at Somerset House
By Rachael Morris
This summer, Somerset House opened the first comprehensive exhibition of the furious and fleeting career of the Jam. All three members, Paul Weller, Rick Butler and Bruce Foxton, along with the Weller family and music archivist Den Davis opened up their archives especially for the show. The collection was curated by Nicky Weller, frontman Paul’s sister and former head of The Jam fan club, who remembers receiving £5 a week to open fan mail when she was just 14.
The mod-punk band adopted all the punch of the punk groups they grew up on but rejected the typical punk attire in favour of tailored suits and incorporated mainstream 1960s rock influences in their music, placing themselves at the forefront of the mod-revival movement. In their short six year burst The Jam produced 18 consecutive top 40 singles including their debut hit single ‘In the City’ whose lyrics form the title of the exhibition.
The exhibition begins at the end, greeting visitors with Paul’s closing statement which saw the band dismember at the height of their career: “I want all we have achieved to count for something, and most of all I’d hate us to end up old and embarrassing like so many other groups do.”
Anthony Burrill’s bold graphics trim the rooms, adding a contemporary touch to the 70s slogans, while old monitors stacked into an artsy screen shows footage of the band performing live and a replica stage with the band’s instruments blares ‘That’s Entertainment’ . The 18th century grandeur of Somerset House certainly feels like an uncomfortable host for such a noisy exhibition.
The rooms, dedicated to the band’s six studio albums, spill over with a variety of hand written lyrics, original stage outfits, letters, postcards, and the band’s instruments which, with the addition of the Weller family archive, offer a unique and personal insight into the band’s trailblazing career. Old school books filled with doodles reveal a young Weller dreaming himself a frontman, imagining album covers and the dragged M in the iconic typography of The Jam. Video footage and memorabilia of Paul and Nicky’s late father John, who managed the band, feature prominently.
In the late Seventies and early Eighties, The Jam resonated with a sea of disenchanted youth. About the Young Idea not only captures a snapshot of the band, it carefully ensures the social, political and cultural environment that created their music never slides out the picture. The Jam in their totality – image, sound and style – were immensely successful throughout the turbulent period in which they performed and, although many doubted Weller’s decision to disband at just 24, one has to wonder if their success could have continued out with this context. Weller’s words, neon-blazoned across a wall in the middle of the exhibition, speak volumes: “It still means something to people, and a lot of that’s because we stopped at the right time. It didn’t go on and become embarrassing.”
The exhibition coincides with the release of a new album, About the Young Idea: The Very Best of The Jam, a 47 track anthology including hits, album tracks and rarities, remastered at Abbey Road. Meanwhile, Foxton continues to tour with his band From the Jam who are due to play at SWG3 in Glasgow on October 17th.
About the Young Idea proved to be a fascinating exhibition, and not just for die-hard fans, documenting The Jam’s furious sprint of a career and the legacy that has surpassed them by over 30 years. And whilst the band members may be getting older, a 24 year old Paul Weller would surely be pleased to know that embarrassing they are not.
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