I once said that I’d like to thank Paul Weller for an education I didn’t get at school. Through reading interviews with him in the music papers (ask your dad kids…) I found myself being tipped off onto films, books, music and art that fuelled my curious mind at the time.
I suppose he was like an older brother in some respects, one who would steer you towards things that you should be aware of. Well, that is how it was for me, and judging by the people I talk to now, who are of the same vintage, it is a similar tale for them too. Then when you throw in my start on the life long journey of all things mod round the same time, you can see how important he has been to what I do for a living now.
It is of course no secret that all aspects of the world of Mod have influenced Paul Weller throughout his adult life. Its lifestyle can be tracked and traced in his songs from the early Jam days to his present-day highly successful solo career.
Mod is simply in the fabric of his soul.
‘Its like a religion. Its my code, it gives something to my life, I’m still a mod, I’ll always be a mod, you can bury me a mod ” he told TV host Jonathan Ross in 1991.
John William Weller was born in Woking, Surrey on 25th May 1958. He was unofficially re-named Paul by his family whilst still a baby. He came from a solid working class background, with dad John working as a mini cab driver and builder and mum Ann as a cleaner. A sister Nicky, was born five years later. During his formative years, Weller discovered early twin loves that have remained constant in his life – music and clothes.
His love of 1960s pop music came from hearing the hits of the day on the family radiogram whilst a small boy, and listening to the chart singles his young mum had bought. His first musical love was The Beatles. By the age of eleven, he had also developed a passion for clothes, following all trends of the day at first, and then becoming a Suedehead, complete with Sta-Prest and Crombie. Ann would take him to London’s Petticoat Lane market to get him all the gear.
He was given his first guitar one Christmas around the same time. He then paired up with school friend, Steve Brookes, and soon they began learning the popular tunes of the time, before writing songs of their own.
In 1972 they began performing in pubs and working men’s clubs in Woking. Weller and Brookes are joined by drummer Rick Buckler and then guitarist Bruce Foxton. Weller’s Dad John, became their manager, getting them gigs locally.
In the mid- 70s Weller discovers the 1965 song ‘My Generation’ by The Who and a new world opens up for him. Before long he is pouring over photos of Townsend and Daltrey along with those of Steve Marriott and the rest of The Small Faces, checking out what they are wearing. Soon, he is wearing the same clothes too, for he has been well and truly bitten by the mod bug
Brookes leaves the band in 1976. Foxton picks up the bass duties and Weller takes over as singer and lead guitar. The Jam as we know it today are born.
They would go on to become one of the most influential bands of their day. Singles like ‘That’s Entertainment’ ‘Down in the Tube Station’ and ‘Eton Rifles’ show the lyrical skill that set Weller apart from his contemporaries. From the get-go, Weller had the whole package. Exciting music, lyrics that ‘spoke’ to his followers and a very tasty dress sense. His influence on the generation that made up the mod revival movement cannot be underestimated.
But Weller is a modernist in its purist form. He has an enquiring mind that is forever seeking out new music and experiences. By 1982, he had had enough of The Jam. The three-piece line-up of the band was too restricting and he wanted to break out. This was a massive shock to his fans, but most of all to his band mates and his dad. He was breaking up one of the most successful UK bands of recent times, for fear of them becoming stale and losing their meaning.
Paul Weller was aged just 24.
Never one to waste too much time, he soon formed The Style Council with the keyboard player Mick Talbot, once of the mod outfit The Merton Parkas. It became evident quite quickly, that a lot of new and different influences were going into the mix of this new line up. Blue Note jazz, Euro chic fashions, and a general sense of ‘fun’, wrong footed many of The Jam fans who had idolised Weller and the band. A lot of them couldn’t keep up and drifted away
Many others though, stayed loyal and followed the new group as they got off to a great start with a diverse selection of singles and a couple of fine albums. The cover of ‘Our Favourite Shop’ from 1985 designed by long time collaborator Simon Halfon, shows through its use of clothes, photo pin ups, books and general ephemera, a tantalising glimpse into the mind and interests of Paul and Mick. Of course, the Weller trainspotters picked over every detail looking for clues on what to investigate next.
Completing the TSC line up were teenage drumming sensation Steve White and singer Dee C Lee. From the outset, Weller had used many of the new songs to get across his own political viewpoint and the group become involved in the miner’s strike of 1984, Band Aid in 1985 and then Red Wedge, a group of like-minded musicians, which offered support to the Labour Party.
Style Council record sales however were in decline. The band continued to tour, but audiences and fans were often left confused by the direction Weller was taking the band in. With Polydor refusing to release their ‘Garage’ influenced new album ‘Modernism: A New Decade’ in 1989, Weller decides to call time on the band.
However, songs of the calibre of ‘Ever Changing Moods’, ‘You’re The Best Thing’ and ‘Long Hot Summer’ and my favourite album ‘Confessions of a Pop Group, among many other fine moments, ensure the band have a very healthy legacy and they are still fondly remembered by many today.
Then in his thirties, and now married to Dee C Lee and soon to be a father, Weller finds himself without a record contract for the first time in many years. After a short break to take stock, he re-appears in The Paul Weller Movement, playing smaller venues to even smaller crowds on the comeback trail in 1991. The song ‘Into Tomorrow’ signal’s a strong return to form and his solo career begins picking up pace. Steve White re-joins him and the touring line-up is completed by Steve Cradock and Damon Minchella from the band Ocean Colour Scene. The crowds begin flocking back. Cited as a major influence by the likes of Oasis, Weller is once again flavour of the month being dubbed The Modfather by many among the Brit-Pop generation. The 1995 album ‘Stanley Road’, with its cover designed by pop art master Sir Peter Blake, and named after the street in Woking where he lived as a teenager, saw Weller back at the top of the charts once again.
He picks up a Lifetime Achievement Brit Award in 2006, and is offered a CBE in the same year, which he turned down.
Fair to say, Weller was now achieving major critical acclaim as well as once again, real commercial success.
Sadly, John Weller, his manager for his entire career, died aged 77 in 2009.
Over the last few years, his albums have included ‘Wake Up The Nation’ ‘Sonik Kicks’ ‘Saturns Pattern’ and last year his first soundtrack for the film ‘Jawbone’ as well as the highly acclaimed ‘A Kind Revolution’
As he reaches the age of 60, there is no real sign of him slowing down. In fact, the opposite may be true.
He told journalist Miranda Sawyer a few years back … ‘obviously I’m conscious of how old I am, but if I don’t think about it, then I don’t feel any sort of age, really. I don’t feel like an old person, and I don’t feel like a young person. I just feel… I’m just me.”
You just know he will go on, zigging and zagging, forever forward.
Just like all good modernists should.
The Mumper of SE5