Modfather Plays The Stuff Of Dreams
Tuesday 29 Jul, 2008
From 7 Days – UAE
Those of a certain age would have first clapped eyes on Paul Weller performing his debut single ‘In The City’, aged just 18. That was 1977, and punk was in full swing. Noisy, skinny youths were everywhere, but there was something special about this particular angry young man.Weller had more to say than merely taking a swipe at the Monarchy, as the Sex Pistols did that same year, and The Jam’s songs would go on to tackle small-town mentalities, the monotony of nine-to-five jobs and other universal themes of love and life.Wrapped in timeless pop melodies and an energetic mass of guitar, bass and drums, Weller’s songs came from the suburbs south of London but spoke to the everyman all over the country – so much so that by the time he controversially disbanded The Jam at the height of their fame in 1982, they’d become one of the biggest-selling and passionately supported British groups since The Beatles.
Performing in London earlier this year, just weeks after his 50th birthday, nothing seems to have changed.Weller may have filled out from that scrawny teen of ‘77, but he’s has lost none of the aggression that made him stand out 30 years ago.But what would the teenage Weller make of the 50-year-old version? “I had no vision or concept of being 50 whatsoever,” he says, smiling. “When I was 18 I thought life stopped after 25.“I don’t suppose I ever really thought about that sort of thing, and I’ve never had chance to stop and think since, I’ve just kept on going. “The next landmark is 60,” he adds, with a faint look of horror.
After Weller folded The Jam, he formed The Style Council. A Mod to the core, he’d always worn his influences on his sleeve while in the former band – The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Beatles and The Who – but The Style Council saw him experiment with more continental music and themes; French house, funk, soul and jazz.
The band broke up in the late 80s when their label refused to release house music experiment, ‘Modernism: A New Decade’.
Then came the solo career, and a few years where Paul steadfastly ignored fan requests at live shows to play hits from his illustrious back-catalogue.It may have infuriated his loyal followers at the time, but the decision paid off and made people take his solo music more seriously.When he finally decided to dust down some classics for 2001 live acoustic album ‘Days Of Speed’, the reaction was understandably one of mild hysteria.“I made that decision with ‘Days Of Speed’ because playing the songs in that way, stripped down and acoustic, it was just me and the songs,” he admits. “I did try playing [The Jam’s 1980 No.1 single] ‘Going Underground’ recently, but it didn’t work and I didn’t feel it at all. I don’t think I’ll ever play that again. That’s not to say I don’t like the song, but it didn’t feel right.”Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that following Weller’s acknowledgement of his past work has come arguably his most fruitful period as a solo artist.“Maybe that’s true,” he ponders. “I am more comfortable with myself these days, but that comes with age as well as anything else.”
Age has been a big talking point for the Woking-born songwriter this year. As previously mentioned, he turned 50 in May, and despite all the attention and press articles examining his half-century so far, Weller believes he got off lightly.“I thought people would make even more of a deal of it,” he laughs, checking his intricate feather-cut hair, one of his trademarks, is still in place. “It is monumental, though, I’d be lying if I said anything different,” he continues. “I don’t think any differently to what I did 20 years ago when I was in my thirties… “I’m still doing the same things, making music, playing live, so nothing’s changed much apart from my body’s falling apart.”
Current album ‘22 Dreams’ has been hailed by many critics as Weller’s finest solo album. It’s a double album – a brave move in times when many commentators believe the ‘album’ format to be dead – and sees The Modfather, as he hates being called, experiment with free-form jazz, spoken-word, psychedelic rock and traditional folk.So how does a man who’s released 20 albums react to such wild praise?“It’s great, I mean I prefer people to like my records than not like them, but I suppose it confirms what I already thought about ‘22 Dreams’ anyway,” he says.“I thought it was a very special record… although I wasn’t sure how people were going to react to it.“This time last year I was 49 and thought ‘I’m going to be 50 next year, I’m going to make the most indulgent record I can possibly make,’ and I did.”
Dubai Desert Rhythm takes place on Oct 31 and Nov 1. www.desertrhythmfestival.com