It’s the 15th December, 1981. I’m on the train from Orpington to Victoria with a £4.50 ticket in my pocket to see The Jam at Hammersmith Palais. I’ve been buzzing since it came though the post. I’ve got that feeling, something's shifting. I’m adrift, looking for a place to be.
There's been no album this year. Three singles. In February That's Entertainment - an acoustic beat poem; a stream of consciousness lovesong for suburban kids as if Weller’s writing a Terry and Julie for our generation. ‘Getting a cab and travelling on buses, reading the graffiti about slashed seat affairs’. The summer saw Brixton, Toxteth and St Pauls on fire. Not to be outdone, it even kicked off in Orpington High Street, which pretty much made it the usual Saturday night. The riots played out with Ghost Town on Top of The Pops. In June Funeral Pyre was released with its jagged edges and Weller’s lyrical directness, but it sounds like Buckler’s drum kit’s being kicked down a flight of stairs: not the Jam at their best. It made Absolute Beginners in October feel like a departure of sorts. A cleaner, looser sound, a raw dance feel and the message that 'love is in our hearts'. If it felt a bit like wishful thinking then, it certainly does when I get off the tube at Hammersmith. At the top of the escalator are a bunch of West London skins. I know this because: a) they’ve got no hair and b) they’re making a racket about being ‘West Lon-don’.
It looks like I’m about to run the gauntlet. I don’t fancy getting half way and having to do one back down the escalator, or taking a kicking at the top. But then there’s the echoes of faraway voices getting off a not so faraway train. We are the mods! sings out through the platforms and tunnels.
Tonight’s gig is meant to be like and old time soul revue according to Weller – only with CND banners to the fore and Rock Against Racism concessions stands. There’s a northern soul DJ playing records and the first band up is Reaction, just signed to Respond records. They’re a bit lightweight and the crowd let them know it. Then a new band comes on, indie girl scruffs Bananarama – the place goes wild when Fun Boy Three join them on stage for a last song conga to It Ain’t What You Do… The final support slot comes from Ruts DC. Still keeping on, but a shadow of the band they were since Malcolm Owen died last year.
There’s a couple of thousand people here tonight. It’s already hot. When the lights go down, I’m twenty feet from the front. The energy is raw. The crush is on. Weller, Foxton and Buckler take the stage. Strange Town. Un-fucking-believable. Fast, furious, loud with the lights reflecting off Weller’s Rickenbacker. I hang in there down the front for the first half dozen songs, then bale out after Down In The Tubestation which means I’m up top on the balcony looking down, the heat rising from a mass of bodies for Pretty Green, Set The House Ablaze and Little Boy Soldiers. There’s a handful of new songs tonight; one sticks in the memory. Weller says, ‘This next one is called A Town Called Malice’ and a little piece of vinyl history is made. The rest is a blur.
I met a mod from Ilford on a Pontinental holiday in Torremolinos in August. He clocked me from the Fred Perry and paisley scarf. One night there was a bunch of us sitting outside, discovering Bacardi and Coke at Costa Del Sol prices, chatting about music. My Ilford mate scoffed at the idea of The Jam as a mod band. Not worth a light, he reckoned, none of the new bands were. He claimed to be a soul man, a purist, a proper mod, Kinks and the Small Faces at an absolute push. I hoped he was at the Palais tonight: he might not have changed his mind, but he’d have seen it doesn’t matter.
‘The Jam always made more sense live simply because their belief and passion could be given proper breathing space…’ Paulo Hewitt
The lights come up. It’s over. You file out. The sweat chills on your skin as you wait for the train. You’re shivering. Flight jacket’s soaked through. Desert boots wrecked. Ears ringing – they’ll be ringing for days. But this feeling, the euphoria, the energy of nights like these feels like it could last a lifetime. It’s the end of a year. But next year – next year I’ll get my scooter. Next year it’ll come good. After tonight, anything is possible.
‘They should have been shot down years ago! That they weren’t is almost entirely due to the fact that Paul Weller talks to ordinary people in an extraordinary voice but minus the usual deceit or malice … Weller’s humanism is as simple and direct as it if unaffected. He cares.’
Dave McCullough, Sounds
The Young Mod's Forgotten Story parts 1 & 2 were first posted in June 2011. Check the archive and feel free to drop me a line with your own mod memories NT.