For thirty years, John Weller managed the career of his son Paul, through the salad days and success of The Jam in the Seventies and early Eighties, the ups and downs of The Style Council and Paul’s re-emergence as a solo artist in the Nineties. Theirs was a unique father-son relationship in the music industry, built on John’s unwavering belief in Paul’s talent and shared values like hard work and pragmatism. John could be blunt, and once refused to have lunch in a record company’s executive dining room, remarking to the managing director: “I didn’t come here to eat, I came to do business.” But his bark was worse than his bite.
John’s success was all the more remarkable since he started in his forties after years working in factories, on building sites and driving a taxi. When The Jam signed to Polydor in February 1977, for a £6,000 advance and a six per cent royalty rate, John admitted he didn’t have a bank account and asked for cash instead of a cheque. A&R man Chris Parry duly went round to the label’s bank in Oxford Street and gave wads of £10 notes to Weller senior. He had been a successful boxer in his youth and proved single-minded when negotiating deals.
In 2001, when the industry bible Music Week compiled a supplement paying tribute to his father on his 70th birthday, Paul commented: “He is 100 per cent behind me. And once you have got that kind of support behind you, you are half-way there, in a way. You have still got to be creative and come up with good tunes but it helps so much when you’ve got someone like that fighting your corner.”
John Weller was born in Brighton in 1931 and grew up in various parts of Southern England, including Chichester, where he took up boxing at secondary school. He fought as a welterweight and, according to his son, won most of his 200 bouts. He left school at 14 and worked as a trainee journalist on the Chichester Observer. In 1949, he was called up for National Service and seemed to have found his métier. He became a physical training instructor and won the armed forces boxing championship.
He later moved to Woking, where he worked in a factory and met Ann Craddock. The couple married in March 1957 and, the following May, had their first child, named John William Weller, though the child became known as Paul. The Wellers also had a daughter, Nicola, in 1962. The family lived in a modest Victorian house on Stanley Road, a location later immortalised on Paul’s 1995 charttopping solo album of that name. Ann worked part-time, first as a cleaner and then as a secretary, while John put in shifts on building sites during the day and drove a cab in the evening. The couple indulged Paul’s love of music and obsessions with The Beatles, The Small Faces and The Kinks.
John bought his son his first proper guitar when he was 12 and Paul later taught his friend, Steve Brookes. In 1972, the teenagers played at their school, Sheerwater Secondary, and a lunch-time gig at a local pub organised by John. Named The Jam, after Paul’s sister surmised that it was a logical choice following on from Marmalade and Bread, they won a talent contest in Woking in 1973. For a while, Paul switched to a second-hand Hofner bass purchased by his understanding parents, but handed it to Bruce Foxton when he joined the line-up, which also comprised drummer Rick Buckler.
John did not bat an eyelid when his son left school in summer 1974 with two CSEs – English and Music – but, since the group were only making £15 each per week from gigs, he insisted Paul work on building sites with him.
John financed several demos – “Takin’ My Love”, “Makin’ My Way Back Home” and other Paul originals – sent cassettes out, bought and borrowed equipment and drove the group to engagements throughout 1975 as his son embraced Dr Feelgood’s energetic brand of R&B and revived the Mod look and the sound of Motown, Stax, Northern Soul and the early Who.
“He was vital in terms of encouraging us to keep on doing it,” Paul recalls. “And, more importantly, he was vital in getting us gigs and motivating us to play live. There were loads of times when we could have split up but he always pulled us back together again.”
Brookes left but becoming a threepiece and seeing the Sex Pistols in July 1976, and supporting them in Dunstable in October, seemed to concentrate The Jam’s minds and give them a punk rock edge. However, even if he excelled at talking promoters into booking The Jam at London venues like the Nashville Rooms and the Hope & Anchor, John was not in the same league as the Pistols’ svengali Malcolm McLaren or the Clash impresario Bernie Rhodes when it came to selling his son’s group to the majors, though a great gig at the Marquee helped convince Chris Parry. Indeed, Parry was so impressed with “In The City”, The Jam’s yet to be released debut single, that he picked up an option for four albums in as many years and upped their royalty rate to 13
per cent. He also introduced John to an accountant and to a music business lawyer, helping assuage some of his concerns.
“At the time, he was a bit worried,” Paul said. “I think he thought that, because he had no experience of the record business, he might have held us back, so he wasn’t even sure if he was going to proceed with it. We said no way, we’ve come this far together, we’re staying together. From then on, he just learned as he went along.”
In May 1977, “In The City” made the Top 40 and The Jam became the first “punk” band to appear on Top Of The Pops, though their Rickenbacker guitars and sharp suits owed just as much to the Sixties. Their first album, also called In The City, reached the Top 20 and, despite a slight hiccup with This Is The Modern World, their rushed second album six months later, they became the British group with the biggest domestic following of their generation. The Clash and The Police had a greater impact internationally but The Jam’s espousal of the Mod image and attitude in turn brought about a full Mod revival in the UK.
By 1982, Paul was struggling with his status as the spokesman of his generation and feeling his bandmates couldn’t make the transition to a more expansive, soulful style, broke up The Jam at the height of their fame. “He was gutted, mortified,” said Paul of his father’s reaction. “He thought I was barmy. Like any good manager, he was saying there’s lots more money to be made here, boys. But it wasn’t right for me. I think it took 15 years for him to get over it.”
John invested as much time and energy in making the Style Council, his son’s next project, successful. He probably gave Paul too much of a free reign, allowing him to launch his own imprint, Respond, though the label scored a Top Ten hit with Tracie’s “The House That Jack Built” in 1983, the year the Style Council’s blissful “Long Hot Summer” went Top Three.
They bought the old Philips recording facility in London’s Marble Arch, which became known as Solid Bond Studios, but, like Respond, it became a financial liability and was sold in 1990.
The previous year, Polydor had rejected the fifth full-length Style Council studio album, the house-influenced Modernism: A New Decade, and John fought Paul’s corner, lifting head of Polydor David Munns out of his chair during a particularly fractious meeting and telling him: “You don’t talk about my son like that.”
But Paul was without a deal, and father and son released “Into Tomorrow” on their own Freedom High label in 1991, and self-financed Paul’s first solo album. John touted the tapes around and refused to take some of the paltry deals on offer. Andy McDonald of Go! Discs stepped in and the Paul Weller album reached the Top Ten in 1992, inaugurating a purple patch which has continued until now, taking in three No 1 albums and three Brit Awards for Paul, now an elder statesman of rock in the Eric Clapton, Van Morrison or Steve Winwood vein.
“It’s all been a gamble, but it’s certainly paid off,” John said. Even after major surgery in 1994 he was a constant, hands-on, silver-quiffed presence on tour. “He has the constitution of a rhino,” Paul said in 2001. “He loves the buzz, the roar of the crowd. He loves being on the road, he loves gigs. That is quite rare in most managers. Most managers sit behind a desk and collect the cheques. He doesn’t.”
John relished helping his son reach the top for the third time, then took a back seat in 2004. He liked to play cards. He loved Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. But most of all, he loved his family and believed his son was one of the greats. Theirs was a solid bond.