Russell Hastings, guitarist and front man with From The Jam, chats with Kevin Cooper about the death of Ranking Roger, an acoustic tour with Glenn Tilbrook, buying Bruce Foxton a steam iron for Christmas, and their forthcoming tour to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Jam’s Setting Sons.

Russell Hastings is the guitarist and front man with From The Jam. He has been working with Bruce Foxton since 2007, and has been the only front man to work with both Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton since Paul Weller split The Jam in 1982.

Performing The Jam’s music with Bruce Foxton for a longer period than Paul Weller did, his passion and understanding of The Jam’s history is second to none and he has toured the world playing their music to packed houses.

With Bruce Foxton, Hastings has co-written two albums, the first, Back In The Room and their 2015 release, Smash The Clock.

Whilst busy preparing to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of The Jam’s 1979 album, Setting Sons, Hastings took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good afternoon Russell how are you today?

I’m very well Kevin thanks, how are you?

I’m good thank you and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure mate, no problem at all.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is treating me very well actually. I was just thinking how good life is. Here I am sitting in the sun down in Portsmouth and its lovely. So yes, things are good.

I have to say that it is great to finally get to speak to you because I usually end up speaking to that other bloke, the one who plays the bass a bit. Do you know who I mean? (laughter).

(Laughter) I think I know who you mean. Well, what can I say, you have got me today.

It will nice to put a different perspective on things.

And don’t worry, that will stay between you and me, for now (laughter).

Thanks for that (laughter). Well, I suppose that we had better speak about the forthcoming Setting Sons 40th Anniversary Tour hadn’t we?

That would be good (laughter).

Are you looking forward to it?

Yes, I am, I really am. Me and the bloke who plays the bass were listening to the album a couple of days ago now, running through the songs again whilst driving thinking which ones we must work on, songs such as Wasteland which we don’t play that often. I can’t even remember the last time that we played that track. Having said that these are exciting times when we are able to go out and play Setting Sons in its entirety. Bruce (Foxton) and I were laughing the other day thinking that surely it can’t be forty years since the album was released. Bruce just looked at me and said, “who would have thought it”.

And I understand that there will be a rather special support act out on the road with you?

That’s right, The Vapors will be opening for us on most of the dates on the tour which will be great because they were there forty years ago, which funnily enough, I saw that tour. I saw The Vapors on the Setting Sons Tour at the Portsmouth Guildhall and The Top Rank in Brighton. So, as you can imagine it is an exciting time also because touring in the winter has its benefits; it gives you something exciting to get your teeth into and helps you to forget about the winter, and prior to that we are going over to Australia, New Zealand and Japan. When we get back to the UK, we get ten days off and then we start the tour on 10th October at the Dorking Halls and as I have said, Bruce and I are excited about it.

The fans have their favourite Jam albums. It is one of my favourite albums of the time. It also did a lot for me at the time and I would have to say that it is certainly up there with Sound Affects for me and All Mod Cons of course. We are excited about it and looking forward to doing it.

What can I say, it’s a hard life but you have sold me on it (laughter).

Oh good (laughter). We are very lucky. Bruce flew off on holiday to Italy this morning, as we are currently having ten days off after having had already a busy year. Please don’t get me wrong as it is great for me to be able to say that, and we never take that for granted. We are one of the busiest bands out there and tend to be permanently out on the road, but we do manage to get some family time. As I said Bruce is on his way to Italy as we speak, I’m not as I have got things to do at home and for me it will be lovely to just be relaxing at home. Let’s just say that it is the calm before the storm (laughter).

Will you be playing the album as it was originally recorded, or will you be dipping in and out of it throughout the night?

We will be playing the album as it was originally recorded from the very first telephone ring on Girl On The Phone to the very last flute on Wasteland. It’s funny really because Bruce and I were trying to work out what the instrument was on Wasteland that is playing the melody line and it’s the flute. In fact, it was Paul (Weller) who played the flute on that track. When I first met Paul many years ago Bruce introduced me to him in the studio. When Bruce and I walked in Paul answered the door with a flute in his hand. And I have to say that he looked a bit like Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull to be honest (laughter).

