THE CHANGING MAN
Madchester vibes are rippling across Spike Island, the E’s are dropping at London clubs such as the soon-to-beclosed Shoom and 32- year-old Paul Weller is sat at home. Doing nothing. “I lost interest in everything,” he remembers. “In doing music. In writing songs. I didn’t write at all, or the few attempts I just felt so disassociated and uninspired.” His family and friends become so worried that eventually he seeks professional help. “It didn’t work,” he says. “As soon as they went, ‘Tell me about your father?’ Nah! Not for me, mate. But, y’know, then I took antidepressants flashes a wildly exaggerated grin] and everything was FINE.” Only now, in his late 50s, can Weller acknowledge that as a younger man he struggled with depression. “It’s taken a long time to recognise it but, yeah, depression is something I’ve suffered with over the years. There must be a point where you are clinically depressed but people just think you’re being a grumpy fucker. I know I’ve always had that reputation of being grumpy, and I’m sure I am grumpy at times. But I think a lot of that really was proper depression as well.” The dormant grafter within mercifully resurfaced by the autumn of ’ 90, slowly writing himself out of his rut and returning to the stage under the banner of The Paul Weller Movement, albeit sometimes to half-full venues. “It was literally like starting again. It didn’t feel good at the time, playing to 200 people when I’d been used to thousands, but it did me good. I got too big for my boots in The Style Council. Too arrogant. It brought me back to earth, definitely.” Re-booted and resigned as a solo artist, his eponymous 1992 Top 10 debut was a confident and confidenceboosting comeback, surpassed by its platinum-selling 1993 follow-up, Wild Wood. When his third, 1995’ s Stanley Road, hit Number 1, going on to sell over a million, Weller should by rights have felt vindicated. Perversely, success only brought added aggravation. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful,” he explains, “but it annoyed me that all of a sudden after being so hated and vilified I was flavour of the month again. I found it very, very hard to accept.” He did at least enjoy the ’ 90s, if only socially. “The bad old days,” he smiles. “Well, the good old bad old days.” Among the more notorious legends of Britpop-era Weller – The Madferrit-father – is the time he supposedly ran topless around Noel Gallagher’s back garden in the wee small hours waking up his Belsize Park neighbours in North London yelling “WELL-AH! WELL-AH!” “Why spoil a good story, man?” he shrugs. “Noel does like to exaggerate. Personally, I don’t remember it, roguish eyes saying otherwise] but it’s possible. Anything was possible in the ’ 90s.” By 1997,
Weller had valid reason for wanting to escape reality by any chemical means necessary, now divorced and “cut adrift” after the collapse of his marriage to Lee. Partying to block out the pain, his inner gremlins of remorse and anger found stark voice on that year’s
“It was literally like starting again. It brought me back to earth, definitely.”
brooding Heavy Soul. Arguably his most personal album, from the lost weekend romance of Up In Suze’s Room to the self-flagellating honesty of I Should Have Been There To Inspire You, Heavy Soul is raging midlife-crisis rock: a 38- year-old divorcee’s dark night of the soul made music. “It was a dark night when I made it,” he concurs. “That was the weird thing about that time because everything was on the up for me. People loved me again and all that bollocks, I was selling records, but I’d also hopelessly ruined my marriage with Dee and fucked her about. I just felt so bad and so guilty about everything. So I didn’t really get a chance to enjoy that success in lots of ways. I just buried myself in drugs and booze and all that crap. Everything I felt I’d done, letting her down and my family down, just came crashing down on me. That’s why that record sounds so angry.” They were, indeed, angry times for Weller, a period when journalists who’d dared to serve him a bad review could expect a phone call demanding they meet in Regent’s Park to settle their differences by Queensberry Rules. Twenty years on, surprisingly those critical wounds still sting. “I remember calling that wanker,” he says at the mention of one writer. “Well, it was such a personal review. If someone doesn’t like my record, that’s one thing. But if you want to make it personal, let’s make it personal. All my press officers have said to me, ‘Oh, don’t rise to it.’ But where I come from, if it gets personal, then that’s a different matter. Journos should know that. Mate, if I was in your game, I’d only write about things that I liked.” It couldn’t have helped his temper to know Heavy Soul should have followed Stanley Road to Number 1 had first-day sales not been disqualified: a marketing balls-up had broken chart rules by including one too many free postcards. “That fucking hurt, man,” he groans, half-laughing. “Radiohead with OK Computer] got to Number 1 instead, didn’t they? Too many postcards. Fucking nonsense.” Songs of similar vulnerability and self-doubt haunted his next, 2000’ s Heliocentric, though its arduous (or in Wellerspeak, “ridiculously fucking tedious”) recording process would have negative repercussions on his creativity for the next five years. “They feel like lost years to me, to be honest,” he says of 2002’ s Illumination, an irregular hotchpotch which still reached Number 1, and his 2004 covers album Studio 150, in part an excuse for “a piss-up in Amsterdam”. “The covers album was fun, but I just needed a break from writing, from even thinking about it,” he analyses. “I’d gotten my life together again, I was with my next partner and we’d had kids, so that was a good positive thing. And it wasn’t like I couldn’t write, I just didn’t bother. I’d reached the same point again. I thought, ‘Maybe this is finished?’ And if it’s finished, it’s finished.” Weller somehow recovered his muse for 2005’ s encouraging As Is Now, the beginning of an upsurge if not, quite yet, the high renaissance to come. Speaking too this writer at the end of that year he confided both his disappointment in the public’s response to that album (his first in 12 years not to go Top 2), and a restlessness to next make something “experimental”, even “a bit weird”. It was a mandate that would change his life in more ways than he could ever realise…
Kickingout thejams, Glastonb ury ’94. “All of a sudden, I was flavour of the month again”: (main pic) Weller in 1994; (inset, left) with Noel Gallagher on The White Room, 1995.