Following are a collection of eight articles from various sources covering and spanning the years 1977 to 1982, with a retrospective Paul Weller interview from 2004. Like many of the articles I've reprinted here, all but the last were written during the band's heyday and the views are unique by today's standards because they are truly written without hindsight, without the scope that time creates. It's been 26 years since The Jam broke up. Keep that in mind when you read these articles and interviews.
The Jam was one of the later of the first wave of punk bands I got into, compared to their counterparts The Clash, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Damned, Stiff Little Fingers, and others whom I discovered in 1979 and early 1980. I bought Sound Affects when it came out in late 1980 or early '81, but I clearly remember that the weird intro song definitely threw me off. That of course was "Pretty Green," and it was not representative of the album. I think the first song I put on a comp tape was "Start," and for a while they were one of the bands I liked more in theory than in reality. It was a guy named James Kyle who played Town Called Malice for me not long after The Gift came out, and in fact sung it out loud in class rather repeatedly, that made me really listen, and not long after that I went and bought Dig The New Breed and In The City and officially declared myself a Jam fan. My three favorite albums now are definitely The Gift, All Mod Cons, and Setting Sons, but I love Sound Affects, too (except for Pretty Green - it still just sits weird) and really, the first two albums are still better than most albums by most bands.
The Jam's recorded output in a nutshell: the first two albums, In The City and This Is The Modern World came out in 1977; All Mod Cons was released in 1978; Setting Sons in late '79, and Sound Affects in late 1980. The Gift, the last studio album was released in early 1982. The great double-album greatest hits package Snap came out in 1983 and is a great top-to-bottom collection for non-completists. Dig The New Breed is a great live album released just after the break-up in late 1982 and is a great, although short, live album. There are other collections and EPs and live albums that came out later and you can search them out, of course.
All articles copyright by their respective author.
1: The Jam: Boy Wonders Make The Big Step, by Chas de Whalley, originally published in Sounds, 25 June 1977. 2: The Jam: This Is The Modern World, Live at The Mayfair, Newcastle, by Phil Sutcliffe, origianlly published in Sounds, 26 November 1977. 3:The Jam: All Mod Cons, by Charles Shaar Murray, originally published in NME, 28 October 1978. 4:The Jam: A Mod At 20, by Harry Doherty, originally published in Melody Maker, 20 January 1979. 5:The Jam: Riding Waves And Setting Standards, by Mike Stand, originally published in Smash Hits, 6 March 1980. 6:The Jam, Or, How To Not Break In America (Because You Don't Want To) by Chris Salewicz, originally published in Creem, March 1981. 7The Paul Weller Interview, by Chris Salewicz, originally published in The Face, May 1982. 8Paul Weller: The Mojo Interview, by Phil Sutcliffe, originally published in Mojo, August 2004.
The Jam: Boy Wonders Make The Big Step Chas de Whalley, Sounds, 25 June 1977
Phew! That was a close one! For a moment there I thought the Jam were going to blow it completely.
Really. I was rooting for them all the way, but it looked for a while like they were going to flounder, lead balloon style.
They were playing like Kings, you see, but they just weren't getting the feedback from the floor.
You know Brum. It's always well wary of the bands we toast to the heavens down in the Smoke. And the Jam are running wet with Media Overkill, these days. No wonder the locals are treating them with real suspicion.
And although they were on Powerdrive already, the first twenty minutes of their set hung dangerously in the balance between Hype and High Energy. The crop-haired kids to my right and left stood watching them like hawks. Falter for one second and the Jam would be out for the count.
But I was waiting and hoping for Flashpoint and is it a long time coming! The Jam feel it too. The tension winds up tight and breaks out on Bruce Foxton's face. His desperate good looks are suddenly frozen in stone, his eyes popping wildly with the strain. He jerks across the stage like a puppet barely in control of his limbs. But his brain is on the beat and his bass guitar is pounding pure willpower.
Sweat is dropping too from Paul Welter's fingers, slashing at his strings like his life depended on it.
The Jam are looking mighty desperate, to say the least.
