About The Young Idea: The Jam at Somerset House

A chronological tour of a band that defined a moment in British history, The Jam: About The Young Idea offers an intimate look at the music of 1970s and 1980s through newspaper clippings, clothes, vinyls and show posters from the personal collection of Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler (aka The Jam).

It is easy to be cynical about the recent spate of exhibitions that focus on iconic moments in British musical history – David Bowie Is was last year’s blockbuster exhibition at The Victoria & Albert Museum, Exhibitionism, the “biggest ever touring rock exhibition” about The Rolling Stones, is coming to Saatchi gallery later this year – as cashing in on a loyal fan base and hipster notions of nostalgia. However, About The Young Idea takes an intimate look at the music, the clothes, the audience and the legitimacy of three working class young men making songs that defined life for a generation of music lovers.

The buzzword for this show is “authenticity”: nothing is reproduction; everything comes straight from the archives of those who were there. Vintage set footage and talking head videos highlight the authentic nature of Paul Weller’s taut energy in performance – this was not a boy playing rock star but a boy who felt what he was singing. The genuine 1970s wardrobes showing the authentic Mod-revival look of a band not interested in shock tactics but rather defining their left-wing outlook on life through their clothing. Pumped in album recordings highlight the authenticity of the lyrics that painted an honest picture of life for the young in the 1970s. Truly “The People’s Band”, The Jam at Somerset House, in conjunction with Nice Times Inc. Productions, highlights the proletariat nature of The Jam’s music and affect.

There is an instant blurring between the lines of iconic musical performers and their audience as you enter the show. The posters, the images and the performance footage all mixes the attitude and outlook of performer and viewer, unified by personal experiences and clothing. Ann Weller recalls walking to concert venues and constantly confusing fans for her son, whilst the band members acknowledge their influence on the style of their audience whilst also taking influence back from how the crowds looked. The limited chances to hear and view your teenage idols meaning the iconic look and sound of The Jam built attachments to and from their viewers in a way not replicable today.

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There is something iconoclastic and ritualised in both viewing and appreciating the music of this time that can only truly be expressed through the kind of in depth exploration of visuals and music that About The Young Idea allows. With rooms full of jackets, clothing, posters, badges, LPs, advertisements, monographed “The Jam” ties, you can immerse yourself in the relics of the time. Each piece holding an energy and excitement that vinyl music and the tribe mentality it produced. Perhaps this is why the crowd of mostly middle aged men seemed so affected by the chance to come so close to the instruments touched by the hands of those they once held in such reverence.

Prominent over the punk era The Jam are not the same as The Clash, Buzzcocks or Sex Pistols, as – whilst influenced and part of the British outlook optimized by these titans of guitar music – they were not pure punk performers. In fact the weakest part of the show looks at The Jam and punk. The only music referenced and allowed for context to The Jam, by looking at punk there is not enough given over to the different way of thinking, the different musical trajectory, different sound development and the different heritage of influences that made The Jam’s noise. With a dress code taken directly from 1960s Pete Townshend and an intellectualised style of song writing reminiscent of Ray Davies, The Jam where more Angry Young Men than punk rockers: their audience where anarchic and anti-establishment but the political messaging and style of music where somewhat anachronistic and with the late 1970s.

Part of the exhibition focuses on contemporary celebrities who write about how The Jam influenced them – Noel Gallagher noting “Those songs were touched by the hand of a genius”, alongside Martin Freedman dedicating his dress code to Rick Buckner and Phil Jupitus making the obligatory “Mod-con” joke. Helping visitors to see the lasting influence of the band into contemporary culture – the thousands who turned out to see Blur at Hyde Park owing a debt to The Jam in a way the youth of the 1990s would never appreciate. They may have designed a sound that was popular over 40 years ago, however The Jam, photographed in their Lionsdale sweatshirts and close cropped hair-cuts, are as relevant today than they have ever been.

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A look at icons who built a loyal following from Stanley Road, Woking, to playing sell out shows across the world, the time of The Jam was remarkably short. Dissolving the band at its peak in 1982, Weller didn’t allow The Jam to become embarrassing old men singing the songs of youth; meaning this is a show is an exhibition about young men with a voice saying something pertinent who were at one with their audience – an audience who no doubt will come out on-masse and make this show a success for Somerset House.

Commissioned by dfynorms.com

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