With a stunning new album just released former bass player and founding member of The Jam takes some time out of his schedule to chat with Donnie.
A cursory look at the career at Bruce Douglas Foxton might lead you to believe that, despite being regularly regarded as one of the finest bassist in rock music, he has suffered like many artists who found fame in the “glory days” of the late 1970’s and early to mid-1980’s. Whilst his pal and former bandmate Paul Weller carved out a hugely successful and critically acclaimed solo career Foxton’s public profile was less frontpage than it had previously been when being a member of one of the UK’s most important and iconic bands, The Jam.
While those who dug no deeper than the first few pages of the NME for their musical fix may have lost track with Foxton’s post-Jam period, although a brief solo success was achieved with the album Touch Sensitive in 1984, the creative fire was still burning bright for the Woking boy made good. A 15 year spell with the equally influential Irish punk rockers Stiff Little Fingers kept the spirit and energy of those early years going strong before he released his second solo effort “Back In The Room” which brought him back into the spotlight.
Five years previous Foxton and his former rhythmic partner in crime Rick Buckler reunited and went out on tour as From The Jam and dedicated themselves to performing classics Jam tracks and albums to fans still eager for any opportunity to relive their youth and also to bring them to a generation of younger music lovers whose favourite bands have been influenced by The Jam. In the “keeping the spirit alive” sense From The Jam are still going very strong but it is the excellent new studio album “Smash The Clock” that is at the forefront of the 60 year-old’s mind.
Our writer-in-chief Donnie got the chance to spend a few minutes chatting with the man himself and this, after the usual pleasantries were exchanged, is how it went down:
Maximum Volume: You have recently released the stunning new album Smash The Clock, have you done any shows in support of it as yet?
Bruce Foxton: Not in its entirety. It is something that has been spoken about but, although it (the album) has done really well for us I’m not really sure what sort of level of venues we could do. In From The Jam we do classic Jam songs with a sprinkling of Back In The Room songs (Bruce’s solo album from 2012) and Smash The Clock works great. To go out just on the back of Smash The Clock I’m not sure, to be perfectly honest, if there would be enough people there. It is something we are looking at though and perhaps towards the end of this year or early next year we could do something. Or we could take it back to real basics and do a small club tour, that could work.
Which tracks are you currently playing live from the new album?
“Now The Time Has Come” is one we are playing live. “Pictures & Diamonds” as well. They are going down really well (with the crowds) and blend in well. It’s very difficult when your back catalogue is mostly The Jam songs to fit the new material in and for it to stand up. Happily these tracks are and people seem to be very positive. That’s certainly the feedback we are getting.
That must be very satisfying for you.
Yes, it is. That’s what it’s all about. You want to get your music out there and hope that people like it as much as you do. It’s encouraging signs particularly with the amount of people who have already bought the album.
Many bands released new albums and barely play anything from it. That said, the opposite is also true with bands playing whole albums live.
That’s right. Paul (Weller) did that recently and played the whole of his new album. I’m not sure if that was a good move or not. You’ve got to think of the audience to a certain extent and what they have come to hear. I don’t think I’d have the bottle to do that. I haven’t spoken to Paul about how he feels about it but he is his own man and very talented. I’m not sure whether he will feel it’s one of his better or worse ideas.
It’s been four years since “Back In The Room” was released. What were the key differences this time around with regards to the recording process?
We’ve taken the songs to a new level, if that makes sense. We have been so full on and busy but we wanted to make another record and bring it out early than we did. Getting time to sit down and think about a new album was tricky!!
We continued in the same vein as “Back In The Room” which was received well by the press despite minimal airplays. For this album we brought in the likes of Republic Media and Lisa David does all our Radio & TV stuff and does a great job with it.
We didn’t want to make “Back In The Room II” but we wanted to good melodic, single-length songs that were around three minutes and I think we achieved that.
The album has a very “live” feel to it, doesn’t it?
Yeah, that’s right. A lot of people have been picking up on that. The nucleus of the band all played together as a band to record the album and that was what we wanted. Russ (Hastings) on guitar, Mark (Brzezicki) on the drums and me on bass put all the tracks down like that. Mark worked off a click track for obvious reasons, if he wanted to go back and add a fill in or wasn’t happy with something he could do it. The backbone of every song though was recorded as live as we could get it.
