Music: The return of the great mod survivor Paul Weller
Published 10/05/2015 | 02:30
In a world where pop stars carefully ration what they tell the press, and where ageing musicians approach promotion with all the enthusiasm of a convict heading to the gallows, Paul Weller is a breath of fresh air.
No subject is out of bounds and he actually seems to enjoy the business of talking about his life and art. He's back with a new album, Saturn's Pattern, that's every bit as varied as his lengthy career has been and while it's a long way from being an artistic high, it boasts enough songs to suggest there's plenty of life in this old survivor yet.
The Modfather - as he's long been known in deference to the large part he played in reviving mod culture in the 1970s - hasn't lost his prolific bent, either: he's now averaging an album every other year. "I won't name names but there are some people who make a record every 10 years and I think, 'what have you f***ing done in that time?' It would bore the shit out of me. I love my home life and when I go home I want to be with my kids and wife, but I'm also very happy that I can go away and do something that's about me, my music and my writing."
Weller is a father of seven children, with four different women. His youngest, twins Bowie and John Paul, were born three years ago and he has had to get used, once more, to the business of 3am feeds and potty training. His wife, Hannah, 27 years his junior, is currently spearheading a campaign in Britain to prohibit paparazzi from photographing children.
Weller first met her when she provided backing vocals on his acclaimed 22 Dreams album, and she sings on Saturn's Pattern too. "My missus is way younger than me and she was saying how shit the 1990s was but there was so much great music then in hip-hop, soul and jazz - real groundbreaking stuff. And there was great pop music - people were writing proper tunes again. That mood inspired me."
After an extraordinarily varied innings as frontman of the much-loved Jam and the decidedly less adored Style Council, Weller found himself at a career crossroads in the early 1990s. His eponymous debut solo album attracted mixed reviews but the next two, the unashamedly nostalgic Wild Wood and Stanley Road (named after the street he grew up in, in the London commuter town of Woking), were outstanding.
"I was without a record label (after Polydor refused to release the final Style Council album, the experimental, but misguided Modernism: A New Decade) and I was being vilified by the press as a washout who'd thrown it all away. So, that got me thinking, 'I don't really have an audience any more, so let's just do what I want to do'. And it was liberating and so many songs were coming out of me at that time."
Weller looks back on the heady late 70s/early 80s days of The Jam with a mix of pleasure and pain. "I'm proud of those songs, man. I was in it for the glory, not the fame, and I hope that when I'm dead and gone that the songs will continue to live on.
"But the peripheral side of it is all bullshit. I remember playing Newcastle, around the time of All Mod Cons - our third album, which was the one that really took off for us - and all of a sudden, it went from having a good, solid fan base to hysteria, almost over night. That made me retract into myself."
He says he managed to avoid falling through the "booze and dope" trapdoor like so many of his contemporaries, but admits that he wasn't always capable of keeping his ego in check. "If I'm honest, I was very much up my own arse towards the end of The Style Council."
He briddles at suggestions that band was a poor follow-up to The Jam. "I think we did really well up to around 1985. We had loads of top five songs and our second album, Our Favourite Shop, was a great record. Later on, though, I seemed intent on destroying everything, of winding up my audience and getting up their noses as much as possible."
His father, John, managed Weller during all chapters of his career and, six years on from his death, Weller still feels the loss profoundly. "He was a brilliant dad, funny as f***, great character. He worked on building sites and had no experience of the record industry and had to learn quickly. I remember when we [The Jam] got our first advance from Polydor. It was for six grand, but we couldn't cash the cheque because we had no bank accounts at the time. We asked for it in cash, but they said no."
His father suffered from dementia for the last few years of his life and it was tough for all the family. "He sort of left before he died." His voice trails off... and then he chuckles heartily: "We drank in every hotel and airport bar in the western hemisphere."
Weller's mother Ann also played her part in his career. When 'Going Underground' took off, she gave up her cleaning job to look after The Jam fan club. "I do think there is that working class ethic in me still. I always thought that you only get what you work for in life. I look at some of my older kids and think, 'you could learn that lesson'. They live in a different time - it's not their fault.
"Everything seems so achievable now with so little work. And maybe it's that old-fashioned ethic that keeps me wanting to make new albums and not retire to Barbados."
Weller insists that he keeps his ego at the studio door and is happy to take guidance from everyone from producer to rookie session player. Ocean Colour Scene's Steve Craddock has long been Weller's right-hand man when making new albums, and he was there for the Saturn's Pattern sessions too.
"He's a great presence and a bit bonkers at times. He always rises to the challenge" - a wicked grin forms - "not necessarily in Ocean Colour Scene. He knows that's true."
Saturn's Pattern (Parlophone) is released on Friday. Paul Weller plays the Olympia, Dublin, on November 17 and 18th
Paul will perform tracks from the new album tomorrow Tuesday and Friday on Later… with Jools Holland on BBC2 - Tuesday 10.00PM and Friday 11.05pm