From The Observer
Paul Weller, 22 Dreams 5 stars
The trad rocker's ninth solo album embraces everything from Krautrock to jazz. Miraculously, it's brilliant, writes Amy Raphael
Sunday May 18, 2008
When you've been in the music business for over three decades, you're about to hit 50 and your image-defining hair has long since turned silver, what the hell do you do to keep things interesting? Perhaps more to the point, is anyone out there really holding on for the ninth Weller solo album or are most simply content to return to the comfort and beauty of 1993's Wild Wood or 1995's Stanley Road? If you think that Weller is sitting back in Surrey, taking it easy and winding down, think again. If you've all but lost interest in the man they insist on calling the Modfather, read on.
Paul Weller is about to have yet another moment. He's had plenty of these, even in recent times: the indulgence of 2004's Studio 150, an ill-advised album of cover versions, was followed a year later by the solid, energised trad rock of As Is Now. But who could have anticipated the man who started his career with the punked-up sharpness of 'In the City' and 'The Eton Rifles' making a two-disc album that runs for 70 minutes and is most easily defined by the word 'concept'? Not only that, but it's actually pretty damn fine.
The record is, apparently, an attempt to capture the changing of the seasons. It all sounds terribly pretentious, but it's not. The regular set-up stayed the same: 22 Dreams was recorded over the period of a year in a rural studio near Weller's hometown of Woking with guitarist Steve Cradock, who has lent all Weller's solo albums a distinctive retro sound, and producer Simon Dine. But, instead of being paralysed by impending middle age, the notoriously prickly Weller has decided to loosen up. And the results are startling.
Weller is still embracing rock, soul and jazz-funk, but there are new genres previously unexplored on his solo projects: electronica, Krautrock and spoken word. The themes (love, the breakdown of relationships, the passing of time) may be familiar but the music is often experimental. With lightly arpeggiated piano, a harp and Robert Wyatt on trumpet, 'Song for Alice' is a bluesy, free-form homage to the late Alice Coltrane; '111', influenced by Sixties avant-garde, is a chaotic mix of Moog and mellotron.
Yet, away from the psychedelic madness of 'Echoes Round the Sun' (on which Noel Gallagher plays bass and piano), there are quiet moments too. 'Lullaby für Kinder' is a gentle, melancholic instrumental, while 'Invisible' is a sparse love song worthy of mid-period Elvis Costello. It's a little surprising to hear the early era Bowie vocals on 'Black River' (which translates as Weller doing Bowie doing Newley: very odd and oddly good). But then this collection of songs is way out of the changing man's comfort zone. Which is not to say there's no vintage Weller here. There among the unexpected is the thumping rock of the title track, courtesy of Little Barrie, and 'Cold Moments', which sounds like a Style Council cover. Has Woking's finest been around for so long that he is now influencing himself?
Such an eclectic, ambitious record might be expected to sound disparate, desperate even, but instead it's a set of distinctive, strangely addictive songs. Only 'God', the misplaced spoken word track, disrupts the flow. Weller himself says it's 'designed to be listened to in one sitting, in the same way that Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper's were'. 22 Songs certainly isn't up there with two of the best records ever made, but the bar has been raised and the conceit works. At almost 50, Paul Weller is one of the few musicians in this country who, alongside Damon Albarn, can turn his hand to almost anything and make it work.
From The GuardianDad rock anyone?
Paul Weller and Chris Rea could teach our indie hopefuls a thing or two about making interesting, challenging music ...
Friday May 16, 2008
I've called Paul Weller lots of things in my time - Beatles-fancying larcenist, Pat Butcher-quiffed onanist - but I've never called him a forward-thinker. That's right, a forward-thinker. Maybe I've lost my mind in the heat, but the grumpy old man responsible for more meat-and-potatoes British rock than anyone else in recent memory has changed his tune. Not for the first time, admittedly - if you've heard the Style Council's lost deep house LP, Modernism: A New Decade, you might quibble with the meat-and-potatoes assessment - but the Modfather is moving with the times.