If Mark wanted to do the whole drum track again he had the guitar and bass parts and a rough vocal track to work from. The only thing that we didn’t have complete were all the lyrics. Russ would sometimes make them up and they sounded good.
Speaking of Russell, it’s quite a partnership you have now.
We’re almost married!! We are good mates and on the road a lot and we work well together in the studio and writing. It’s a real 50-50 thing. The next album could probably go out as Foxton & Hastings. We couldn’t really do that for this album because, without being conceited, more people would have heard of me at the time than Russell so that’s why it’s got Bruce Foxton – Smash The Clock, but if you look on the album sleeve and the clock face it has Russell’s name on it and deservedly so.
There are a few special guests on the album with Paul Weller and Paul Jones appearing, but it must have also been a great pleasure for Wilko Johnson to contribute to the album as well.
We (The Jam) were really influenced by Dr. Feelgood back then. I had the pleasure of working with Lee Brilleaux (Dr. Feelgood frontman) when he came in to do a Stiff Little Fingers track, it might have been “Human Shield” I’m not sure. Lee was fantastic and then to have Wilko in the studio all those years later with him talking openly about his illness…he’s just a lovely man. He was so calm and relaxed which must have helped in his recovery. He seemed in good health.
He came in the studio, sat down, pulled out his guitar and started jamming along to the track and before you could blink the Wilko riffs came out and it was so quick and easy. The same goes for Paul Weller. I never organised anything with him but he turned up one day at the office for personal business and after a quick chat I asked him if he wanted to play on a couple of tracks and it was really nice to be in his company.
You used PledgeMusic for the new album, do you think this gives the artists have more control these days?
Yes. Big time. A lot of record companies either folded or are now under one umbrella company. They don’t sign bands like they used to. It’s a way of getting your work out there. Pledge has been fantastic for us and without the fans we would not have been album to make the most recent albums. It’s expensive to make a record. Pledge allows the fans to be part of that record.
You’ve said before that the album’s title refers to music being timeless, do you think that is more difficult to achieve these days, in the disposable music age?
That’s a big question. I’m not a fan of The X Factor’s of this world. There are a lot of great bands coming up but they just need to be heard. I was doing an interview earlier and the chap mentioned how hard it is for young bands to get gigs on the live circuit these days and I said “well, it was hard for us all those years ago”. I don’t think it’s got any easier. It can be a shit business.
Have you ever been tempted to re-work or strip down any of your classic material?
Not really. Why try and fix it if it ain’t broke. With the acoustic shows we have done it’s a compliment to quality of the songs. A nod, if you like, to the musicianship and the writing but as for re-working them I’d rather leave well alone.
You are back out on tour entitled A & B’s at the end of the year. Is this mainly B-Sides from The Jam?
There will be some in there that not many people will have heard of. I’ll certainly have to re-learn a few to be honest!! I don’t want to make it just for real hardcore fans otherwise half the crowd will look at each other and say “what’s this one then”?!
There are some great B-sides and double A sides and from our point of view it will make a nice change to drop some of the more well-known tracks and put some B-sides in.
Which ones do you leave out? That’s a tricky but nice problem to have. Some songs we do better versions of than others so we maybe can drop those for this one. It will sort itself out on tour.
Finally there was the recent Somerset House exhibition “About The Young Idea” which had The Jam memorabilia from the early days. How did that come about?
Yeah, it was great. I had some input in terms of loaning clothing and guitars etc but setting it up by Nicky Weller and Den Davis. I went to take a look at it at the preview with Paul (Weller) but we didn’t get much chance to look around as it was mainly press and photos. We did go back a couple of weeks later when it was quieter and it was really enjoyable.
It’s on tour now. If you are even slightly interested in The Jam you will love it. Hopefully it will run across the country for some time. People seem to be really keen to see it.
Liverpool was a great choice for it as we, as a band, had a great time in that city.
Thank you very much for your time Bruce and I look forward to seeing you out on the road soon.
With that the legendary bassist when to take some well deserved time out. Huge thanks to Sara French at Republic Media for arranging the interview and of course to Bruce for giving up his time.