All except Rick Buckler, sitting up behind his drum kit, implacable in his Roger McGuinn shades. But those sticks are snapping at the high cymbals in a driving blur of strength and confidence.
Yep. The Jam are sweating their bollocks off like they did at the Rainbow with the Clash and for twenty nightmarish minutes it looks like it's all going to be for nothing.
Then suddenly the bass swooped low under the fizzing guitar chords and 'In The City' began to crackle and burn. The boys sparked across the boards like dodgems at a fairground, Weller's red Rickenbacker bursting like grenades, Buckler's snare drum showering shrapnel and Foxton's ack-ack bass decimating the cigarette smoke. ZOWIEEEE!
The Jam have arrived. Their pent-up fury spilling out over the dancefloor is pure beat for the feet and they have the Birmingham crowd firmly in their grasp.
And it's not politics that's done it. Not posturing or pretentions either.
The Jam's songs are good and they're played well too. But that ain't the reason they've won through.
Birmingham is hopping and bopping because that band on stage really worked for their money.
In fact, the Jam worked hard enough to earn their fee three times over.
And does it ever take them time to wind down afterwards! It's the adrenalin on the rocks that takes so long to filter off.
No, No. They certainly move fast but they ain't on speed. The Jam need no chemical courage. It's all natural. They're good clean boys at heart.
Well, almost anyway.
So this is their first time on the road, eh! You wouldn't think it. Already they've acquired a taste for hotel fun.
Room 710 of Birmingham's Holiday Inn is an open house for the Jam and their entourage of roadcrew, record company and Press, and Room 710 of Birmingham's Holiday Inn soon dissolves into a debris of foaming beer bottles, cheese sandwich struggles and shrieks of laughter.
The party stumbles on into the early hours and the Night Porter shoots up and down in the lift like a yoyo, adding fuel to the fire with tray after tray of lager bottles and gin. It begins to get very late (or very early if you prefer) and the liggers retire gracefully (including yours truly, soaked to the skin after a schoolboy prank involving a bath of hot water). But the Jam bounce on, a non-stop round of wine, women and song that ends only when the birds are chirrupping on the Bull Ring and it's time to split back to London.
"I tell you," mutters Jam Svengali and Polydor person Chris Parry. "When these guys get really big they'll be wild out on the road. They'll be smashing up hotels like the Who or the Faces never existed!"
If they don't burn themselves out first, Chris.
It's now nine o'clock in the morning, and they've got to tape a live session at Capital Radio and play Twickenham before they get to bed tonight.
And look at them. White faces. Red eyes. It's like a morgue in here.
It's just like the BBC. It's probably like every other radio station if the truth were known.
Even in Euston Tower you can't escape all that advertising. Michael Aspel and Dave Cash ooze their young Marrieds drivel out of every corner.
There are even speakers in the bogs, for Godsake!
"Who are we doing this for anyway?" asked Paul as we stop in straight off the train.
It's eleven o'clock in the morning Paul is ashen grey from the festivities the night before, but the studio engineer looks fresh and spruce and clean shaven as he bustles about with microphones and screens.
"I dunno," he replies. "Nicky Home, (Capital's late night FM rock DJ) I suppose. There's no one else would play this kind of music."
Neat Neat Neat, eh? Slam it in the slot. Programme packaging.
Paul winces. He's no newcomer to radio sessions. The Jam did one recently for Peely's show on the BBC; out in Maida Vale. That one wasn't too much fun. Paul doesn't reckon Big Brother Capital is going to be any more electric than the ageing Auntie.
He is right. The Jam's producer Vic Smith appears to offer tactful advice, but nevertheless, it still takes the Capital crew a good four hours to work out where to put the mikes to strike the right balance in the cans. For four hours the Jam stand on the other side of the glass, chain-smoking in tedium.
Finally they get down to it and cut the backing tracks to 'In The City', 'Bricks and Mortar' and a new song, not on the album, 'All Around The World'.
The tracks down, the Jam pile back into the control room. Playbacks? Sorry lads, there's still two more numbers to do.
It's three o'clock and John Weller is anxious to get the show back on the road. With London traffic as it is, it'll take over an hour to get to Twickenham. Maybe even two. And the roadcrew can't leave to set up the gear until Paul's amp is back in the truck. It's going to be a terrible rush.
