WELLER: METEORIC MATURITY
Paul Weller was such a formative part of so many musical lives.
Not mine really, I was entrenched and in the trenches already when In The City came to town in 1977.
At the same sex paedophile protecting shithole where I was a schooling a terrible posh fucker with a stutter, who had National Front emblazoned on his rucksack the whole time I was there (and went on to become the head of prefects when I gained liberation), announced, in one of those speak your truth or tell the news sessions, to the googly eyed bollocks of a history teacher that I had something to say about punk rock.
Fuck him and his fascist stuttering. I gave it a whirl anyhoo - though I may aswell have been talking to the wall .
In The City, with its reference to Blair Peach RIP, was a song I picked up on to make my point regarding punk potency as I got sniggered at by posh cunts.
Past embarrassment and caring a single solitary shit by then was I and those proved right in months to come as those early Jam records WERE ferociously brilliant, almost without exception.
Posh lads started digging em in school uniform badged lapel at fag break, mod or die, de rigeur.
By which time I was...Away From The Numbers?? Reality's so hard.
Brother - my brother had been called Paul too - did I feel that one, end of the ITC the sentiment, the coruscating guitar landslide, for real...
Course in time I got to meet Weller.
And he was none to happy cause by that time I was counting the odds at NME, dishing out ill thought reprimands - like an ungenerous review of Funeral Pyre, The Jam's farewell single.
"Your a fucking spunker," opined Paul before taking us out for lagers and what have you in the West End, just before The Style Council got together, it must have been.
A few years on I was standing beside Weller at Covent Garden Africa Centre when Curtis Mayfield called him up to the stage to help out on the next song, which was then a staple of The Style Council's set. PW didn't budge, why the hell not , I asked a few years ago? "Coz I was a farkin wanka mate, " said The Modfather.
He was still burning about that sneery FP review too when I turned up backstage after one of his barnstorming Royal Albert Hall gigs earlier this century.
Such a passionate boy, still.
How can you not like that?
Anyway I wasn't even thinking about Paul, particularly, a few years later clearing out one place and organising viny in another.
I could only have glanced briefly at the cover of 79's sensational Setting Sons, maybe momentarily wondered of the provenance of the image thereon. It was in sleep , final refuge from the day's toil, that the image , a pic of Benjamin Clemens 1919 Sculpture The St John's Ambulance Bearers taken when it was still on show at the Imperial War Museum, really took hold.
Art Full Script Available on application
In the dream my father, my late brother Paul, being carried as per the injured figure in the sculpture picture, and I BECAME the sculpture, it was just that.
Very real. A summoning, a solidifying of...something.
Some quality of pity made real in a dream, perhaps. That deep pity, as caressed in the words of Clemens contemporary First World War artist, poet Wilfred Owen, at its core.
I woke up from the deep meditation with the passed over spirits of my father and brother, overcome, in flood tears of sorrow and wonder.
Strange bedfellows sorrow and wonder, when they are mixed like that.
I was energised by this rare and powerful commingling, determined to go and see the source of my experience.
My inability so do lead to perhaps the least successful campaign ever mounted on a Guardian blog
A glimmer of some Weller support for my campaign (a tacit good luck passed on through PR) was soon snuffed out when, in an otherwise complimentary look back at Setting Sons as part of one of those career retrospectives music monthlies are fond of, he added that the only thing wrong with the album was the cover!
Thanks a bunch Paulie!
Anyway so its been on and off up and down with PW over the years.
I interviewed him in a cafe on Holland Park (Julies? maybe) the day before Live 8. The Floyd getting back together, excited?
Was he fuck "not even if Syd was involved," he insisted.
Up to date True Meanings his new album is the high everyone is saying. Best since 22 Dreams? Maybe, who is counting?
Anyway here's the most recent chat in full, done on the phone, an hour or so after he played live on Chris Evans Radio Show, fact fans...
Paul Weller interview
GM: Gavin (interviewer) PW: The Modfather
PW: Hello Gav.
GM: Hey Paul. How are you doing?
PW: Yeah, you alright, mate? Listen, sorry about yesterday mun, but I left my fucking phone in London.
GM: Yeah, we’ve all done it.
PW: Sorry about that, kid. Are you alright, mate? Are you alright?
GM: Not bad, still alive. They couldn’t put me down yet. So congratulations on True Meanings. Great record.
PW: Thank you, mate.
GM: Very English sounding record. Would that chime with you or not?
PW: I don’t think about its nationality, man. It’s just music.
