortunately, has just kind of disappeared off my radar. He’s got his own way and he kind of, I wouldn’t know how to get in touch with him. I did, however…I’m in this band called Casbah Club and we toured with The Who last year at Hyde Park and Paul was backstage hanging out with some of the guys from Ocean Colour Scene because they were on the bill as well and we did briefly speak then, and it was very friendly and hugs all around but it was very brief, ya know, it was only a couple of minutes but it was nice to see that past was in the past – or it appeared that way anyway – and that if my path did cross with Paul again that sense of awkwardness, of what am I going to say or what is he going to do…we broke the ice, I think that’s what I’m trying to say. And hopefully when I see him again I’ll have time to chat with him.
S: So hopefully that goodwill might turn into a positive project in the future?
B: Yeah, exactly. All Rick and myself ever wanted was, when your in a band with your mates for 6 or 7 years you just want to keep in touch now-and-again and it’s not like I’m going to call him up every day and ask him to go for a beer. As I said earlier, I also see Rick but I seem him now mostly because of From The Jam. Prior to that, I would have only seen Rick 2 or 3 times a year. It would just be nice to know that if I need to get in touch with him [Paul] that I could. We’ll see, we’ll see how it goes.
S: Has he said anything at all, even in the press, about you and Rick touring under the name like this?
B: No, he’s actually been completely quiet. Even when we were talking about the idea, I think Billboard tried to contact Paul and even they didn’t get a response. [Laughs] He’s a very tricky guy to track down. All we could do is say this is what we’re doing, it’d be great if you’d join us. Ya know, via the press or radio. So I just don’t know how he would feel about it. He would probably say ‘I’m not bothered’. [Laughs]
S: Given his past feelings on it…
B: Yeah, exactly.
S: You mentioned Casbah Club there…is that something you’ll continue to be involved in or is that more or less done now?
B: Well Simon Townsend – as you know he’s Pete’s brother – he’d gone off to tour the world with The Who and that obviously meant the Casbah Club came to a grinding hault. Which is a shame because we’d toured with The Who here in the UK and done quite a few shows very well, and I love the Casbah songs, Simon is a great writer like his brother and it was all going really well. We didn’t get The Who’s American tour, they got some other bands out there. We just didn’t make it on the bill basically. So he went out there and I’m not sure what The Who’s plans are, if they’re going to continue touring or if they’re done with touring or what. I’m going to see Simon next month, we’re getting together in August and we’ll try to pick up the pieces because it was done really well and it was just one of those situations that was forced upon us due to not getting The Who tour and it meant Simon went off and did The Who and that left Mark, Bruce & myself sort of twiddling our thumbs. I’d like to think we could do something in the future. But now of course I’m involved with From The Jam and that’s getting really busy so now it’s going to be a question of can they fit around my plans.
S: In terms of From The Jam, have you thought about an American tour?
B: Certainly. We’re obviously on the agency books and they’re based in Los Angeles anyway and I think we’d do quite well out there. Our agent, he’s testing the waters right now and he’s going to announce a few shows soon and we’re going to see what demand there is. But we’d love to come to America. I think we’re looking at late January/early February and then Australia and Japan are in the cards because, see, what’s happened Sean is that a lot of promoters here in the UK were waiting to see how that May/June tour was going to go down and it was a wait-and-see with a tour and how it would be perceived without Paul Weller, etc. and it’s gone so well and favorable and the press have been brilliant and the audience reaction has been phenomenal so we’re getting a lot more promoters involved now whereas before they were waiting on the fence and saying wait-and-see because without Paul, ya know, but we proved it was the music, first and foremost, in Jam fans’ minds and heads and hearts, etc. and we’re producing that and playing it with as much passion and conviction as we did 25 years ago so, there’s a lot more territories opening up for us now, which is great because we’re doing the songs justice and it’s very exciting to be playing again.