"Put the amp in the back of the car, John," says Parry. "This is good PR we're doing here. It should do a lot to promote the album. They use live tracks again and again, you know. We must do a couple more at least."
It's only an AC 30 so John ain't too worried about the amp. It's the time factors that disturb him. He doesn't want the boys to step straight out of the car and on to the stage. The logistics of Needle Time and the Musicians Union don't impress him. But this short stocky man with the big builders hands hanging at his side is easily swayed as the Polydor men lay on the pressure.
The band are jostled into agreement too.
"Who are we doing this for anyway?" mutters Bruce wearily. He's slumped across the mixing desk, half asleep it looks like, and there's still the vocals and overdubs to do yet.
Sometimes even he must wonder if the Jam aren't pawns in someone else's game.
They're simple lads really, when you get down to it. A bit wide-eyed and innocent. That loose-limbed partying the night before really suggested that they were going into this tour like schoolboys on a drunken jaunt to the seaside. Not treating it as a serious make or break venture.
At Capital the pressure of being a top band and big news (with an album in the charts and their physogs on the front covers, don't forget) slaps them round the face like a wet fish. Or rather clips them hard above the left ear with a loaded glove.
The Jam have been catapulted to stardom, you see.
And as former semi-pros from Surrey their experience of the rock'n'roll slide show is strictly limited. Two years spent gigging twice, maybe three times a week in Woking's Workingmen's Clubs and Cabarets is great training, but it doesn't fully prepare anybody for life in the ring. The crowds may be roaring approval as the new Boy Wonders make that BIG STEP up under the ropes, but there's a lot of ducking and weaving to be, done before the end of the first round. Every trick of the trade will be learned the hard way.
Knock 'em down and pick 'em up.
And just because they're a big name doesn't mean they don't still get fucked over from time to time.
They're all obviously intelligent and hardly shy. But they don't talk nineteen to the dozen like your average super inflatable egos hanging around the rock business. In fact their conversation is frequently limited to answering questions. They have no tales of their own to tell.
Rick Buckler is the only one I get through to above and beyond the call of duty. Taking the train and my car to the Twickenham gig we talk about everything from the Clash dates. "Offer Bernie Rhodes solid gold guitars and he'd say 'No, I want them with silver streaks in"...to motor cars. Rick. It seems, is an expert at backseat boogie-ing, and expounds upon the advantages an A40 like mine has over the MGB he used to have before he rolled it.
Yeah, Rick Buckler is a regular guy still, and he's into all the things regular guys are into.
Two months on the road will change all that.
On the other hand, you might already call Paul Weller devious. Look at his eyes, they flit from side to side as he talks and a slight frown clouds his sharp features almost all the time. When he smiles thinly and fleetingly.
His jacket is tailor made in Carnaby Street houndstooth. Very Mod. It's buttoned on the top button only, so that two folds of material crease down from his armpits. With his straight legged jeans, too short and revealing inches of bright white sock, he looks faintly ridiculous...a little like a sack of potatoes on stilts.
But he arrests the attention of passers by, cos he looks like he means something.
He looks like he is not to be crossed.
I found that out the hard way. I crossed him a month ago, you see, when I had some uncomplimentary things to say in print about the Jam's In The City album.
Phrases like 'immature song-writing', 'Too much too soon' and 'Weybridge's Flamin' Groovies' showed me up as a real cunt.
I couldn't even get the name of the Jam's home town right!
That's why I was dumped in the bath at Birmingham (just in case you were wondering) and although it was essentially a joke, it was sweet revenge nonetheless.
But, as we sit sipping beer at the Winning Post not half an hour before the Jam are due on stage, Paul is still eager to answer my criticisms.
"I don't know why you didn't think we were ready to do an album. 'Cos we're easily the best band around at the moment. And with the exception maybe of the Stranglers, we're the most capable musicians on the scene.
"The Stranglers are from a different age group to us, so they should be more capable than we are. Otherwise, we're the best.
"Anyway, if you don't believe you're the best, you never get anywhere." Weller's arrogant tone cracks for a moment and he flashes a knowing smile.