The evidence is Weller's forthcoming album, 22 Dreams, out on June 2. It's a 21-track double LP featuring the mesmeric talents of Noel Gallagher, Gem Archer and Ocean Colour Scene's Steve Cradock (stop rubbing your jugular with a nail file, please). It comes with a short story by poet Simon Armitage, a bonus disc of instrumentals and a terrifying picture of the artist in a wet-leather jacket stolen straight from a Soft Cell convention. And the first single from it, Echoes Round the Sun, is released on Weller's 50th birthday. All this suggests something dire, I know: another bloated, self-satisfied vanity exercise by a man with too much time on his moisturised hands. But put the record on, and you'll hear something quite special.
Light Nights kicks things off, a folky violin and guitar miniature in which Weller sounds like John Martyn gargling gravel. Then things get weird. Song for Alice has a wilfully psychedelic brass solo, 111 could be a Krautrock out-take and the concluding track, Night Lights, tangles gentle rhythms and euphoric effects. Elsewhere, this experimentation seems to have upped the quality of Weller's more conventional songs too: All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You) is the best tune he's written for years. Still, this is one mad record.
This gets me thinking: are the grizzly old buggers of rock today's mavericks? Looking through my pile of recent records, groaning with landfill indie and identikit electro by impressionable youngsters, perhaps they are.
You want some other examples? Let's take Chris Rea. That's right, Chris Rea, the hairy-lipped rasper from Middlesbrough who likes driving home for Christmas. Earlier this year, he released The Return of the Fabulous Hofner Blue Notes, a gorgeous 38-track vinyl package documenting the comeback of a fictitious 1950s instrumental group called the Delmonts. Then there's Chris de Burgh. That's right, Chris de Burgh: the monobrowed, red-lady-botherer who travels with spacemen for Christmas. He's been playing and recording with the Iranian band Arian.
Then there's Robert Plant, the man who denied Led Zeppelin fans a full band reunion by touring his Americana album, Raising Sand, with Alison Krauss.
I know what you're thinking: all these men's pockets groan with cash, so they can afford to do what they fancy. But here's the thing: they don't have to experiment. They could lie back on their chaises longues and fart out their old hits every couple of years to keep their fingers in the honeypot. But they don't. They crank out the crowd-pleasers on stage at the same time as they pursue their strange personal projects. And this suggests something quite radical: that these ageing stars must be in it for the love of the music.
More than anything, this is good for the casual fan. Like Springsteen, Rea, Plant and de Burgh, Weller is the kind of artist whose albums might be bought by middle-aged MOR-loving parents on the milk-run in Tesco. Hey, mum and dad: here's some folk, bluegrass and world music tossed in with your cornflakes. What's more, it could open tired ears to other music out there, far beyond the pedestrian environment that new "stars" such as the Pigeon Detectives and the Holloways plod through.
So listen up, you young bores. Take some lessons from the great men you look up to, and some great men you don't. Just like Weller, being a Changing Man could be the making of you.
From The New StatesmanChasing the blues away.
Published 15 May 2008
Paul Weller was horrified to learn that the young David Cameron was a fan of the Jam.
It is 10pm on May Day, and just as the polling stations are closing, Paul Weller leans conspiratorially across the restaurant table. "I'm going to play 'Eton Rifles' tomorrow night," he whispers with a hint of pride. "The time is right again, don't you think?" As we talk at a quiet trattoria in a central London side street, a Boris Johnson victory is looking inevitable. "I thought I'd never play that song again, but it's just as powerful now, just as relevant, as it was in 1979."
"That song" was written after Weller, aged 21, saw a TV report about Right to Work marchers being jeered by the schoolboys as they passed the gates of Eton College en route from Liverpool to London. "The Eton Rifles" is, like much of his work with the Jam, a satire railing against inequality and social division. Over a seething backdrop of rumbling drums and squalling feedback, a three-minute class war is played out, riven with resignation - "What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?" - and sarcasm: "We were no match for their untamed wit."
Three decades later, the young chaps dressed in Eton's black tailcoats and white ties when that song came out are becoming some of the most powerful politicians in Britain. They clearly didn't respond to the music of their youth in quite the way the musicians intended: Mayor Johnson has a well-publicised taste for the Clash, particularly their 1980 Sandinista! album. And the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, recently told a Radio 4 programme, The Jam Generation, that his favourite song was "'The Eton Rifles', inevitably. I was one, in the corps. It meant a lot, some of those early Jam albums we used to listen to. I don't see why the left should be the only ones allowed to listen to protest songs."
