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Paul Weller

Referred to in music circles as The Modfather, singer-songwriter/guitarist PAUL WELLER had his fair share of success while leading out mod-punks The JAM (late 70s to early 80s) and soul collective The STYLE COUNCIL (early to late 80s). Despite his lack of international triumphs, the deeply rooted Englishman has garnered the respect of fans and followers including The SMITHS, OASIS, OCEAN COLOUR SCENE, BLUR, etc.
Born John William Weller, 25th May 1958, Sheerwater (nr. Woking) in Surrey, England, this unique talent was somewhat in the wilderness at the turn of the 90s, having turned to house music on The STYLE COUNCIL’s shelved and unreleased set, `Modernism: A New Decade’. Now without a band or a recording deal, WELLER eventually regained his thirst for music via the low-key Paul Weller Movement, a band comprising SC drummer Steve White, Jacko Peake, Paul Francis, Max Beesley, Damon Brown, Chris Lawrence and DJ Paulo Hewitt, along with backing singers Dee C. Lee (his wife), Dr. Robert (of The BLOW MONKEYS) and Camelle Hinds. The subsequent early late 1990/early 1991 shows saw the singer once again armed with a guitar and suggested that he’d been reacquainting himself with his record collection, more specifically the late 60s R&B and psychedelia.
The `Movement released their “sole” single, `Into Tomorrow’ on his own Freedom High label. It squeezed into the Top 40 nonetheless and WELLER eventually whittled down the bulk of the group for a more basic sound, signing with Go! Discs and debuting with `Uh Huh Oh Yeh’ in late summer ‘92. Hailed as the best thing he’d done in years, the single went into the Top 20 and the PAUL WELLER revival was up and running.
The music press had given the singer a wide berth since his STYLE COUNCIL heyday, and, as the plaudits began to roll in for his Top 10 eponymous debut album, PAUL WELLER (1992) {*7} they were eventually forced to admit that, yes, WELLER was undergoing something of a creative rebirth. Matching the visceral, emotional punch of the music, the lyrics (exampled on hit, `Above The Clouds’) were of a decidedly more personal nature, eschewing politics for matters of the soul and the heart.
With the ebullient `Sunflower’ single and the attendant WILD WOOD (1993) {*8} album, WELLER’s star was most definitely in the ascendant. Characterised by a crisp, uncluttered Brendan Lynch production, the record saw Paul distil his influences into vintage singer-songwriter maturity. With his voice now sufficiently rough around the edges to complement such material (`The Weaver’ and `Hung Up’ were other major hits), the likes of the resonating, meditative folkiness of the title track assumed a greater depth. The album reached No.2, featuring in many end of year polls (including a Mercury Prize), the chino wearing ghost of The STYLE COUNCIL now finally laid to rest. LIVE WOOD (1994) {*5} was a rather unnecessary attempt at cashing in on his success, although the concert set did open with rare versions of `Bull-Rush – Magic Bus’ medley (the latter once a hit for The WHO and his bassist Marko Nelson (ex-BRADFORD) collaboration, `This Is No Time’.
While the UK music press were still largely fixated on US grunge, WELLER was nothing if not instrumental in the upcoming Brit-pop debacle. Cited by the likes of OASIS as a guiding influence, the Modfather was everything that the hordes of mop-topped chancers aspired to. It was a role that WELLER fitted into naturally, OCEAN COLOUR SCENE’s Steve Craddock was already a regular musical collaborator, while NOEL GALLAGHER would guest on WELLER’s forthcoming No.1 album, STANLEY ROAD {*8}. Released in spring ‘95 as Brit-pop was reaching its zenith, the album was earthier than anything WELLER had recorded in his career to date. Again produced by Lynch, the record was previewed by the blistering singles, `Out Of The Sinking’ and `The Changingman’, the latter’s lyrics signalling an even more personal bent to WELLER’s writing as the looking-good-for-30-something star even began appearing in the British style press. Elsewhere on the album, WELLER covered DR. JOHN’s `I Walk On Gilded Splinter’ (segued with `Porcelain Gods (Part Two)’, although it was the spirit of CLAPTON or WINWOOD that most often came to mind. WELLER was at his most affecting on the ballads, the deeply felt `You Do Something To Me’, the beautiful gospel-soul of album closer `Wings Of Speed’ and the brilliantly evocative Hammond/Wurlitzer musings of `Broken Stones’.
