Having released four albums in two and a half years, The Jam had become one of the most prolific – and insightful – bands of the late 70s. By the time Setting Sons came out, on November 16, 1979, they had developed far beyond their initial punk/mod revivalist beginnings and were beginning to explore ever more ambitious themes in their work, with frontman Paul Weller stepping out as the new wave’s answer to The Kinks’ Ray Davies.
The only single to be released from the album, “The Eton Rifles” recounted events of June 1978, when a fight erupted in Slough between Right To Work marchers and Eton pupils. Reaching No. 3 in the UK – the group’s highest placement yet – it epitomized Weller’s knack for putting social commentary to catchy tunes. The song was initially part of a broader patchwork, as Weller had intended for Setting Sons to be a concept album of sorts, telling the story of three friends who, after having gone their separate ways and lived through a war, reunite only to discover how much they’ve changed. The concept didn’t survive to the end stages, yet the album remains a high-water mark in The Jam’s career.
Almost a year after Setting Sons was released the group were on stage at Newcastle City Hall, on October 28, 1980, showing fans how much they had changed in the preceding months. With their forthcoming album, Sound Affects, just a month away, The Jam tore through all but two of the then-unknown songs (curiously leaving future classic “That’s Entertainment” off the setlist), revealing the even more ambitious sonic palette they were working with. The album’s nods towards British psych and Weller’s beloved R&B rightly took the group to No. 2 in the UK charts.
That Newcastle gig was recorded for posterity, offering fans an unparalleled insight into the band’s development at this crucial time in their career.
Setting Sons can be bought here.