He refutes entirely all suggestions that the Jam are High Energy bandwagon jumpers. The songs may differ, he says, but the Jam were presenting the same show two years ago. And he's getting increasingly tired of being asked whether the Jam are ripping off the Who too.
"People only ask that because we wear the suits. Of course I'm into the Who. I think their first albums are some of the best rock ever. But the Jam have always worn uniforms. We used to wear white satin bomber jackets once. Anyway. Let's face it, everybody wears some kind of uniform. Even the Clash and the Pistols wear uniforms. I think the Pistols look very smart. But they could wear anything and still be the same band." What about the criticism that much of your material bears a resemblance to the Beat Groups of the Sixties?
"Of course some of it does. What's wrong with that? The Sixties is part of our heritage. Same way as the Fifties. If the Stones and the Beatles were influenced by the bands of the Fifties, why can't we build on what the Who or the Kinks were doing? In ten years time the bands then will be ripping us off. I see nothing wrong with that."
Paul Weller eats and sleeps music, and the Jam takes total priority. He was most distressed to find political views attributed to him plastered round certain music papers. They made him out a straight Tory. Yes, he says, he's in favour of Free Enterprise and he thinks the Queen is the best Diplomat Britain has.
"But I didn't vote in the last election and I won't vote in the next one. All that stuff about the Tories was only a trivial remark taken out of context. Anyway, I don't believe politics should have anything to do with music."
Which means the Jam's guitarist and songwriter doesn't hold with the Sociological 'Brought Up In A High Rise/Spokesman for A Generation' perspective often laid on the New Wave either.
"It's just Pop music and that's why I like it. It's all about hooks and guitar riffs. That's what the New Wave is all about. It's not heavy and negative like all that Iggy and New York stuff. The New Wave is Today's Pop Music For Today's kids, it's as simple as that. And you can count the bands that do it well and are going to last on one hand. The Pistols, The Damned, The Clash, The Ramones, and the Jam."
The Jam arrive at the Winning Post in Twickenham, fresh from the Capital Studios just as the bar is filling up with an uneasy cross-section of kids, vinyl rubbing shoulders with denim and oily leather.
A rumour spreads that Pete Townsend himself might well put in an appearance tonight.
Twickenham lies in the soft white underbelly of South London, not a stoned stagger from those old Who hunting grounds, Eel Pie Island and the Railway Hotel Richmond. If Townsend really wants to check out the Jam he could pick no place more appropriate.
Of course, the Jam are secretly excited, although they don't let on.
"I can't imagine he'll have much to say for himself these days," muses Paul, blase. "Did I tell you I met John Entwistle the other week? He was really ordinary and boring. So I gave him my autograph. 'Best Wishes. Paul' that's what I wrote."
Sadly, the mainman doesn't materialise, although Streetwalker Roger Chapman and various members of the Saints and Wayne County's Electric Chair flood in through the doors with the kids.
By nine o'clock the Winning Post is packed solid and when the Jam take the stage, crashing into 'Art School' the dancefloor heaves and seethes like the Chelsea shed on speed.
By the time they got to 'Carnaby Street', 'In The City' and the tremendous 'London Girl' the Jam are playing like the hounds of hell are behind them. Bruce is zigzagging across the stage and colliding with the drumkit while Paul zooms in on the front rows to pick out the breaks at twice his normal speed and twice his normal arrogance.
If the kids in the crowd knew that these boys have yet to go to bed since the night before in Birmingham and that they've crammed five wearisome hours at Capital Radio too. I reckon they'd stop pogoing to a punk and open their mouths in sheer amazement.
Which they do later, after the Jam have left them with 'Bricks and Mortar'. They open their mouths and scream for more. And more. And more.
This was a gig that was never in doubt.
Tomorrow, though, it's Eastbourne, then Cambridge and all stations North, South, East and West. With the Jam pitching themselves beyond human endurance yet again.
And what's to follow?
Well, if they continue to play sets like that last one, the Jam might just take over the world.
