Paul Weller In 2014: Why He's As Relevant As Ever

37 years into his career and still impossible to pigeonhole, a new greatest hits complilation proves the ever Changing Man is the most vital of treasures...
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37 years into his career and still impossible to pigeonhole, a new greatest hits complilation proves the ever Changing Man is the most vital of treasures...

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1990, Dingwalls, Camden, London. Assorted club goers are being fed rare grooves courtesy of Shake & Fingerpop's iridescent Norman Jay (at that stage yet to be awarded an OBE) when A4 sheets of paper get stuck on to pillars. "Next week cancelled, Paul Weller Live". Paul Weller had at that stage been absent just long enough for people to ask if it was "the" Paul Weller interrupting their Sunday social. Some moaned about being disturbed for one week, others seem unmoved either way but for a couple of mods taking an Acid Jazz holiday this was an intriguing prospect. I can't remember the cost of the ticket only that they wasn't hard to get and I didn't think I'd broken the bank. A week later I was amongst a very small audience where a nervy but sharp Paul Weller reappeared blinking into an audience gaze. He'd last been spotted live on stage in shorts and pastel colours before an Albert Hall crowd who were one step behind the band he fronted (and would soon dismantle). "He didn't even play guitar" was a taste of the comments at the end of that infamous gig. Well, this night he did. A sojourn back to his roots (he took a trip down Boundary Lane, trying to find himself again) had rebooted Weller. His affection for that rebirth period is out of sync with the devotees in those early crowds who were genuinely pleased to see someone they'd cherished back on the good foot. We all know what happened next. Dadrock, Britpop, the man who launched a movement, Modfather... take your pick. However you saw Weller and his importance in a broader sense he was on hand, front and centre and recording with intent - and he's been doing so ever since.

Weller's graft and craft has seen his standing revised with him being viewed of late as another "British treasure" not too dissimilar to Bromley's David Jones esq. Despite both coming from urban settings (or better put suburban) Bowie seems to have taken up a position as mysterious whisper and high art influence leaving Weller much closer to his audience and the artists he continues to encourage. It's unlikely his kids would quite see their world as children of the same cut of '5 O'Clock Hero' (the song so obviously an ode to Jam guardian and Weller family head John) but it's pretty safe to assume a solid work ethic still counts in the Weller household.

The one word it's hard to disassociate Weller from is integrity. Old school entertainment values, similarly to Kevin Rowland's recently revealed thoughts on giving the paying public a fit and proper show. No short change from the Changing Man. Weller is a man who's earned his stripes and could quite easily sit back with a back catalogue anyone would and should be proud of (if you're counting it currently stands at 22 LPs released). Plenty of other artists would make do but you get the impression, and he's said as much, that he still feels his best album may yet to be recorded and released.

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Fast forward then, and on to a prial of gigs some would describe as "intimate" and others as "fucking hot". The man who is about to embark on a forest tour and a round of festival appearances hits sub-300 capacity venues in his adopted home of London. Bush Hall first where a member of the crowd is told to "shut the fuck up mate", the 100 Club complete with mini power failure and then back, 24 later, to the aforementioned Dingwalls in Camden. It's the arse end of the three that I catch.

When Weller is playing you can sense it in the air. Much like arriving early for an away game at football you start to spot people you just know are there for one reason only along with the odd band member dawdling about before stage time.

Into the venue and the story remains at least in part familiar - 40 something men clinging on to their distant teenage excitement (if not their hairlines), tribute barnets nestling upon the dome of those lucky enough to have kept their thatch, and the possibly less obvious handful of kids who you'd assume stole their dad's records or perhaps just joined some musical dots. The crowd is myriad and has a multitude of ages as does the set list (despite the next release being a catch up on the previous Modern Classics compilation).

'In The City' spat out alongside the bossa beat of 'Ever Changing Moods' and the sing-a-long shanty 'Sea Spray'. 37 years worth of songs all performed without a beat dropped. Weller front and centre - albeit brisk and curt between songs there's no lack of warm and enjoyment coming from the ringmaster. Inevitably it all ends too soon and the crowd filter out with yet another great gig memory. No new songs as the next LP is on hold until the summer shows are done can be the only disappointment albeit an understand stance. The fact that an artist with such a huge back catalogue is still adding to his work with interesting and intriguing work is a joy. The current chapter of Weller sees a man looking backwards, sideways and forward and it's anyone's guess where he will go next. We are just as likely to get a soul classic as we are a modern folk outing from this reinvigorated Paul Weller.


More Modern Classics is out on June 02, if you're bang into the man you've got the lot, but there's a deluxe take with a third disk of session takes to reward collectors and you could do a lot worse than grabbing it for anyone thinking Weller starts and ends with Going Underground (although even if that were true we should all still be thankful his folks bought him a guitar all those years ago in leafy Woking). Get it here