GM: Yeah. And Erland Cooper who wrote some lyrics said it was quite a kind of family-orientated, fathers talking to sons, talking to fathers kind of thing. Does that strike you about the songs? Or do you not…
PW: Yeah, there’s a lot of that on the records. I mean, there was three songs that Erland wrote the words to. And Conor O’ Brien wrote another song, Soul Searchers, with me, wrote the words to it. So that was quite a different experience, just to sing someone else’s lyrics.
GM: So what was the idea of that? Were you sort of delegating to them, or how did that come about?
PW: Well, we didn’t discuss the sort of subject matter of the song, really. We just kind of sent them rough demos and they sent an idea back and we just to and fro-d it. But I thought in both cases, for me I’m a big fan of both of their music. And as lyricists. So I didn’t have any doubt it wouldn’t come back good. But I think it kind of caught the mood perfectly, really. The songs I suppose of generations, and songs of loss.
GM: And has your son Bowie heard the track called Bowie?
PW: He’s probably heard it, yeah, but I mean I think it’s originally really about David Bowie, about his passing. But then like a lot of the songs really, they’ve got different layers to them. And different dimensions in the lyrics and things.
GM: Yeah. Did you ever meet Bowie?
PW: No, I didn’t, mun. Did you?
GM: Very briefly, yeah.
PW: What, an interview?
GM: No, just after a drink thing after a Tin Machine gig. But he took my then-wife’s seat, and she made that very clear and he apologised and got up and that was it for me and David Bowie, really. But yeah. So do you find being a father again, do you find you’re playing music or writing songs that are kind of addressing your young kids?
PW: Er…well not exclusively mun, but obviously that’s part of my experience, so that gets fed into some songs. But there’s also that feeling of life continuing as well. Thinking of my own dad and then myself and my kids and their kids.
GM: Yeah. And being an older dad, do you become better at parenting because you’ve had kids before? Or what’s it like being a dad at sixty?
PW: Well… probably the plus side is you have more patience, and you know kind of what to expect. But I consider myself extremely, lucky, really, to be able to experience it and how wonderful it is, really. Yeah.
GM: Is it very different to the first time you became a father?
Wife Hannah with Paul
PW: Yeah, I think so, yeah, because I was that much younger. And at the time as well when I had my first kid, I was touring pretty much constantly. So that’s kind of different. And I kind of pick and choose the times when I go out these days, up to a point, anyway. So that’s different. But I think the age thing makes it different really. The difference between being thirty and being a dad and being sixty and being a dad is a different mindset.
GM: Yeah, yeah. And so what are you like as a father? Are you hands-on and nappies and that sort of thing?
PW: I’m rubbish. No, well, you’d have to ask my missus, obviously, she might tell you a different story. But I think I’m a good dad. And changing nappies, yeah, no problem. I’ve had enough fucking experience, I’ve had thirty years of it.
GM: Sure. And True Meanings, the title of True Meanings. I guess it comes from books, probably, the songbooks, does it? Or where does the title come from?
PW: What, True Meanings?
PW: It’s from the song on the album, right, called Aspects. I just thought it seemed appropriate, really. And obviously, you know, everyone finds their own true meanings, obviously. It’s not me declaring my own word. And that’s another reason to use some other lyricists as well. Get someone else’s true meanings. Another opinion. But I just thought it was an appropriate title for the collection.
GM: And at your advanced years [PW laughs] have you come across the true meanings? Do you have them defined yourself?
PW: Probably, yeah. A lot of things you [can’t] discuss because they’re all personal things, really. But I feel that I’ve found my place and my level in life, definitely. It’s taken a long time to find that peace or equilibrium or whatever. And it’s a wonderful thing to find, I think. But I don’t think I can really discuss because it’s too personal.
GM: Yeah. Was giving up alcohol a big part of that?
PW: Definitely a part of it. How big or small it is I have no idea, but it’s definitely a part of it.
GM: Yeah. You come from quite a drinking culture, really, and…
PW: Says the man from fucking Northern Ireland.
PW: Says the man from Northern Ireland.
GM: [laughs] Yeah, well, I mean, the world that we’ve been a part of is quite a drinking culture, the music kind of world.
GM: And so do you get people saying to you “how did you do it?” It’s quite an addictive drug. I mean, I’ve had to give it up for medical reasons, but it’s great not drinking. Having a reason to not drink is quite good.
PW: I didn’t find it that difficult to give up, because I knew it was the right time, and my time had come to stop. So once you realise that, it becomes a little bit easier, I think. And what you gain in the process is so wonderful that you don’t really want to go back.
