on 16 January 2017
The world of "Setting Sons".....good and bad:
So, it's November 1979. There's no internet. No YouTube. No Facebook or Twitter. No Amazon. No computer gaming. Kids played with physically existent toys and games. No domestic computers what so ever. No DVDs. Not even any domestic video player / recorders yet. No mobile phones. No iPods, iPads or MP3 players. Not even any Walkman yet! Many households had no land line telephones. Not many had central heating or double glazing. Only big, cathode ray, t.v sets. Radiograms and transistor radios. Even though most households had indoor toilets most houses still had toilets in the backyard as well. Parents still felt confident enough to allow their kids to go and and play unsupervised. You were paid in cash not via your bank account. The post came twice a day. The milkman delivered the milk......in glass bottles.....with foil tops.
No political spin. To be a "celebrity" you had to be famous for actually "doing something" of note. No C.G.I. No P.P.I. No CCTV. No cold calling, nuisance phone calls. Car engines could generally be maintained and fixed by their owners. Very little political correctness. Society was still largely none litigious: people were understood to "make mistakes". "Human error" still existed. Three channels on the television and so notable programming was usually watched by the majority. You could still see white dog dirt in the street ( what was this? Where did it come from and where did it go?!?). Many houses still used coal fires and so there would be an ever present scent of burning wood and fossil fuels in the air. Cars were not owned by everyone but, for those that did, they consisted primarily of Austins, Fords, Vauxhalls and Triumphs. These cars smelt of warm (often cracked and split) leatherette, petrol and oil and not air fresheners. You could still find parking. Most people travelled by buses. (Some had regular seats!). Gun crime happened maybe once every 3 or 4 years, and would only be in London. There was comparatively little knife crime. There were no "no go" estates. There were dozens and dozens of pubs and cinemas in every town. ABC minors, dancing classes and Boy Scouts.
No designer clothes: pop stars (excluding "Megastars" and London trendies) and fans alike bought and wore clothes purely for their "look" rather than their brands and so it didn't matter whether they had come from the King's Road, Marks And Spencer or the local market. The barber cut your hair and you had only three or four styles you could chose from. There were corner shops, butchers, bakers, green grocers etc, along with - and sometimes instead of, - the first supermarkets. High streets were healthy. There was little "Health and Safety" so, even though people tended to have more pride in maintaining shop fronts and premises, they could quite often be grubby as well - even food retail outlets! Men didn't wear deodorant. There were no more than three or four commonly worn aftershaves and these were only used on a night out at the local working men's club or local pub. There were still rooms in pubs and clubs that were "men only". Digital watches and calculators were the new and trendy "in" items. You had community bobbies on push bikes who everyone knew and who knew you. If you were a kid everyone could (and, often did) hit you: from parents, to teachers, to neighbours, to the police and the vicar! Casual (not extremist) racism and sexism was "the norm". You knew most, if not all, of your neighbours and were in and out of each other's houses. Neighbours would look after each other's kids. Extended family's were not unusual. The TV started daily around 10:00am.....if you were lucky. The T.V shut down daily around midnight.......if you were lucky. Pubs opened at 11:00am daily and legally had to shut again between 3:00pm and 7:00pm. You could only buy take out alcohol from a registered Off Licence.
Working class communities still existed and were tightly bound. The working class generally lived in terraced streets or council houses not sink estates. There were street parties and street charabanc trips to seaside towns. Whole families congregated in the back streets in the summer to sunbathe and natter. There were few if any domestic washing machines or tumble driers: washing was hung on communal washing lines across the backstreets to dry. There were manners because you'd run the risk of being smacked if you were rude or ignorant: (child or adult) and no one would object to this. You could still purchase half penny and penny sweets from corner shops. Paper shops (newsagents to you) made and sold their own tuppeny ice blocks without environmental health getting involved. Chip shops sold their goods wrapped in yesterday's newspaper without environmental health getting involved. There were two and a half penny coins. There were very, very few hard drug users or addicts and those there were usually came from the extremes of society: (outsiders, bohemians or rock stars) and not from the unemployed rank and file of the working class. Alcohol was the drug of abuse and dependence for those members of the working class whose proclivities lead this way.
Working class youth culture was divided into either the varying cults surrounding the music scene or into sports fans. That was it. You rarely "crossed the streams" of musical genre: if you were a Punk and found yourself liking a single by say, Rainbow, you kept it to yourself! Accordingly, nothing was homogenised into a wholesale, one stop shop, "entertainment industry" - it went deeper than this! Bands had to sell in the hundreds of thousands to even get in the charts. Bands existed that people based their lives on! You bought your music as either vinyl, cassette (or maybe 8 track) from either the local independent record shop (run by enthusiasts) or from the likes of Woolworths. Even shops that had nothing to do with music as a prime concern: furniture stores, iron mongers etc, would have record sections. If your favourite band was going to be on t.v (a rare event!): - which primarily meant Top of the Pops or The Old Grey Whistle Test, - it was essential viewing; you looked forward to it all week, insured you stayed in to watch and committed every nuance to sacred memory. The music papers were eagerly awaited each week and sold in massive amounts. There were no "retrospective" style mags like "Mojo" as everything was still happening. Everyone listened to John Peel. If you lived in a town that didn't have a decent independent record shop or good book shop, you had to either use the mail order companies (such as "Adrian's" or "Small Wonder") that advertised in the weekly music mag back pages or save up and make regular pilgrimages into the nearest city for bulk purchases....again, there was NO AMAZON. Pepe black jeans. Monkey boots. Harrington jackets. 8 hole Doc Martens and Rucannor baseball boots. Hanging around on street corners and running from the local boot boys. Farah. Sta Press. Dog Tooth check. Fred Perry.
