THICK AS THIEVES – From The Jam’s Bruce Foxton On Weller, Buckler And Reviving ‘Setting Sons’ For A 40th Anniversary Tour

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the best part of half a century, you’ll know Bruce Foxton as one-third of one of the best bands Britain has ever produced.

Blessed with a righteous anger, raw musicality and the astonishingly mature songwriting talent of Paul Weller, The Jam would go on to have 18 consecutive top 40 singles and release one live and six studio albums.

Blending Mod style with punk aggression, the band smashed their way into the mainstream, while cocking a snook at the establishment.

With Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler providing the engine to drive his songs, Weller would rapidly emerge as the voice of a generation.

Hit followed hit and the band seemed unstoppable until Weller, to the bewilderment and consternation of his bandmates, pulled the plug in 1982.

Here Foxton tells Matt Catchpole of his heartache at hearing Weller wanted to split the band, his joy at rebuilding his relationship with The Modfather and flying the flag for the band’s music with From The Jam.

All classics, no rubbish – Weller, Buckler and Foxton

You’re tackling Setting Sons to mark the 40th anniversary on your Autumn tour  – what are your favourite tracks from that record

Yeah, well it’s like all of them, we finished All Mod Cons earlier in the year and I’m really looking forward to this one. We had a band rehearsal yesterday and it’s a just buzz to play them again – Wasteland’s a lovely song and Burning Sky. So I’m really excited and amazed at the quality and standard of the writing. When we were recording I was just concentrating on my part, but all these years later, listening to them again, it’s just incredible what Paul was singing about at such a young age. The recording was quite unique. Normally we would have had a week or two pre-production in a rehearsal room, chucking around all the ideas of the songs, But Setting Sons was different in that Paul was recording the basic idea during the day and then Rick and myself were working out our parts through the night. So that the following day when Paul came in we could crack on and record.

Little Boy Soldiers – Setting Sons’ cover art featuring a photo of Benjamin Clemens’ bronze sculpture The St John’s Ambulance Bearers

So you recorded the album mostly ‘as live’?

As much as we could, yeah, we did them live and then obviously in those days it was a two inch tape machine and Vic Smith {aka sound engineer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven} used to edit it in, if there were different time changes or whatever.

Having The Vapors as support must take you back too, particularly as you used to co-manage them

Yeah it does. They were our guests when we played Salisbury – I think it was – last year. They’re still great, you know. It’s lovely to see them and renew our friendship – ‘cos they all went off their separate ways as well for a while. They’ve got some great songs. They’re probably better musicians now – as we all are – I’d like to think. It should be a great night out with two really good bands.

Dave Fenton of The Vapors – said you used to play quite a few pranks on them. He said you once taped all their clothes to the ceiling while they were on stage.

Yes that’s one that springs to mind now you mention it – it seems pretty childish now doesn’t it (chuckling) – funny at the time – might have been alcohol-fuelled that one!

You patched things up with Paul some time ago – and he played on your albums Back In the Room and Smash The Clock. You’ve also recorded at his studio – what was it like getting back in a room with him again and playing together?

It was a real buzz. It first came about that we were in Paul’s studio working on Back In The Room – the first Foxton-Hastings album. Paul has his offices there as well and obviously he pops in and out quite a lot doing Paul Weller business. He stuck his head in and we chatted and he listened to a few bits and pieces and we managed to get him to record on a few tracks which was great.

Were you nervous of each other at first?

When he was working on his Wake Up The Nation album – he asked me if I’d be up for playing on a track or two. But when it came to actually going in the studio, there were so many people in the control room – expectation was high. You could tell they were all thinking: ‘What’s this going to be like? It could be fantastic or an absolute disaster.’ He’d sent me the tracks, I’d worked out what I was gonna play and sent it back to him on a cd and he’d really liked it. So {recording} was just like the old days, it was so relaxed. It was more the audience’s – for want of a better word – expectations, but we just went about recording as we did all those years ago. {We} had a chat and a catch up and a bit of a laugh in amongst it all and he seems to be happy with the end result.