GM: And what do you gain?
PW: I think just a great appreciation of life, and just a greater clarity. And also a greater presence, being more present as well, that’s the other thing.
GM: Yeah. And has it had a noticeable effect on your creativity, your music?
PW: No. Not at all. No. I have to say no. I don’t think it has affected me creatively. But in terms of my own life and my own family, people around me.
GM: You’re still a very well-loved man particularly by men, but I’m sure by women, the production people at the Mirror said it’s going to be a bit late. Anything for Paul Weller. [PW laughs a bit] So you said you feel lucky. But being a man aging, you don’t have any of the pressures a woman has aging. How do you feel about age and maturity and that?
PW: Well, what can do you do about it, man? That’s life, isn’t it? Who knows. I’ve kind of enjoyed it. I’m kind of enjoying watching myself get older. It’s an interesting process. And I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to sit here and say that. So I accept it, really. I accept it with dignity and I’m thankful for it.
GM: Is there anybody you’d like to work with? I suppose you’ve worked with Macca in the past. Maybe people that were even heroes in childhood still. People like Pete Townshend…
PW: People I’d like to work with, well, cor blimey, there’s so many. But Pharrell Williams. Who else? Dangermouse, I’d like to do a record with him. And I’d love to do a track with Macca.
GM: Yeah. Have you heard his new record?
PW: I haven’t yet. I’ve heard a couple of tracks maybe, but I haven’t heard the record.
GM: I had the vinyl of it on last night. I can see why he’s doing all that pre-publicity. It is absolutely top notch, fantastic record. A surprise. And so yeah, would you have more kids do you think or is that it now? Or would you never say never?
PW: I think eight’s a good number. It’s my lucky number. [10:46 couple of unheard words]
GM: Sorry, I didn’t hear that, people shouting outside. And has the way you write songs changed? I mean, obviously different lyricists, that’s the new thing. But the basic process of sitting down at the piano, with a guitar, does that always remain the same?
PW: Well I mean, I’ve tried different methods of writing over the last few years. on this new record, it was done in the old fashioned way of just me sitting down yeah, just with an acoustic or piano or whatever it may have been. And yeah, writing a song like that. I’ve tried other different working methods on some of the other records. My new record’s really about songs, even though it’s got some really lovely orchestration stuff on it. But it’s about the tunes, you know, the song.
GM: Yeah. You’ve finally got a talented Northern Irish girl to help out.
PW: Yeah. Yeah, she’s great mun, yeah.
GM: So you’ll be playing the Open House festival this year in Bangor where she sometimes resides, no doubt. Johnny Lydon, PiL, played it this year. Do you have thoughts about the people that came of musical age at the same time as you? I don’t know. Are many of them still around? Do you have any connections there?
PW: I don’t, really. I don’t really know who’s left. But no-one I feel any kinship with to be honest with you. All, no.
I: Do you ever look back and…
PW: They’re all stuck in the past for me mun. I really am not.
GM: Yeah. And did you ever look at certain things you’re surrounded by, your past achievements I guess, wish you’d done them a different way? Or not worn those clothes or had that hairstyle?
PW: No. Not at all, no. That’s a waste of a life. There’s nothing I would particularly change, no.
GM: And have you had many attempts to stop smoking?
PW: Have I had many attempts? Not really, no. No, it’s one of my favourite pastimes.
GM: [laughs] With all of your past being out there in the press and in the public, drink and drug use, how do you to talk about that to your kids? It’s a bit different to other people who it’s not in the public domain. What went on in your youthful…
PW: Well, that depends on the subject that comes up and if they want to talk about it, really. Yeah. I don’t know, man. If they want to talk about it or for advice or whatever, then I’m there.
GM: And what do you tell them? “Don’t do it”?
PW: Ah, that’s between us, mate. I don’t know, mun, do I. I have no idea.
GM: Yeah. And so what do you think is your greatest strength?
PW: My greatest strength? Well, I don’t know. That’s a difficult one.
GM: Enduring? You’re very prolific, aren’t you?
PW: Yeah, I suppose both of them things really. Greatest strength. Probably that I still love what I do. I think that’s probably my greatest strength. Just to have done it this long, and still absolutely love what I do. I feel I’m lucky to be doing it. And there’s nothing more to me than make music, really. I’m really, really just happy doing that. I have no greater ambitions other than to just live longer and carry on doing it.
GM: And you’ve mentioned people you wouldn’t mind working with. Have you made approaches to those people?
PW: No. Not at all, no.
