Saturday Night at The Apollo: A Weller Weekend in New York

It started with rejection and ended in elation, but it's worth going through the mill to see the man come around. And I found a great bar in Harlem, now that's entertainment.
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The Apollo! Weller at The Apollo, you can’t ask for better than that can you? I guess he could play in your living room. Stevie Cradock on the Sofa, Pilgrim’s drums under your floor lamp, Andy Croft’s Keyboard on the sideboard...

I’m confirmed on the guest list and happy as a pig in the proverbial. My mate Chris has been in touch and has tickets too. Sound. Weller at The Apollo. I Feel Good.

Saturday arrives and no baby sitter. My poor, poor wife. Naturally, she’ll be staying home with the kids. She won’t let me take our eldest (10), who repeatedly plays Paul and Amy Winehouse’s rendition of I Heard It Through The Grapevine on YouTube. She should be up for child cruelty charges. My missus, not Winehouse. Wes. I’ll call Wes; he’s sound and always a good laugh. Good taste in music too. He’s up for it. Chris is stuck with a spare and our mate Dad is recruited. Alllrighhhhttty! We’ve got a Saturday night on our hands boys.

Three of us meet in Kennedy’s on the Westside and there’s some fuck up with the cell phones that means meeting Dad doesn’t go too smoothly. And anyway, Weller won’t be on for a while after 9.30 surely? Long story short, Dad’s outside the Apollo, pissed and we’re late. Oh, and it’s started already. Quick hand off of tickets and we’re in. Well, two of us are.

James Brown, at the fucking Apollo, who’s gonna go for that one? The Hardest Working Man In Show Business sorting the guest list from the after life?

‘Sorry, don’t see Johnny Lake anywhere on this list,’ says the lovely woman at the box office. ‘Could it be under anything else? John, Jonathan, anything?’

‘It could be, what have you got sweet heart?’

‘Nothing sorry. Is there anyone you could phone?’

‘Not really love, don’t worry, can I get two tickets then?’

‘It’s sold out. Could you be under any other name? Who got you on the list? Could it be under their name?’

I really thought we were in. She wanted to let us in but there were a few of her fellow Apollo staff listening in. Still, I know she wanted to let us in until I said, ’It could be under James Brown.’ James Brown, at the fucking Apollo, who’s gonna go for that one? The Hardest Working Man In Show Business sorting the guest list from the after life?

Anyway, you want to know why so many people in Harlem are on drugs? It’s because there’s no bars. 125th Street is like a little slice of Utah. But with black people. Wes and Me, we walked everywhere. Him been the good mate that he is trying to salvage the night me pissed that I nearly got to see Weller at The Apollo. The Apollo man. Think about it. I have. Lots.

We walked for about a month and finally found a spot called Mobay, just off Malcolm X Boulevard. Lovely little gaff. Nice bar, jazz band playing in the back. Good stuff too. I’m no jazz buff but they were good. They really were. Restaurant area at the back. I swear this place had the highest, beautiful black women to men ratio in the whole wide world. Not that I was counting but right in the middle here’s 17 lovely ladies eating some of the best smelling tucker my nostrils have ever sniffed. And no men. Not one.

Wes regales us with a tale that may or may not be true, of a rum distillery he visited in Nicaragua, where they pass the rum through shit at some point.

Wes, is a big rum fan and in his element, there’s bottled Guinness so I’m happy and, even if it comes in a long tall frosted glass, we’re just going with it. What a find this spot is. My new mate, Brian, is cheering for U.C.L.A. on the telly. It could be football or it could be synchronized swimming. Wes and Me, we’re not watching telly. Wes regales us with a tale that may or may not be true, of a rum distillery he visited in Nicaragua, where they pass the rum through shit at some point. I hope it’s not true. Mental note. Never drink rum with Wes. I lean in trying to catch a whiff of his breath. Different rum.

By the time the other two arrive we’ve ingratiated ourselves with the crowd and, certainly, the bar staff. It’s like some strange universe that only a few blokes know about. There are others sure but it’s like 2:1 in here. Mad. Dad’s not impressed with the gig or, ‘The half a gig I saw.’ Chris thinks it was good but says he’s surprised it was heavier on the more, as he puts it, psychedelic type stuff than the soul based songs you might expect Weller to pull from his catalogue given the venue. Apparently, it ended abruptly also. With Porcelain Gods. A great song, to be sure but not what you’d call a closer. Turns out The Apollo’s on a strict 11p.m. curfew. We get a shout out from the band, who’ve spotted fresh (white - the only ones in here) faces and applause from some of the patrons. Me and Dad have our usual Strummer conversation and Wes and Chris are deep in something or other. By chucking out time (earlier than most places in New York AND the clocks go back tonight) we’ve earned a lock in for an extra gargle. Nice. I stick to the black stuff and clear of the rum. Learn about elbow nipples, who knew? And we all get a hug on the way out. Some of us from the barmaid.

Quick cab down town, singing Rudie Can’t Fail. A spliff passed around. No tar but go ahead, and the last thing I remember is young Chris meeting the lovely Megan, some Cougars from Montreal - looked about my age but that’s what you get for supping with the young ones - bingo wings, large breasts and young Wes, bless him, having a drink with a top old lad who’d come in the bar on a walking frame and looked set to roll off his stool at any second. So, I missed the gig, first Weller show in a long while I’ve missed, but had a top night in some top company and found a top little gaff in Harlem I’ll be going back to one day soon.

