Friday, 10 July 2015

About the young idea

Promotional picture of The Jam from 1977
Two weeks ago, I was down in the Big Smoke to see The Who do their thing at Hyde Park. It was a terrific day, as Pete and Roger defied their age to perform a terrific set, and the undercard of Paul Weller, Kaiser Chiefs, Johnny Marr and Gaz Coombes all delivered too. The weather was lovely, lots of odd mods in Fred Perry shirts gave the event a celebratory feel, fathers sang along with sons... not even muddy sound could spoil the day.

Excellent though all of the above was, I want to talk about what else I did on the day. Because the 26th of June was the first day of a new exhibition at Somerset House that I simply couldn't resist. About The Young Idea is a lovingly curated retrospective of The Jam, some 40 years after they were gigging their way out of Sheerwater Secondary Modern in Woking. Brilliantly, all three members of the band – Paul, Bruce and Rick – the Weller family and music archivist Den Davis have opened up their archives, especially for the show, so the wealth of memorabilia on display in incredible. Rick's target jumper is there, there are some Shelly's shoes (easy to find in this Internet age, impossible for me to find in sleepy rural Kent in the mid Eighties), tour posters, so many photographs, some iconic guitars (including Bruce's black Rickenbacker that wasn't a Rickenbacker), Rick's drum kit, lots of old vinyl (all of which I have in my collection, though sadly I am missing a few picture sleeves), fan club items from around the world, even some very early recordings to listen to, from when the band were still a four piece. And more, much, much more. If you're a fan, this is an essential exhibition, just on the basis of what I've already described.

The Jam in action at The Marquee
There's more though. Best of all, for me, are the artefacts from Paul's school days. Poems and lyrics that he'd written in notepads and the back of exercise books. Doodles where he is designing sleeve art, not just with a picture but with a band logo, and the back of the sleeve too. Here is a schoolboy who has no doubt that this is what he's going to do. There's a poem where every line something happens to the narrator that reminds him of a Paul Weller song. The last line is something along the lines of "And I turn on Top of the Pops and - WHAM! - it's a Paul Weller song." And there are hand drawn cartoons, not least "The Adventures of Paul the Mod", which tells the tale of a young parka-ed Paul, with his wall covered in Who pictures, imagining himself scootering off to the coast and being arrested. The influence of Quadrophenia (the album - this predates the classic film) is clear. Is it any wonder that Weller made it, and is still making it now, forty years later, with that level of conviction so early in his life? Bizarrely, this put me in mind of an appearance on TFI Friday by the Spice Girls. I know, that's some leap, right? But 90s Chris Evans, a very different beast from today's One Show version, was doing his usual schtick of trying to embarrass guests, playfully on the face of it but really not so playful. For each Spice Girl, he revelled in showing pre-fame video clips - he got to Mel C, and showed a video of her at an early-teen dance class. The teacher was demonstrating the moves and whilst most of the class looked a bit glazed, little Melanie Chisholm was instantly repeating every move straight back at the teacher. Is it any wonder that Mel C made it, with that intensity, that certainty, so early on? Where are the rest of that dance class? Nowhere, I'm (respectfully) guessing. So it really is about the young idea - Weller and Chisholm, so far apart musically - both had it, far more than you, me or their peers.

As a guitarist myself (of no acclaim, but still), there was much cooing over Paul's Rickenbackers. The pop art "WHAM!" is brilliant but most interesting of all is the ruby-glo Rickenbacker in which Paul carved "I am nobody" (unfortunately behind the young lady on the left, but there's a close-up below). Interesting that he should go from the confidence of youth to this more cynical mindset in so few years.
Maybe it was because it was the first day the exhibition was open to the public, maybe it was because of Weller and The Who's appearance in Hyde Park later that day, but the queue to get in was full of mods, and not all of a certain age either. Mod hairstyles, Fred Perry shirts, bowling shoes, tailored drainpipes... all of which contributed to the feel of the ninety minutes I spent there.

Anyway... if you are a fan of The Jam or Weller or mod culture, or just feel a bit nostalgic for the late 70s and early 80s, this is a must-see exhibition. If you're in the city, get yourself together and move on up to Somerset House (see what I did there?). And to paraphrase the song from which the exhibition and this blog post take their title, you better listen now I've said my bit-a!
The Jam at the end of their final live show

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