The Jam - is Woking a town called Malice?
PUBLISHED: 13:45 25 September 2012 | UPDATED: 08:36 31 March 2015
As The Jam get ready to mark the 35th anniversary of their debut album, Steve Gibbs looks back at their formative years in Woking, which led to them becoming one of the biggest bands of a defining era in British music, and reveals how they still have a special relationship with the town today
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2012
THIRTY-FIVE years ago, three school friends from Woking undertook a journey that would see them go on to become one of Britain’s most respected bands – and also put their hometown on the map.
“We could never understand how on earth we moved from playing Walton Road Working Men’s Club to Wembley Arena,” muses Rick Buckler, drummer for The Jam. “We got into music just because we wanted to. We were all music fans and there was no other real agenda to it.”
Nevertheless, what began as a casual rehearsal room practice with anybody who bothered to turn up – literally ‘Paul Weller’s jam session’ – grew into one of the biggest bands of a defining era in British music.
Looking back, he still isn’t entirely sure how The Jam graduated from the pubs and clubs of their youth to the vast arenas required to house a band that sold over 14 million albums in their career.
Maybe the secret lay with a benevolent music teacher, whose welcoming approach to pupils at Sheerwater Secondary School allowed his music room to become the focus of aspiring musicians eager to escape the relentless tumult of the playground.
“Mr Avery was really helpful in that respect,” recognises Buckler, who continues to run www.TheJamFan.net, an archive of band memories and memorabilia. “It was more like a meeting place than anything else; it just gave us somewhere to go. We used to hang around with other people: there was one other drummer, a couple of guitarists. And that was the starting place.”
In a burgeoning commuter-belt town where, Buckler recalls, “there wasn’t a great deal going on”, music was one of the few outlets for restless teenagers to express themselves. Its influence, though, was probably felt in rather unflattering ways.
“We couldn’t wait to get out of Woking, and to escape everything that it had, or didn’t have. You leave Woking, you go somewhere else. Which is a bit of a shame, in a way,” he adds.
“The horizons were fairly limited and not particularly adventurous. People used to hang around the youth club rather than actually do something – there were never any exciting activities. There were aspirations though about being able to hang around the local pub, the Birch & Pines, because that’s what the big guys did.”
Buckler does, though, dispel one cruel myth – that their 1982 single, Town Called Malice, was inspired solely by their home town. “It could be anywhere. I think it’d be unfair to say it was just about Woking.”
Initially a glorified covers band who won a local Community Centre’s talent contest with a rendition of Chuck Berry’s Reelin’ & Rockin’, The Jam did what any self-respecting band did and tried to get gigs wherever they could.
“We played everywhere and anywhere. That was always our attitude – we always wanted more work,” continues Buckler, whose first show with The Jam was at their local youth club on the Sheerwater Estate in April 1973, aged just 17. Working in local factories across Woking and West Byfleet to augment their earnings, he admits the gigs were “like a paid rehearsal for us most of the time”.
“People were only there because of the price of the beer. You were really nothing more than a jukebox to a lot of people, as you weren’t expected to do anything more than play well known covers. Some of the audiences didn’t want you to be there because you were disturbing the bingo!”
Often the only way these teenagers could get into some venues was with the help of Paul’s father, John Weller, the band’s de facto manager and booking agent.
“We certainly wouldn’t have even tried to get in to Michael’s,” admits Buckler, remembering the Goldsworth Road nightclub where The Jam ‘enjoyed’ a residency from January 1974 until September 1975. “It was a seedy late-night drinking hole on the first floor above a burger bar, with a bit of gambling going on in the back. At night, it was dark and quite moody, but if you saw it during the day you really didn’t want to go in there.”
Far more convivial was the Walton Road Working Men’s Club, where The Jam played and rehearsed. The Club was virtually adjacent to the Weller family home at 8 Stanley Road; an address that inspired the title of Paul’s hugely-successful 1995 solo album.
“That was a great little venue; we could just walk around the corner with our gear and set everything up. We did several auditions in there – I think somebody from EMI turned up to see us and just said ‘forget it’.”
The advent of punk, however, presented new opportunities – and also challenges – for the band. Channelling their youthful anger into creative energy, and looking to break into the London pub rock circuit, which also spawned The Clash, Buckler, Weller and bassist Bruce Foxton felt society’s revulsion at this new sub-culture right on their own doorstep.
“We used to get thrown out of pubs all the time, because they wouldn’t allow you in. Punk was a dirty word. We were perfectly respectable but they wouldn’t even serve us because they didn’t want to upset their clientele.”
Eventually, the London-centric record companies chose to catch up rather than be left behind by the genre’s resolutely DIY attitude and the uniquely intimate connection between a band and their fans.
Gigs were “fast, hectic and full of energy”, says Buckler. “Punk just tapped into what was going on. It wasn’t ‘them and us’, everyone was in it together. We were creating a scene ourselves and there was this feeling that everybody could get involved and have a go at something.”