GM: If it happens, it happens. But are there any particular achievements that you’d want to, people call them bucket shop lists. [PW laughs] Anything you’d like to do?
PW: No, not at all mate, no. Whatever I’ve had in life and whatever I’ve got now, I love. And yeah, I am just grateful to the universe for being able to do it.
GM: Yeah. And you’ve never really been that fussed about American success. Is that right?
PW: Well, I mean, I love playing there. We did a fantastic tour there last year. I’m just happy I can go there and I’ve got an audience to play to. In terms of record success, I was never that fucking bothered about it anyway. But, it’s fantastic country to play in. And people over there are really respectful and appreciative of the music. So I’m happy I just go and play there once a year or whatever. And I still have an audience, God bless them. Beyond that, yeah, I’m not really that bothered.
GM: Yeah. Do you still dream about your mother and father?
PW: Do I still dream about them?
PW: I don’t know, mate. I very rarely remember my dreams so I couldn’t tell you.
GM: And do you have any memories of Joe Strummer?
PW: Yeah. I do. Funnily enough I just thought of that the other day. The last time I saw Joe, it was just before he passed, and I saw him at one of the V’s, I think. And I hadn’t seen him for years and years. So it was lovely to see him. And what a lovely man he was. Yeah, I missed him. Yeah, he was a good fella, mun. He was much older than me, but he was very kind of us when we were young and when we were kind of coming up.
GM: And do you still need the… I mean, a big part of making music is playing it live to people. Is that something you need? Or is it almost like a duty to your audience as well?
PW: Oh no, man. I love it. I love playing live. And if I don’t play music for a bit, I start to miss it. So I’m me, I’m happy just sort of when we just come down the studio and we’re just jamming with my band, I’m happy on that level. I’m happy to play for two hundred people, or to twenty thousand people. I just love playing it, I love doing it. It’s a physical yearning I get as well, apart from anything else. After I while I miss it. So yeah. It’s a big, big part of it, my life.
GM: Have you any kind of physical kind of changes that have happened to your body over prolonged use of your music instrument? The guitar or whatever, the way you held it? People get changed by the things that they do.
PW: I’m sure, mun, yeah. I’m sure I’m affected.
GM: And Liam Gallagher…
PW: Gav, are these questions off the top of your head or have you written them down?
GM: Yeah, I’ve written some of them down man, yeah.
GM: Liam Gallagher can’t seem to mention you and his elder brother without a slighting remark. Have you any advice for him?
PW: No, because I loved Liam, and I only wish him well. So I haven’t any advice. It’s probably best not to Tweet when you’re pissed or been on the gear, though. I’d personally do it when you’re sober. But, I love him to bits, man. What can you say about him?
GM: Yeah. And do you still puff weed?
PW: Do I still what?
GM: Smoke weed?
PW: Oh no, Gav, I’d never do anything like that.
GM: Yeah, I’m glad to hear that.
PW: Fucking tabloids, what are they like. Mate, go on.
GM: So yeah, one for the ladies at the production desk. Are you a romantic guy, flowers for the lady, rushing her off her feet unexpectedly, let’s go to Crete?
PW: Again, you’d probably have to ask my missus. She might have a different perspective on this. I feel romantic at heart, definitely. But whether that manifests itself in day to day life, I don’t know, because the way that life is always so busy sometimes and you miss each other even though you live in the same house. So it pretty full on. But hopefully she thinks that still.
GM: Was there ever a time you went cold to music?
PW: Probably after the time when the Style Council. And I wasn’t really doing anything for a year or so, a year and a bit. Yeah, I didn’t have the same sort of passion and enthusiasm for it, and I had definitely lost it creatively. But I think that was one of the very few times.
GM: And how did you get out of that situation?
PW: Well, just through work. Just going back on the road and playing and finding myself again through music.
GM: Was there anybody that was particularly instrumental in…
PW: Yeah, my old man, yeah. The very practical, pragmatic way he would just be like “we’ve got to go back on the road, because we ain’t got any money and we need to earn some dough.” And that was it mun, yeah.
GM: And then you kind of coincided then, your career coincided then with Oasis. You played with Oasis and Noel played with you. Did that seem like a new… did it have echoes of what you’d gone through in The Jam all over again? A second kind of…
PW: Well, what you mean for me personally?
GM: Yeah. Because you’d been through some…
PW: I found it rather comical really, because after being written off for such a long time. Probably by yourself as well Gav, let’s be truthful about it.