The man who wrote the song shakes his head with disbelief. "Which part of it didn't he get? It wasn't intended as a fucking jolly drinking song for the cadet corps. I'll play that tomorrow night with as much passion as when it was written nearly 30 years ago. It's never been more appropriate, man." Weller celebrates his 50th birthday this month, and the day after our interview he played the first date of a nationwide tour to promote a new album, 22 Dreams. It's a long way from his first gig as a 14-year-old schoolboy at the Walton Road Working Men's Club in Woking in 1972, but the nerves haven't gone away. "I'll be terrified. Half an hour before I go on I'll be locked away, alone, very quiet. I'll be reflecting on what I need to do, on whether I can still do it. I'll be wishing I was anywhere in the world but that dressing room at that moment, you know, knotted and sick with nerves. It never gets any easier."
"The Eton Rifles" is the only hit from Weller's back catalogue that he plans to include in the set. His artistic sights are set firmly forward, and while he still rails against Boris and Cameron, he grew disenchanted with political activism long ago. A photograph of the 1985 press conference that launched the pro-Labour pop collective Red Wedge captures a moustachioed Ken Livingstone with one arm around the shoulder of Neil Kinnock and the other embracing Paul Weller, who was then playing with the Style Council. He is wearing a scarlet V-neck sweater over a white polo neck, and looks as if he is seeking assurance from Billy Bragg, who stands (both physically and philosophically) to Kinnock's left.
Today, however, he admits that he hasn't voted in the local elections. "I really didn't know who to vote for. I threw my polling card in the bin. Obviously I'd vote tactically if it meant keeping the BNP or some other nutter out. But Ken or Boris? What choice is that?"
I remind him that he once stood shoulder to shoulder with the soon-to-be-ousted mayor, comrades united by anti-Thatcherism. "Yes, but power corrupts. He's just become another professional politician, looking out for himself. Bendy buses! And Boris. How can you vote for a man who looks like he's got his mum to cut his hair with the garden shears? He's a gibbering idiot, like Tim Nice But Dim." He doesn't buy the idea that Johnson's cuddly-fool demeanour may be an act. "Then he's a fucking good actor, mate."
While the younger Weller bemoaned the 1970s Tory resurgence in song ("The braying sheep on my TV screen/Make this boys shout, make this boy scream!"), the middle-aged version draws inspiration from his five children and from God. "Yes, I'm a believer," he says, "not in a structured Christian sense, but you can either be open to all possibilities beyond physical existence, or you can shut it out. And how on earth can denial be a positive way to advance or enhance your life? So, yes, I sort of pray. I have a quiet word now and then." 22 Dreams is underpinned by this tentative spirituality. "I'm well aware that you're only as good as your latest work, but I'm quite happy for anyone to judge me by 22 Dreams," he says, adding with a rare flash of the old arrogance: "It's one of the best things I've ever done."
It is certainly bold. A 24-song double album, 22 Dreams incorporates virtually every musical influence that has been brought to bear on Weller's career so far. It opens with folk fiddling and Bert Jansch-style raga guitar work and, with a blast of soul horns and furious drumming, crash straight into the title track ("Had 22 dreams last night and you were in 21/The last one I saved for myself"). Weller himself plays drums on the yearning soul of "Empty Ring". Robert Wyatt blows a mournful jazz trumpet to interrupt the loping groove of "Song for Alice", a tribute to the late Alice Coltrane; the former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon takes to the drums on the woozy, bucolic "Black River"; Noel Gallagher gets on bass for the pounding, psychedelic rock of "Echoes Round the Sun". Elsewhere, a piano-playing Weller leads a string quartet in a lullaby for the youngest of his five kids, croons his way through a tango, and offers a pained piano ballad in the stark and delicate "Invisible".
Weller regards the LP as an early birthday present to himself. "It's totally self-indulgent - it's the record I wanted to make, had to make." He originally intended to call the album "Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May", after a John Waterhouse pre-Raphaelite painting of the same name. Recorded over the course of a year in his own Black Barn Studios, hidden down a rutted track in the fields that surround the picturesque Surrey village of Ripley, the album is also a product of its environment. "The barn plays a key role on the record," explains Weller. "I like recording with the doors wide open, whatever the weather. We watched the seasons change whilst we were making music, and I've tried to convey that sense of life coming full circle. So, in a way, it's a kind of concept album."