Sunday night. I’m a big boy. I can handle it. I’ve seen Weller plenty of times. I’m a grown man. Move on. Having a quick look on Facebook. Gav’s off to see Weller in 5 minutes. He can’t wait. Fuck that, I’ll get a ticket off the touts. Who knows when he’ll be back? Screamadelica blaring and no traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel. I Feel Good, again.

I read somewhere once that Paul hardly breaks even on stateside jaunts but he does them as thanks to those of us over here. If that’s true, thanks Paul.

There’s a big crowd outside and touts and the box office is still selling tickets. I’m in. But you know what? What if the nights are mixed up. Five minutes later I’ve two tickets and after show passes in my hand. And I’m on my todd. Chris makes it with five minutes to spare. Yes.

Some bloke comes out and introduces the next act like none of the audience has a clue why they are there. Weller’s a legend in his native England. No shit? Maybe that’s why all around me all I can here are Brits? A word about that. While it’s true there were a lot of English people flew over for his three night stand at Irving Plaza that had been billed as Jam night/Style Council night/Weller night, there’s a hell of a lot of English people in and around New York and they make up the majority of his fan base here. I read somewhere once that Paul hardly breaks even on stateside jaunts but he does them as thanks to those of us over here. If that’s true, thanks Paul.

Curtains open and we’re off. Oh man, he’s going for it. Peacock Suit is like a sonic assault. Love it. Belting tune. No chitchat just straight into 7&3, then Moonshine, then Floorboards Up. What an opening. That’s not a band up there, it’s a gang and they’re out to hurt someone. It only slows down with Pretty Green. I’m well happy, as are the obligatory pissed up Scousers to my right, singing every word like their lives depended on it.

22 Dreams and we’re off again. I’m knackered listening. The band will be shagged if they keep going at this tempo. Catch our breath with a few off the new album. I’m still digesting 22 Dreams and he’s already pumped out Wake Up The Nation. Fuck me, young bands today, what are they playing at? They’re playing it safe that’s what. I can’t get my head round Wake Up The Nation yet. Weller’s albums are so diverse right now yet everything seems to fit. Proper barnstorming rockin’ stomping efforts sit side by side perfectly with retro Walker Brother-esque tunes like No Tears to Cry, a tune that he introduces as his first U.S. number one. Who says he doesn’t have a sense of humour?

After the Highline show a few years ago he almost knocked Liam Gallagher on his arse on his way to shake Paul’s hand.

Trees is a bit of an odd one. A song in five parts covering, as best as I can tell, some one's life span, played in five different tempos and styles. I’m not entirely convinced but fair play who else is taking chances like that these days? Come on kids for fuck’s sake. Weller’s, what, 52? He laughingly says they picked up Bright Star in Spanish Harlem and, dumb as I am, I’ve never picked up on that Spanish tempo until tonight. That lad Craddock, is he the most under rated guitar play in England or what? Paul dedicates Shout To The Top to ‘you lot’. Thanks pal. The lights go up a bit and you can see everyone off their heads singing along. Dancing badly. We’re not a pretty crowd but we’re a happy crowd. Strange Town and Start! rightly get a rousing reception and every one's 18 again, for a few minutes at least.

It’s a great set. Really all-encompassing. Good selections. I’m enjoying the new stuff most of all. You’ve got to hand it to him. First time I heard Echoes Round the Sun I thought it was crap. Now I’m over the moon to hear it live. Eight string bass and all. This line up has some bite to them. Pilgrim might not be as technically sound as Steve White, or maybe he is, but there’s more emotion in his playing. And he looks like a drummer. Drummers are meant to be a bit wild aren’t they? They’re the goalies of music. Couldn’t look smart in a Saville Row suit. Craddock, you can’t drop him. He’s your midfield general. Like I said, they’re a fucking gang, man.

We get two encores. A beautiful Broken Stones. One more chance to go ape shit with Andy Crofts stepping up to the mike and knocking seven bells out of his Rickenbacker. And who cares if Come On Let’s Go owes a thing or two to Teenage Kicks, it’s brilliant anyway so fuck off you doubters. Second encore, Changing Man. That floors me. What a fucking tune. I will never get tired of it. Ever. Porcelain Gods - fuck, is this the new Town Called Malice? And thank you and good night. Nah, just joshing. Full on, full band, That’s Entertainment. Yes it fucking well is. I don’t check my watch but I’m guessing it’s gone a bit past eleven.

Take a bow, vague suggestion that they’ll be back soon - hope so - thanks and lights on. I spot my old mucka Scouse Pete and his lovely missus on the way out. He loves Weller. Really, he does. I mean loves him. God knows how many times he’s seen The Jam, The Style Council, Paul Weller Movement, and Paul Weller. It’s lots. I give him a hug and his Missus a kiss. Great, great people. They have a baby sitter. I know it would make him a very happy man to meet Weller. After the Highline show a few years ago he almost knocked Liam Gallagher on his arse on his way to shake Paul’s hand. I do the right thing. I give him the after show passes. I’m buzzing off the show on the way home, still am 24 hours later. When I get in there’s a message on my cell phone. A photo of Weller and Pete’s wife and the words, ‘Cheers John’. I Feel Good.

That's Entertainment, live at The Apollo

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