Of course, a backlash was inevitable, and certain sections of the music press derided WELLER’s new material as tired “dad-rock”, an incestuous Brit-pop conspiracy which continually looked to the past instead of breaking new ground. While this may have been true to a certain degree, and WELLER was partly responsible for the vexing success of the terminally workmanlike OCEAN COLOUR SCENE, the man was simply integrating retro influences into his muse as he’d done all the way through his career; it’s the fact that these influences changed which seems to annoy some writers.
Keeping his profile high with various festival appearances (as well as a predictable guest spot at OASIS’ Knebworth show), WELLER (now signed to Island Records following the demise of Go! Discs, eventually returned to the fray in summer ‘97 with the storming `Brushed’ single. Arguably standing among the best of WELLER’s work to date, the track was propelled by a stone solid/funky as hell rhythmic thrust (courtesy of drummer Steve White), combining mod, psychedelia and rock in a fashion that he’s only previously hinted at. Raw is probably the best word to describe it and the best word to describe the accompanying album, HEAVY SOUL (1997) {*7}, WELLER’s voice as impressive as ever on a set which nevertheless too often relies on “authentic” sound over songwriting; differing Top 30 singles `Peacock Suit’, `Friday Street’ and `Mermaids’ coming off the best of the bunch. 1998, saw his divorce from Dee C and the release of two Top 30 singles, `Brand New Day’ and the `Wild Wood’ remixes EP, mainly to complement the delivery of his “best of” package, MODERN CLASSICS – THE GREATEST HITS {*8}.
Come the new millennium the doggedly determined WELLER underwent yet another creative renaissance with the acclaimed HELIOCENTRIC (2000) {*7}. The record mightn’t have struck a zeitgeist-style chord like Stanley Road but it confirmed his ever changing muse was still as fertile as ever. It was also one of the most PAUL WELLER-sounding albums he’d ever done, a rich, life affirming blend of soulful, occasionally psychedelic retro influences. Mystifyingly, the acoustic-centric `Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea’ was its only minor hit, `He’s A Keeper’ failing to register at all.
That very richness one talked about was the key ingredient of DAYS OF SPEED (2001) {*6}, a document of WELLER’s recent solo tour which – in its pared down acoustica (and included old JAM numbers, `English Rose’, `That’s Entertainment’ and `Town Called Malice’) – served to underline the sheer breadth and consistency of the man’s songwriting. Just to note, Paul was cleared of all rape charges in October 2000 (from four years back) and stated at the time the unfairness of the anonymity law not protecting the innocently accused.
On the music front once again, WELLER soared to No.1 with his sixth studio solo set, ILLUMINATION (2002) {*7}, a soulful and back to basics album that featured the Top 10 single, `It’s Written In The Stars’; also of note were Top 30 entry `Leafy Mysteries’ and a Kelly Jones (STEREOPHONICS) co-penned track `Call Me No.5’.
