Review 12: Left me standing like a guilty schoolboy


Setting Sons
The Jam
Nominated by Andy Blake

This is lads talking to lads. There’s no ‘I’m sorry, please love me’ songs on Setting Sons, no trying to impress the girls.

The songs are tribal – I’ve read this was originally conceived as a concept album about three friends who go to fight in a war. And it is angry, and hostile, and sneering about the suburbs they want to escape.

Eton Rifles is the stand-out track – with the brilliant chorus line:
‘What a catalyst you turned out to be:
Loaded the guns, then you run off home for your tea
Left me standing like a guilty schoolboy’

But  the other tracks are interesting too – Girl on the Phone is funny (a one-night stand who remembers a lot more than he did?), Thick as Thieves is full of nostalgia (But we seemed to grow up in a flash of time, While we watched our ideals helplessly unwind), and Saturday’s Kids … live in council houses, Wear v-necked shirts and baggy trousers. A life very neatly sliced up into class divides? Pitying both the trapped commuter in Smithers-Jones and those baggy trousered kids?

I feel contractually obliged to mention the Winter of Discontent and Thatcher coming to power in 1979, when the album was released. But I’ll stop there, because I was only 8 and I’d be getting well out of my depth.

And I’m just a bit young to place this album. Boys were ‘dressers’ and ‘casuals’ in their Kappa jackets when I was a teenager.  The Mods had moved on by then – shame, I think I would have liked the sharp suits.

And I can picture those boys dancing to this, cool but bouncy, sharp elbows and fierce expressions. It’s good music.

The album cover shows three ‘boys’ brought together as St John’s Ambulance Bearers, a bronze statue cast in 1919 by Benjamin Clemens. In 2007 at least, this was the only way the statue could be seen, because it was kept in the archive of the Imperial War Museum. I haven’t had the chance to check, but wonder if it’s surfaced in this First World War centenary year.

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