I read that Rick left From The Jam by email and you’d not heard from him since – have you had any recent contact?

No sadly, and it’s got to that stage now that I really can’t be bothered any more. I haven’t even heard him say to anybody else why he doesn’t want to speak to us. If I’ve done something wrong then point it out to me and I’ll either apologise, or say that’s bollocks, you know. It’s a shame, because we’re all getting that much older, and life’s too short. It’s silly {for him} to still continue it. I sent a Christmas card and you don’t get anything back. So there’s no point, sadly. He knows where I am, he’s still got my number, if he ever wants to give us a bell.

All Mod Cons – The Jam campaigning outside parliament

So there was no row or anything?

Not that I’m aware of. Honestly it’s mystifying, but there we are, it’s a shame.

The Jam are seen as a Mod band but you came up during the punk era – did you set out with a particular style of music in mind?

Well, in the very early days we were a covers band just playing some rock’n’roll classics – Chuck Berry and stuff, The Beatles perhaps. Just to get a gig in the Woking area, you had to play that material, with a few of Paul and Steve Brooks‘ songs thrown in as well – they were very similar to the classics.

But when you started to really break through and establish your own identity did you feel an affinity with the punk bands?

I think generally we had an affinity with the punk movement. Anybody getting up on stage and doing it was refreshing. When we went the 100 Club and saw The Sex Pistols that had a big impression, particularly on Paul and consequently the direction of the band. We were called ‘the black sheep of the punk movement’ – really because we wore suits, not bondage trousers. But we had a lot in common with a lot of those bands.

That’s Entertainment – Foxton takes flight, picture by Pennie Smith

Did you get on well with the punks?

Paul was pretty close with Joe Strummer, but I personally just kept pretty much myself to myself. We didn’t really hang out with The Clash or the Pistols or anything like that.

How did Paul break the news to you that he was splitting up the band to form The Style Council – had you known it was coming?

It’s a long time ago, but we were touring, I think it might have been in Japan and Paul was well pissed off basically. So we knew something was wrong, but it could’ve been anything, girlfriend trouble, whatever. But he called a meeting when we got back to England and we were like, well that’s very unusual, we never have meetings called. And yeah, that’s when he dropped the bombshell that he wanted to leave the band. I suppose, looking back on his frame of mind, you knew something was troubling him, but I didn’t have it down that he wanted to break the band up.

How did you feel when you got that news. Did you think ‘Oh god, what am going to do now?’

Yeah exactly. Gutted. Particularly the morning after the last show in Brighton. You’ve got a hangover and you’ve got no band – that was just a sense of emptiness really – that really is the end, what’s next?  It hurt my heart at the time to say the least.

Still Burning – Foxton (right) was in Stiff Little Fingers for 15 years

You played and wrote with Stiff Little Fingers for longer than you were in The Jam – how did you come to join them?

Yeah exactly. Fifteen years in Stiff Little Fingers. I became friends with Jake Burns and the drummer Dolphin {Taylor}. Henry {Cluney} was always there but I didn’t really speak to him – I wasn’t as close with him as I was to Jake. I recorded four albums with them. Coupled with a lot of drinking (laughs) and we’re still buddies now.

Working with Russell – is it very different to how you used to write with Paul?

Yeah, very different, particularly with technology – iPhones etc, you know. Quite a lot of our initial ideas are recorded at a particular show, once we’ve done our soundcheck and everybody’s happy. Russ might have a riff, or I might have something and we’ll just kick it around on stage as part of the soundcheck, put it down on our iPhones and work on it at a later date. We’ve got a lot of ideas like that, probably enough for another album but it’s finding the time to get in the studio at the moment, We’re really busy with the band and when we’re not with the band you want some family life.

Back In The Room – Foxton (right) and Russell Hastings

You seem to be incredibly busy playing live shows – did you imagine you’d still be playing so regularly into your sixties?

