It’s almost 20 years since The Jam said their ‘farewell’ in Brighton. Jam fan Simon Wells, was there, and looks back at that final gig.
‘…I want this to count for something…’
Can it really be nigh on 30 years since the Jam, Britain’s favourite ever Mod sensation, last trod the boards? Well, those yellowing press cuttings I carefully filed away in an oversize scrapbook under my bed tell me this is so. Well, actually it was 19 years; but seeing as I’m in a reflective mood having just passed the big 40, (and all that entails) it all just seems a hell of a long time ago. And as it’s December again outside my window, I thought it more than pertinent to share a few reflections on the day The Jam called it a day.
With the forgiving benefit of retrospect, Paul Weller’s decision in 1982 to walk out on the band when they were at the top of the pop tree, seems an astute and thoughtful decision. One only needs to look at Weller’s lyrics to realise that they were drawn from the urgency and immediacy of youth, and with two of the band nearing their thirties, there was no way that they could sincerely deliver that sort of material without hypocrisy; something that had become a minor obsession with Weller.
Their last album, ‘The Gift’, was an uneasy mix of soul, gospel and punk-funk, sowing seeds that would only begin to fully germinate once Weller had moved on from the creative confines of The Jam. Still, with the most loyal fan-base since the Beatles, pulling the plug on the nation’s favourite threesome was going to be an explosive, if risky finale. The question on everyone’s lips was ‘Well; what happens next?’ Ever the professional, Weller had announced the split well before the final tour, ensuring that the band would be greeted by a three week standing ovation.
Even after 5 sell-out nights at Wembley Arena and a barnstorming UK tour, demand for tickets was still throbbing. The Jam were at number one in both album and singles charts, and so a Saturday night at Brighton’s Conference Centre (reportedly Weller’s favourite venue at the time) was slotted in to satisfy the final demand. To many, it seemed fitting that the band chose Brighton for their last hurrah. Brighton will always be a Mod town, forever smothered with a fur-rimmed parka since the ersatz Mods adopted it for many a well-documented ‘haveitawaydays’ in the 60’s. ‘Quadrophenia’ the movie, unwittingly re-baptised the town with the hand of Mod in the late 70’s sending further confused Moddies into Tamla Toytown in search of pills and soap.
As a Jam devotee, the few days prior to the concert were of great expectations.
Indeed when you hear of ‘last’ concerts, you conjure up images and expectations that a band can’t simply hope to achieve. Nonetheless as I hadn’t attended the Beatles last soiree at Candlestick Park in 1966, nor Cream’s farewell fandango at the Albert Hall, I was sure as hell going to be at the Jam’s (my generation’s Beatles) last bash.
I think it was Mike Read on Radio One who announced that the band was to play the final gig the Wednesday before the show, and that the tickets were going on sale the following morning.
A few of us from deepest Sussex, made the pilgrimage down to Brighton to secure those prized bits of paper; paper that would be later passed around public houses like tablets from the Mount. By the time we got down to the box office at 9.00am, there was an enormous queue- and our collective hearts sunk. Imagine the embarrassment down later at the pub if we hadn’t scored the tickets! Eventually though, we did get to the counter and happily acquired four tickets at £5.00 each.
The anticipation the few days before the gig was unbearable. The band’s new live opus ‘Dig the New Breed’ was played and played till a hole went through track three on side two. Over beer and bullshit, we planned to individually storm the stage to say our own fond farewell to the boys- naturally all recorded on a mate’s pocket Instamatic. The dreams of children no less.
One thing I do clearly recall about the day (a Saturday) was that is was miserably wet and overcast; not unusual for the South Coast in December. The Centre, Brighton’s conference venue, had actually put on their hoarding that fronts the building ‘The Jam’s Last Concert’ (as if we didn’t know!). We managed to miss the soundcheck (something that had become a ritualised matinee of Jam gigs) but were informed that it had been a miserable affair, Weller and Foxton barely communicating with each other. Later that afternoon, Weller (without Bruce and Rick) had been seconded to Brighton Pier by the BBC’s Nationwide to explain his reasons for leaving the group.
In characteristic mode atop a windy prom he spat: ‘I feel we’ve achieved enough y’know. I think we’ve done all we can do as the three of us, and I think it’s a good time to finish it. I don’t want to drag it on, and go on for like the next twenty years doing it, and become nothing; mean nothing; end up like all the rest of the groups. I want this to count for something.’
As we approached the gig. There were hoards of people outside literally begging for tickets and handing over extortionate sums to the parasitic touts that flocked around the venue like flies on rotten meat. I clearly recall too, a large posse of skinheads milling around. (Note: this was the time of the pathetic Skinhead v Mods v Anybody confrontations that had brought Brighton to a standstill the previous summer).
In our innocence, the group I’d gone down with had decided to make our way to the front of the stage as soon as we got into the hall. Once inside though, it was clear that several hundred people had had the same idea. It was packed solid at the front, well before the first support came on.
