All Weller And Good From The Modfather
Aug 1 2008 By Andy Welsh (Birmingham Mail.net)
THOSE of a certain age would have first clapped eyes on Paul Weller performing debut single In The City on Top Of The Pops, 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 mundanity of nine-to-five jobs and various 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 every man 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.
Watching him on stage in London after our interview, just weeks after his 50th birthday, nothing seems to have changed.
Weller, who plays Birmingham NEC Arena on November 21, may have filled out from that scrawny teen of ’77, and he also sports the sort of suntan you get on a holiday only a millionaire rock star can afford, but he’s lost none of the aggression that made him stand out 30 years ago.
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. “If the next decade goes as quickly as the last, it’ll be here before I know it.”
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. “It was easier for me to connect with. I couldn’t play something I didn’t connect with, and the same goes for a song now, if I wasn’t feeling it, then I’d drop it for a bit to freshen it up.
“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 acknowledgment 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. I’m just more comfortable in my own skin than I was, but yeah, accepting the older songs has had something to do with that.” 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’s a bit of a landmark I suppose, but I’ve got over it now. There were two weeks of thinking about it, and now I’ve forgotten about it.
“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 30s. I’m sure I look different and I’m physically different, but mentally I don’t feel any different. I’m still doing the same things, making music, playing live, so nothing’s changed too much apart from my body’s falling apart.”
PAUL WELLER Nov 21: NEC Arena, Birmingham Tickets: £30 plus booking and transaction fee from http://www.theticketfactory.com or 0871 945 6000.