Stuck with a name “we were never really that impressed with” but never got round to changing, The Jam signed to Polydor Records for a fee of £6,000 on February 15, 1977. Despite this momentous occasion making all the rejection letters worthwhile, Buckler maintains “there wasn’t a plan, really. I suppose we wanted to be able to do it for a living, but we were driven purely by fun.”
In the City
Effortlessly capturing the unspoken disaffection of thousands of teenagers across the world in an invigorating 32-minute avalanche of blistering guitars and undoubted pop sensibilities, debut album In The City was “a doddle”, says the drummer.
“We’d rehearsed it for five years. We thought, ‘this is it, we’re off’. We’re just going to continue and do whatever it takes to stay in the industry. We didn’t really realise what that meant, we had no experience of the music industry. Looking back on it now, we were so naïve about the whole thing.”
Such inauspicious and seemingly haphazard beginnings proved the catalyst for an amazing five years, which yielded 13 top 20 singles, including four number ones, and a legacy that continues to influence bands nearly four decades later.
Meanwhile, their links to the area continue today, with Weller returning to his hometown for a ‘Wake Up Woking’ gig in aid of Woking Hospice in June 2010. He has also owned the Black Barn recording studio in nearby Ripley since 1985.
Not bad really for three teenagers from the Sheerwater Estate whose only motivation was to escape their own town called Malice.
GET IN TOUCH: Did you see The Jam play live in Woking in their early days? Or perhaps you were at the more recent Paul Weller gig a couple of years ago. Maybe you even went to school with the band? Get in touch with your own memories by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Memories of The Jam
The MD and principal of the Tante Marie Culinary Academy in Woking, Andrew Maxwell is also a self-confessed ‘massive’ fan of The Jam!
“The mid-Eighties were a time when I was just starting to really get interested in music and it was a time when The Jam’s punk rock style still had huge influence on the music scene. Suffice to say, this influence also rubbed off on me and, to this very day, Paul Weller’s distinctive tone still remains, in my view, one of the greatest influences in the music scene!”
The CEO of Woking YMCA, Terry Eckersley also has a music sideline, Think Media Music, so it’s no surprise really that he managed to persuade Paul Weller to become a patron of the charity
“Did you know, The Jam played one of their first gigs at Woking YMCA? Did you know the Beatles became members? I know, we have such a rich heritage, and yes, Paul Weller is our patron, too! He really believes in Woking again and it’s young people and the power of music. I still essentially believe in the positive punk spirit: three chords (start with something!), practise, study, be yourself – which essentially became reality to the Modfather, friend and patron.”
Marilyn Scott, director of The Lightbox in Woking, met Paul Weller at their special photo exhibition honouring the music legend
“Our exhibition of photographs of Paul Weller by Lawrence Watson was one of our most popular shows of last year – local people just love Paul and the really strong associations he still holds with Woking. When he actually arrived on the night of the opening, that was the icing on the cake – his obvious delight in the exhibition, meeting old friends, chatting in such a relaxed atmosphere was a real pleasure for us all at The Lightbox and we will certainly mark it up as ‘one of the best’.”
Marketing and communication manager at the Woking and Sam Beare Hospices, Lorraine Weedon watched Paul Weller play a charity gig for them a couple of years ago
“In June 2010, we were delighted when Paul Weller returned to perform in Woking for the first time in 30 years at Wake up Woking, a benefit concert for Woking Hospice. Over 1,200 people came to see Paul perform at Woking Leisure Centre and over £65,000 was raised. It was an amazing night, and I remember the whole place going wild when Bruce Foxton, the bass player of The Jam, joined Paul on stage! Last year. Bruce headlined the event, and Wake up Woking 3 is planned for June 22 but the acts are still being confirmed.”
And a few more Surrey rock tales
• The Jam's Bruce Foxton on Farnham life and rocking in Ripley with Weller
• In the four years that John Lennon lived in Weybridge from 1964, The Beatles cemented their status as the world’s biggest band.
• Ringo Starr is a keen photographer and has a house in leafy Cranleigh.
• The Faces’ Kenney Jones owns Hurtwood Park polo club in Ewhurst and singer Mick Hucknall lives by Burhill Golf Course in Walton-on-Thames.
• Status Quo's Francis Rossi is happy living the quiet life in Purley's Webb Estate.
• Discover life down The Farm with Genesis' Mike Rutherford.
• Genesis Publications in Guildford has been creating limited edition hand-bound books mainly about rock stars and bands for over 35 years.
• Queen guitarist Brian May lives with his wife, the actress Anita Dobson, in the West End area, near Woking, where they have an animal rescue centre in the garden.
• Recording studios: the now closed Strawberry South studio in Dorking was opened by 10ccs Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, in 1976, and is said to be where parts of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s Ebony and Ivory were recorded.
• Ginger dreadlocked Surrey songsmith Newton Faulkner once worked at Fanny’s Farm Shop near Redhill.