His voice tails off and he becomes guarded, seemingly wary of himself. Weller does this whenever the conversation veers too close to artistic hows and whys, to motivations and meanings. "Without sounding too poncey about it . . ." is a phrase he uses to precede any analysis of his artistic output. "I would like people to listen to this record in one sitting," he says, "to follow the journey. Stick with it. It's a good trip."
From The Independant
How We Met: Steve Cradock & Paul Weller
'I can't remember going to gigs with him. But we're always slaughtered by that point anyway'
Interviews by Rob Sharp
Sunday, 18 May 2008
Paul Weller, 49, is one of Britain's most enduring and acclaimed musicians. He was the founder and lead singer of The Jam and The Style Council, before moving on to a successful solo career. He lives with his partner, Sammi, and two of his five children in London
I met Steve when he was about 16. It was the 1980s and he used to come down to visit us in the studio we were playing in at that time in Marble Arch.
I guess it must have been The Style Council days, and Steve was a big Jam fan and would come along, this kid, and bug the shit out of us. He was trying to get me to listen to demos of his band. Kenny [Wheeler], our tour manager, who has been with me for donkeys' years, used to kick him out. While there wasn't violence involved, and Steve wasn't a stalker, he would come regularly, until it got to a point when I didn't see him for a long time. It's so funny that Ken used to lob him out of the studio and now we're working together.
I next met him in 1991 when he was with Ocean Colour Scene and they were making their first album back at the same studio in Marble Arch. I walked up to him and said "I know you" and he said he used to come down when he was a kid and the penny dropped. He wasn't embarrassed, but it was weird seeing him all those years later. We stayed in touch and he supported me a couple of times over the next few years.
I always thought he had something; he was a good guitarist and he looked the part on stage as well. I got him to play a track on my album Wild Wood; we got rid of the great big tray of effects and plugged his guitar straight into the amp. And that was it.
He is a magical person. Both in a band and in the studio he's the right guy to have around because he's so positive and optimistic. When he first played with us he had to learn the ropes quickly, which he did. I would say that he's learned from me in terms of the level of playing and approach, and a certain amount of professional conduct, I think, but we've both tried to move on as people and musicians.
We both like The Kinks, The Who, The Small Faces, we both love soul and R&B and are both reggae fans, and we are also into The Stone Roses, The La's and Oasis – that form of British music. Apart from that, I'd always socialise with Cradock, as he's one of my best mates. I can't remember going to any gigs with him. But we're always slaughtered by that point in the night anyway.
Steve Cradock, 38, is a guitarist with Ocean Colour Scene and has played guitar with Paul Weller since the early-1990s. He has performed on all of Weller's solo albums for the past 15 years. He lives with his wife Sally and their two children in Birmingham
I remember going down to Paul's studio when I was 17 and I turned up there because I didn't fancy doing my exams. I wanted to go and check London out and to meet some of my heroes, get out of Birmingham for a couple of days, really. So I did that, met him and played him a couple of my demos. There was an old boy on the door called Arthur who was a lovely old gentleman and he let me in and I was there for an hour or so. And then Kenny gave me the "What are you doing in here" and I got thrown out.
Later, when I was with Ocean Colour Scene, Paul recognised me from being that little mod kid and I think he had a copy of our first single. I bought a scooter off him, I seem to remember, a Vespa, which subsequently got stolen, and then a year or two later he asked me if I wanted to play guitar in his band.
That was amazing. I knew I didn't have the ability as a guitar player but he said he thought I was the right person for the job, which over the years has proved him right. I just thought I wasn't a good guitar player, or didn't have the ability Paul needed to play the right songs.
But he was very supportive. It doesn't cost you anything to be nice is what I've learned from him, and I've learned resilience to drinking and bad language.
We will always go to the pub, though we've both got young families – and he comes to Birmingham if we go out; I wouldn't go down to London. But we were talking about getting a little crèche back-stage in London to look after the kids.