That image and sight really made me laugh. Having been fortunate to work and record with Paul, I have to say that he works very fast, he throws a lot of mud at the walls and most of it sticks. He is always coming up with such great ideas, and I really was surprised at just how fast Paul works. I suppose that over the years he has recorded a lot of stuff, and he really does have some great ideas.

Paul played on your album, Smash The Clocks didn’t he, how was that?

That’s right, he did, and in fact Paul played the flute on one of the tracks on the album called Window Shopping. It was great to not only work and record with Paul, but it was great for me to stand and watch him at work. He really did put some nice icing on the cake on two of our albums; Smash The Clock and Back In The Room.

On the subject of you playing the album in its entirety, that seems to be normal practice now for many bands but if my memory serves me correctly wasn’t it The Stranglers and yourselves who started that trend?

Yes, I think it was, it most probably was. I was speaking to JJ (Jean-Jacques Burnel) last year at one of the festivals and they were out performing their Black And White album I think it was, and then Ocean Colour Scene and everybody now goes out and performs an album in its entirety. I have to say that it is very strange playing an album as it was originally recorded because when you can select a set list, you select the set list because you think that it is going to do what it needs to do in the order that it does. So, when you play Setting Sons or any album in chronological order, it always feels weird whenever you play it out of order.

You are always hoping that the album was recorded, and tracks were placed in the correct order, when it was first recorded if that makes sense. So, playing it in its entirety is a very exciting thing to do. You have got Eaton Rifles on there, Girl On The Phone, Smithers-Jones, in fact there really were some great little corkers on there. A few years ago, I was speaking to Vic Smith who produced the album and I have to say that Vic was a massive part of the sound of that album and the whole Jam sound really. It was interesting for me to get his take on the album at the time. He is a nice fella, a bit of a mad professor and he wouldn’t mind me saying that. Vic looks like Doc Brown from Back To The Future (laughter).

Both Bruce and Rick (Buckler) told me some funny stories about how they once set light to his cheesecloth shirt in the studio while he had his back to them. There were lots of things going on in the old days, and every so often Bruce would tell me about things that had happened. I will sometimes ask Bruce “what are your memories of recording the Setting Sons album” and he said to me the other day “I can remember Paul always being there in the Townhouse Studios and that there were a lot of very late nights because me and Rick would spend a lot of time working each other’s parts out, particularly on Wasteland and Burning Sky, so that when Paul came in the next day we were able to get it down onto tape”. It’s interesting for me to get Bruce’s take on it as well.

And of course, we also have Russell Hastings does Motown because Heatwave is on there too.

(Laughter) that’s right, what can I say except thanks for reminding me. What a great track, and in fact we played that track a couple of weeks ago now at a Let’s Rock Festival in Sunderland and yes, it is just a great track that swings and if you can get the tempo right it really does put a smile on everyone’s face. I’m like you, I love Motown and I wrote the track Now The Time Has Come which funnily enough was a single off the Smash The Clock album. We put the brass section on there and I have to say that it was very Motown influenced. Around that time, I was also listening to a lot of old Graham Parker stuff and you really can’t go wrong with that Motown vibe.

When Paul, Bruce and Rick were at the Townhouse recording A Town Called Malice, Phil Collins was in the next studio recording You Can’t Hurry Love and I always ask “okay, which one nicked the riff then” because one of them did (laughter). I can always remember Rick saying “I came into the studio and there was a magnum of Champagne in the drum room where Phil Collins had borrowed my drum kit”. Rock and roll mouthwash as they used to call it (laughter).

Is there any one particular track from Settings Sons that you are really looking forward to performing?

Yes, there is, and that would be Burning Sky. I was running it through funnily enough with my son this morning, and we both agreed that it is such a beautifully written song. It has such a great story to it; the whole song is a letter really and I think that it is so cleverly written. And as most of the songs on there, songs like Thick As Thieves, that song is a favourite of ours to play and I personally feel that Wasteland is just a beautiful song with lyrics that include, ‘and there amongst the shit, the dirty linen, the holy Coca-Cola tins, the punctured footballs, the ragged dolls, the rusting bicycles, we’ll sit and probably hold hands, and watch the rain fall, watch it, watch it’. It is such a beautifully written song.

