(1980) ‘Start!’ was the first single I purchased new, as opposed to second-hand, which accounts for me being able to say that both it and ‘Here comes the summer’ by the Undertones were the first singles I ever bought. First records are supposed to be embarrassing, necessarily purchased before taste of any kind has been acquired. But somehow I managed to land on two gems. Perhaps it was that there just wasn’t the money for me to fritter it away on pop or indeed novelty records before I reached the age of 12. The shop was an old-school type in West Byfleet which also sold cameras and sports goods and had its vinyl shelved behind the counter. ‘Start’ had been a number one; I was buying it a while after it had dropped away from that height. Famously it borrows bass and guitar riffs from the Beatles’ ‘Taxman’, though the vocal melodies and ultimately the song are Weller’s own. At this distance, the perfection of the music is slightly undermined in places by the youthful intensity of the lyric. But back then ‘if we communicate for two minutes only / it will be enough’ and ‘knowing that someone in this world / feels as desperate as me’ was exactly what a boy about to become a teenager wanted to hear. SWITCH (1984) The Ipswich Gaumont, for the Our favourite shop tour. The Style Council supported by Billy Bragg and the Questions, with Weller and Mick Talbot playing Funkadelic’s ‘One nation under a groove’ as well as the Impressions’ ‘Meeting over yonder’. He opened up worlds, with those choices, among others. SWITCH (1985) My General Studies AO level required an essay-length review of a cultural artefact. Mine was of The gift LP; it borrowed heavily from review excerpts quoted by Paolo Hewitt in his book about the Jam, A beat concerto – lines I had read with sufficient frequency and obsession to be able to recall verbatim. SWITCH (1987) A sharp-suited and consequently somewhat overdressed Weller and D.C. Lee are at the head of a youth CND march as I come towards it to join it. It ended with a concert in Kennington Park headlined by not the Style Council, but the Mighty Lemon Drops. I remember nothing of that, though, just the sight of those two exotic creatures leading a procession of rather more drably dressed students. SWITCH (1992) What a revelation the first solo Weller LP was. Gone were the conceptual excesses of the Style Council, and in their place, a renewed emphasis on his craft, which made for a crop of songs both as great and as humble as any he has written before or since – ‘Above the clouds’, ‘Amongst butterflies’, ‘Remember how we started’, ‘Clues’, ‘Into tomorrow’. But I must have dreamt that I went to see the comeback Paul Weller Movement gig at Dingwalls in Camden in 1990, as I thought I had; I can’t find any record of it – no notebook entry, no preserved ticket, no sense of the occasion. I guess I very much wanted to be there, but wasn’t. SWITCH (1995) At the Blue Note in Hoxton, when my friend Jack’s band was supporting Ocean Colour Scene, Weller was there, in the upstairs bar. Did he watch Jack in action? I don’t suppose he did, but in a way it was enough that he was simply in the building. SWITCH (2004) On my lunch break, who should I see skipping over a zebra crossing on Marylebone High Street? He is smaller than I remember, elfin almost, but again, immaculately dressed. Possibly he is on his way to visit with his mate Noel G., who lives down the road and round the corner from my office. But my day is made, a sighting of the lesser-spotted Weller being nearly as auspicious as, say, seeing a heron rise into the air from a riverbank. SWITCH (2009) Writing for the first time about Weller since that AO level effort, this time focussing on ‘Tales from the riverbank’ for my B sides blog. As ever when I read a piece back, there are sentences which would be better for being more simply phrased, but in it I think I got at something about the relationship between avid listeners and their musical heroes, and also about the friction between musical realism and escapism: ‘At the time, and throughout the eighties, the decade which saw new heights of political conflict within modern Britain, no fan of the Jam or the Style Council would be likely to admit that Weller’s songs as much as [Duran] Duran’s were an escape from precisely the reality that he often wrote about, or at least the intimation of the reality that was waiting for you upon leaving school. Even as he reeled off his list of doubtful delights in ‘That’s entertainment’ – ‘sticky black tarmac’ and ‘slashed-seat affairs’ – we dwelt not so much on the portrayal of reality as on Weller’s wordplay, his melodic gifts, the liberty espoused by his vocal delivery, the heights that his guitar could reach when set against the solid foundations of Bruce’s bass and Rick’s drums. These were things which on one level had nothing to do with external reality, nothing to with the world. They were cerebral, and of the heart. Consciousness and emotion – the essence of what it means to be alive. They set many of us dreaming of a time when we would have the confidence to express ourselves in the same way; about what, it almost didn’t matter.’ SWITCH (1982) So I’ll finish this journey back through my life at 45 revolutions per minute using the words with which Weller signed off his sleeve notes on the back of the cover of the live Dig the new breed LP, the one that brought the curtain down on the Jam after his shock announcement that he was disbanding the group. SWITCH What have I learnt? BELIEF IS ALL!
- The Jam – Start! (Polydor, 1980)
This Guardian Film and Music article by Matt Bolton will make you laugh, if it doesn’t depress you. For those who have no time to depress themselves to the fullest extent, here are a selection of quotes from ‘Class war on the dancefloor’:
“I think having working-class roots does mean better songs as they are songs the majority can relate to,” he told the Sun. “If you live in a castle, you’re going to write about living in a castle and who wants to hear a fucking song about a castle?”
“You’ve got to be careful, because you can damage the credibility of your indie label if you force them to put out some crap you’ve just signed. But it’s about putting the band in context for the media and for fans. If you put them out on a certain indie label, it puts them into the context and aesthetic of that label, and leads people to think they must be similar to their other bands. It doesn’t even matter what they sound like – it’s all just codes and clues as to what you’re trying to do.”
