Different versions of The Jam story have been told ever since Paul Weller called time on the band in 1982. Drummer Rick Buckler tells MALCOLM WYATT the time is right to tell it his way
It’s been seven years since my last chat with Rick Buckler, backstage at 53 Degrees in Preston after a memorable From The Jam performance.
Rick was on board with bass player Bruce Foxton at that stage in a tribute band with a difference – joining forces with Jam fans Russell Hastings and David Moore to celebrate the continued appeal of one of popular music’s most successful bands.
He was on fine form, joking with me about our shared Surrey heritage and my subsequent move to the Red Rose county, after a typically-blistering shift on the drum-kit.
The Jam always had that great relationship with their fans. There was no elitism, just a shared love of great and somewhat timeless music.
Paul Weller was always unlikely to re-join his bandmates, but Bruce and Rick felt a compulsion to not only re-live the great times but also secure a little closure on a story that finished so abruptly 25 years earlier.
I still get people saying ‘You had no right to split the band up’...Rick Buckler
By the end of 2009 only Bruce and Russell remained of that From the Jam line-up, Rick busy with other projects, albeit leaving in seemingly abrupt circumstances.
But now he’s back, promoting That’s Entertainment – My Life in The Jam, written with the help of prolific music biographer Ian Snowball for Omnibus Press.
So I guess the obvious question with regard to the autobiography is ‘why now?’
“There’s no real reason for now in particular, but I’ve been writing down things I intended to use as an autobiography over the last couple of years, then got approached by Snowy, who’d written a couple of other things that were Jam or music–related.
“He was up for helping me finish it off, otherwise it could have been one of these things I just kept adding to it and meandering on.
“He helped a great deal, giving it shape and form and putting me in touch with various publishers, making that process fairly easy.
“That forced my arm to a certain degree and I thought I’d just get on with it and do it, and it was nice to have a sounding board with regard to what I’d left out, what I didn’t need to put in and how to structure it.
“Only I can be a little flaky when it comes to office work!”
There was an earlier ‘autobiography’ with Bruce and Rick’s name on it, Our Story, written with Alex Ogg. But that was 22 years ago.
“Yes, there’s been some mileage since then. Also, Our Story was mostly anecdotal and really only about stuff on the road in the Jam years.
“Nearly everything in my life – and I’m sure this is the case for Bruce and Paul – has been because of our involvement in The Jam, so a lot of it does rotate around that.
“I’ve also encompassed the school days, growing up and how the band formed. It does keep coming back to The Jam, so in one respect it is like Our Story. But I think it’s got a broader remit. I always felt Our Story could have been done a bit better, at least presentation-wise.
“We just sat down and talked about those stories. I went back and read a few reviews recently and think people’s expectations of what they were going to get were higher than what we were going to deliver.
“It was difficult at the time. We were in a court case with Paul and weren’t going to get the knives out. I still haven’t got the knives out in this one. There’s no point.
“Perhaps people wanted something more salacious, but they weren’t going to get it. Nearly everyone who was a Jam fan knows the general story, so I’m trying to convey an insight not just of being part of The Jam but being the drummer inside The Jam.
“I do worry that people are going to say the same about this – there’s not enough in there exposing this and that, but I don’t know if I actually can please everybody.”
Plenty has been written about the animosity felt by Bruce and Rick after Paul broke up the band to form The Style Council, and subsequent fall-outs.
Is there a danger of this just being a re-tread?
“I’m actually sick to death of all that griping. I don’t even want to go there. This was really just from my point of view and the success of the band.
“It obviously had a big effect on my life as well as Bruce’s and Paul’s, but when I talk to Jam fans there’s this real connection that it had an effect on them as well.
“They were part of The Jam as much as we were. I think that connection was really important. I don’t think you see that with many other bands.”
Rick had access to a lot of material to help with the book through involvement with thejamfan.net website.
“It was an archive I put together over the years, fantastic to draw upon, all the information coming from tour itineraries and so on.
“It’s reasonably accurate, although I am pulled up every now and again by fans about something or other!”
Rick is still based near The Jam’s hometown Woking, where they played many shows before the London circuit helped break them in 1977. And while both Paul and Rick’s childhood homes have now gone, they have at least an abstract presence in the town, through a three-stump tree sculpture.
“Yes, Barratt Homes commissioned three oak sculptures, and some wit described them as Pole Weller, Stick Buckler and Spruce Foxton!”
Can the 59-year-old still clearly recall day one with The Jam in 1973?
“Yes, it was Paul and Steve Brookes, and they asked me to join on drums, with one of the first shows at Sheerwater Youth Club.
“It was a matter of, ‘There’s a stack of Chuck Berry records there. Learn those!’ It was a music I wasn’t that familiar with at the time, being around 16 or 17.”
While in different years at secondary school, a shared love of music brought the band together.
“Nearly anybody interested in music or played an instrument would hang around in the music rooms at lunchtime, and I knew Steve and Paul because of that.