Paul was very good at describing what he saw around him, in such a clever way and not an overly clever way at such a young age. Whenever I listen to that song now in my opinion its sounds as fresh today as it ever did.

Can you and Bruce believe just how popular and relevant From The Jam have become?

I must be totally honest with you and say no. When we first started, we weren’t sure how long it was going to last at all, and we often talk about this. We know that the tour in Australia is completely sold out now, Japan and Hong King are both just about to sell out, which is great especially when you take on board the fact that they are gigs outside of this country. The UK leg of the tour is almost sold out so really that is a testament to the strength of the songs from that period. Also the way that it has been portrayed now, means we are not treading on anybody’s toes doing it. It is a very difficult thing for somebody to come in and, I’m not going to use the word take Paul’s place because I would never dream about taking Paul’s place, which is not what my intentions are. What I will say is that I have now got the position which Paul held on stage, if that is the right way of putting it.

I have put my own spin on things because I very rarely think of Paul, only when I might bump into him, or see him via some friends, or something like that. I go out there and do what I do, and Bruce does what he does so I regard myself as being one of the cogs in the wheel which enables From The Jam to happen. That is the humble way, I think, of describing it. The fans love it, they have welcomed me with open arms, and I will be eternally grateful for that. The fans have been wonderful to me. I would have been extremely sceptical if anybody had said what they were going to do. So in answer to your question, yes it does surprise us, especially the intensity and the passion of the fans that they keep coming and coming, filling the venues which is wonderful.

Having said all of that, has Paul ever given the band his seal of approval?

I personally don’t think that Paul would give anything his seal of approval (laughter). Paul has been great; he is always very friendly, he has got his thing that is going on and I really don’t think that he cares too much about what we are doing, except when he asks how busy we are, where we are playing, and he knows that it is a working environment that we find ourselves in, the same as he does. I can remember a great conversation that Paul, Bruce and myself were once having, and I said, “are you busy next year Paul?” and he replied “well, I am not really that busy at the moment, how about you lads, are you busy?” Bruce said “yes we are busy at the moment” to which Paul replied “well, we have all got bills to pay man”.

Your bills are paid by whatever it is that you do for a living, and this is what we do for a living. I don’t think that Paul would ever give anything his seal of approval publicly. Paul and Bruce are constantly getting bashed with the same old question; do you think that The Jam will ever get back together, and it has been a question that Paul has had to bat off for many, many years. I think that he does it well actually.

The nice thing is, the last time that I spoke to Bruce, he and Paul had been to look around the Jam exhibition together.

Do you know what, I followed them around and that really was a beautiful moment for me. I watched Paul looking at himself on stage in the video and he stood there on his own. I just stood there watching Paul watching himself. That really was a surreal moment, it really was nice. It was lovely because all that stuff was like a whirlwind to them; it all happened so quickly. Bruce will tell you that, and his funny comment is “was I really in that band” (laughter). Whenever I ask Bruce what he can remember about those days he will look at me and say, “I really don’t remember that much at all”. You must remember that Bruce was only nineteen years old when all of this was happening. Bruce joined the band at nineteen and they got signed when he was just twenty. Even harder to believe is that Paul was only eighteen. Everything happened so quickly over that five-year period.

Two years ago, you released From The Jam Live! which received some fantastic reviews. Were you happy with it?

Yes, we were, we were very happy, very happy indeed. It captured exactly where we were at and what we were doing at that specific moment in time. We didn’t really do much to it other than mixing it at Paul’s studio. We didn’t do any repairs to the album; I didn’t go down to the studio to do any repairs on the vocals, so all in all we were very pleased with it. I personally feel that album really did capture what we are all about really.

And moving on from there, are there any thoughts on a new studio album?

Yes, there is. Bruce and I have got lots of ideas that are knocking around. With the technology available in the iPhone, you just place it on the side and play a few riffs and let me tell you, we have got lots of those (laughter). The biggest problem is trying to work out some studio time really. At this point with all the touring ahead I would guess that it will be the early part of 2021 when Bruce and I will manage to get into the studio.