“I always thought the point about rock music was transformation, about becoming something different, something other, something glamorous, something inspiring, and that means stepping outside your allotted class role if you can. But bands like Oasis or Paul Weller just encouraged a lot of kids just to stay in their roles, and that kind of social realism is very trite and very dull.”
These views seem to rest on randomly selecting a few indie groups and then lining half up as posh public school, and half as working class reactionaries straight out of the local comp. The proponents’ approach is uniformly specious in their willingness to disregard the range of independent music in the 21st century and in refusing to think about, to take just one obvious example, the Arctic Monkeys – like or loathe them, you have to admit that they sit in neither of these two camps, but are well-placed to take the mickey out of an industry whose marketing is as crass as this article suggests.
Jon Savage (owner of the third quote) has form here, for he is not letting on about his own prejudices, laid out as long ago as England’s dreaming, if not before. He might espouse a desire for us all to attain a state of classlessness in which artistic expression is allowed free reign, but he has always favoured the art school over those who left school at fourteen without any qualifications, and he’s always had it in for Paul Weller; to say that Weller (or even Noel Gallagher) ‘encouraged a lot of kids just to stay in their roles’ is patently daft – he was constantly attempting to evade the limitations with which others liked to saddle him, and in that any perceptive observer would see a suggestion that his fans should do likewise. I don’t even need to mention the Style Council, do I?
In the spirit of the fifty word fictions currently being posted by Chan over at A wild slim alien, here are some reviews of exactly that length – tips of the hat to my long-player listening so far this year. With the odd hand gesture or wrinkled nose thrown in.
The Shortwave Set – Replica sun machine
Seduced by the alethiometeresque cover, but disappointed by the frequency with which the wan, characterless vocals of Andrew Pettitt displace the considerably more elegant singing of Ulrika Bjornse. Danger Mouse production? Check. Van Dyke Parks string arrangements? Check. Tunes? Mostly. ‘Glitches ‘n’ bugs’, ‘Distant daze’ and ‘No social’ stand out.
Elbow – The seldom seen kid
In the last couple of years Elbow’s records have been surreptitiously stealing their way to the centre of my listening world. This confirms their place there with its high musicality and wry humour. Guy Garvey’s songs are lugubrious and beautiful, even managing to reanimate the corny image of the mirrorball.
DeVotchKa – A mad and faithful telling
Romany Mexican indie with Greek or Klezmer undertones, anyone? Not forgetting occasional forays into chamber and oompah band territories? Singer Nick Urata looks like a roughed-up cross between Clooney and Morrissey. One song – ‘The clockwise witness’ – is truly great, throwing off excessive stylistic colouring for an affecting shade of blue.
Carl Craig – Sessions
How long it’s been since I was lost in niteklub rhythm. For all that Craig is a master of dancefloor dynamics, Sessions ultimately feels relentless, at home or in car. It’s a relief when the end is near and the unpredictable rhythms of ‘Bug in the bass bin’ take hold.
Four Tet – Ringer
A river whose flow is as relentless as Sessions, but out of the current more is going on. I wish I had more time to relax into ‘Swimmer’’s patterns; fretted less about the time Kieran Hebden takes to develop his swirls and eddies. Moments of life that won’t come again.
Neon Neon – Stainless style
After the Rhys-Boom Bip collaboration on Blue eyed in the red room, and Gruff’s loveable Candylion, a disappointment. In evoking the worst aspects of the eighties, it’s loud, shiny, and as attractive as the boxy lines of the De Lorean car. But ‘I lust u’ achieves a Depeche Mode-esque melancholy.
Colin Meloy – Colin Meloy sings live
Just occasionally in these solo performances, Colin Meloy is one note short of a melody. Otherwise he conveys the best of the Decemberists – as well as Shirley Collins and the Smiths – with songwriter’s conviction, stand-up comedy and helpings of the ‘campfire singalong’ spirit that he declares he is aiming for.
The Last Shadow Puppets – The age of the understatement
The chief northern monkey and his best mate perform a Dukes of Stratosphearic take on Scott Walker (and indeed Brel through Scott’s distorting mirror); in their turtleneck sweaters they’re photo-fit go-getters. The result is a noirish existential beat group and the second of many reinventions Alex Turner may yet perform.
Goldfrapp – Seventh tree
I lost interest between Black cherry and the insistently decadent electro of Supernature. Fortunately the duo are aware of the benefits of reinvention and return; Seventh tree is closest in spirit to Felt mountain but with added folk sensibility and pop nous. ‘Little bird’ floats and ‘Caravan girl’ drives along.
British Sea Power – Do you like rock music?
Like Open season, this is eight-tenths of the way to greatness; if I were eighteen and at my first Glastonbury, I would wave my flag to it. But it’s as rock as the substance you’d mine were you to tunnel into Mount Blanc, and for me that remains a problem.
Paul Weller – 22 dreams
Press would have you believe that Weller has suddenly emerged from a lengthy spell in rock purgatory. Truth is he rediscovered his touch over the two preceding sets; you could not get more pastoral than ‘Pan’ on As is now. 22 dreams expands the lightness in familiar and fresh directions.
Portishead – Third
Top bombing from Barrow, Gibbons and Utley. The avant-garde attack of the electronics is reminiscent of New Order discovering synthesisers. Next time Portishead can worry less about making it impossible for anyone to countenance putting them on as dinner party listening; this is music with which to greet the apocalypse.
Robert Forster – The evangelist
The healing power of song – I’m so glad RF rediscovered it. But how could the tone be anything other than elegiac, with fragments of Grant’s last songs among Robert’s lyrical responses to his death. As we hear those last tunes, Robert sings ‘it was melody he loved most of all’.