LONDON – Bruce Foxton pauses for thought. “How would I describe what I’m doing? I suppose I’m flying the flag for those great songs.”
Foxton was bassist in The Jam, the mod revivalists who, spearheaded by Paul Weller, became one of the biggest bands to ever come from the U.K. And in a way, Foxton still plays that role: For the past decade he has toured as From The Jam, playing his old band’s songs with co-writer Russell Hastings.
That the act’s popularity has, as Foxton puts it, “snowballed” — they played 150 gigs in Britain last year and have toured Europe, Australia and the Middle East — is not merely down to the lure of nostalgia (though that certainly helps). It is testament to The Jam’s legacy as one of those rare bands that caught the cultural zeitgeist.
The group’s best tunes — “Eton Rifles,” “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight,” “Going Underground” — merged 1960s melodicism with punk spirit, with Weller’s fierce commentary on life in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain as sharp as the band’s dress sense. Four U.K. No. 1 singles are proof of the band’s reach.
“They still sound fantastic today when you play them,” Foxton says. “And the sentiments are still relevant today, which is sad but true.”
When Weller announced he was splitting the band in the autumn of 1982 at the height of its success — The Jam’s last album, “The Gift,” was its first chart-topper — it shocked everyone: the music press, fans, even the band themselves. Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler were suddenly on a farewell tour against their wishes.
“It was awful, really. We were playing the best we ever did on that farewell tour. But it was very emotional,” Foxton recalls. “Every night you’d meet fans asking, ‘Why are you splitting up?’ And it was difficult at the time to say, ‘I don’t know.’ It was hard to carry on without sounding like a drama queen.”
The Jam played its last gig in Brighton on Dec. 11, 1982. “The morning after Brighton there was a sense of emptiness. Right, well that was that, what am I going to do now? It was worse than splitting up with your girlfriend,” Foxton says.
Weller formed neo-soul act The Style Council with indecent haste.
“I kind of understood it when he came out with the Style Council. It was quite a different direction, which I don’t think I could have gone in.”
Foxton didn’t speak to Weller for another 25 years as rancor built, choosing to dabble in a solo career before joining Stiff Little Fingers. In 2006, Foxton formed From The Jam with Hastings, who, by some quirk of fate, attended The Jam’s last stand in Brighton as a teen.
“He was genuinely a big fan, so he’s perfect as lead vocalist,” Foxton says.
Originally, Buckler played drums for From The Jam, and Foxton says the pair were trepidatious about relaunching. The motivation, Foxton says, was never financial — “it wasn’t just knock a few Jam songs up and go and earn a few quid” — but a desire to play the songs.
“We didn’t embark on it lightly. There’s a real high regard for The Jam among fans and it could have gone horribly wrong and my name would have been mud,” he says. “But we thought those songs deserved to be played. At that stage we were two-thirds of The Jam, we were all integral parts of the Jam and we’re entitled to play those songs. It sounded right, passionate enough, the commitment was there.”
Buckler quit out of the blue in 2009 via email: To this day, Foxton is in the dark as to why.
“If he thought I was a t—- then he could just let me know,” he says. Buckler has been through two sudden splits with the same band. “Well,” Foxton laughs, “it wasn’t as devastating as the first one.”
Animosity with Weller is, however, “water under the bridge and all those cliches.” The pair resolved after two bereavements — Foxton’s wife, Pat, and Weller’s dad, John, who managed The Jam — rekindled their friendship. Foxton played on Weller’s “Wake Up the Nation” album, while Weller returned the favor on Foxton’s “Back in the Room” (made with Hastings). “It banged our heads together and made us realize how trivial it was, what we’d fallen out over. I’m really pleased about that.”
Yet Weller’s resistance to a full reunion is legendary — he once said, “Me and my children would have to be destitute and starving in the gutter before I’d even consider that.” Foxton agrees it’s now best left alone.
“He’s a great songwriter. He doesn’t need to reform The Jam. Rick’s an author now. We’re all happy with our lot.”
What does Weller think about From The Jam? “I can’t put words in his mouth but he probably doesn’t give a monkey’s,” Foxton says with a laugh. “But if he came along to one of the gigs now, which he probably wouldn’t, but if he did, he’d probably agree we’re doing a good job.”
From The Jam plays Duo Music Exchange in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on March 13 and 14 (7:30 p.m. start; ¥6,500 in advance); and Billboard Live in Osaka on March 16 (6:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m. starts; ¥6,900-¥7,900). For more information, visit www.brucefoxton.com.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5