I know that Bruce was a fan of PledgeMusic because he thought that it bought you and the fans closer together. Were you one of the unlucky ones who got burnt when the company went under?

Luckily no we didn’t. We had nothing to do with them at that time. We were very lucky in that respect. However, I do know that a lot of bands suffered through PledgeMusic’s demise and it is just a huge shame that happened really.

You and Bruce have been out on the road playing some acoustic dates. Will we be seeing that happening again soon?

Yes, you will, and again, that is something that will be happening sometime early next year. It should be good as we are currently having talks with our old mate Glenn Tilbrook to see if he would like to join us on an acoustic tour. So hopefully it will be Glenn and us on the road, bashing out some of the classics from that period. We are looking at getting that together for next April and May.

If you had to pick just one, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Oh blimey, where did that come from (laughter). There have been many, but I think that flying into Los Angeles with Rick and Bruce and then going around New York must be a highlight. Playing The Hammersmith Apollo in London a few years ago now, places like that, The Brighton Centre, they all create some massive memories. When I find myself sitting on my own and think of all of the highlights and moments that I have had, I think to myself if someone had told me thirty-five years ago that I would have done all of this then I would have thought that there was more of a chance of an alien spaceship landing on my head (laughter).

It has all been one great big fantastic journey and I must tell you that I truly feel lucky. Bruce and I have had a wonderful friendship come out of all of this, and he would be the first to say that. The two of us think alike; we really are telepathic around each other and I think that comes over when we are on stage as well.

The last time that I spoke to Bruce it was leading up to Christmas, so I obviously had to ask him a couple of cheesy questions, so I asked him what was the worst Christmas present that he had ever received…

…(Laughter) I know exactly where you are going with this…I know exactly what you are going to say.

…without any hesitation Bruce said “that has to be when Russell bought me a steam iron” (laughter).

I know (laughter). It wasn’t a Rolex watch that year it was a steam iron. I thought ‘we all need to iron man’ and let me tell you, it was a good iron (laughter). Don’t pooh pooh it, it was a great steam iron. I have bought Bruce a few things in the past, watches, guitars, and then you end up thinking what would be practical and so I bought him a steam iron. The look on his face was fantastic (laughter). I must tell you that for my fiftieth birthday Bruce bought me a Rickenbacker twelve string George Harrison V63 which really was remarkable. It was amazing getting something like that from him.

What was it like for you being able to play with The Colonel, Mr Steve Cropper?

That was simply amazing. Steve is seen standing next to me in the video. There was Bruce to my right, Steve Cropper to my left, and it was just one big picture. It was great because Steve would tell me stories about John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Neil Young. It was great because I ended up being in the car with him. There were just the two of us as I was dropping him off somewhere, and I had a sixty-minute journey with him. You just think ‘wow man, this man is a proper star’. It was amazing and Steve was a legend, a very sweet man. That really was a big moment for me.

What was the first record that you bought?

The very first record that I bought was Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by The Beatles in 1968.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

Don’t laugh but that was The Darts (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That was Adagio For Strings by Samuel Barber.

The last time that I photographed you was a couple of years ago now and you were being supported by The Beat featuring the late Ranking Roger who sadly passed away on 26th March 2019 at the age of fifty-six. What wonderful memories.

That was very sad news when I heard that Roger had passed away. I spoke to Roger just a few days prior to his passing and I have to say that he was one of the nicest people that I personally had ever met. I sat next to Roger on a flight a few years ago now when we were coming back from Jersey, and I remember him saying “Russell, you have got to do some recording with me man” and believe me when I tell you that he really was a beautiful character. I’m not just saying that; there are some people in life that you miss, and Ranking Roger was just a lovely man. I was blown away when I got the news. I couldn’t believe it. Roger is a great loss. I just hope that Ranking Jnr carries on doing what they were doing.

On that note Russell, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. Take care and I will see you November.

Thank you very much Kevin, we will speak soon. Bye for now.