Best to leave Weller alone?
A brilliant live force, but 'Modfather Paul Weller proves the old adage -- don't meet your heroes, writes Barry Egan... actually, I'm just a blogger and I've met the man in Brussels. I've got no connection with him, never met him before or after. Honest, he was really cool and nice, listened me five minutes saying things he heard a million times before...(Just tried to summarize 25 years of admiration...) He let me come to the soundcheck and he played a very long moment with the son of the LOCAL crew member... We made photos he signed me many stuff, etc... BUT Didn't rushed on him like a screaming fanatic... or he was in a good day? ;) Barry Egan is fair and I'm a little bit like him, I've discovered so many things by the Weller's channel, it's impossible to quantify...Impossible. Beatles, Soul, Kinks, Who, Small faces, Mod's world, etc.etc. I think Barry doesn't know the first line of Weller's book: he NEVER DOES what he DOESN'T WANT to do! :)
A few years ago, Oasis curmudgeon Noel Gallagher was asked who would be the three people he'd invite to his dream birthday party. "I'd invite Paul Weller, 'cause he makes me laugh; Johnny Depp, 'cause he's me mate. And one of the Spice Girls, to give her a good kicking."
Singularly irritating members of girl bands and Mr Depp apart, I would have had Weller at my dream birthday, too. That was, however, until I met the truculent, thorny, moodmeister in the flesh.
There is certain wisdom in the theory that you should never meet your heroes. Just as Paul Weller met his -- The Who's Pete Townsend in 1980 -- and was disenchanted, to say nothing of disappointed, so was I when I met Weller last summer in Maida Vale in London. Graham Greene said that every successful writer needs a sliver of ice in their heart. And Weller seem to have more than a sliver in his heart. He was monosyllable-friendly and non-communicative as if I was there to ask him for a loan of money.
When I told him that it was Jam albums like Setting Sons and All Mod Cons that made me want to get into writing about music, the former lead singer with The Jam, once the biggest band in Britain, couldn't have been less interested (possibly because I used to write for New Musical Express, his least favourite publication on Planet Earth. More on NME later.)
Weller was still the boy about town, the king of the mods at 49 years of age, but meeting him in the flesh was a letdown. Here was the man whose lyrics had me looking up Shelley, Keats, William Blake and George Orwell in the library in Dundrum after school. That hot afternoon in London, Weller was like an Eastenders' parody of a great rock poet, sipping from his mug of tea, fag in his mouth and not an interesting thought in his head. He seemed cynical about almost everything -- an attitude that was at odds with his music.
Then maybe Weller had good reason to be distrusting of his industry. The Guardian once noted that Weller -- like Van Morrison in my opinion -- "often appears to be holding a large abstract grudge against something that hasn't quite happened yet". In 1995, he was saying that four years ago he couldn't get arrested. As he sang on Has My Fire Really Gone Out?:
"Something real is what I'm seeking
"One clear voice in the wilderness..."
"Now," Weller remembered, "it's people saying, 'Great, always liked your stuff.' That's the nature of the business, and once you understand it, you get on with it. It's quite simple -- you can't trust it."
In hindsight, perhaps that attitude seemed to underline his feelings on what might have been an off day. Or, more possibly, it was me.
But there were occasional moments of inspiration when he talked about how the existential truth of Above The Clouds ("When you're scared of living -- but afraid to die; I get scared of giving") was influenced by Nick Drake and how Liza Radley and English Rose actually existed, the English countryside that inspired the pastoral genius of Wild Wood; and the hymn-like Wings Of Speed being stirred by seeing the painting The Lady Of Shallott at the Tate gallery:
"In dreams, she floats on a stream
"With Jesus at the helm, the water reeds that beg
"Her boat along the way
"As she comes to me . . ."
Like Elvis Costello and Ray Davies, Weller's songwriting is as English as treason. It is entrenched in English culture. Oasis were inspired as much by Weller as they were by The Beatles. Town Called Malice nailed the zeitgeist of Thatcher's Britain as much as Ghost Town by The Specials did. Going Underground, Start! and Beat Surrender were nuggets that emerged out of British working class culture via Stax, Motown and The Beatles.
The John Lennon of the Grange Hill generation has been guilty of romanticising the British working class (Man In The Corner Shop, Eton Rifles, Town Called Malice, Saturday's Kids). And it could be argued that he based his whole career up until the age of 40 on The Small Faces and George Orwell.
But he has written some of the best pop songs about British culture (English Rose, Wild Wood, A Man Of Great Promise, Amongst Butterflies, Broken Stones) since The Beatles. According to The Guinness Book Of British Singles, Weller has had more self-penned hits (55) than anyone bar Paul McCartney (69) and Elton John (62).
He told Vox magazine in 1996 that he can never rest: "I'm always trying to prove myself." That restless quest to do just that has marked his best music from The Jam to The Style Council to his solo work. He might sing like Steve Marriott of The Small Faces channelling Otis Redding on occasions, but in truth the moody magnificence of Paul Weller is a joy to behold. Live on stage with a guitar plugged in and the three-minute mod-pop songs screaming out of him, there are few better performers. Just don't say his rootsy blues puts you in mind of Mr Slowhand.
In 1995, Weller was fired up saying that his music has still got that edge -- 1996 classic Stanley Road proved that beyond dispute -- "and hopefully always will have. And if my music got as laid back as Eric Clapton's, I'd pack it in . . . or shoot myself."
Predictably when good old NME dubbed Weller's 1998 album Heavy Soul "Claptonesque", Weller's response was thunderous. (I would say it's more rhythm 'n' blues-inflected rock of The Who, Neil Young's Harvest Moon with Bobby Womack's Poet 1 thrown in with a bit of the two Steves, Winwood and Marriott.) Weller rang the journalist in question -- Northern Ireland-based Stuart Bailie -- and went through him for a short cut.