One thing you always knew while standing in the crowd at a Paul Weller concert was the very moment you saw Papa John, as our little group would affectionately call him, appear at the side of the stage to take his customary viewing spot that the show was about to begin. It became a game amongst my tight knit group of friends that I have been attending Paul Weller concerts with since we first saw Paul live back in 1991. It always seemed like the first of us to say, “Fellas, Papa John” and point out the silver haired patriarch was the winner of some prize of respect only known to us.
I was lucky enough to meet Papa John in New York City way back in November of 1992. Paul had performed a blistering little set at Tower Records earlier that day and was doing a gig at Irving Plaza. On this particular trip our normal crew of four was limited to my brother Mike and myself as the various commitments from the other members, Ryan and Dave K., kept them from attending. Mike and I arrived at the venue really early, might have been the first two through the door even, and as I entered the hall I noticed Papa John standing on the other side of the room. First off, I was genuinely quite excited to see him as I didn’t spot him at Tower Records earlier. Secondly, I was a bit sad that my friend Ryan couldn’t make the show as he is the member of the group that does all the talking and is the most personable cat I know, this would have been his moment. But, it was up to me and after a short conversation and bit of encouragement from Mike I nervously headed over to introduce myself to the big fella. “Um, hello…Mr. Weller. My name is Dave,” is probably what I said. Papa John extended his hand and put the other on my shoulder and said, “Nice to meet you Dave.”
Now the next few moments were a blur accompanied by some jumbled sentences from me. I told him how much I loved the Tower gig and how excited my brother and I were to see the show tonight. I politely asked him if he could get Paul to sign my Into Tomorrow single and he said sure. He grabbed it, went backstage and returned a few moments later with said signed item. I was of course beaming. Now, here’s the crazy part, he then asked if my brother and I wanted a drink and said, “I’ve got something I want to ask you guys.” We looked at each other, then back at Papa John and said, “Yes, sir!” A few moments later we were sharing a beer with JOHN FUCKING WELLER! It was one of those surreal moments that while you are smack dab in the middle of it you’re excited for sure, but it also feels like it’s exactly what is supposed to be happening at that very moment.
Here’s where one can really see the connection that John had with the fans. He started to talk about Paul “breaking” America. He wanted to know what sort of suggestions my brother and I had to make this happen. What?!?! He was just chatting to us and posing these questions like we were his good mates sort of like, come on let’s all put our heads together and figure this thing out. Of course, we did our best to offer up suggestions like constant touring, TV and Radio appearances, loads of promotion, etc. I mean we took it damn seriously. He told us that his ultimate dream for Paul was to sell out Madison Square Garden. “That’s what I want for my son.” And in that moment I felt like I could be honest with him and said, sure that would be amazing but not a lot of people except for die-hards even know who Paul is. But, he was having none of that. “It can be done. We can do it. I know my son can do it!” Complete confidence. And even though I wished and hoped that Paul could break through here, I knew it was going to be hard. But, you know how fathers are. They always dream for big things for their kids. John Weller had no doubt that he could make the dream of the Garden, whether Paul was dreaming it or not, a reality for the Weller family.
John then asked us if we wanted to meet Dee (C. Lee) and again as if we were still in this crazy dream, we looked at each other and back at John with resounding, “YES, SIR’S!” He brought the lovely Dee out, told her about our convo, posed for pics with us, a nice round of thank you’s, and the meeting with Snr. Mr. Weller was over. Like the big Weller nerd that I am, I placed the beer can that John bought me in my shoulder bag and it remains in my collection to this day.
Sadly, as you all know, Papa John passed away with the Madison Square Garden dream never realised. I have no doubt he was proud to see Paul reach the heights of stardom as a solo artist that completely surpassed The Jam and The Style Council combined. But, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he was always working behind the scenes to get his son that sell-out MSG show.
To me, there’s no better example of a father looking out for his kid. Paul has called his dad his best mate. Now that, more than anything else, is THE true testament of the legacy of Papa John.
RIP and thank you kind sir for the drink…
Peace and SOUL,