The Jam: This Is The Modern World
Live at The Mayfair, Newcastle Phil Sutcliffe, Sounds, 26 November 1977
It felt bad to be in Newcastle, bad to be alive. A Scottish Polydor rep who is not unused to a little nastiness raged: "Glasgow like the Ritz compared to this I tell you. Animals!". And there around the balcony behind he stage was the trellissed cage installed presumably to avoid a repeat of the Jam's last visit to the Mayfair, when, I gather, 'fans' lobbed a table down at the band. Even so one member of the very capable support band New Hearts had his forehead split by a plastic beermug.
But the worst was out on the street. A group of journalists, Polydor and Jam people arrived at the front entrance after the 'House Full' notice was put up and were harrassed by police and chased by their dogs.
Meanwhile, out in the Haymarket as I was walking to the gig I saw 8 coppers roughing up a teenage boy and girl and slinging them in the paddy wagon. I tried to give the kids my name as a witness and a sergeant, defending law and order, justice etc, told me to "bugger off". The air was like vomit.
I know. It's not about the music. But it is relevant. Like it was relevant to the people who Judge Jeffries hanged that he had chronic indigestion. The atmosphere could have had a lot to do with me not being bowled over by a band who the mettlesome Chas de Whalley rates as the bees' knees. It needed something inspiring. What we got was earnest, energetic, highly competent, but not quite in the lift-up-your-heart category, for me. OK, the crowd loved it, pogoed wildly, and proved that the Mayfair heavy metal sanctuary has been converted to welcoming New Wave. The Jam certainly didn't let them down.
But what were they putting out? Speed. The intensity of a ferociously workmanlike rhythm section, vocal harmonies hit with the exact precision. All admirable qualities. That was it though. Their tunes/riffs are undistinguished (which fact is mercilessly exposed by their choice of the ancient 'Slow Down' as a final encore). Their arrangements lack shape and dynamics to such an extent that the tiny harmonic twist in the hookline of their hit, 'All Around The World' comes across as a really radical departure. The trio does get some rhythm patterns surging, particularly in 'Here Come The Weekend', but their sound cried out for a lead guitar as a focal point to command space and clear thinking.
This isn't to deny their skill and potential. But I feel the 60s schtick is a blind alley for them. The more punk and the less pop they get the more I like it.
The finest moment in their set is the opening of 'The Modern World', all sullen defiance, aggression and contempt (and a thumping riff which they discard for the rest of the song). If Weller, and Foxton want their words to get across that's the kind of patchy clarity they have to develop as I'm sure they care about reaching people's brains too because Paul took the trouble to talk to the audience at some length between numbers quoting lyrics and emphasising that there were ideas behind the speed: "This is about systems. The combine – not as in harvesters"; "It's all so sickening and we're so satisfied"; "This is about the Housing Department in this country, redevelopment, undevelopment".
The Jam do have it to say. And yet there was something strangely impersonal about their approach to playing, with their uniform suits and deadpan faces. That could even be why fans enjoying the gig felt free to throw glasses. It was as if they weren't aware of the band as flesh and blood who could be seriously hurt. More like a rock'n'roll Aunt Sally, where part of the fun you pay for is to do damage.
Whether that theorette is right or wrong I'd like to see the spunk, aggro and character they put into the raps carrying on into the music. Unless this is all rubbish and I'm just pissed off.
The Jam: All Mod Cons Charles Shaar Murray, NME, 28 October 1978
Third albums generally mean that it's shut-up-or-get-cut-up time: when an act's original momentum has drained away and they've got to cover the distance from a standing start, when you've got to cross "naive charm" off your list of assets.
For The Jam, it seemed as if the Third Album Syndrome hit with their second album. This Is The Modern World was dull and confused, lacking both the raging, one-dimensional attack of their first album and any kind of newly-won maturity. A couple of vaguely duff singles followed and, in the wake of a general disillusionment with the Brave New Wave World, it seemed as if Paul Weller and his team were about to be swept under the carpet.
Well, it just goes to show you never can tell. All Mod Cons is the third Jam album to be released (it's actually the fourth Jam album to be recorded; the actual third Jam album was judged, found wanting and scrapped) and it's not only several light years ahead of anything they've done before but also the album that's going to catapult The Jam right into the front rank of international rock and roll; one of the handful of truly essential rock albums of the last few years.