PW: But I’ve been written off by a lot of people, to come back and then all of a sudden I was flavour of the month again, but I found amusing because I thought I’m just doing what I’d always done, really. And some people get excited about it, not everybody. But I was making good music around that time, so I thought it deserved to do well. But for me, it’s just what I’ve always done. Sometimes this record’s clicked with people, and people like them, and other times they don’t. I’ve no idea what people like and what they don’t like. I can only do what I think is right at the time.
GM: And you’re very collaborative. Probably in the last ten years you’ve brought so many different players and collaborations to your orbit. But are you a hard taskmaster?
PW: No. Not at all. I let people come in and do their thing and let them shine, and just see where they take it. And if they need me to give them any direction I will do, and if not, I just let them do what they do.
GM: And what’s your hidden talent that may not be immediately apparent?
PW: Well, I’m able to hear a whole track. I’m not just listening for my voice and my guitar, or one instrument. The whole piece.
GM: And is that something that you’ve always had?
PW: I would think probably it’s become more… I’ve got more that way I think as the years have gone by. Even when I was a kid, I listened to the whole record. You might have focused in on whatever the drums were doing, but generally speaking, I want to hear the whole impact. Yeah.
GM: And who have you learned the most from, directly one on one, about music?
PW: Well, it’s probably The Beatles to be honest with you. I mean, there’s so many artists. It’s mad thinking about one person or one band. But really, The Beatles got me into music in the first place. I had heard music prior to that obviously. I’d heard rock ‘n’ roll, my mum and dad were into rock ‘n’ roll. [25:12 couple of unheard words] But then when I saw The Beatles, that was it for me. Changed everything. Changed the way I thought, the way I saw the world. And that was it for me, man.
GM: Yeah. And when did you last have any contact with George Michael?
PW: Eh, I don’t know, in the 80’s or something, I should think. He was on the same bill at the Outbank, we did a miners’ benefit. Yeah, mid 80’s.
GM: Right, that long ago, yeah. Somebody asked me to ask you why were you so horrible to him at the recording of Band-Aid?
PW: I have no idea what you’re on about. [GM laughs] I have no fucking idea what you’re on about whatsoever. I don’t think we even exchanged a hello or a goodbye. We were just in and out of the place. So fuck knows what they’re on about.
GM: Yeah. So you’ve started making a new record, or nearly finished making a new record?
PW: I’ve just started making a… you know, plenty of steps into it. We’ve got a four track I like. And yeah, just keep chipping away really. I don’t know when it’ll come out.
GM: Is there a lot of archive stuff of Paul Weller? Or do you pretty much record as you go and it all goes out? Or is it record as you go and it all goes out? Is there stuff that is in the archives?
PW: There won’t be much at all in the archives, no, I don’t think. Nothing that is finished, anyway. They’re all little half-baked ideas that stay on the shelf. But nothing that’s really finished I don’t think, no.
GM: And no thoughts for, I don’t know, musicals seem very popular with people. It’s a great way to get the songbook to pay.
PW: [27:15 ?] Not in my fucking case.
GM: All the musicals in the west end now are pretty much are of a…
PW: I can’t stand musicals mun, really. Apart from, I did go and see the Kinks one Sunny Afternoon. And I saw that twice last week. It was well done but obviously there’s been so many fantastic films that have been made. But all these musicals now don’t really do it for me, mate.
GM: Did The Style Council not do a musical movie, Jerusalem?
PW: Well, we made this little shitty film, which I don’t think anyone really saw. But I wouldn’t really call it a musical. I don’t know what it was. [laughter] But, nah. That’s good, Gav.
GM: Yeah, that’s fine for my purposes, yeah. Are you down at the Barn?
PW: Yeah, we did that radio show this morning. Chris Evans did his show from here.
GM: Yeah. I heard most of it except the last bit.
PW: There’s a good little band the other day, while you’re on the phone, a good little band from Derry.
GM: Oh yes?
PW: Called Touts.
GM: Oh, Touts are fantastic. Yes. They’re great. There’s another good band called Wood Burning Savages from Derry.
GM: Who were enough back me up when I supported Tom Robinson in Belfast.
PW: You’ve supported?
GM: Yeah, I’ve made a couple, I’ve just finished the second record. I made a record last year.
PW: You were singing?
GM: Well, it’s spoken word really, with music, you know.
PW: I didn’t know that, mun. You kept that fucking quiet.
GM: Oh no, I tried not to. I’ve been the most annoying prick on the internet, don’t worry about that. [PW laughs] But it’s a hard old job promoting it. But…
[interview cuts out]
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