The Modfather was back in 2004 with a full-blown covers set, STUDIO 150 {*5} (named after the Amsterdam studio where it was recorded), almost making it back-to-back No.1’s in succession but never straying far from his time honoured soul/folk/pop predilections. Three of the album’s four spin-off singles covered soul/disco territory: ROSE ROYCE’s `Wishing On A Star’, GIL SCOTT-HERON’s `The Bottle and SISTER SLEDGE’s `Thinking Of You’ – Top 20 hits all. He also just scraped into the Top 40 with folkie GORDON LIGHTFOOT’s `Early Morning Rain’, previously covered by the likes of George Hamilton IV amongst others. WELLER had long expressed his fondness for writers like TIM HARDIN and NEIL YOUNG, so nor was it much of a surprise to see him doing `Don’t Make Promises’ and `Birds’ respectively, or even NOEL GALLAGHER’s previously unrecorded `One Way Road’. Others to be included were `If I Could Only Be Sure’ (Nolan Porter), `Black Is The Colour’ (trad.), `Close To You’ (Bacharach-David), `Hercules’ (ALLEN TOUSSAINT) and `All Along The Watchtower’ (BOB DYLAN); over the years a raft of B-side covers (mostly contained within the boxed set of 2003, FLY ON THE WALL) surfaced from time to time, namely `Feelin’ Alright’ (TRAFFIC) / `Abraham, Martin & John’ (MARVIN GAYE hit), `Sexy Sadie’ + `Come Together’ (The BEATLES), `I’m Only Dreaming’ (The SMALL FACES), `I Shall Be Released’ + `Corrina, Corrina’ (BOB DYLAN), `Coconut Grove’ (The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL), `Family Affair’ (SLY & THE FAMILY STONE), `Let It Be Me’ (Betty Everett & Jerry Butler), `Don’t Go To Strangers’ (ETTA JAMES), `Needles And Pins’ (JACKIE DeSHANNON), `Black Sheep Boy’ (TIM HARDIN), `I’d Rather Go Blind’ (an ETTA JAMES hit), `My Whole World Is Falling Down’ (BOOKER T. JONES), `Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ (BOBBY BLAND hit), `Waiting On An Angel’ (BEN HARPER), `Bang-Bang’ (SONNY BONO), `Instant Karma’ (JOHN LENNON) and `Don’t Let Me Down’ (The BEATLES).
The Top 5 AS IS NOW (2005) {*7} showcased harder hitting originals, acknowledging the current crop of JAM devotees on hits, `Come On / Let’s Go’ and especially `From The Floorboards Up’, his spikiest Top 10 in decades. Save for its Fred Wesley-esque brass, `Here’s The Good News’, was more familiar WELLER, and a Top 30 to boot. Summer 2006 saw the man release live at the Alexandra Palace double-set, CATCH-FLAME! {*7} and appear at T In The Park in Balado, Scotland. Of the album, there was room for a cocktail of classics spanning his entire career, including encore JAM and STYLE COUNCIL reinterpretations.
Augmented by a stellar cast of guests including ROBERT WYATT, GRAHAM COXON, NOEL GALLAGHER (on `Echoes Round The Sun’) and as always Steve Craddock, 22 DREAMS (2008) {*7} was WELLER weighing in with 21 tracks ranging from jamming jazz, psychedelic soul and fragile folk. `Song For Alice’ (a tribute to Alice Coltrane), `Light Nights’ and `Sea Spray’ fitted well into this freewheeling “White Album” of sorts, eclectic and, in places, excellent.
WAKE UP THE NATION (2010) {*8} was Paul and long-time co-writer/producer Simon Dine at the top of their game. As fierce and as bare-bones rock’n’roll as any of his JAM artefacts; the adrenaline-rush of `Moonshine’, the title track (his best for some time) and `Fast Car – Slow Traffic’ (reuniting him with old JAM mucker Bruce Foxton) had it all, while there was the quaint soul on `Aim High’ and his Kevin Shields (MY BLOODY VALENTINE) manic-psych in `7 & 3 Is The Strikers Name’. Always a live must-see, the 50-something WELLER complemented the studio set with a concert double, FIND THE TORCH, BURN THE PLANS (2010) {*6}. Buoyed a cover of MARVIN GAYE’s `How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ – featuring fresh-faced Tennessee-born soul-stress LAUREN PRITCHARD, RICHARD HAWLEY on `No Tears To Cry’ and Kelly Jones on a JAM gem `The Eton Rifles’, one couldn’t fault the Modfather in extended his live CD CV; `Strange Town’, `Start’, `Butterfly Collector’, `That’s Entertainment’ and `Art School’ were worth the admission price alone.
