Thirty Years of “The Gift”

Posted on December 4, 2012

A friend of  mine sent me an email earlier today with a couple links from a Radio 4 programme called Mastertapes, interviews with Paul Weller followed by a question and answer session about the final Jam album The Gift, which was released in the Spring of 1982 to mixed reviews from fans more used to a lead and bass guitar and a set of drums accompanied by raw and aggressive anti-establishment vocals. Paul Weller had license to experiment with this recording as such was the popularity of The Jam at the time, they could have produced an album of their best recorded farts and it would have reached number one, just as The Gift did within a week of its release.

I clearly remember taking the seven mile bus trip from Baughurst to Basingstoke to buy The Gift with my paper round money; it was the first time I bought a Jam album with my own earnings as the five previous ones had been purchased by my elder brother Graham, who declined this time around as he was not impressed by the new funkier sound of The Jam, who were now, under pressure from Paul Weller, experimenting with horns, trumpets and electric organs as heard on the massive number one hit, A Town Called Malice, released in the January of the same year.

The problem I had with this and any other album I purchased as a teenager, was that I would always compare it to Setting Sons, The Jam album from 1979 that was, in my opinion, never to be surpassed. Listening to The Gift after listening to Setting Sons is like scoring a goal for the Dog & Duck in the Sunday League three years after scoring a thirty yard screamer in the FA Cup final. Town Called Malice is an excellent song but as soon as anyone tells me that it is their favorite Jam song, I know in my heart of hearts, what they are telling me, is that they haven’t heard many Jam songs.

The Eton Rifles: Sadly, still a reflection of British society 33 years later

Under the influence of my brother, I learnt to believe that much, if not all of the The Gift, was written for trendy London types, whilst Setting Sons was written about suburban nightmares more relevant to us; it (Setting Sons) felt like an album written about Basingstoke and in a way it was, as Woking, where Paul Weller grew up, was another surburban shithole in a similar mold just a few junctions up the M3 Motorway. Whenever I used to go in to Basingstoke on a bus, I felt like an extra in Saturday’s Kids, an epic song about the entertainment available to the white working classes…cigarettes, lager, bus station fruit machines and girls with cheap perfume, Babycham, teenage pregnancy and caravan holidays in Selsey Bill. Check the lyrics to Saturday’s Kids here, it is a brilliant song, some might even say say poem.

In Baughurst, a village to the north west of Basingstoke, we were relatively sheltered from that life, but it was all very real and very close to home, one false move and you could end up living a Private Hell (lyrics here)  in a nicotine stained council flat with nothing to look forward to except a life on Valium. Unwittingly, Setting Sons drove on thousands of kids from suburbia to ensure that their lives would never be that way, it had much bigger impact on the youth than a Government obsessed with spending the education budget on Cold War rockets and guns. I don’t believe that anyone living within the A406 during that time would ever quite be able to understand Setting Sons like someone from Woking, Bracknell, Basingstoke or indeed, any other soulless overspill town in Britain. It wasn’t about London, it was about the overspill.

Private Hell: A Great Song About Surburban Misery

As a consequence of songs on The Gift like Precious, The Circus, Trans Global Express and to an extent Town Called Malice, I largely ignored it after a few plays, wishing that I had spent my paper round money more wisely by trying to beat Jimmy Witts to 300,000 on the Pacman machine that had been cleverly installed at a rival newsagent to the one that paid our wages. It was the first Jam album where I didn’t learn all the lyrics to all the tracks, so when I heard that this Radio 4 interview was about The Gift I was hardly excited at all. Well, I was to be surprised, as it actually turned out to be a really good two part programme and it taught me a lovely story about  a Gift album track called Just Who is the Five O’Clock Hero as I had never realised it was a tribute to Weller’s dad, who worked day in day out as a hod carrier, just to make sure there was food on the table…“Hello darling, I’m home again, covered in shit and aches and pains…” Check out the full lyrics here.

It also taught me another thing and that is that fans of The Jam should all be thankful that Paul Weller has forged a hugely successful solo career that has allowed him the luxury of never having to re-form The Jam for a pitiful nostalgia driven train full of gravy. The Jam were about that time, they were young, vibrant and full of youthful aggression, it would have been pathetic to keep it moving, weak songs such as Funeral Pyre, Bitterest Pill and the dreadful farewell single, Beat Surrender were a taste of what was potentially coming. By 1982 The Jam were running out of ideas and Weller was right to do what he did…I want to remember The Jam as part of a suburban childhood, not as bunch of creaking old farts shuffling around Wembley Arena singing ‘When You’re Young.’ That would be almost as embarrassing as watching Madness at Butlins or at some shitty Royal parade…fuck that…if you want nostalgia, go and see From The Jam with Bruce Foxton, they do an excellent set and provide what you with what you need.

If you are young lad or lady who is curious about The Jam and what they were about, don’t buy The Gift, Sound Affects or Compact Snap, get yourself a copy of In the City, All Mod Cons and Setting Sons and enjoy soundtracks of what life was like for the swathes of the forgotten white working classes who had the miserable task of keeping the cogs of capitalism turning in the 70’s and early 80’s.

Listen to the Radio 4 programmes on the links below:



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