The title is more than Grade B punning or a clever-clever linkup with the nostalgibuzz packaging (like the target design on the label, the Swinging London trinketry, the Lambretta diagram or the Immediate-style lettering); it's a direct reference to both the broadening of musical idiom and Weller's reaffirmation of a specific Mod consciousness.
Remember the Mod ideal: it was a lower-middle and working-class consciousness that stressed independence, fun and fashion without loss of integrity or descent into elitism or consumerism; unselfconscious solidarity and a dollop of non-sectarian concern for others. Weller has transcended his original naivety without becoming cynical about anything other than the music business.
Mod became hippies and we know that didn't work; the more exploratory end of Mod rock became psychedelia. Just as Weller's Mod ideal has abandoned the modern equivalent of beach-fighting and competitive posing, his Mod musical values have moved from '65 to '66: the intoxicating period between pilled-up guitar-strangling and Sergeant Pepper. Reference points: Rubber Soul and A Quick One rather than Small Faces and My Generation.
Still, though Weller's blends of acoustic and electric 6 and 12-string guitars, sound effects, overdubs and more careful structuring and arranging of songs (not to mention a quantum leap in standard of composition) may cause frissons of delight over at the likes of Bomp, Trouser Press and other covens of aging Yankee Anglophiles, All Mod Cons is an album based firmly in 1978 and looking forward.
This is the modern world: 'Down In The Tube Station At Midnight' is a fair indication of what Weller's up to on this album, as was 'A-Bomb In Wardour Street' (I can't help thinking that he's given more hard clear-eyed consideration to the implications of the Sham Army than Jimmy Pursey has), but they don't remotely tell the whole story. For one thing, Weller has the almost unique ability to write love songs that convince the listener that the singer is really in love. Whether he's describing an affair that's going well or badly, he writes with a penetrating, committed insight that rings perfectly, utterly true.
Weller writes lovingly and (choke on it) sensitively without ever descending to the patented sentimentality that is the stock-in-trade of the emotionally bankrupt. That sentimentality is but the reverse side of the macho coin, and both sides spell lovelessness. The inclusion of 'English Rose' (a one-man pick'n'croon acoustic number backed only by a tape of the sea) is both a musical and emotional finger in the eye for everyone who still clings to the old punk tough-guy stereotype and is prepared to call The Jam out for not doing likewise.
Weller is – like Bruce Springsteen – tough enough not to feel he needs to prove it any more, strong enough to break down his own defences, secure enough to make himself vulnerable. The consciousness of All Mod Cons is the most admirable in all of British rock and roll, and one that most of his one-time peers could do well to study.
Through the album, then: the brief, brusque title track and its immediate successor ('To Be Someone') examine the rock business first in a tart V-sign to some entrepreneurial type who wishes to squeeze the singer dry and then throw him away, and second in a cuttingly ironic track about a superstar who lost touch with the kids and blew his career. Weller is, by implication, assuring his listeners that no way is that going to happen to him: but the song is so well though out and so convincing that it chokes back the instinctive "Oh yeah?" that a less honest song in the same vein would elicit from a less honest band.
To Be Someone
From there we're into 'Mr Clean', an attack on the complacent middle-aged "professional classes." The extreme violence of its language (the nearest this album comes to an orthodox punk stance, in fact) is matched with music that combines delicacy and aggression with an astonishing command of dynamics. This is as good a place as any to point out that bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler are more than equal to the new demands that Weller is making on them: the vitality, empathy and resourcefulness that they display throughout the album makes All Mod Cons a collective triumph for The Jam as well as a personal triumph for Weller.
'David Watts' follows (written by Ray Davies, sung by Foxton and a re-recorded improvement on the 45) with 'English Rose' in hot pursuit. The side ends with 'In The Crowd', which places Weller dazed and confused in the supermarket. It bears a superficial thematic resemblance to 'The Combine' (from the previous album) in that it places its protagonist in a crowd and examines his reactions to the situation, but its musical and lyrical sophistication smashes 'The Combine' straight back to the stone age. It ends with a lengthy, hallucinatory backward guitar solo which sounds as fresh and new as anything George Harrison or Pete Townshend did a dozen years ago, and a reference back to 'Away From The Numbers'.
