What Makes Weller Run?

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In the music business, once you hit 30 you are considered over the hill, and this still applies in the 21st century. As far as middle-aged artists go, very few make an impact on the current generation, with most inclined to live off their back catalogue. They tour the world, coining it in with merchandising sales, and endless re-issues, and deluxe packaging of their greatest hits.

A few artists have bucked this trend; Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young come to mind. These artists have stayed at the top, and all three have something in common with Paul; they did it their way. When Johnny Cash wanted to record a live album in San Quentin, the record company were against the idea. Initially, when the legendary A & R man, John Hammond signed Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen, Columbia Records weren’t happy. In the case of Springsteen, they didn’t want him on the label. When Neil Young wanted to release a country album, Warner Brothers refused, though eventually Young forced their hand. The outstanding song writing talents of these artists’ have underpinned their careers for many decades, and to this day, you can hear their influences in the many new bands, and artists that have assumed their mantles.

paul weller dennis munday zani 4.Although Paul Weller has never quite achieved this kind of world-wide fame, he too can be mentioned alongside these great artists. He kick-started his career with The Jam in April 1977, with their first hit record ‘In The City’ and, just a couple of months shy of  his 54th birthday, he had a number 1 album with Sonik Kicks; a CD that contained original songs. This feat is not to be sniffed at, as it is extremely difficult to write beyond your thirties, ask any of the name bands, or artists, who survive from previous decades. Since ‘In The City’, Paul has relentlessly kept his nose to the grindstone and, as far as his song writing goes, he is singularly dedicated to his art; even though, the longer the career, the harder it becomes

When I first met Paul, he was frighteningly serious, unlike most other teenagers of the day. When I was his age, it was all about having a good time, girls, music, and going on the piss. It was a time when every other pub had a live band playing, and there were plenty of clubs to frequent in your local ‘hood’. On Saturday night the cry was, ‘Where’s the Mori’ (Moriarty - party) and, if there was no party, we would breeze up west for an all nighter, returning home the next morning bombed out, and not looking forward to work the next day. As a teenager, you have the hedonistic energy of youth driving you, and you’re not a part of the ‘real’ world. I know I thought like this when I was a boy about town in the sixties. When the twenties arrive, reality kicks in; marriage, kids, a mortgage, and your teenage dreams become nostalgia, with many seeing their past as a security blanket, helping to ward off the aging process.

The early songs of the Jam reflected the teenage angst of the day and a will to change the world. As Paul matured, he became an accomplished writer of love-songs, and like all great song writers, his tunes were never too sweet, or lovey dovey.  He worked at his songs, like a blacksmith, hammering away until he was happy with his lyrics and, it wasn’t just a case of every phrase counting, every word had to ring true. I saw this at first hand, when Paul came into my office with an early demo of ‘Absolute Beginners’. After playing it, he threw the cassette in the waste bin, stating that,“It’s a fucking load of shit,” and then stormed out of the office. This wasn’t a case of the petulant star lobbing Teddy out of the pram, but the genuine concern of an artiste, unhappy with his own work. I rescued the tape and Paul finished the tune, and although it charted, it was never the finished article. Absolute Beginners was perhaps, the first indication that all was not well within The Jam.

/paul weller bruce foxton the jam zani 2.

In the early days, Paul was close-minded about the music, but towards the end of The Jam’s career this changed, which ultimately brought about their demise. There was no question that both Bruce Foxton, and Rick Buckler, were more than able musicians, as well as being the lynchpin of The Jam. However, their style of playing seemed to be welded onto Weller’s later songs.

At a playback meeting, prior to the release of The Gift, Paul wasn’t happy with what he wanted the album to be, namely; ‘The Jam’s best ever album’. The album was neither The Jam, nor The Style Council, but a mix of both. Many of the songs written in the last year could, and perhaps should have been recorded by The Style Council, something that is considered a heresy amongst resolute Jam fans.  

The Jam’s success was snowballing, and just as they were on the verge of greater things, Paul decided to break up the band. He had witnessed what had happened to bands like the Beatles, and perhaps didn’t want to go down this road. After all, the greater the fame, the more intrusive the media would be. Throughout his long career, he’s managed to control the size of his fame, allowing him the freedom that most major stars can only dream of.

The Jam’s hectic touring schedule and single/album releases bought pressure, as did the ‘spokesman for a generation’ tag, but that happens when you start hitting the top of the charts, ask Pete Townshend? As far as this goes, it doesn’t compare to pressure of bands like the Beatles, (and many others), who had to record two albums a year, as well as undertake massive world tours. The Jam never matched their success in the UK in any other country, with perhaps the exception of Japan.

