Rick Buckler was the dynamic, percussive driving force behind probably the most important and popular trio in modern music – the Jam. With fellow Woking boys Paul Weller and Bruce Foxton, they arrived on record and in the charts at a time when punk was what guitar bands were all about. But the Jam were very much their own thing and, from the mid-1970s into the early 1980s, created their own soundtrack that resonated on a worldwide level.
All three of us pushed really hard to make it sound like a four-piece
But it all ended abruptly when Paul Weller announced he was leaving the band. Weller continued the momentum the Jam had given him and of course has gone on to become one of pop music’s genuine icons. But it was a different story for his former musical partners.
For Buckler, there has been a long and winding road to get him back to the point where the Jam is again part of his life. His habit of collecting memorabilia and minutiae during their time together led him to set up thejamfan.net – incorporating strangetown.net – which is a treasure trove for fans of the band.
Now, with the help of author Ian Snowball, he has put his reminiscences about the Jam years, as well as of his life before and after the group, in a new book That’s Entertainment: My Life In The Jam (Omnibus Press).
Buckler is still living in Woking, and I met him at his local the Hare and Hounds, where the book was conceived, to talk about elements of his life behind, and away from, the drums...
Reading the book, it was clear there were many variations on a theme of the Jam before you signed as a trio to Polydor. Was that the perfect line up for you?
I don’t know. When we started there was this idea that we had to be a four-piece. The Who. The Kinks. The Beatles. It’s what everybody did. Paul and Steve Brookes started as the duo. I came along to make the trio. Then Dave Waller got involved as the rhythm guitarist. Paul was on bass then. Because he was a big fan of Paul McCartney. And that was fine.
But Dave left and we went through this thing of having various fourth members that just didn’t work for some reason. And then Steve Brookes left. But Bruce was on board by then, but we still felt it was incomplete. The upside was it gave us nowhere to hide musically.
So all three of us pushed really hard to make it sound like a four-piece. And when Paul heard Wilko (Johnson, from Dr Feelgood) play he realised you could play rhythm and lead as one. So after that we thought we’d best just stay as a three-piece. Because we couldn’t get anyone to join, or stay!
If you’ll pardon the pun, you created your own sort of bookends to your life it seems? You ended up working with furniture, and DIY-ed your own drums.
It just seemed like the thing to do. It got to the stage in woodwork class (in secondary school) where you could make anything you liked. I even started an acoustic guitar before I left. Never finished it ... the band took over. I thought, sod it, they’ve got everything I need to make my own kit. So I made the shells. Bought all the hardwear to go with it. And I did use it two or three times. Functioned alright!
Then when I finally got out of the music industry, I thought I’d treat myself to something I really enjoyed doing. Just going to walk away for a couple of years and indulge myself in carpentry and cabinet-making again. So I pestered a local cabinet-maker to teach me a lot more than I’d learned at school. And I just loved it.
And one thing about restoring antique furniture is you have to learn how to make the thing before you can even start to restore it. So to earn some money, I started doing restoration. But instead of two years, I ended up doing 10 years.
I thought something else musically would come along but nothing ever did that took my attention. But that worked out really well because while I was working at home my two kids were growing up. So I wasn’t away at all.
Back to the book, you say in the introduction of the band, we finished too soon. Can you expand on that?
It seemed crazy at the time. You worked so hard to put yourself in the market place. You’ve proved you can sell records. You’ve proved you can do tours, and sell out shows. Those early years, it’s all about proving yourself. Can you survive the first record contract?
For me, it was all about revisiting the Jam songs. It’s what I really wanted to do
And when you get signed, it gets very serious. It becomes a proper job. It did seem very strange that, after doing all this hard work to establish the band. And from Paul’s point of view too because he had established himself with the Jam as one of the great songwriters of the era. So we’d just got it and he goes and says, bollocks – we don’t want it any more! You throw it all away.
Now I know that was a lot easier for Paul because he was obviously going to go on continuing to write songs. But it’s not so easy as the bass player and the drummer. I did think, well hang on sunshine, you didn’t get here on your own.
I think Bruce took it worse than myself. He really did think we were treated badly by Paul. Especially when you find out he wasn’t going to tell us until the end of the last tour.
You have gone on to get back behind the drums and, musically, back to where it all began.
I did, and I did get nervous getting back into playing and finding out there were still Jam fans out there who were incredibly into it, and I was thinking what are they going to make of this? Comparing it to the original days because (at that stage) it was only me of the three.
But for me, it was all about revisiting the Jam songs. It’s what I really wanted to do. I remember going through the list at the last concert and thinking I’m never going to play these songs again. So it was always in my mind. But I thought, bollocks I’m going to do it. I scratched that itch.