It’s a time of huge political change in Britain. The Conservative party are threatening to topple the Labour government, far-right nationalist parties are mobilising fringe voters and politicians face the anger of a disenchanted population. But we’re not talking about 2010. Thirty years ago bands such as The Jam were providing a post-punk soundtrack to a similar political story.
Now, former Jam frontman Paul Weller releases his angriest, most electrifying collection of songs in years, Wake Up The Nation.
“Is it anger, or is it passion?” asks Weller. “Whatever you want to call it, I don’t think I’ve ever lost it,” he says.
Weller says the starting point for Wake Up The Nation came when he was sent a batch of rough ideas for songs by producer Simon Dine.
“After 22 Dreams, I didn’t have any ideas in my head,” says Weller. “All I knew was that I didn’t want to do anything that could be vaguely described as pastoral or acoustic.
“I loved that last record but we were conscious of making ’22 Dreams Part Two’, you know, ’23 Dreams’ or whatever. We wanted to move on, man.
“We wanted to use some of the things we arrived at toward the end of 22 Dreams — dare I say the more experimental side of things — as a launch pad, experimental, but still with the melodic sensibilities and pop songs over the top.”
If the new album sounds boisterous, up-tempo and fast-paced, that’s nothing compared with talking to Weller. He’s concise and matter-of-fact in conversation, moving from one conversation topic to the next, as if he’s always looking for new inspiration.
On his latest album, Facebook, mobile phones and congestion all get a kicking, while the Ticket To Ride-esque Find The Torch, Burn The Plans is a rallying call for people to “shout like you want it” and please themselves. Veteran drummer Clem Cattini of The Tornadoes features on one track, while My Bloody Valentine’s noisenik Dubliner Kevin Shields appears on a couple of songs. Most notable of all Weller’s guests, however, is former Jam bass player Bruce Foxton.
Anyone familiar with the band’s history will realise what this means, but for the uninitiated, consider it a big deal.
By 1982, The Jam had become Britain’s biggest band, the most successful since The Beatles. Despite four No 1 singles, Paul decided enough was enough and disbanded the group, allegedly by giving Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler a letter each telling them what was happening.
It’s an example of how Weller likes to move on to the next stimulating thing — in that case, soul, jazz, Euro-pop and The Style Council.
Meetings between Paul and his former bandmates were few and far between, and they often exchanged insults in the press. Paul has also refused to play any Jam songs live for the best part of 25 years. But things seemed to have softened over the past couple of years.
“Bruce playing on the record came about because of his wife,” begins Weller. “She sadly passed away last year but, when she was ill the Christmas before last, I called him to see how she was and that got us talking again.
“That’s the whole thing with mortality, it puts everything in perspective. Bruce said if I ever wanted him to play on anything to give him a shout, so I did. One of the songs he plays on, Fast Cars/Slow Traffic, was perfect for him and his style. He’s got his unique sound and he was the right man for the job.
“Was it comfortable? Well, I didn’t think it was uncomfortable. I think we were both a bit anxious. It’s been a long time, as you know, but I think when you’ve got good music going on you leave all the other baggage outside and get on with the job in hand.
“We didn’t reminisce too much about what we’d been up to or old times, but it was all alright. It was good fun, and it seemed the right time to do it.”
Mortality has clearly been weighing on Paul’s mind over the past couple of years. He turned 50 in 2008, which got him thinking and reminiscing in a way he had never done before. Then there was Bruce’s wife, and finally his dear old dad, who passed away last year.
John Weller was Paul’s manager, best friend and confidante. He’d been at Paul’s side since buying him his first guitar aged 14, but ill health had limited his involvement in recent years.
“I never thought about having time off after dad died,” he says. “Quite the opposite really. I’d already started work on this record, and I carried on with it. That’s exactly what he would’ve wanted me to do.
“I dealt with it okay to be honest with you. It was very hard because he was really ill for the last four years or so before he died. He was very, very sick — that was harder, watching that. So at least he’s at peace now, because before he wasn’t.”
If you look for songs about Weller Sr, you won’t find anything obvious on Wake Up The Nation, although Trees was inspired by visiting his dad in hospital.
“The whole song is about old age and waiting to go and move on to their next phase in life, whatever you care to believe in. I really like the metaphor of people waiting to be planted back into the world.
“The song was born out of my experience, but if I was going to write a song about him at all I would write something very positive and celebratory, because that was the man, that’s the spirit of him.
“That’s how I dealt with it, looking at the positives, the things he’s left to me and of his time on earth. I think it was harder on the rest of my family, but I’ve just cracked on.
“That’s what you’ve got to do in life, you’ve just got to get on with it.”
Wake Up The Nation is released on April 19. Weller plays The Sea Session, Bundoran (June 26), Live at the Marquee, Cork (June 27) and Dublin’s Olympia (November 16-20)
By: Andy Welch