Nonetheless, The Jam ended their career at the top, and four decades later, they are an icon of British music industry. This year from May to September, The British Music Experience, will unveil a retrospective exhibition, ‘Didn’t We Have A Nice Time’, which will celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Jam’s formation. Not bad for a band that hasn’t recorded a track for over 30 years.

the style council paul weller mick talbot zani 23.jWith The Style Council there was no let up, Paul hit the floor running, though throughout their career they would keep their touring schedule to a minimum, with some of the later tours being dubbed as ‘shopping tours’. During the first three years, the ‘ice-cream combo’ carried on from where The Jam had left off, and much of the success was due to Paul’s egalitarian partnership with Mick Talbot, whose influence, and contribution are greatly understated. Their canvas was broad and there wasn’t a style of music that they didn’t try

It was Paul’s innate song writing ability that carried the Council’s political songs, and considering he was undertaking a new direction, where success wasn’t a shoe-in, it was a brave move. His support of the miners, and his virulent anti-Thatcher manifesto, could have ended his career prematurely. At the time, Thatcher was as popular as Winston Churchill, even Polydor were not happy with his support of the left wing. This was at a time when what clothes and make up you wore counted, and the only foundation most artist’s competing with the Council had, was plastered on their faces. As for talent, who needed it? There aren’t many artists who are prepared to put their careers on the line for a worthy cause, unless there’s a large ‘gong’ in it, or a tax break.

However, what started out as a brave new world disintegrated, and there followed a period of self-indulgence. The Council’s last recordings the unfinished [for me] ‘House’ album, and pretentiously titled, Modernism: A New Decade was turned down by Paul’s record company, and they showed him the door. It was an undignified end, with even their ever-loyal fans jeering the Council at their final Albert Hall gig. Paul’s hypercritical attitude towards the record company execs, critics, and other artists hadn’t gone down well, and many sought revenge. The vitriolic criticism of the Council was way over the top, and looking back, was it justified? After all, the Council were only a pop band.

Following a period of self-exile, he returned under his own name, and his debut solo album was a tentative step back, solid, rather than spectacular. The follow-up album Wild Wood is, in terms of his song writing abilities, one of the best albums he’s recorded. The very critics who had horse whipped him at the end of the Council’s career, were in the stands cheering on Paul’s incredible comeback (sic).

Following this, there was success after success; Stanley Road went on to sell more than a million and his solo career dwarfed both The Jam and The Style Council put together. The tours were longer, and he played in front of thousands, although as with The Jam and The Style Council, success in America would elude him. Paul has never made a serious attempt to break into this lucrative market, and reluctant to undertake the long, and arduous tours, which you need to do if you want to make it big in the USA.

/Paul Weller Stanley Road ZANI 1.

His first two albums for the 21st century were, Heliocentric and Illumination, which went to number 2, and 1 in the charts respectively. Heliocentric is a little on the dark side and a rarity, as the CD contained no ‘real’ singles something that hadn’t occurred on any of his previous releases. Paul then released a CD of covers entitled Studio 150, which proved to be very successful.  Typical of Paul, he chose songs that you wouldn’t have associated with the man, including The Carpenter’s ‘Close To You’. Many of his staunch fans bridled at his selection, but it struck a chord with many punters and it was a successful outing

Following his last solo outing in 2002, and the covers album, there were the usual Chinese whispers doing the rounds. Could he come up with a new bunch of tunes, or was he past his best.  The answer was quite emphatic with the release of, As Is Now in 2005, which was a barnstorming, tub-thumping album of Weller originals, only spoilt by the mediocre production of the songs. Nevertheless, it proved he could still write a tune, and there were at least three singles on the album. Although As Is Now was not as commercial successful as the covers album, in terms of his own song writing abilities, he was back, not that he’d ever been away.

Following this, Paul won the prestigious Lifetime Achievement award at The Brits. I have never been a fan of award ceremonies, as the record business seems to pat itself on the back for doing what they’re supposed to do - sell product. They got it right with Weller that year, and it was not only well earned, but also richly deserved. Later he would turn down a ‘gong’ from Her Majesty, as it wasn’t for him.

50 is a dangerous age for men, with many not willing to accept the aging process, and yearning for their youth.  Nowadays, 50 is the equivalent of my father’s generation at the age of 30, though going off to fight in a war would age anyone. There is no longer a generation gap to worry about, and it’s quite common to see father and son drinking together, as Paul did with his manager father John.

John Weller ZANI 1.jOn the subject of John, over the years, I have read many disingenuous remarks disparaging him, and his management style and, whilst I don't think he could manage a ‘super group’ like U2, or Coldplay; nobody else could have managed, The Jam, The Style Council, and Paul Weller. As far as the music went, it was down to Paul. When TSC release the infamous ‘Orange’ album, the executives who had paid Paul a million quid for the album, complained bitterly about the recordings, and tried to pass the buck to John. They had to do this, as they hadn’t done their job, and they had no idea what kind of record Paul was going to deliver, until it was too late.