'Billy Hunt', whom we meet at the beginning of the second side, is not a visible envy-focus like Davies' 'David Watts', but the protagonist's faintly ludicrous all-powerful fantasy self: what he projects in the day dreams that see him through his crappy job. The deliberate naivety of this fantasy is caught and projected by Weller with a skill that is nothing short of marvellous.
A brace of love songs follow: 'It's Too Bad' is a song of regret for a couple's mutual inability to save a relationship which they both know is infinitely worth saving. Musically, it's deliriously, wonderfully '66 Beat Groupish in a way that represents exactly what all those tinpot powerpop bands were aiming for but couldn't manage. Lyrically, even if this sort of song was Weller's only lick, he'd still be giving Pete Shelley and all his New Romance fandangos a real run for his money.
'Fly' is an exquisite electric/acoustic construction, a real lovers' song, but from there on in the mood changes for the "Doctor Marten's Apocalypse" of 'A-Bomb In Wardour Street' and 'Tube Station'. In both these songs, Weller depicts himself as the victim who doesn't know why he's getting trashed at the hands of people who don't know why they feel they have to hand out the aggro.
We've heard a lot of stupid, destructive songs about the alleged joys of violence lately and they all stink: if these songs are listened to in the spirit in which they were written then maybe we'll see a few less pictures of kids getting carried off the terraces with darts in their skulls. And if these songs mean that one less meaningless street fight gets started then we'll all owe Paul Weller a favour.
The Jam brought us The Sound Of '65 in 1976, and now in 1978 they bring us the sound of '66. Again, they've done it such a way that even though you can still hear The Who here and there and a few distinct Beatleisms in those ornate decending 12-string chord sequences, it all sounds fresher and newer than anything else this year. All Mod Cons is the album that'll make Bob Harris' ears bleed the next time he asks what has Britain produced lately; more important, it'll be the album that makes The Jam real contenders for the crown.
Look out, all you rock and rollers: as of now The Jam are the ones you have to beat.
The Jam: A Mod At 20 Harry Doherty, Melody Maker, 20 January 1979
Hope I die before I get old? The Jam's Paul Weller knows he can't write teenage anthems any more. Harry Doherty sympathizes.
All in all, it was really quite a painless operation. The "moody", "difficult" Paul Weller is in approachable form, willing even, to volunteer the theme of the Jam's (tentative) new single.
"Like, y'know all this stuff that's goin' on now about UFOs an' that? I 'ave one of 'em landin' on earth, takin' a quick look about the place an' getting' out fast." He pauses for a second. "Christ, can you blame 'em?"
The story reflects Weller's new-found intellectual aspirations. He has, he feels, grown out of teenage anthems ('Time For Truth', 'In The Street Today', 'Standards'). It sounds absurd, but at 20 – he agonizes over the passing of teens – Weller thinks he's 'too old".
RAK Studio, oddly sited in the middle of a Hampstead estate, is currently the Jam's favourite. This is where they recorded All Mod Cons (which has sold over 150,000 copies, qualifying for Silver) and it's where they're going to put down three or four new songs, one of which (they hope) will come out as a single in mid-February. 'Strange Town', the one they're working on now, is their first choice.
"I can smell gold already," producer Vic Smith declares as Paul Weller emerges from the recording booth having put down a guitar track. As the band have barely finished the backing track, one can only stand back in awe of Smith's spectacular sense of smell.
The Jam unconvincingly assert later that they're not too concerned with hit singles. Drummer Rick Buckler toes the party line and announces that he doesn't think they would like a number one single.
"Once you get a number one, what do you do next?" he plaintively inquires. The answer seems simple enough: try to get another. "You end up writing for the public at large." He requests that I speak to Paul about that.
Weller upholds Buckler's view. He'd much rather have a number one album. (Wouldn't they all?) "I don't care about singles," he shrugs.