I've been playing with him for 15 years. On 22 Dreams he gave me a free go and I was playing a lot of drums, a couple of different soundscapes on the instrumentals and was basically lucky enough to hang out and see what was going on. It was good to get the insight. When I turned 30 I realised I had stopped worrying about it and felt much more comfortable with it all. But that first meeting with him was certainly a rite of passage.
From The Sunday Times
May 18, 2008
The Modfather sniping at David Cameron and his Eton Rifles.
Paul Weller of the Jam was the angry, impassioned voice of a generation opposed to Thatcherism. Little wonder, then, at the cackles of disbelief when David Cameron declared that his favourite song was Weller’s The Eton Rifles, a satire railing against social division and inequality in Britain.
Weller, one of the most respected and inventive figures in pop music, was a 21-year-old living in a rented caravan when he wrote the song after seeing a television report about right-to-work marchers being jeered by Eton schoolboys as they passed the college. By contrast, the Tory leader was a 12-year-old newcomer to Eton, where he joined the cadet corps - the object of Weller’s ridicule: “All that rugby puts hairs on your chest/ What chance have you got against a tie and a crest.”
Hence the incredulity at Cameron’s insistence that he had embraced this enraged riposte to his own school chums. “It meant a lot, some of those early Jam albums we used to listen to,” he told the Radio 4 programme The Jam Generation. “I don’t see why the left should be the only ones allowed to listen to protest songs.”
Weller, the stylish “Modfather”, may have mellowed a bit since The Eton Rifles helped to confirm the Jam as one of the biggest and most influential bands in the UK, but his rejection of the Tory leader’s claim showed he had lost none of his spiky invective: “Which part of it didn’t he get? It wasn’t intended as a f****** jolly drinking song for the cadet corps.”
Among clunking mismatches, this ranks alongside Born in the USA - Bruce Springsteen’s condemnation of America by an unemployed Vietnam veteran - being praised by President Ronald Reagan during his reelection campaign.
The fuss casts the spotlight on a resurgent Weller just before 22 Dreams, the most interesting album he has made in a while, is released on June 2. “It’s a sprawling mess that could be awful, but it turns out to be excellent,” said Mark Edwards, our rock critic. It is also a reminder that this reticent icon, dubbed “a rock star’s rock star”, is revered by the pop aristos he grew up worshipping, notably Sir Paul McCartney. Noel Gallagher is one of his best friends.
With his trademark vocals in a gruff sarf London accent, vivid melodies and lyrics that catch the nuances of working-class life, Weller triumphed with the Jam and then with the Style Council, before starting a successful solo career. His songs about England have become the equivalent of Penny Lane and Waterloo Sunset for those born too late for the Beatles or the Kinks. One interviewer wrote: “He’s one of those people who makes you feel good about being English.”
Like Prince and Madonna, Weller is enjoying an Indian summer as he approaches his 50th birthday next weekend, although his face is ravaged by late nights and cigarettes, and his voice has a whiskery, oak-aged timbre. He lives in Maida Vale, west London, with his girlfriend Sami, who was working at the recording studio where they met, and their two children. He also has two children from his previous marriage and one from another relationship.
The list of politicians eager to sign up to the “Jam generation” of protest has provided much sport for commentators, but to Weller it’s a sign that the lines are blurring: “The stark contrasts of Thatcherism and socialism have gone: you can’t really tell who’s Brown or Cameron.” To his shock, he found himself agreeing with “a Tory t***”, Boris Johnson, about bringing back Routemaster buses in London.
For most of the 1980s, Weller was a staunch supporter of Red Wedge, a loose coalition of Labour-minded rock musicians who toured the country by bus. Now he bitterly regrets it. The Labour politicians he met “really put me off. They were all in it for themselves. It was all firm handshakes and distant eyes”.
He liked Glenys Kinnock, but had no time for her husband Neil, Labour’s leader. Even Ken Livingstone, photographed embracing Weller in 1985, was corrupted by power as mayor of London, he claimed in last week’s New Statesman.
By the time Labour came to power in 1997, Weller was so disillusioned he refused to let the party use his song The Changingman as a theme alongside its electoral anthem Things Can Only Get Better: “I put the blockers on.”
He tried to dissuade his friend Gallagher from accepting Tony Blair’s invitation to No 10 and claims to be disgusted with the former prime minister’s latest appointment: “Peace ambassador to the Middle East. F****** joke, mate. How he sleeps at night, I don’t know.” Weller turned down a CBE in the 2006 birthday honours.