During my tenure at Polydor, the execs wanted John replaced, I told them they were out for a laugh on this one, and I wanted no part in this matter. I had worked alongside one of the manager’s suggested, and had it happened, Paul would have probably smacked him on the nose. I have never believed that by changing the manager, it would have guaranteed The Jam any more success. It could have had a negative effect, with the band imploding and their career coming to an untimely end. Paul wasn't the easiest person to deal with and, it didn't make any difference that John was his Dad. The musical high's and low's were down to Paul and, if John couldn't do anything about them, no one else could. John was an intrinsic part of the success and ultimately, he had the last laugh on all of the ‘wankers’ at the record company.

On April 22 2009, John passed away, leaving an immense hole in Paul’s life. John had been with Paul thought thick and thin, and there were plenty of thin times. Many would dismiss John’s part in Paul’s career, but as far as I am concerned, he was a big part of his success. Whatever shortcomings John had, they have never held Paul back, or his career. Now Paul manages himself, which he is able to do as he is in the autumn of his career, and there is not the pressure on him, as there has been in the past.

How would Paul manage at 50, after all here was a man who wrote about all those golden faces under 25 on his debut single? These Golden faces were now like their man, approaching middle age. Well, he confounded everyone and released 22 Dreams, and both fans, and critics alike, thought it to be his best-ever solo album. It shot to number 1 and there wasn’t nightmare amongst them. What struck me most about this CD is how uninhibited Paul sounded on all the tracks, and I can’t recall him being so loose on any previous albums. There’s no doubt that Paul dips into his past, and at times he’s been shackled by his past, on 22 Dreams, the shackles are off.

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In 2010, Paul followed this up with, Wake Up The Nation and typical of the man it was the complete opposite of 22 Dreams in every way, un-commercial and very jagged. Naturally enough, the sales weren’t as high as his previous album and although it reached number 2, it disappeared out of charts rapidly. This move is typical of Paul, and similar to what happened after the stunning success of Stanley Road, where he released Heavy Soul, a much heavier, and less successful album.

 There have been changes to Paul, but underneath the man has remained the same. The acerbic criticisms, his quick temper, and those ever-changing, moods are a part of his character. Whenever I speak to him, I never know whether to wear a T-shirt, or a flak jacket. As for being the changing man, I don’t see that big a change. Nonetheless, you don’t last thirty years in the music business, have a number 1 record at the beginning of your fourth decade, win a Brit, a Novello, and a MOJO award for outstanding contribution, unless you have talent. If Paul didn’t have real talent, and the respect of his peers, he would have disappeared a long time ago.

There’s been a lot of talk over the years about The Jam reforming, which until recently, wasn’t something I advocated. Now, perhaps the time is right, Paul’s solo success is carved in stone, and he has nothing to prove, either to himself or, to anyone else. When Rick Buckler formed From The Jam, I was unsure about this move, as no doubt Rick must have been initially. However, it was when I went to see them at the 100 club, and in Gias here in Italy that I changed my mind. These gig brought back many memories and, I noticed Rick was really enjoying himself, singing along to all the songs. The split up wasn’t particularly well handled, and there was a lot of back biting from all parties, which led it to be called ‘the bitterest split’. Divorce is never an easy thing, but perhaps the time has come for all three members to put the past behind them, shake hands and make up.

Paul, Bruce, and Rick should look no further than the latest Jam book, Thick As Thieves, put together by Stuart Deabill and Ian Snowball. This book is written by the very fans that have supported the trio, [some since 1977], and their words must have moved all three members of The Jam. They certainly moved me. Now, I am of the opinion that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to reform The Jam. Madness have managed to get back together, without looking like they are just trying to ‘fill their boots’. A T-In The Park, or a Knebworth sounds good to me, and would satisfy their fan base, which has grown every year since the split. They can’t leave it too long, as we don’t want to see them, and their fans, pogoing around on Zimmer frames.

People think that it’s easy to write a 3 minute pop song, how wrong they are. Yes, it’s easy to write a piece of pop pap, but Paul has kept his standards high, and there’s hardly a dud in his library. There have been many great songwriters over the last 60 years, and Paul can take his place amongst them, such is the quality of his song writing. In the 19th edition of the Guinness Book of Hit Records he was placed at 43 in the top 100 songwriters, with the likes of, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Freddie Mercury, Sting, Phil Spector and Berry Gordy drifting in his wake.

Genius is a word I wouldn’t attribute to any musician; Albert Einstein yes, he changed the world, but music doesn’t, although it does help spin it around. The word I would use to describe Paul’s talents is unique, and whether you like him or not, there’s no denying his song writing skills. Furthermore, he is still doing it today, and it’s this innate talent that keeps Paul Weller running.

As for Paul’s obituary, many of his critics have been chomping at the bit to write him off as yesterday’s hero, however, they will have to wait a little longer. He is going to be around until the end of this decade, and it’s my guess that when the time comes, Paul will pen his own obituary.

Dennis Munday
January 2013
Ronchi Dei Legionari, Italy.
Author of The Paul Weller biography, Shout To The Top
& the eBook: What A Way To Earn A Shilling

Read 6275 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 16:03
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