S: I was going to say, it’s got to feel great with that tour selling out so fast and realizing how passionate your fans still are about what you do…
B: Yeah I mean, it’s great that it sold out. We just didn’t know if we’d cut it. The rehearsals were sounding great but in front of the audience, you still get apprehensive. We started off in Oxford in the May/June tour and it was so emotional because the crowd wouldn’t stop clapping and we hadn’t started playing and I think they have such affection for The Jam music and I guess Rick and myself, that it was very touching. And we delivered in the end, so it was all very good.
S: How different is it with Russell [Hastings] singing lead on the songs? That’s got to be quite a different experience than when you used to play with Paul.
B: It’s not that different actually. When I’m up there alongside him and I glance to my right and he’s playing the song so well and singing so well it’s sort of like Paul is there anyway. Russell has a slightly different take on certain songs, and he’s not trying to emulate Paul totally, but he obviously does sort of sound like Paul anyway. He’s brought a lot to the table himself and he’s a very good musician and he’s been a Jam fan since his early teens. He was there as a fan at the last show we did in Brighton in 1982 and here we are in 2007 and he’s fronting the band. It’s an unusual situation but he’s a perfect guy to have with us. And Dave Moore.
S: Given that he’s enjoying it so much and you’re all slipping into this comfortable rhythm, are you going to record new music together?
B: Yeah, actually that’s why we were hassling you about times because I’m headed into the studio today. We’re working on some new material. But we’ve got such a wealth of Jam songs to choose from that I mean, From The Jam, the sets will probably always be predominately Jam songs. But eventually we would like to put in some new music amongst the Jam songs, though there’s no rush because as we’d said there’s such a huge back catalogue of Jam material – which is a great position to be in – plus you know, we’ll take our time is what I’m trying to say. We’re going to write, and then we’ll see how they sound and then we’ll try them out live in November/December and see how they go down but we’re not going to rush a release on an album or whatever not yet. We’re working on it.
S: Just a see-how-it-goes situation then…
B: Yeah yeah. We don’t want rush something, because as I said the press in the UK, we’re riding the crest of a wave and we can’t do anything wrong but they’re looking! They’re looking!
S: Haha, just waiting for the tripup.
B: Exactly, and the new material would be put under a microscope so we just want to make sure as a band that we’re happy with it and it’s where it should be before we release anything.
S: Keeping in mind your time constraints, I’ll just ask one more question before I let you go. In terms of new music from other bands, is there anyone you’re particularly enjoying? Either having seen them live or heard a record?
B: Yeah, recorded stuff, I mean the Kaiser Chiefs are pretty good. The Feeling, I saw them I think they did the concert for Diana…
S: Yeah I remember them being there.
B: Yeah, I thought they were pretty good and I love their vocals & harmonies. Arctic Monkeys are another band that I wouldn’t say I play them all the time but I do sort of like some of their stuff. And then there’s a new band called The Enemy over here that are really good, and they’re pretty heavily influenced by The Jam as the Arctic Monkeys are pretty into The Jam as I’ve heard. They’ve got to get their influences from somewhere I suppose. [Laughs]
S: Better you than elsewhere.
B: Yeah, well and I mean as we ourselves did so many moons ago.
S: Bruce, I really appreciate you taking time to do this. I’ve really enjoyed it.
B: Well, likewise I mean you’re calling from Arizona in the middle of the night.
S: Hey, I grew up on The Jam and for me to be calling you and getting to talk to you in the middle of the night, that’s more exciting than anything else I might be doing.
B: So you need to get out more really. [Laughs]
S: Haha, well yeah that’s true. Thank you very much though.
B: Likewise. And keep your eyes peeled, and I hope that we’ll be out in the States.
S: If you are, I’ll be there.
B: We’d love to come so it’s just a matter of whether the demand is there or not and we’re finding that out as we speak.
S: I guarantee it’s there. Plenty of U.S. Jam fans. Thanks Bruce.
B: Thank you again.
From The Jam: ‘Bruce Foxton & Rick Buckler’ on tour in the UK from 24th November. Ticket Hotline: 0870 264 3333, www.seetickets.com.
‘The Jam Unseen’ is published by Cyan Books on August 6. ‘The Unseen Jam Photographic Exhibition’ will run at The Movie Poster Gallery, 1 Colville Place, London, W1T 2BG, from October 6 – 20, 2007.