Given the layout of the venue, the ground floor area was standing and the three facing tiers were seated, many people had tried to gate-crash the arena floor and, obviously aware that this might happen, extra security staff were placed on the doors to prevent this. It was no surprise then, Jam fans being what they were (are?), that those with seating tickets simply leapt from the 12-15 foot drop from the gallery and hastily buried themselves in the crowd. (Once the lights went down it was like a sea of Mod Lemmings). One enterprising Mod even used his Parka to lever his mates down onto the floor!
The first support group – I don’t remember their name – came on looking and sounding very amateur, but full of enthusiasm.
The next group on were Apocalypse, a band from Weller’s, ‘Jamming’ label-stable. I personally didn’t think much of them – as did a lot of the crowd, but it was brave move to put them on that night. The biggest cheer they got was when the lead guitarist played the first few bars of ‘Start’! After they’d left the stage I wandered to the back of the hall to ask the sound desk guy if the concert was being recorded (Answer: ‘No’), what I did notice however, was John Weller setting up a video camera on the mixing board. The footage would later surface some years later on the bootleg market.
Then something very strange appeared. As the lights dimmed, a disembodied voice bellowed out the arrival of the ‘Eton Rifles Dance Troupe’. Then to a soundtrack of some of the worst 70’s musical travesties, shambled on a gang of the weirdest looking bunch of plonkers you could imagine, prancing around decked out in glitter, flares and even Bay City Rollers gear. (One I believe was Gary Crowley and possibly Paul’s sister Nicky), Understandably they were met with a huge barrage of abuse and a sizeable amount of coins! Just why they were there though (other than a wind-up) remains a mystery to me, it did nothing but antagonise most of the crowd who were now getting very impatient.
There was one moment when I turned around (I was about 10-12 rows from the front) to see the whole of the hall completely full, with more and more people streaming in.
We later found out that in an act of goodwill the doors had been left open to those without tickets. There also seemed to be a huge contingency of Skinheads present who were pushing their way through the crowd, hurling abuse at everyone and making it all very uncomfortable. Looking back, and after hundreds of gigs attended since, this was the most frightening moment I’d ever experienced. However, I’ll never forget that the last two records the warm up DJ spun that night were The Small Faces’ ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It’ and (poignantly) The Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’, which played as the lights dimmed.
With the atmosphere in the hall literally on fire, some bloke (Swedish-Dutch?) came on to introduce the band: ‘For the last time, the only band to leave a solid bond in your heart- The Jam!!!!!!!!!!’
The group came on to the loudest roar imaginable, Weller resplendent in a red polka dot button down and tonic strides; Bruce and Rick in their familiar stage garb.
Kicking off with ‘Start’ The Jam were obviously out to finish on the highest possible note. Paul initially was so highly charged he managed to break three strings in as many songs. I hadn’t seen the band play at Wembley, but I was struck by the uneasy mass of people on stage; brass, sax, keyboard, two backing singers- it all seemed far too congested.
The last gig I’d seen the Jam do on the Solid Bond tour a month or so previous, was the best I’d ever witnessed them perform -and that was as a three piece. This night though, Paul and Bruce kept up their wall of silence with each other, although there was one touching moment when during ‘It’s Too Bad’ Bruce’s mike temporally conked out, leaving him to join Paul on his mike for the last part of the song.
I seem to recall Paul getting more and more pissed off – first with the lights, and then even more so as guitar string after guitar string kept snapping. During ‘Tube Station’ he actually walked off stage mid-song to retrieve another guitar. Towards the end of the gig during ‘Town Called Malice’, some prick threw a glass bottle on stage, narrowly missing Bruce, but exploding all over Rick’s drum kit. Understandably the group walked off. A few minutes later they sombrely returned. Bruce Foxton addressed the crowd- sounding well upset: ‘I wanna remember this gig for the good things, not the fucking bottles!’
Paul, by this point seemed detached from everything, saying little or nothing between numbers. A couple of songs later (a lamentable rendition of ‘In the City’; an unforgivable version of ‘Going Underground’) the band performed their very last number, an overlong and fragmented rendition of ‘The Gift’. They then left the stage and the house lights went up – although most present had to double back as Paul, Bruce and Rick came back on for a final goodbye. I distinctly remember Paul hanging back by the drum kit as Bruce gave a ‘Thank you very much’ speech, and then darting off the stage very, very quickly. And that, as they say, was that.
It seemed that the band had thrown everything in on this tour. Brighton though, was just one gig too many; especially after their previous appearance, a few days before at Guildford, close to their hometown of Woking, which to all intents and purposes was to be the full-circle gig.
Those present recall an emotional night where the band played their hearts and souls out to fans, friends and family. As a band they’d mentally worked towards Guildford as being the final hurdle, making a further gig an emotionally redundant affair. According to Foxton and Buckler in their lamentable sour grapes biography ‘Our Story’, Brighton was slotted in to satisfy ‘monetary reasons’.
There was an almighty scramble at the merchandise stall on the way out; but more concerning for myself and my friends was the mass of Skinheads who had assembled outside the front doors, and so we beat a hasty retreat out of the side entrance. None of us were that impressed with the night’s activities, although it was always going to be something to say you’d seen the Jam’s final concert.
As the crowd made their weary way back up the hill to Brighton station, the ticket stubs from the concert had been ceremoniously dumped on the street outside the rear of the venue. The majority of fans just walked over them.