The Jam's Bruce Foxton: My 11 career-defining songs
The Jam, Stiff Little Fingers, solo and more
“I hope myself and Paul can stay friendly and keep playing on each other’s records,” Bruce Foxton says of his recent collaborations with his former The Jam bandmate Paul Weller. “None of that was planned, so, I don’t know. I don’t think they’ll ever be a The Jam reformation, but I’d like to think that we’ll play on each other’s records in the future.”
Playing on each other’s records is exactly what the pair have done in recent years. Weller guested on Foxton’s last solo effort Back In The Room, in fact. It adds another chapter to the longstanding partnership between the two, a musical meeting which began with the pair’s monumentally successful time together in The Jam.
Following Weller’s decision to split the band while at the peak of their powers, Foxton went on to launch a solo career and then join punk survivors Stiff Little Fingers, before his path crossed with Weller once more.
As we spoke to Bruce we were keen to delve into this rich history of music making as he picked out the songs that shaped his career.
The Jam - In The City (1977)
“That was The Jam’s first single. It was the start of very exciting times. It’s what most bands dream of and want to achieve – being heard. I joined The Jam in 74/75 and we started to play the pub circuit while punk was emerging. We got spotted by Polydor and were signed up immediately.
The thrill of getting one of our songs on a piece of seven inch vinyl was amazing. I remember going in what was Rick [Buckler, drums], Paul [Weller, guitar] and myself’s local pub and as we walked in our mates were pointing at the speakers and ‘In The City’ was blaring out. It was a real buzz.
“That album was pretty much our live set. All of the songs were there, played in and unbelievably fast. We went in and all the tracks were recorded live. Having left it alone for 35 years, you can hear that it’s played live because it speeds up. But that doesn’t matter, it captured the excitement. The album was done and dusted in ten days.”
All Around The World (1977)
“The record label dumped us in a caravan in Aylesbury to try and write some songs and that was one that we came out with. [The This Is The Modern World album] was a little bit of a departure.
I think the record company and fans expected In The City II and while certain tracks like This Is The Modern World were In The City II, we were getting into ballads and introducing acoustic guitars. As per every album, we wanted to experiment. We didn’t want any boundaries.
"We performed All Around The World on the Marc Bolan show. I was a big fan of T-Rex before The Jam, playing on his show was a big buzz. Unfortunately it was a mime. It was going great right up to the very end where there’s a tricky drum part and Rick lost grip of one of his drum sticks and it shot off between Paul and myself. He was mortified and it all fell apart, basically. We thought we’d get the opportunity to re-record it but they ran out of time so that went out on air!”
Down In The Tube Station At Midnight (1978)
“That was a turning point for the band and maybe also our sound. Musically, the bass featured prominently in all of the songs but there was a lot more space on that track for the bass to come through.
I always loved songs with stories, both myself and Paul were influenced by Ray Davies in that way. It’s a harrowing tale to that song. It’s become a classic song. If my bass playing and my style hadn’t been established already, that put my style on the map.
“It was lucky it saw the light of day. Because there’s a lot of space Paul got frustrated with it in the studio and didn’t think I was working and it was Vic Smith the producer who suggested that we preserved with it and thankfully Paul did and calmed down.
“Guitar wise I started off [my career] with Rickenbacker 4001 then changed for the All Mod Cons album, just to try and get a different sound. I tried putting Fender Precision pickups in a Rickenbacker for more bottom end, but you can’t do it, it doesn’t work. I changed to a Fender Precision in the end and stayed with it.”
Going Underground (1980)
“That one went straight to Number One. We were in America touring. We were up against it. The Jam were always up against it in America. It was a bit like The Who in the early days, we were deemed to be too British. Well, that’s unfortunate because that’s what we were!
With the States being so huge the powers that be suggested we piggybacked big acts in certain territories. We had some good moments, like being on the same bill as Thin Lizzy in Phoenix, but we also had some moments where we were supporting Blue Oyster Cult, totally the wrong billing. We were generally going down very badly out there.
The record company called us up and told us we’d gone in at Number One. We said, ‘Well, what are we doing here then?’ We jumped on the plane and went home to where people did want to hear us. We flew back on Concorde and recorded Top of The Pops.”
