- 20 May 20
43 years ago today, The Jam released their debut album, In The City. To celebrate, we're revisiting our classic 2014 interview with Paul Weller.
“I’m looking forward to seeing England win the World Cup... again! I’m old enough to remember us beating Germany in 1966 and afterwards running around the garden where we lived in Chester pretending to be Geoff Hurst. It ain’t going to happen, but you’ve gotta to be positive, man!”
Positivity is something that oozes out of Paul Weller; the once angry young man – “We were all fucking angry in the ‘70s, weren’t we?” – is now a supremely contended middle-aged one.
“I wouldn’t swap my life for anything,” he enthuses backstage at the Paard van Troje in The Hague where, in a few hours time, he and his band will play a monster 24-song set. “I don’t say it with any false modesty bullshit but I’ve been a very lucky man. I’ve finally found the woman I’m supposed to be with; I’ve seven kids, who ensure I don’t get a moment’s peace, but are fantastic and musically too I’m in a really good place. My last three records – 22 Dreams, Wake Up The Nation and Sonik Kicks – have been a different kind of experience in terms of writing and how they come together in the studio. The older I get, the more open-minded I am which is the opposite of most people who get past 40 and stick to what they know. I haven’t got any set ideas or agendas. I’m working with different people and often just making things up on the spot. It’s come late in life but I’ve learnt the art of spontaneity.
“Live too, if someone asked, ‘What’s your favourite gig ever?’, I’d say, ‘Last week in Hamburg.’ We’ve just played five German shows and they’ve all been fucking amazing. It still feels fresh and relevant. It’s still going on. It isn’t trotting out and doing your hits. It isn’t like that.”
Not that Weller is Stalinist about his past with – SPOILER ALERT! – ‘My Ever Changing Moods’, ‘Tales From The Riverbank’, ‘Start’ and ‘In The City’ all getting recent live airings.
“We’ve a big bag of tunes which we dip in and out of depending on how we feel that day,” he reflects. “Having to chose from almost 40 years of songs is a happy problem rather than a burden.”
Steve Van Zandt told Hot Press that the E Street Band had to know over 170 tunes for the last Bruce tour.
“I think we’re at 62½. The band’s on top form at the moment; good vibe all round. Audience-wise, we’ve got people in their 40s and 50s who’ve grown up with me and a big influx of 15 and 16-year-olds who all seem to know the oldtunes. I’m like, ‘How the fuck, you weren’t even born?’ Perhaps they’ve seen this grey-haired geezer hanging around with Miles Kane and The Strypes and decided to check him out. Whatever the reason it’s a beautiful testament to the music.”
And proof that not all teenagers lock themselves away in their bedrooms with their Wiis.
“I’m not one of those ‘It was better in my day…’ merchants. It was different in my day. There are so many other ways to spend your leisure time now whereas when I was a kid it was music, football or clothes, end of. If you were in a band then, it helped define you as a person. I’m not sure it has the same cultural relevance or importance for people these days.
“With my own teenage kids, they are into music but while they’re listening to something they’ll be texting or on the computer. It’s more of a background thing which, for someone of my generation who’d sit there absorbed with the lyric-sheet in their hand, is a bit weird. You just have to accept it’s a different world, man.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the uselessness and moral redundancy of most of our politicians, British and Irish. When I last chatted to Mr. Weller he was spitting nails at the audacity of David Cameron saying he was a Jam fan – “Which part of ‘Eton Rifles’ does he not fucking get?” was among the more charitable comments. Did he have any problems this last election campaign with that definitely not a racist Nigel Farage saying he had All Mod Cons on his iPod?
“I don’t know, mate, I don’t even follow it,” he says wearily. “Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Ukip, I couldn’t care less about any of them. They all go to the same colleges, the same schools. They all have Mummies and Daddies who live in the country. Who do they reflect? Not the working-class or poor people. They come from a totally different fucking background. They can all fuck off. I’m more interested in the mood of the people. I think, genuinely speaking, English people are all right. They’ve really come on in the last 20 years or more. Everyone’s angry in their teens I know, but Britain in the ‘70s really was fucking grim. Strikes, blackouts, the National Front marching round the place and all the rest of it.
“England’s an island and we’ve always been invaded by different people. Different cultures have come here and added something to it. Most of us regard that as a beautiful thing.”