These days he draws inspiration from his children and from God, admitting that he “sort of” prays: “I have a quiet word now and then.” Yet his Christian charity has its limits. Baroness Thatcher “should be shot as a traitor to the people”, he told The Guardian last week. And he is frosty on the subject of his former bandmates, bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler, who have started touring together for the first time in 25 years under the name From the Jam. Old bands, he said, should “just move on”.
Weller was born into a working-class family on May 25, 1958, in Woking, Surrey. His father John was a scaffolder and bricklayer who occasionally joined the taxi rank at the station. He became Paul’s manager for 30 years until ill health forced him to retire in 2006. Weller’s mother Anne was a cleaner at the local mosque.
He was brought up with his sister Nicky on Stanley Road, which he evoked in his No 1 album of the same name in 1995. On the title track, he sang: “The ghosts of night, the dreams of day/Make me swirl and fall and hold me in their sway.”
While he was detached and uninterested at school, his parents nursed his obsession with pop music. “It’s all I ever wanted to do,” he recalled. “I wouldn’t concentrate in English classes, but I’d study the lyrics on the back of an album cover.”
His father bought him his first electric guitar at 12 and two years later he got together with some schoolmates to form a band that became the Jam. Inspired by the Kinks, the Small Faces and the Who, they played their first gig round the corner at Walton Road working men’s club and for the next five years played clubs and pubs.
Weller, who had left school at 16, saw the Sex Pistols in 1976, on the night he first took speed, and realised where the Jam’s future lay. Punk was in full swing, but Weller was keen to distance the Jam from punk, telling the NME that he was a Tory voter and monarchist. “I was just being controversial,” he later claimed, but the music press largely treated the band like pariahs until The Eton Rifles hit No 3 in the charts in November 1979.
Smart mod attire set him apart from the punks. “It’s a way of looking at the world,” he explained. “It’s saying, ‘We’ve got f*** all, but we can make ourselves look proper’.”
The Jam became the first band since the Beatles to perform two songs (Town Called Malice and Precious) in one edition of Top of the Pops. Weller, however, wanted to explore other musical avenues and in 1982 announced that the band would split.
His new band, the Style Council, played white soul music that alienated many Jam fans and were never as successful as its forerunner, but it helped to spark a jazz/pop revival and increased Weller’s stature. His song Have You Ever Had It Blue? is now a jazz classic. He appeared on the Band Aid record Do They Know It’s Christmas? in 1984. Five years later, the band’s death knell sounded when their record company refused to release their fifth album.
Weller went to ground for a couple of years as his life fell apart. His marriage to the Style Council’s backing vocalist, Dee C Lee, collapsed and he went through a bout of heavy cocaine use. Then he was suddenly the darling of the music world again when his album Wild Wood was released to acclaim in 1993.
Writer’s block struck him five years ago. “I just waited for the muse to find me.” He carried on working, recording cover versions by artists ranging from Gordon Lightfoot to Sister Sledge. In 2005 the songs came flooding back. Now he has written 22 Dreams, representing nearly every musical influence he has absorbed.
Although coy of media interest, fame doesn’t bother him at all. Chase it and you end up nowhere, he maintains: “It’s like, do you wanna put something of value into the world, or do you wanna be a pop star?”
Bournemouth Set List & Pics Courtesy Of The Eton Rifle aka Pete!
Photos Courtesy Of Wigzy aka Claire V.
And don't forget Paul is set to appear on Later w/Jools Holland TONIGHT!!!
Tuesday 20 May, 10pm BBC TWO
The Modfather returns to Later to play tracks from new solo double album 22 Dreams. Featuring contributions from Noel Gallagher, Graham Coxon and Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Cradock it’s a mix of classic British indie-rock which draws on Weller’s 30-plus years of experience as a master songwriter.
Well, I think that's it for now. If you've got any news, photos, set lists, etc. that you'd like to share with the readers, please drop us a line at:
BONUS: If you've not had a chance to sample 22 Dreams, feel free to have a taste of what David Quantick of Word Magazine describes as, "An extraordinary attic of an album. There is much to be explored."