“In the whole of Sheerwater School, there were three drummers, including myself and ‘Bomber’ Harris.”
Bomber was Neil Harris, whose place in the band – so the story goes – went to Rick after he couldn’t make a live engagement.
“I don’t really know what his place was. I think it was fairly temporary. It was more of a duet, although Steve and Paul wanted to make it into more of a band and have a full-time drummer.”
Did Paul stand out then?
“Not really. If anything, Steve Brookes was the proper musician, and still is. He’s a really good guitarist. I bump into him every now and again, which is nice.”
Bruce was next to join, having been in local prog band Zita, with Steve Brookes soon quitting as the seminal three-piece took shape, Rick soon honing his skills.
“I pretty much taught myself by listening to records, but did have an older guy who was very good.
“He was into the big band thing and took me to see Buddy Rich play and was really good in showing me a few fundamentals. The rest I picked up as I went along.”
Rick’s twin brother Pete played bass around that time, the two of them previously practising under the name Impulse with a guitarist.
“We’d only really just started and never did any shows. So when I got offered the chance to join Paul and Steve and play at the Youth Club, I jumped at it.”
The rest is history, with many highs and a few lows following, The Jam amassing 18 consecutive UK top-40 singles between 1977 and 1982, including four No.1s, with success all over the world.
Did Rick get to the end of this book and think of more great memories he’d neglected to include?
“It’s constant! All the time people remind me of things I’ve forgotten. It was for that very reason I got the idea of doing Q&A sessions.
“I was talking to a fan who really liked the idea of the stories – not necessarily what you read in the press but the things that happen behind the scenes.
“I did a Q & A event earlier this year, and it worked really well. After about 15 minutes people started to open up.
“A few you’d expect, but a few surprises too.
“If anyone’s got a question they’ve been bugging to know about, come along and ask!”
Talking of questions you get asked all the time, does Rick still think Paul was wrong to quit when he did, that The Jam had a couple more great albums to come?
“From the fans’ point of view I still get people saying, ‘You had no right to split the band up’. Because of this connection we had I think they were almost insulted.
“No artist is anything without fans, and I think a lot of people think that was out of order that wasn’t taken into consideration.
“Myself and Bruce think we probably could have done a couple more albums.
“Looking back, we should have had the strength to say we’re going to stop, take a break, do our solo things or put our feet up on a beach for six months. Step away from it.
“We were in a position where we could have done that. I don’t think we needed to burn all our bridges. It’s a real shame he took that view.
“We were all under pressure. Paul wasn’t so much the first to snap, but the one who decided he wanted to take control of his life.
“When you’re in a band, I’m not saying you don’t have a life, but it’s not your own.”
Moving to From the Jam, why did Rick quit when he did? I got the idea Bruce and Russ weren’t expecting it.
“To put a quick answer on it, the fun was literally gone out of that for a couple of reasons which unless you’re actually in a band you wouldn’t understand.
“I really started The Gift (the band’s name before Bruce joined) because I wanted to revisit The Jam songs. That was the itch I wanted to scratch.
“When we did the last shows in December 1982, I was reading the set-list as I was playing and had it in the back of my mind I’m never going to play these again.
“This was my chance to go back and be able to again. I couldn’t really see Bruce coming on board when I started, but then he found himself out of Stiff Little Fingers and eventually came on board full-time.
“From then on, unfortunately, it fell apart quite quickly, which was a shame.”
I still get the feeling there shouldn’t be any animosity. Shouldn’t you just go round, make friends, give each other a big hug and get on with it?
“Erm… yes. I’ve absolutely nothing against Bruce or Paul, despite what people might write in the press, which is one reason why I get so fed up with it.
“When me and Bruce got together again, we reached out to Paul, said why not just come along, do a couple of numbers. We didn’t even get a ‘good luck but no thanks’.
“I didn’t really understand that and still don’t. I know sometimes the press want to sensationalise some of this stuff, but sometimes it’s a lot simpler than you think.”
Since quitting From The Jam, Rick’s had a spell in a band called If, and helps promote a band called The Brompton Mix.
“It’s not very much to give back, but it’s a little. I always remember how difficult it is as an unsigned band trying to get work, not really knowing much about the mechanics of the music industry.
”You see bands not knowing what direction to take. I think they find it a big help.”
There was also a spell as a furniture restorer. Could that ever have become the ‘day job’ if he’d never got that call from The Jam?
“It’s really because of The Jam that I found myself in a position that I was able to do that, and only really because I wanted to take a break from the music industry.
“I know it sounds odd but I don’t think I would have taken it up as a career if I’d not had the opportunity to spend two or three months without having to earn any money.”
For details of Rick’s forthcoming Q&A shows go to www.strangetown.net/q-and-a-tickets/4588154498.
For more detail about That’s Entertainment – My Life In The Jam, go to the autobiography’s facebook page or pre-order via Amazon.