“We were listening a lot to The Beatles’ Revolver album. It wasn’t intentional, but Taxman subconsciously went in and when we came up with the idea for Start that’s what went in. It isn’t exactly the same thankfully, otherwise I’m sure Paul McCartney would have thought about suing us!
It wasn’t a rip off and it wasn’t intended that way, it was just influenced by The Beatles. That was the Number One that knocked David Bowie off the top of the charts. Then I thought, ‘Wow, we really have arrived!’ Once you get a Number One it’s a bit like Spinal Tap with their amps going up to 11. Once you get to Number One, where do you go? That created a lot more pressure.”
Beat Surrender (1982)
“That was our fourth Number One. It was very emotional for myself and I can’t talk for Rick but I’d imagine…he didn’t want the band to split up. We were thinking ‘Why are we going to split up?’ We were Number One in the single and album chart at the time. I’ve only just got over it! [laughs]”
“My confidence was very low come the end of ’82 when The Jam split. I didn’t know what I was going to do. My publisher phoned by and gave me a confidence boost so I had a go at writing some more songs. He got a band together for me. ‘Freak’ was the first single and did pretty well.
The album wasn’t bad, but there was no quality control. The label said they saw me as a solo artist and were behind me for four or five albums, they weren’t. It transpired they just wanted to cash in while I was still fresh in The Jam fans’ heads. Everything I was writing they would say, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ I like four or five songs on the album, the rest were like a school report, could do better. But, it got me going again.”
Stiff Little Fingers - (It's A) Long Way To Paradise (From Here) (1991)
“Jake Burns called me up in 1990 and said Ali [McMordie] was leaving. The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers’ paths had crossed and me and Jake were good drinking buddies.
I jumped at the chance, but I didn’t know any of their material! I went to see them before I joined play Brixton Academy and I was knocked out by the energy, it was so similar to what The Jam was all about.
That got me back in a band, back where I should be. As we moved on I got more involved and did five albums with them. The first one Flags and Emblems, it was great because I was helping with the writing again. I felt more of an integral part with Fingers at that stage, whereas before I was learning what Ali had done. That was a step up for me.”
Smithers Jones (live) (Originally recorded 1979)
“I got involved with a band called Casbah Club. Simon Townshend was part of that band. We had an offer to do a European tour with The Who and I jumped at it. We were trying to keep up with the Who’s Lear jet in our rental car!
At the end of 2006 we were playing a gig and Rick’s band The Gift were on the bill. I hadn’t played with Rick for 28 years. I was asked if I’d do a couple of numbers with The Gift, I nervously said yes and we did Smithers Jones. It went down phenomenally well. From then we decided to do it full time [and form From The Jam]."
Fast Car/Slow Traffic (2009)
“Paul called me and my wife Pat in Israel on New Year’s Eve 2008. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was toing and froing to Israel because that’s where the technology was that may have saved her life. We had met a mutual friend who was staying in the same hotel as us and I sadly told him why we were there.
I asked how Paul was and I asked him to give him my regards. Fast-forward a week or so, Paul called to wish Pat all the best. I was so touched by that. Our friendship developed from there again. It put everything in perspective. Paul asked if I wanted to work on Fast Car. Pat was so pleased that I was friendly with Paul again.
“I went into the studio and I was so nervous. I had worked out what I wanted to play and sent Paul a CD of it and he said it sounded great. But, there was an air of expectancy when I walked in the studio. Not from Paul, but the studio was pretty busy!
There were a lot of people there that had heard I was coming in. There was pressure, it felt like a bloody gig there was that many people in the studio! But after a couple of runs we had it down and Paul loved it. I sadly lost Pat in March 2009 and then [Paul’s father] John Weller died not long after and you realise how trivial a lot of stuff is in life.”
Number Six (2012)
“Back In The Room is 12 tunes and I’m proud of every one of them. The writing was put on hold until my head was in a better place and my wife always encouraged me. She knew I was back playing with Paul again on Wake Up The Nation, she wanted me to carry on doing it all, she always did.
The single is Number Six, it’s something I’m very proud of. I’m very excited to see what the future holds. Paul played on three tracks - Number Six, Coming On Strong and Window Shopping. He gave it his all.
I thought he might come in and whack something in but he gave it as much thought and time as it needed. He really took those songs to another level. He plays glockenspiel on Number Six and did some great guitar on it and some Hammond. He elevated them. What a pleasure to be working and friendly with him again.”