The late John Weller, Paul Weller’s father and perhaps The Jam’s biggest fan, would ring in shows by shouting, “Put your hands together for the greatest band in the f@%king world!” And to legions of fans in the late ’70s and early ’80s, they absolutely were. The band not only echoed youth’s frustrations with politically poetic lyrics and riffs drawing from earlier periods of unrest, but they also taught their peers on the floor a thing or two about literature, autonomy—being someone intelligent enough to form and express an opinion boldly.
With a heavy emphasis on fan lore, About The Young Idea—a companion piece to the exhibit of the same name that ran at London’s Somerset House from late June through late September last year—captures that fervor for a band that quite literally changed many a kid’s life. There’s Keiko Egawa, a native of Japan who still lives in London nearly 30 years after obtaining a student visa with the primary goal of seeing The Jam live as much as possible. There’s DJ and Acid Jazz founder Eddie Piller, and actor Martin Freeman, two of today’s most well-known mods who credit The Jam with ushering in the mod revival in the late 1970s and sparking their interest in the scene. There’s even a proper youngster (okay, he’s 21 now) who runs a modernist-inspired blog and gets a sit-down with Weller that lasts long enough for him to ask several questions to which most fans know the answers. Weller, though, is absolutely gracious and responds as you’d expect a class act would. (Check out the bonus features for the full interview.)
Director Bob Smeaton, who’s directed a host of rock documentaries, including several editions of the Classic Albums series and The Beatles Anthology, did an admirable job of driving home just how young The Jam were when they called it quits in 1982 by including early Jam guitarist Steve Brookes to shed light on the band’s pre-commercial debut days. Good friends reunited, Weller and Brookes strum on acoustic guitars like teenagers, ribbing each other, recalling their Beatles superfandom and generally acting as though they’re both in a positive enough place that looking back is something even the most forward-thinking people can enjoy.
And Brookes is just the start of it. Rick Buckler, who joined The Jam on drums in the mid-1970s, and bass player/vocalist Bruce Foxton are present to take both Jam-curious and hardcore fans on a trip beginning in Woking and ending when Weller decided to branch out musically at the tender age of 24. The ride isn’t fraught with tension, either; it’s lighthearted and reflective—and if The Jam were or still are your favorite band, you’re going to shut the television off liking them even more than you did. This viewer especially dug when interviewees held a period photo of themselves stating their name, date of birth, and hometown. It’s a cool visual, but there’s also something significant and even sweet in drawing a line between a band’s impact then, now and forever.
It’s worth noting that live-performance footage doesn’t steal from documentary time. There are clips, but if the full shebang is what you want, the When You’re Young disc has 22 tracks from Live at Rockpalast (1980). The bonus features on the first disc also include “It’s Too Bad” and “Saturday’s Kids” at The Rainbow in London in 1979, and “The Modern World” and “The Eton Rifles” from the band’s 1981 gig at The Ritz in New York City. You’ll also find additional interviews on the bonus disc.
The 2-DVD set from Eagle Rock Entertainment has a total running time of 206 minutes and is available now.