The Jam are one of the most iconic bands in British history. Continuing to keep their illustrious legacy alive is From The Jam, fronted by Russell Hastings, who we caught up with ahead of their Setting Sons 40th Anniversary UK Tour.
When The Jam were at the height of their powers, Russell Hastings was a kid watching. He first saw them play in 1977, and was in the crowd for the band’s final gig (Brighton, 1982). During those years, “everything going on seemed to be much more music-orientated.” He’d go down the school corridors where “kids would be swapping coloured vinyls out of lockers.” Music dictated the clothes you wore, he says, whether they were of punk or mod ilk. “It was a big part of culture back then, a lot more so than it is now.”
He left school in ’81 at the age of 17, but had been in bands since 15, playing the likes of Camden Palace and Brighton Alhambra as early as 1980. Forty years on he is frontman of From The Jam, in which former Jam bassist Bruce Foxton also plays… and jumps while doing so – “He’s a lot more agile than I give him credit for.” Hastings used to play in a band named The Gift, with original Jam drummer Rick Buckler. A Guildford University gig 12 or 13 years ago saw them share a bill with Foxton (at the time part of Casbah Club alongside Simon Townshend – brother of Pete). The bassist suggested he join them for a couple of Jam numbers. They played ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ and ‘Smithers-Jones’ – “The place went pretty bonkers.”
Six months after that, they sold out a UK tour, and performed in the States for a month, before a stint in Australia. Since 2007, From The Jam have played in excess of 1,000 headline shows in the UK alone. They usually conclude their sets with ‘Going Underground’, sparking energy not just from Jam fans of old, but new ones too – “young people [who] just go nuts over the song”. He remembers how powerful it is played live, watching Paul Weller sing it. “There’s nothing complex about it, it’s just a great song.”
Has he ever felt like he’s had to win old Jam devotees over one by one? He thought about that in the beginning, he says, but just went about gigging with the band in the hope that people would like it, as they have. At first, “I thought [it was] trying to do the impossible, which was to –” he interrupts himself, “I hate to use the word replace, nobody could replace Paul.” He was apprehensive though, about playing the songs as they were written, enabling Buckler (part of the group at that time) and Foxton to play them as they know them, and the original Jam energy to come across. “I did think about that in the early days, I’m not so concerned now.”
Three years back, he also wrote the album Smash the Clock with Foxton. Writing songs together, Hastings comes up with an idea which he records on his phone – “a little riff or a few verses of something” – and sends to his writing partner who’ll add a bassline (“he’s got a little studio in his office”) and return it. When they’ve built up a collection of songs they’re happy with, they’ll hit the studio, working with former From The Jam drummer Mark Brzezicki, or the group’s current drummer Mike Randon, to develop them, with lyrics being written once the music is in place.
They recorded Smash the Clock at Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studio, where Charles Rees asked if the record had a brief. Hastings said no, “it’s just a collection of great songs, let’s just get it down.” The album title reflects that mentality. It means to “throw away any preconceived ideas of times and what we’re supposed to be sounding like or doing.” Its Tony Ladd artwork displays the headstock and neck of a bass shattering a clock face reading ‘Foxton & Hastings’ as though the pair are clockmakers. Ladd was given a brief, and what he delivered “couldn’t have been any more perfect”.
Foxton and Hastings are out on the road with From The Jam this autumn, marking 40 years since the release of Setting Sons, which places in joint first place with All Mod Cons and Sound Affects in the latter’s favourite Jam albums. As he plays the songs he loves, he might sing a bit slightly differently to how it was originally done, which comes down to “what happens impulsively on the night – sometimes I feel a little bit cheekier than at others. I’m living the song as I’m singing it. That’s about the only way I can keep it fresh every night, by throwing a bit of myself and whatever I fancy into it – without destroying the song.”
His mood may impact on how he plays. “If something’s happened in the crowd, like somebody’s thrown something, it can really piss me off; then I guess I might play the song with more vigour and intensity.” He doesn’t think about what he’s doing onstage all that deeply, he says, working off muscle memory with the feelings stirred inside him “real in that moment in time”. If a member of the group was feeling down prior to a show, the others would try and talk them up, and they “usually try and shut everything away from us at least half an hour before we get on, so we don’t have anything to disturb us. We’ve got great crews around, that prepare really well. The rest of it is just down to the luck of the night.”
Finally, we have to ask if he thinks a reunion of the original Jam is on the cards. “No, I don’t. I could be wrong, but I very much doubt it.”
Suppose it does happen though, and he joins the crowd of fans for that comeback gig… he’d be forgiven for going pretty bonkers.