- 05 Jul 19
Modern Classics: The Woking Warbler Delivers. Words: Pat Carty. Picture: Colm Kelly.
This is the greatest country in the world when we get a bit of the good weather. Accordingly, the collection of heads moving down Nassau Street towards the Lincoln Place Trinity entrance are all in good form, many of them resplendent in various strands of mod gear. Some of it, like the folks doing the wearing, may have seen better days, but they’re all beautiful if you look at them the right way, which is what I was doing, supping outside the Lincoln's Inn. The point I’m vaguely trying to ramble towards is that the atmosphere was good. All Paul Weller and the chaps had to do was walk on without tripping over anything and we were all laughing.
That the Weller gang are well turned out should surprise no one. In fact, it's as if they arrived into town late last night, broke into Rebirth Of Cool over in Temple Bar, and cleared them out of clobber. At the centre of it all, the man himself looks like some class of mod surfer, more California than Carnaby Street. White shirt, expensive looking jeans, long hair coloured blonde and a deep tan – not Trump orange or anything like that, more a tasteful teak. A man who’s put in his kind of mileage has no business looking that good.
Opener ‘I’m Where I Should Be’ - from 2015’s Saturns Pattern – is a declaration then of a man who appears happy with his lot. A guitared-up ‘My Ever Changing Moods’ earns a roar of recognition, Ben Gordelier working hard on his various percussion bits and bobs, and ‘Long Time’ – all scuzzy, slashed descending chords – is of a piece with the opener, another song about Weller reaching a better place.
“Good evening! Here’s an old song for ya!” All the way back to 1980’s Sound Affects for The Jam’s ‘Man In The Corner Shop’ – “it’s nice to be your own boss” - which has the longer of tooth amongst us grinning and la-la-laing along, Weller giving way to guitarist and ace face Steve Cradock, who takes some of the vocal. ‘From The Floorboards Up’ is like a kick up the arse from a steel-toed winklepicker, getting every head nodding before the warm groove of ‘Out Of The Sinking’, which sports some twin guitar work that calls to mind the quieter moments of the Lizzy.
‘Wildwood’ gets the crowd singing but what really opens them up is the ‘Street Fighting Man’ guitars of ‘That’s Entertainment’ with those lyrics that unfortunately don’t require much, if any, updating nearly forty years later. Admirably, Weller doesn’t waste a lot of time with waffle and chat, going straight into the knockabout beat of ‘Mermaids’ and the clatter of ‘Brushed’, both from 1997’s R&B blowout, Heavy Soul.
By pleasing himself, he’s pleasing the die-hards, going back to the first solo record, released in “1947 or something” as he jokes himself, for the gentle Mick Talbot co-write ‘The Strange Museum’. Weller stays at the keyboard for ‘Can you Heal Us (Holy Man)’ which goes a bit Winwood/Traffic – always welcome – as he sparks up a fag. ‘Woo Sé Mama’ turns the heat back up a bit, our man now swopping between guitar and keyboard and grinning as a combination of hand claps and maracas put the song to bed.
The familiar opening chords of ‘You Do Something To Me’ has folks turning to each other with that look. It’s a handy number to mime to your partner, letting them know you haven’t quite forgotten they’re there with you, as Craddock earns his pay packet with a gorgeous guitar break. Nature calls so I move back through the crowd towards the facilities as ‘Have You Ever Had It Blue?’ kicks off. There’s a proper party going on down the back, Doc Martens, with the regulation yellow laces, and flat caps flashing about the place as near-perfect dance steps that have seen a few all-nighters are trotted out with smirks of delight, all kept going through ‘Shout To The Top’. I certainly didn’t think so back in the eighties, but The Style Council did have their moments.
‘Above The Clouds’ has the kind of easy sway that might have been purpose built for a warm evening like this, moving gently into the clanging ‘Friday Street’, Weller raising a fist to declare “I’m still alive”, not that he needs to, he’s proved that several times over tonight. Indeed, the directional advice of ‘Into Tomorrow’ sums up the Weller approach, the same one he’s displayed since he first painted the words “Fire & Skill” on his guitar amp decades ago. He doesn’t do ‘The Changing Man’ but ‘Peacock Suit’ is the next best thing, and it’s as good as anything to go out on.
He doesn’t stay gone long of course, giving out two further tracks from the Saturns Pattern album. I freely admit it’s a record that passed me by, but Weller certainly seems proud of it, and it’s also endorsed by Hot Press lens man Colm Kelly, stood beside me after his exhausting three-songs-spent-pushing-a-button ordeal. It warrants re-examination given the evidence offered. More of us recognise ‘Broken Stones’ after which Weller steps out from behind the keyboard, straps on his Gibson SG and introduces the crack band. ‘Start!’ is ever so slightly slowed down but none the less effective for it. Weller has always claimed that Sound Affects was his favourite Jam album, and has acknowledged the debt it owes to The Beatles’ Revolver, not that anyone could ever miss the ‘Taxman’-isms in this song, but if you’re going to steal, steal big. Anyway, the crowd don’t give a monkey’s about any of that, doing some serious getting down, on into the wah-wah freak-out of ‘Precious’ which even goes a bit Santana in the middle, but they get away with it.
Let us now talk about the power of popular music. All it takes are the few bass notes that kick off ‘A Town Called Malice’ for Trinity cricket pitch to throw a complete wobbler. It doesn’t matter if you were there at the time – I can vaguely remember them playing it on Top Of The Pops – or were, God forbid, only born in this century, when the right band are playing the right song, there’s nothing you can do but give in, grin and go bananas, and that’s what we do. They could have stayed on that riff for an hour and a half and no one would have complained as they danced themselves into disability. Weller salutes us with a look of satisfaction. He’s earned it.
September of last year saw the release of the great True Meanings, a stripped-back acoustic affair which harked back to the best work of people like John Martyn and Nick Drake. Flicking two fingers at any promotional considerations, Weller didn’t go near it tonight. He steered clear of another of my favourites, Wake Up The Nation, too. I mention this only as a reminder of the depth and strength of the man’s back catalogue and I don’t doubt there’s plenty more to come, up ahead. Even if there isn’t, I’ll go and watch shows as vital as this one as long as he wants to play them. Fire and Skill indeed. He is the keeper.