BBC tv stage sets were clunky and wobbled. You could now generate better fx on your mobile phone than was seen on the likes of Dr. Who. London Weekend Television. Anglia. Starsky and Hutch, The Six Million Dollar Man and Play For Today. Rock culture was an actual culture: the artists needed to have something to say, believe in what they were saying and be held accountable should they be, "God forbid", found wanting. Bands consisted of (largely working class) kids who scrimped equipment together, rehearsed in sheds and cut their teeth on pub gigs. Accordingly bands didn't consist of kids who had gone to Stage Schools and, directed by vocal coaches and invested parents, "planned for careers". There was still a generation gap. Parents were generally alienated by, hostile to and disparaging of their kids' obsession with pop and rock. Every week there were more and more new singles, eps and albums to buy. Every second week there was a great new band. New independent labels sprang up once monthly who's every release was a must have.
There was probably only two biographies of The Beatles, one on Dylan and Punk Rock had no "Standard Text"!
Jimmy Saville and Stuart Hall seemingly had a blind eye turned to them! The SUS laws and institutional police corruption. Labour was Labour, the Tories were Tories and the Liberal Party was still irrelevant. The National Front had gained ground. Thatcher was starting her assault on the post war consensus and undermining the social contract. Adidas trainers. Gola bags. Beetle Crushers were your dream shoes! Who the hell had ever heard of childhood obesity? London Calling, The Raven, Machinegun Etiquette. Blue Peter. Crackerjack, Grange Hill and Jackanory. The first from The Bunnymen. The first from The Teardrops. METAL BOX. We didn't have "alcoholics" we had "drunks". We didn't have Paedophiles we had "kiddy Fiddlers". The Guardian hadn't picked up on Rock culture yet and turned it into a "heritage" product: mainstream culture still regarded the form as something by and for kids and, thus, unimportant. The culture was therefore ALIVE! Football hooliganism at more or less every fixture. The nearest we had to junk food was Fish and Chips or a pie. It was generally much more casually violent than now. The "comb over" was still regularly seen. Action Man and Corgi. Unions still had clout. Old English Cider. Breaker. Harp lager. Watkins Party 7. C.B Radio. Community Centre discos. Badges and patches. Stitched on beer mats. Tom Jones and Johnny Cash weren't respected artists. MARVEL COMICS.
The working class went to Butlins or to a caravan park on holiday not to the Algarve. Individuality was encouraged. Americanisation was frowned upon. There were no artificial sweeteners or skimmed milk. No good fats and bad fats. Water came out of the tap not in a bottle. Everybody smoked and smoked everywhere. Embassy No 6 blue. Singles cost 50p. Albums cost £4. Live or double albums were considered a bit old fashioned and "la di da". Standardised homophobia. Kids were allowed to be kids and not expected to be planning for the future from the age of thirteen. "U" and "X" rated films. Pensioners weren't attacked. Nurses weren't regarded as suspect. The NHS had enough beds. You could get an appt with your GP the same day. Your mother would take your trousers in. How big can you get the knot in your school tie? Studs and sleepers (lads: in one ear only). Going Underground. Thick as Thieves. Burning Skies.
This is The Jam's best album for my taste and this world I have outlined above is the world the album both inhabits and discusses. If you weren't alive at the time therefore, you won't thoroughly "get it" in anything other than an intellectual manner or understand what a fantastic piece of social reflection is to be found within these songs. You will still, however, be able to be thoroughly grabbed by the strength of the songs, the performance, lyrics and production here. This music is an exciting and mature collection.
Weller was 21 years old when he wrote these songs.
This review could actually also apply to "All Mod Cons", "Sound Affects" or "The Gift" ( indeed, it could also be posted as a review of contemporaneous records by The Clash). However, it was with "Setting Sons" (and the singles post "All Mod Cons") that Weller's writing first became truly "National" in its suburban concerns and thus, representative of working class youth across the entire country rather than just regionalised to the south of England. This band truly did mean so much to people of my generation because they perfectly captured this world I've written about above. Importantly, Weller WAS us, albeit a "cool" us, in great clothes and shoes and with an enviable talent.
Originally conceived as a concept album regarding two friends as they grew, this scheme for "Setting Sons" was abandoned part way through as Weller ran out of writing time. That he did run out of time doesn't detract from the final product however. I understand Weller is happier with "Sound Affects" and that is indeed also a fantastic album, but, as I've said, this is the one for me. Ive got to say, I don't own this version of the album but own everything on it across other, previous digital releases as well as my original vinyl of course. If, like me, you do already own all the material herein, then there possibly isn't much point in purchasing this version from what I can see - unless you want the packaging or are a completist. If you're new to The Jam though, Start! here and "Dig The (once) New Breed".