1986 was the year my love of a certain songwriter-musician flew into high gear. I was 16 years old in May 1986 when my sister bought me Paolo Hewitt’s The Jam: a beat concerto. I was immediately captivated with this biography: the photos, the story, the easy-to-read though poetic and incisive style of writing, and ultimately, Paul Weller. I became a huge Jam fan, totally obsessed, and in varying degrees I remain so to this day. Here was a man who seemed to grow up with similar experiences to I and who looked so good and wrote such magnificent songs, who had such power and force of expression, and an acutely good musical ear. Paul Weller, along with John Lennon, was my man.
I never dreamt I would see Paul Weller perform live. By 1986 the Jam were dead and the Style Council were moving into making album statements away from live performance; it had been the Council’s tour of Australia in 1985 that awakened me to Weller’s previous incarnation, the Jam, although I never regretted not seeing the Council live at the Hordern Pavilion in August of that year. In 1986 it would have been inconceivable to think that Paul Weller, many years henceforth, would come full-circle and create music that was “Jam-like” during the latter part of the 90s, to move onto the world tour-circuit to perform songs from each and every era of his 33 year career. But there he was, five metres in front of me at the Metro, the man from Woking whose music I’ve listened to and whose person I’ve read about so much throughout these past 25 years.
I saw Paul Weller for the first time at the Enmore Theatre in 2008 where he and his band were touring the masterful 22 Dreams album. I was in such a euphoria that night. I waited by the back lane that was flanked by bodyguards, just hoping for a chat with mister Woking-class hero, but gave up on that when reality set in and instead just walked up King Street in a euphoric daze. Last Friday’s gig at the Enmore wasn’t quite as good; it was still brilliant, it’s just that the overall mood wasn’t quite as intimate as that first gig two years ago. Some things like ‘mood’ you just can’t really pinpoint; Weller played some sublime songs last Friday: ‘You do something to me’, ‘Broken stones’, and the finale ‘A town called Malice’ that blow the roof off the theatre. Musical, songwriting, magnificence.
The gig at the Metro on Sunday night was much better. Because of the mosh-pit we were able to get in quite close. In fact, we were able to get in close by just strolling in ten minutes prior to the band coming on. There’s no way this would have been possible at a Weller gig of the early eighties, or even the mid-nineties for that matter. But being 2010, in Sydney, and the on third night in a row for Weller in this particular strange town, it was just a matter of walking in casually. Most of the audience were happy to stand up on the elevated areas. We had to be near the front, and we were.
I was hardly in the mood for stepping out the door that day. It was a dreary, cold Sunday. There’d been a cold snap and it was wintery and blustery and the rain came down all day. I noticed that band all looked at each other with knowing grins when Weller sang the line “…pissing down with rain on a boring old Sunday…”. Poor fellas. They were likely expecting good old-fashioned Aussie warmth, the type you hear about in the mother country. Wasn’t happening I’m afraid. Still, they had a “splendid” time according to Paul and the band appeared to enjoy themselves, throwing themselves totally into this great music.
The songs off ‘Wake up the nation’ encapsulate some of that 1966/67 Beatles/Pink Floyd energy within some short, tight songs, almost rekindling the ethos or energy of punk. And yet the album sounds startlingly modern, like what 2010 is supposed to sound like. 2008’s ’22 Dreams’ is loosier, folksier, and takes on a wider range of influences including mid-period Beach Boys and British 70s folk like Ronnie Lane. Weller performed only one ‘Style Council’ song on both nights, ‘Shout to the top’. When you think about that canon of songs that belonged to the Style Council you just can’t help but think of the colossal talent that is Paul Weller. There is a style and flavour to Council songs that are all their own, and it’s almost hard to believe that the man on stage flailing away unfaultingly on his guitar is the same man responsible for this eclectic, mostly lovely body of great music and songs that epitomised some of the best of 1980s popular music.
The biggest cheers on the nights were characteristically drawn from the performance of old Jam numbers. ‘Strange Town’ was loud, symphonic, and magnificent, the most. ‘Pretty Green’ and ‘Start’ from the Sound Affects album highlighted Weller’s Beatles influences, keenly matched with his equally acute sense of lyric, structure, and craft. ‘That’s Entertainment’ really gets the crowd going. And surprise surprise, ‘Art School’ from 1977 flew down gloriously well with one of Weller’s band taking the main vocal. The song doesn’t date live as one might think it would, and it still seems credible with an old geezer taking the lead vocal, albeit intermittently. Then, ‘A town called malice’. A song that’s most perfect in it’s passion and delivery, it’s great melody and sheer lyric brilliance. This was the final song of Friday night’s gig and it blew the roof off. We all shared it. Even Weller who wrote it can still feel it. It’s the universal song of the overt and underlying pressures of living in the modern world. In its poetic brilliance, powerful music, melody and drive, ‘A Town called malice’ probably stands as Weller’s ultimate masterpiece and remains a classic example of great popular music. Certainly one of the greatest songs ever written.