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Billy Bragg’s Favourite Albums… "Setting Sons!"


The Jam – Setting Sons


It seemed to me that The Clash and the Sex Pistols were both the product of some guy in the Kings Road who ran a clothes shop and may only be doing this to sell t-shirts, especially The Clash because they were predominantly about painting on their shirts. Whereas The Jam fit into a framework that I much more understood because me and my mates were into Dr. Feelgood, the first couple of Stones albums, The Small Faces, The Who, we could see exactly where The Jam were coming from.

And there’s something about Weller’s ethic, his sound, his chip-on-the-shoulder-ness, that could only have come from the suburbs. And we came from the suburbs, we didn’t come from Kings Road. Kings Road to me was anathema and had no understanding of the real world. Whereas someone from out in the sticks in Woking, which is not the same kind of suburb as Barking but it is the same outsider thing, had a fabulous clipped articulation, there’s an economy in what he plays in that guitar, the harmonies of the three of them together and I think The Jam and especially Setting Sons is the best example of that tough and tender thing that I’ve always tried to get somewhere near. The hardcore person that also has a gentle side.

Also, Setting Sons was influential in me joining the army. It seemed to be part of a series of apocalyptic messages that were around at the time suggesting there was a war coming. And I really didn’t want to be sitting at my mum’s doing fuck all. I really wanted to be there, not waiting, I wanted to press the eject button on my life. And there was something about Setting Sons, [SINGS] “up on the hills playing Little Boy Soldiers” that chimed in with me – even though it was saying “don’t join [the army]”. And then you had The Clash put out a record that year where they sang “it’s up to you not to heed the call-up”. I was also listening to Kate Bush, ‘Army Dreamers’, [SINGS] “what could he do, should have been a rock star, but he didn’t have the money for a guitar, what could he do?/ Should have been a politician but he never had a proper education”. It’s weird innit, how sometimes it takes Kate Bush to understand how working class lads don’t always have set choices the same as everyone else. But I still would say The Jam were the best songwriters in punk, for my money. He’s gone now to different places but I have great respect for him for staying through to his own vision. Gotta respect that.

Without him, Red Wedge would have just been a bunch of little Herberts. He was arguably the biggest, most culturally credible rock star we had at that moment and by putting his name to Red Wedge, he ensured we got the coverage and it cost him. He now regrets that and I respect him as he was expressing those regrets at the time.

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