Hot Press will be petitioning Michael D. to give Paul Weller state recognition for his championing of Declan O’Rourke (“He writes the sort of classic songs that people don’t write anymore, songs that sound like they’ve been around forever”); Conor J. O’Brien (“That last Villagers song was quality, man”) and The Strypes whose Christmases and birthdays all came together last year when they jammed – pun intended! – with him at Rough Trade East on ‘In The City’.
“That was fun!” he beams. “They’re such goodittle players. Josh especially is really fucking something else. As a guitarist he’s outrageous. They’re young but when you’re on stage together it’s a level playing-field, man.”
Unlike when The Jam were starting off in the ‘70s, it’s perfectly okay for young rockers to admit that they like people 40-years older than them.
“That’s definitely true,” he nods. “I never bought into that punk ‘Year Zero’ bollocks though. A lot of bullshit made up by new wave journalists who were probably listening to Can and Hawkwind and other stuff like that on the sly. I was always upfront about loving The Beatles and The Who and old R’n’B.”
Talking of which, how awesome was it getting to present Roger Daltrey with his Outstanding Contribution gong at the recent Music Week Awards in London?
“You just pinch yourself, don’t you? It’s like two years ago when I went on stage with Sir Paul McCartney at one of Roger’s Teenage Cancer Trust concerts. I managed to blag my way on to Macca’s plane to get to the gig. Some of my first memories are of being in love with The Beatles. They changed the world for me and there I am playing ‘Get Back’ with him, Roger Daltrey and Ronnie Wood. It’s fucking surreal… and a sign of me being old as well because they kind of accept you or something!”
Has Paul heard Wayne Coyne and Miley Cyrus ’re-working` of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ yet?
“Er, no…” he says warily. “I’ll have to reserve my opinion until I have. She’s a good pop star, though.”
Roger Daltrey put in an excellent week’s work when he helped Wilko Johnson assemble his UK top 5 Going Back Home album.
“Yeah, he sounds really like (Johnson’s now sadly deceased Dr. Feelgood bandmate) Lee Brilleaux on it. I was thrilled for Wilko who apparently’s doing well after his operation last month. The way he’s dealt with his illness… he’s just a force of nature. Bit of advice for anybody who hasn’t seen it yet – watch the Dr. Feelgood Oil City Confidential documentary.”
Perhaps aware of his own mortality, Weller has knocked drinking on the head and become something of a gym bunny.
“I haven’t gone for a couple of weeks, but two hours on stage every night keeps you reasonably fit,” he laughs. “I’ve been off the booze the last four years, man. It’s affected my mental stability more than my work rate. As a person it’s made a big difference. I needed to stop drinking…”
Paul was a super proud dad in January when he collaborated with his daughter Leah on the version of Cole Porter’s ‘You Do Something To Me’ that soundtracks the current Daks clothing label ad. It really is a gorgeous family affair.
“Thanks. We just sat down, got the sound together and did a live take. She’s got a great voice, I just hope she does something with it. She doesn’t have a deal but is working on stuff.”
Returning for a moment to footie, has Paul been down the Bridge recently?
“Yeah, I went last season for the first time in ages. It was far more civilised than when my dad used to take me in the ‘60s, which is not a bad thing. All those horror stories about The Shed end at Chelsea were true, man. It was a good time on the pitch though with Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke, Alan Hudson, Chopper Harris… all those guys who’d be knocking back pints the night before a game. You wouldn’t run into Eden Hazard or Oscar in a Fulham Road boozer now!”
While you’ll have to wait until next year for the follow-up to Sonik Kicks, you’ll find the song Weller recorded for Record Store Day 2014, ‘Brand New Toy’, and lots of tasty rarities on More Modern Classics Vol. 2, the retrospective covering the last 15-years of his solo career.
“I kind thought, ‘Fuck, a lot of time’s gone by without my realising it’,” Paul resumes. “The first Modern Classics was 1998, so why not take a little pause and reflect again? It was my idea as opposed to the label’s. There’s a really cool 3-disc version with me talking about the songs which will look nice on the shelf!
“Like I say, the next solo record’s on the way. I want to do a tune with Boy George whose voice sounds just amazing at the moment, and one these days I’m going to get round to recording something with Johnny Marr and Roger Daltrey. I’m just up for making as much music as I can, man.”