Still able to command a No.1 spot (although discarded across the seas), SONIK KICKS (2012) {*7} took him at times into Krautrock/Berlin-BOWIE territory, the man always willing to expand his horizons; example opener `Green’ and `Sleep Of The Serene’. Followed by the PHIL SPECTOR-esque drive of `The Attic’ and the cabaret/musical style of `Kling I Klang’, the BLUR of `When Your Garden’s Overgrown’ and the orchestral frailty of `By The Waters’, the album was defiantly schizoid. Inspired one thinks by The SUPER FURRY ANIMALS, `That Dangerous Age’ was a rather poignant title for the legend that was PAUL WELLER.
MORE MODERN CLASSICS (2014) {*8} rounded up the man’s recent hits from the past decade and a half, while fans awaited fresh material.
Heavy soul or soft rock, the ever changing moods of the Modfather was let loose again on near chart-topper SATURNS PATTERN (2015) {*8}. The great thing about the man is his willingness to experiment – but not too much as to alienate his long-standing fanbase. Slightly schizoid in its back-to-back blend of rawk’n’roll and sophisti-soul, the opening cut `White Sky’ (a collaboration with AMORPHOUS ANDROGYNOUS) and the trad-psych title track example this respectively. WELLER then welled-up with the cosmic-60s beat of `Going My Way’, followed by the intense garage-punk of `Long Time’. Definitely his most astute set in years, his raid in the bonkers beat of The BETA BAND was defined on `Pick It Up’, but there was no chicken-and-egg theory on the BACHARACH-lite `Phoenix’ – a classic. If STEVIE WONDER was “Living For The City”, then stylish councillor PAUL WELLER was living for `These City Streets’, the title of his wondrous 8-minute book-end.
PAUL WELLER was possibly the last major star many would assume to glean a soundtrack commission. So when the former Mod man’s name emerged to author the original score to Thomas Q. Napper’s quasi-autobiographical boxing drama JAWBONE (2017) {*6} – starring Johnny Harris in the lead role – many thought there’d be no official OST release. Quite the contrary; in fact the album reached the Top 50 – quite a feat for any work of this genre. And proving his worth as a non-pop composer, there was 21 minutes of just ambient mood music on the suite, `Jimmy – Blackout’, to open the set’s account. Interspersed with the remainder of instrumentals, a folk-y WELLER underlined two songs, `The Ballad Of Jimmy McCabe’ and `Bottle’.
Only a few months down the line, the real PAUL WELLER stood up for the cosier A KIND REVOLUTION (2017) {*7}. A soulful set in many respects (some would say sculpted like “Wild Wood”); the Top 5 record explored many avenues between British trad rock, feisty funk and groove-grinding R&B. In respective songs such as `Woo Se Mama’, `She Moves With The Fayre’ and `The Cranes Are Back’, WELLER was as freewheeling and comforting as he’d ever been. Then there were the guest spots for BOY GEORGE on `One Tear’ and ROBERT WYATT, who could be heard on the aforesaid `She Moves…’ a safe-as-houses set all ‘n’ all.
Edging out EMINEM from the No.1 spot would be an unsuccessful challenge, just, to the promoters of WELLER’s next outing, TRUE MEANINGS (2018) {*7}. At 60 years old, Paul decided to leave rock’n’roll out in the cold, choosing instead to opt for fireside folk in a way NICK DRAKE production ally Robert Kirby would’ve been proud. Finger-pickingly fine-tuned and orchestrated mostly all over, `The Soul Searchers’, `Gravity’, `Glide’ and his homage to `Bowie’ came to the fore with grace, but without danger.
Favouring the lush backdrop of an orchestra, the PAUL WELLER BAND was prouder than proud to unveil OTHER ASPECTS: LIVE AT THE ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL (2019) {*7}, a double-CD/DVD package from the previous October that comprised the man’s soft-shoe re-workings encompassing his long solo career. From the beauty of `One Bright Star’ to `May Love Travel With You’, the grey-haired Modfather took nostalgia to a new dimension.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jun2014-Jun2019

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