PAUL WELLER

Q (UK) - - Contents - Por­traits: Alex Lake

Q COVER STORY: We take a trip down mem­ory lane with the Mod­fa­ther for 40 years of rucks, drugs, booze and some of the great­est popular mu­sic ever made.

In May 1977, a teenage Paul Weller re­leased his first al­bum with The Jam. By an amaz­ing co­in­ci­dence, he has a new al­bum out this May – ex­actly 40 years after his de­but. Si­mon God­dard meets him to chart The Mod­ness Of King Paul, from punk be­gin­nings to the big­gest band of his gen­er­a­tion to The Style Coun­cil, to the Brit­pop break­down and be­yond, wit­ness­ing his on­go­ing coro­na­tion as mod’s liv­ing monarch in the heart­lands.

For ages, Paul Weller had been bug­ging his mate “The Hob­bit”, ac­tor Martin Free­man, for a small role in the BBC’s Sher­lock. Weller was a fan, es­pe­cially of the first two series (“be­fore it got a bit too con­vo­luted”) and imag­ined a walk-on part be­side Cum­ber­batch’s Holmes and Free­man’s Wat­son “as a busker or some­thing.” And so, in the sum­mer of 2016, Free­man fi­nally obliged his fa­mous chum, sort­ing him a blink-and-miss cameo in the series four fi­nale. Not, alas, as a busker, but as a corpse in pe­riod Nordic cos­tume. “I was there dressed as a fuck­ing viking for six hours,” re­calls Weller, puff­ing his way through a packet of Camel Blue be­tween sips of min­eral wa­ter, sat out­side a West Lon­don pub. “Six hours,” he re­peats. “I couldn’t go any­where. I couldn’t pop to the lo­cal caff dressed as a viking, man. It’d be like a fuck­ing Monty Python sketch.” Di­rect, tak­ing the piss, swear­ing like a tin­ker and never far away from a packet of fags: Paul Weller’s first al­bum came out 40 years ago this May, but he hasn’t fun­da­men­tally changed since then. Forty years in the game, man and boy. He turns 59 this May and the voice is gruffer, the boot-pol­ish-black hair now po­lar­bear-white, but the hu­man force of na­ture about to re­lease his 24th al­bum, A Kind Rev­o­lu­tion, isn’t so dif­fer­ent from the “snot-nosed 18- year-old” he re­mem­bers walk­ing into a stu­dio in March 1977 to make his very first with The Jam. “Forty years in mu­sic, it’s a fuck­ing life­time,” he says, brac­ing him­self for Q’s cel­e­bra­tory scoot down mem­ory lane. “It’s not for me to say where I fit in any canon, or how I’ll be re­mem­bered. And I think the older you get you don’t give a fuck.” Why does he think he’s lasted 40 years? “Cos…?” he pon­ders. “…Cos I’m good at what I do, I sup­pose.” At least one UK Num­ber 1 al­bum ev­ery decade since the 1980s (six to date), life­time achieve­ment tro­phies from both the Brits and Ivor Novel­los, a singer who’s pro­vided suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions from punk to Brit­pop with the sound­track of their lives, who even the com­pli­ment-stingy Mor­ris­sey has hailed “a genius”: Paul Weller, in­deed, is good at what he does. But equally in­trigu­ing is the phe­nom­e­nal longevity of an artist whose de­voted au­di­ence, many a feather-cut dop­pel­ganger in­cluded, con­sider to be their boy done good. A “nor­mal” geezer. One of them. Be­cause he isn’t. There’s an­other Paul Weller: the one who used to walk around the streets of his na­tive Wok­ing bare­foot, who cel­e­brated his first Num­ber 1 sin­gle by go­ing on Top Of The Pops in a kitchen apron. “That’s not nor­mal,” he agrees. No, it isn’t. Nor is one of the most in­flu­en­tial Bri­tish song­writ­ers of all time pop­ping up on telly as a dead viking. That’s why Q reck­ons you’re not the ev­ery­day bloke your fans think you are. Be­cause you, Paul Weller, are a bit men­tal. “Hmmm,” he takes a pen­sive puff of his cig. “Well, we all have our quirks, man.” So The Mod­fa­ther is ac­tu­ally The Mad­fa­ther? “I’m all things to all men,” he beams. “It’s funny. I am kind of reg­u­lar but then I do this other weird thing as well. Even get­ting up on­stage and do­ing all that is kind of weird. I’ve got both those sides in me. I can re­late to a lot of or­di­nary peo­ple, if such a thing ex­ists. But I can also take a dif­fer­ent view on it.” As he sings on A Kind Rev­o­lu­tion, his has been “a long, long road.” So let’s start at the sticky black tar­mac’s be­gin­ning: a date with that snot-nosed 18- year-old, cur­rently await­ing us in a three-but­ton mo­hair suit, chew­ing gum like an an­gry goat in a stu­dio off Ox­ford Street. Just a word of cau­tion: you might want to duck as you en­ter…

