80s new wave, punk, rock, mod, difficult-to-assign-a-genre-to band, The Jam have finally got a retrospective devoted to them. About the Young Idea is a journey through their inception, inspiration, impact, fan culture, politics and style. It’s also about Paul Weller, the charismatic don’t-give-an-expletive lead singer, lead guitarist and visionary and how he propelled them from Woking to the rest of the world.
The exhibition is curated using a predominantly chronological structure but begins somewhere in the middle (contrary to what you just read…) as you walk past the gift shop (isn’t that supposed to be at the end...) and round into a room where a live performance from The Jam is being projected at the back of a stage filled with lonely musician-less instruments and multi-coloured flashing lights. There is a sense of history repeated as you can see the instruments that are on stage are the same ones in the live performance, but that novelty wears off quite quickly and it’s generally very difficult to engage with. A projection of a live performance with better sound in a dark room would have been more effective.
Luckily it gets interesting very quickly in the next room with a selection of Paul Weller’s school reports, a fanzine he published and drawings with multiple references to The Jam imagery. Reading through these artefacts of Weller’s past you begin to build an understanding of where The Jam came from, it becomes obvious that Paul himself was planning to launch the band from an early age. The next room is full of memorabilia from early gigs, not long after the band formed at Sheerwater Secondary School. It shows how they very quickly worked their way up the bill at gigs in Woking, Croydon and London, alongside bands like The Stranglers.
After a quick look at a cabinet full of mod clothing – pointy shoes and slick, oversized suits – guests are treated to charming fan letters from all over the world featuring a particularly moving letter from a Liverpudlian who asks the band how he can become a member of a club the band has frequented and if they would be so kind as to attach their autographs. Then there’s the customary glass cabinet full of The Jams’ shiny guitars and a series of box TVs staked up playing another live performance which seems a bit like they shoved it in there to fill the space. The exhibition ends appropriately with a series of photos and newspaper clippings of The Jam touring around the world and a section detailing why they bowed out at the top.
About the Young Idea is an authentic-feeling exhibition detailing everything you’d want to know about The Jam featuring authentic artefacts and memorabilia. A must-see for you're a fan of The Jam and/or 70s-80s British music, but difficult to engage with if not – which is perhaps down to a lack of nuanced, artful curation which would draw the character out of the subject matter and make it into a story which everyone can relate to.