The critically acclaimed ‘About The Young Idea’ exhibition, the most comprehensive exploration of the music, background, political and social impact of The Jam, arrives in Liverpool this summer. The Jam, however, meant more to us than just PR. We asked a Merseyside artist, whose life was changed by Paul Weller’s band, for the real story of the impact the group had on its generation. By Ian Prowse.

“Say what you like ’cause I don’t care, I know where I am and going to, It’s somewhere I won’t preview, Don’t have to explain myself to you, I don’t give two fucks about your review… ” It was a Wednesday night in Liverpool, November 1st 1978 and I was 14 years old. Paul Weller walked out onto the Liverpool Empire stage, pencil thin, sharp all-black suit, black shirt, bright green tie and Jam shoes. He plugged in his bright red flashing Rickenbacker blade, slashed at it a few times and bellowed into the microphone: “Seen you before, I know your sort, you think the world awaits your every breath… ”

And that was that.  All was changed utterly in that instant. It’s never been unchanged either – whatever alchemy took place within my teenage self at that very moment, it hit so hard, so deeply and with such force, that it’s still the artistic fuel I’m running on 38 years later. My first ever gig was The Jam and, just like your first match when you emerge from within the stands and see the green pitch for the first time, your first concert never leaves you – it’s outside of all your previous experiences. The noise, the lights, the massive PA (Muscle Music!) and the theatre of it all (punk poet Patrik Fitzgerald and cartoon act The Dickies were the supports).

It wasn’t just The Jam’s gigs that affected me so profoundly – I attended another five Jam concerts, including the infamous blood bath that was the first Deeside Leisure Centre show – it was the songs and, in particular, Paul Weller’s words. Ya’ see, he was singing about me and my world: working class, council estate kid, parochial, resentful, in awe of the nearby big city… but, most of all, teenage. My overriding memory of the gigs was how teenage they were: I don’t recall any old people (by old, I mean over 23). It really was all about the kids.

‘This Is The Modern World’ was my first album, the lyrics at the top of this piece were my road to Damascus moment and, listening to it on my terrible little cassette recorder, by the time he sings the expletives with such rage and venom, I was a goner. If the Liverpool Empire gig had made me want to be in a band months earlier in 1978, the songs themselves were like missives from the one who understood us… our leader. I was too young and uncool to realise that much of this era Jam had been appropriated from The Clash and that all became irrelevant two days after the Empire gig, when they released ‘All Mod Cons’, a masterpiece. The backwards guitar coda to ‘In The Crowd’ can still reduce me to tears, ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ is still the bench mark for all lyric writers and ‘Mr. Clean’ still does punk anger better than punk did – and it’s the best song ever written by anybody about the class war. They still copied The Clash, but this time brilliantly, on ‘A Bomb In Wardour Street’ and Weller also did the unthinkable and put acoustic love songs on the record: ‘English Rose’ and ‘Fly’… good God, he knew our working class angst was complicated by our feelings for girls, too!

He was 20… the bastard. Then they had a genuine hit single on the next album, ‘Eton Rifles’, and became massive. I kinda’ got off the bus at that point, as I couldn’t stand all the nerds getting into my band. Privately, of course, I loved them as much as ever and bought every single thing they put out: ‘Liza Radley’, ‘Funeral Pyre’, ‘Ghosts’, ‘Scrape Away’ (come on, they were better than ever, I was just being a divvy!).

I love that they will never get back together. I love that Weller split them up when he did: at the very height of their fame and power. I love the righteousness of it all, his clear reasoning, brimming still with conviction. So brave. They were our Beatles… thank God, then, they never became our Rolling Stones. While out on tour last year, I made the pilgrimage to Somerset House to see the exhibition. It brought it all back and I’m thrilled and proud that it’s coming to Liverpool – a true honour for all involved. If it wasn’t for The Jam, I doubt I’d have picked up the guitar and I definitely wouldn’t sing like my life depends upon it. Thank you Paul, Bruce and Rick.

I could go on for hours…

About The Young Idea – The Jam
Cunard Building, Liverpool, July 1st – September 25th 2016
Ticket info here

Ian Prowse
The Music Room, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, Friday 15th July 2016
Get tickets

Pic by Catherine LeFevre