eat­ing jam butties and a cup of tea in the morn­ing. I don’t re­mem­ber how it started, though. That’s just peo­ple around al­co­hol for you.” The late ’ 70s and early ’ 80s were, as he re­it­er­ates, “vi­o­lent, tribal times”, a cli­mate that bred many an early mas­ter­piece: Down In The Tube Sta­tion At Mid­night, The Eton Ri­fles and the “kick in the balls” of That’s Entertainment. But it’s also in The Jam that we find the first po­etic pangs of free­dom, es­cape and the long­ing for a pas­toral Eden, themes cen­tral to Weller’s 40- -year year oeu­vre,oe from 1977’ s Away From The Num­bers to 2017’ s The Cranes Are Back. Where does that yearn­ing stem from? “Fuck knows,” he puffs. “You’d have to ask a psy­chol­o­gist, mate. Pos­si­bly from when I was at school? Peo­ple try­ing to box you in, that you were just des­tined for the fac­tory. I re­mem­ber see­ing the job op­por­tu­ni­ties per­son and them ask­ing what I wanted to do and I told them ‘be in a band’ and they scoffed. It’s the free­dom of thought that you can rise above your own wn back­ground. Not ma­te­ri­al­is­ti­cally, but the free­dom to be who­ever you want to be.”

In the au­tumn of 1982, after six al­bums with The Jam, Weller him­self re­assessed who he wanted to be, or rather who he didn’t. Some roundel-patched-parka oundel-patched-parka diehards still can’t for­give him for break­ing up the band of their life, blind to the courage it took a 24- year-old to do so and the wis­dom of fore­sight to bow out at their peak. The Jam’s a model legacy un­tainted by de­cline. Weller may have pulled the trig­ger, but the real cul­prit who loaded the gun was Colin MacInnes, late author of the 1959 mod bi­ble Ab­so­lute Be­gin­ners. After bor­row­ing the book’s ti­tle for The Jam’s top five hit of Oc­to­ber 1981 be­fore he’d ac­tu­ally read it, the fol­low­ing sum­mer he de­cided to make amends on a hol­i­day to Italy with his

girl­friend, tak­ing along a copy of MacInnes’ novel about a teena­ge­nage jazz fan set against the late-’ 50s Not­ting Hill race ri­ots as his beach com­pan­ion. “Readingead­ing that to­tally turned my head,” says Weller, who is still quoted on the back of the cur­rent Al­li­son & Busby pa­per­back edi­tion: “A book of in­spi­ra­tion.” In his case, in­spi­ra­tion to fin­ish The Jam. Why did it af­fect him so much? “It just kick­started me on to the whole mod purism thing. That right­eous path. I re­mem­ber read­ing Ab­so­lute Be­gin­ners and, that same hol­i­day, think­ing I could maybe con­tinue the band for an­other five or 10 years, and that scared me. I re­alised I didn’t want to. I needed to try some­thing else. It was a self­ish move, but you can only be true to your­self.” Only re­cently he was at the gym with his son when a young kid came up and asked: “Are you Paul Weller from The Jam?” To some peo­ple, he knows, he’ll for­ever be Paul Weller From The Jam. He still plays se­lect Jam songs live, but only those that he can ei­ther con­nect to (“which is the hard­est thing”) or “dig” the crowd’s eu­phoric re­sponse. Oth­ers, such as Go­ing Un­der­ground, he doesn’t ever fore­see dust­ing off. “I wouldn’t be able to do that one jus­tice,” he says hon­estly. “And if I don’t feel the words to some­thing any more that’s just cabaret, which I don’t do. A per­cent­age of peo­ple will al­ways get up­set by that. Like re­cently there was some Jam tribute in Liver­pool and I think Bruce’s band was play­ing and some fans got an­gry be­cause I didn’t turn up and we didn’t re-form. And it’s like, groans] ‘Man, are you stupid? You must KNOW by now I ain’t gonna do that, right?’ But some peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions are very dif­fer­ent from mine.” On 11 De­cem­ber, mber, 1982, Paul Weller walked off­stage as the singer in The Jam for the very last time at Brighton Conference Cen­tre. What­ever peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions of what he’d do next, they prob­a­bly didn’t in­volve monks’ cas­socks…

“I was very hot-headed and prob­a­bly dif­fi­cult to deal with. But I was on a mis­sion.”

Then and now: Paul Weller in Carn­aby Street, Lon­don, 1977 (left) and (right), 40 years later, in Jet Stu­dios, Par­sons Green, Lon­don, 13 March, 2017.

Youth ex­plo­sion: The Jam live at Lon­don’s Royal Col­lege Of Art in 1977; (right) mu­sic press cover star in the late ’ 70s and early ’ 80s.

(Above) The end is nigh: The Jam in 1982; (be­low) Weller with Jam ca­reer-high, 1980’ s Sound Af­fects.

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