I didn’t look this far ahead. All those years ago, it was very much day to day, but it’s a testament to the quality of the songs. They’ve stood the test of time and what we’re doing – we’re out there flying the flag – but if somebody said to me {then} in 40 years’ time you’re still going to playing Jam songs I’d have just laughed in their face and said don’t be ridiculous. I remember saying – either to Pete Townshend  or John Entwistle – at the Speakeasy Club in London many moons ago when we were young whippersnappers and they were in their forties: ‘You’re too old, you should give up you lot’ (laughs). And here I am nearly 64 and I’m still doing it.

‘I hope I die before I get old’ and all that

Yeah exactly. A mate of mine gave me a Keith Moon book on my 50th – he said: “Don’t you die before you get old” in his inscription inside.

You’ve gone the Pledge Music route with your recent albums – it was a model that seemed to suit you?

It was fantastic – I hear that it’s all gone terribly wrong now with Pledge Music and it’s no longer in existence. At the time, we tried a couple of labels, but giving large sums of money away these days ain’t what they do. We had a couple of near misses – they liked it – but they didn’t want to invest. And we heard about Pledge Music and we didn’t know at all how it worked, but it was a great way of really getting the fans involved. They pledged for buying the album, or a bit of artwork, or there was even a round of golf there at some point with Russ and myself. Pledge in a way enabled us to record the albums, we couldn’t have done it without their help. I think we were lucky when we did it because everything went so well, but I hear now that Pledge has gone to the wall – so that leaves us with a problem when we do the next album.

Have you got any ideas about how you might do it?

I’m going to have to get my thinking cap on and ask around, but I’m wondering if there’s another company out there that’s doing something similar.

Picture courtesy of @DerekD’Souza

And how do think your new songs compare with The Jam ones – do they fit together well live?

Thankfully, stuff like Number Six or Now The Time Has Come – we had a bit of radio play success with that – they kind of blended in almost seamlessly. Because that was our concern, where do you place a Foxton and Hastings song in amongst all these great Jam tracks? But they were well accepted, the audience loved them. So yeah, they slotted in perfectly well.

You’re recognised as one of the world’s premier bass players – but which bassists do you admire and why?

Well probably similar to Paul really, obviously {Paul} McCartney -I’m a big fan – and then over the years, Entwhistle, Phil Lynott, guys like that.

You performed lead vocals on Jam songs like News of the World and the Kinks’ cover David Watts among others – how did you decide who sang lead?

Well with News of the World – it was like well, it’s your song you sing it, there was never any arguments. With David Watts obviously it’s a Kinks track. It was off the Something Else album and we liked it and became one of our favourites livewise and it also did the Kinks a lot of good. I can’t actually remember why I was designated to sing that – I don’t know how it came about.

So what’s next for you and Russell? Is there another studio album in the offing?

Well as I said, we’ve got a lot of ideas on our phones which we need to sift through at some point. But we need time. It would be nice to say yeah 2020 we’ll do it and maybe we will, but we’re lucky there’s such a demand for those Jam songs that we have so much work. For 2020 our calendar’s pretty full, anyway and bear in mind we do want some family life as well, but at some point, yeah, there will be another Foxton and Hastings album. But before that this 40th anniversary tour goes on till about April and then there’ll be some acoustic shows and then we’ll be out playing the greatest hits again. It just keeps rolling on and, thankfully, the audiences keep getting bigger. My agent even asked us the other day: ‘Do you reckon you’ll still be doing it when you’re 70?’ And I said: “Well, I’d like to think so” and he said: ‘Oh that’s great because to get the best venues I have to book ‘em well in advance.’ So there you go then. I’ll be working when I’m 70, apparently.

  • From The Jam’s Setting Sons 40th anniversary tour kicks off at Dorking Halls on 10 October. Full list of dates and tickets here.
  • For more about From The Jam and Foxton-Hastings visit the official website.

About the author

Full time journalist, music lover (obvs) and truly terrible guitarist. You can find Matt on twitter @matcatch