Get involved! Send your photos, video, news & views by texting HL NEWS to 80360 or e-mail us
Weller revels in mid-life freedom
7:00am Saturday 7th April 2012 in Music
Paul Weller has just released Sonik Kicks, now sitting pretty at No 1 in the album chart. The Modfather talks to Andy Welch about the album, his continuing adventurous streak, how he's adjusting to life as dad of baby twins and what made him give up drinking.
Paul Weller has never been a man to rest on his laurels.
Back in the early Eighties, when he was part of The Jam, then easily the biggest band in the country, he decided the limitations of the trio's set-up were too great - and split the band up there and then.
Millions were devastated - not least Jam members Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton, who reportedly received the news via letter, delivered by Weller's dad.
Go to any of the 53-year-old's gigs now and you'll see men of a certain age who still haven't quite forgiven The Modfather for deserting them 30 years ago.
Nevertheless, he held firm, and quickly went on to form the Style Council, leaving behind the punk-fuelled rhythm and blues of The Jam for altogether more sophisticated jazz and house influences.
"Sometimes you do things that people get on board with and other times they're not so quick," says Weller. "You go in and out of favour. Sometimes people come with you, other times they miss it."
Even his record label didn't understand what was happening when he delivered the final Style Council album, Modernism: A New Decade, in 1989. Fearful of how Weller's new deep house direction would fare commercially, Polydor decided to drop the band, who subsequently broke up.
The following few years were tough for Weller, used to being at pop's top table, now reduced to playing small venues in front of fans still itching for him to play Jam songs.
Despite the calls for Town Called Malice, Eton Rifles, Going Underground and the like, he once again dug his heels in. 'Onwards and upwards' isn't his personal motto for nothing.
In fact, he didn't perform a Jam song until 2001 live album Days Of Speed.
"There was a very depressing, lonely stage after the Style Council, but then with (second solo album) Wild Wood it's like we all met again, me and the audience.
"I remember very distinctly playing Glastonbury in 1994 and we finished on Shadow Of The Sun, which has got a really psychedelic, improvised ending and I was at one with the audience. I remember thinking that three years earlier I wouldn't have been able to do that. Whatever happens, I don't let it affect me."
Fast forward to 2012 and Weller has just delivered the final piece in a trilogy of albums that might just be his best. His creative rejuvenation began back on 2008's 22 Dreams, a sprawling double album which incorporated pastoral folk, spoken work and free jazz alongside some more characteristic numbers.
The follow-up, Wake Up The Nation, saw the return of the fire in Weller's belly, a call to arms for the youth to 'get your face out of Facebook and turn off the phone', and was subsequently nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
Sonik Kicks, his latest album, continues that line of eclectic experimentation. Taking in Krautrock (Green, Dragonfly and Around The Lake), dub reggae (Study In Blue) and Bowie-esque blue-eyed soul, it's certainly not the record anyone would have been expecting the Woking boy to make as he approaches his 54th birthday.
Weller takes umbrage at that idea, however, believing the assumption displays class snobbery, but concedes that the last few years have been especially prolific.
"Objectively I can see it has been a creative time, yes," he says. "My attitude to making music has changed, and I feel liberated to try new, different things, or at least I want to try other things. I don't feel any constraints, musically, at the moment. There's nothing I don't feel I can do.
"But then life's a constant education, and there's always something else to learn, no matter how long you've been doing it."
Weller's never been the most autobiographical of songwriters, but with That Dangerous Age, his current single and perhaps the best-ever Blur song not actually by Blur, he comes mighty close.
It deals with a character in his 50s, unfulfilled by his comfortable life and well-paid job, going through something of a mid-life crisis.
Now that's not Weller - he's just become a dad to twins John-Paul and Bowie with his new wife Hannah and sounds happier than he has done in years.
"It's a great leveller, having kids. My mother-in-law was saying the other night that it's funny seeing me on stage one minute, this rock god as she put it, then washing bottles in the sink the next.
"The twins are great, although I'm sleeping a lot less than I used to. I won't be going on tour for a while though. I don't want to be on a bus for months and months leaving them at home."
That Dangerous Age is, however, inspired by the reaction to the announcement of his relationship with Hannah, some 28 years his junior.
"Oooooh, the scandal," he says, mockingly. "And I've got children by different women. How shocking!
"While I'd never write a song just about me - it'd be boring - it is about how we view people of certain ages. How are people supposed to dress and act when they get older?
"No one has laid down any maps, we all make it up as we go along. I think you have to act and dress and think however you want to.
"It's mainly just about this guy earning all the bucks in his job but regretting all the things he hasn't done.
"It's about a mid-life crisis, which I'm absolutely not going through whatsoever. In any case, I got my mid-life crisis out of the way when I was in my late 30s. I got it all out of my system then."
Weller's excesses are well-documented. He did his fair share of drugs during the Britpop years, and started a love affair with boozing when he was playing working men's clubs in his mid-teens.
He's sober now, though, and claims not to have touched a drop in about a year. He also claims to have stopped smoking, but is puffing away throughout our interview.
"Stopping drinking has made me saner. It has changed an awful lot of things, and now I wouldn't want to go back to those ways. I'm getting too old for it, and I can't be arsed with three-day hangovers and all that.
"Sonik Kicks was a sober album and it seemed very creative to me. I just enjoy life more now, and I don't feel terrible in the morning any more.
"I think my wife was worried, to be honest, but I've been at it a long time. I've been drinking for 35 years. And I enjoyed every moment, too, which I think is important, but once again it's time to move on."
Extra time - Paul Weller :: John William Weller was born in Woking, Surrey, on May 25, 1958. He was apparently meant to be called Paul, but a confusion after his birth led to John William going down on his birth certificate.
:: He got his first guitar when he was 11 and by the time he was 14 he and friends Steve Brookes and Dave Waller formed The Jam. Soon after his dad became their manager and began booking them gigs.
:: The Jam released their debut single In The City a month before Weller's 19th birthday.
:: When The Jam broke up in 1982, their first 15 singles were re-released and all charted within the Top 100.
:: Sonik Kicks is Weller's 11th solo album, and went to No 1 on the album chart in its first week of release. It's his fourth No 1, following Stanley Road, Illumination and 22 Dreams.
:: Paul Weller's new album Sonik Kicks is out now