THE CHANG­ING MAN

(1990-2007)

Q (UK) - - Cover Story -

Sum­mer 1990.

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.

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