This Christmas I received a copy of the Setting Sons Super Deluxe box set. Thankfully it was half price (full price would be somewhat excessive, regardless of the quality of the package, for an album I already own in CD and vinyl).
The package consists of the album and associated singles/b-sides, a CD of demo material, a previously unreleased live recording from the 'Setting Sons' tour (Brighton Centre 15th December 1979, soon to be released in its own right I understand) and a DVD of relevant videos.
But just to consider the album itself......
Originally conceived as a concept album only a handful of the songs that made the final cut are related ('Thick As Thieves', 'Little Boy Soldiers', Burning Sky' and 'Wasteland' which describe how the solid friendships of the teenage years can fall apart in adulthood as personalities and aspirations change with the passing of time - 'Some bonds severed and others made').
The Jam were at a precarious point in their career at the time of 'Setting Sons'. The mod revival was in full swing in 1979, thanks in no small part to The Jam themselves, but bands who become aligned with faddish musical movements often fall down with them as soon as the mood changes and the music press decide on the next big thing. The Jam were too good and too important a band to suffer such a fate. 'Setting Sons' has plenty of mod reference points across its two sides however, The quality of the social observation in the song writing can be compared very favourably with that of Ray Davies. 'Saturday's Kids' is both a celebration and a scathing critique of the lives of working class kids (of whom Weller himself was one) who gravitated towards the revived mod scene of '79/'80. There's also a cover of Matha Reeves and the Vandellas Motown classic 'Heatwave' on there (..... and perhaps it shouldn't be in the sense that it is an uncomfortable fit with the rest of the material).
The gulf between the unemployed working class and the privileged young elite of the British public school system in the austere climate in the UK in the late 1970's is described in 'The Eton Rifles'. Young unemployed marchers on a Right to Work demonstration in 1978 clashed with members of the Eton College Cadet Corps who abused the marchers in nearby Slough. Hilariously, when PM David Cameron, an old Etonian (and member of the Cadet Corps) stated 'The Eton Rifles' to be one of his favourite songs, Weller responded thus "Which part of it didn't he get? It wasn't intended as a jolly drinking song for the cadet corps."
My highlight on the album is undoubtedly 'Little Boy Soldiers', a complex piece of several distinct parts, much like that other favourite 'Down In The Sewer'. It describes a disillusioned young soldiers disdain of the establishment figures who sent him off to fight for Queen and Country.
"These days I find that I can't be bothered,
These days I find that its all too much,
To pick up a gun and shoot a stranger,
But I've got no choice so here I come - war games."
The song closes with the devastating lines:
"These days I find that I can't be bothered,
To argue with them well what's the point,
Better to take your shots and drop down dead,
then they send you home in a pine overcoat
With a letter to your mum
Saying find enclosed one son - one medal and a note -
to say he won."
Followed by a thunderous piano chord that unashamedly nods to the Beatles 'A Day In The Life'.
There's not a duff track on 'Setting Sons', with the possible exception of the aforementioned 'Heatwave'.... not a bad track but misplaced on the album. The intensity and claustrophobia of 'Private Hell' and the cynicism contained in 'Burning Sky' belie that fact that the principal songwriter was only 21 years old!
Few recordings exist from the 'Setting Sons' tour. The Rainbow and now the Brighton Centre gigs in December 1979 are both official releases. This recording from Park West, Chicago in March of the following year features a 'Setting Sons' heavy set. It is an upgrade from the show previously uploaded here (with a dead link), but ''A' Bomb in Wardour Street' is missing.
01. Saturday’s Kids
02. Burning Sky
03. Thick As Thieves
04. It’s Too Bad
05. Going Underground
06. Mr Clean
07. Butterfly Collector
08. Private Hell
09. Little Boy Soldiers
11.The Dreams Of Children
12. To Be Someone
13. The Eton Rifles
14. Strange Town
15. When You’re Young
16. Down In A Tube Station At Midnight
17. Girl On The ‘Phone
18. All Mod Cons
19. David Watts (fades out)
'The St John's Ambulance Bearers' by Benjamin Clemens (1919)
Imperial War Museum