There is a certain amount of apprehension about my presence; apparently the Jam felt that the Melody Maker had been sanctioning against them. A long history of downers, in fact. We were the paper which slammed All Mod Cons when everybody else was proclaiming it a contemporary masterpiece. And while All Mod Cons featured highly in critics' favorite albums for '78 in the other papers (NME placed it number two behind Bruce Springsteen's Darkness On The Edge Of Town), only Simon Frith and yours truly, out of 27 people, picked it as one of our ten. They had grounds, then, for supposing that they weren't exactly the darlings of MM.
The attitude was further illuminated recently when Weller reviewed the singles for us, adding in a brief note to the editor: "When are you bastards gonna do a proper serious feature on us?" You soon find that Weller has a mania about being taken seriously.
So here we are. Manager and dad ("Course I call 'im 'Dad'") John Weller is scooting about the studio attempting to find a location for our interview, eventually securing an upstairs office. To save time, he suggests that it might be wise to talk with Buckler and bass player Bruce Foxton while Paul is working on guitar overdubs.
The brief encounter with Buckler and Foxton serves only to emphasize the notion that the Jam is almost entirely Paul Weller's ball-game, although Foxton has risen to challenge Weller's authority occasionally. He wrote two songs on This Is The Modern World ('London Traffic' and 'Don't Tell Them You're Sane') but failed to make All Mod Cons, although a couple of his tunes were recorded.
"When we played them back, they were pretty boring, plus we've set our standards higher now. I was a bit put out, but I realised it was for the benefit of the group." Foxton admits to not being very prolific.
There is a general view of Buckler and Foxton as the fun-loving pair in the group, as opposed to the more introvert Weller who retreats, after gigs, to his hotel and girlfriend. The image, they maintain, is a trifle exaggerated, although essentially accurate.
"People started sayin' things like: 'Are you separated?'...and I suppose we are – we've gone more our own ways recently – but it works out even better," Foxton says. "There is a separation socially, but there's no separation on stage, where it all works."
John Weller mercifully interrupts the conversation to announce that Paul has finished, and could he have these two down to the studio to do some work? Buckler and Foxton are relieved that their bit of the interview has been abbreviated.
Weller, I'd been told, is something of an unpredictable character, recently not given to talking much. When he did, he seemed prone to the occasional pretentious banality – like referring to the Jam's music as "pop art".
"I read something on some of the pop artists," he explains. "It was very similar to what we are doin'. They were just takin' everyday things, like washing machines, an' turnin' it into art. That is just basically what I feel that I'm doin' really, the same as Poly Styrene, takin' a situation like a tube station ('Down In The Tube Station At Midnight'), takin' an everyday experience and turnin' it into art."
There is a rather dramatic line in 'The Modern World': "I've learned to live by hate and fear, it's my inspiration drive." I ask him how true that is.
"I was talkin' about the mental hate that a lotta people suffer at school," he says. "The only thing I learned at school was to hate people an' be really bitter with people, like teachers. An' the more bitter you are, the easier it is to write."
Is it still an inspiration? "Nah. Now I suppose I have to take a more open view of things. I'm tryin' not to feed off that initial thing 'cos I'd just be writin' the same old songs over an' over again. My inspiration now is just by lookin' out the window every day."
In the studio, a couple of minutes later, Paul Weller makes a dramatic entrance, and – as if to assert his superiority – positions himself casually on a desk, chewing gum and dragging a fag. Buckler and Foxton sit meekly side by side on a settee across the room. A fraught-looking Weller immediately launches himself into conversation. Shy? You must be kidding.
"The trouble is that this All Mod Cons has proved to be...dunno...proved to be a bit of an albatross round our necks-type thing. I get paranoid now when I write songs, 'cos I think 'That's not up to standard', so I throw the song away. To me, like, the standard of songs on that album is so high that I throw a couple of songs away that maybe would be okay. Everyone's praisin' us and saying, 'Great album, but can they follow it?' – so I do tend to get paranoid about it. I think the best thing for us is to go back to doin' something really simple, even more simplistic than we've done in the past, towards the old R&B roots of the stuff we was doin'."
But why go back? If the progression is natural, shouldn't it be followed?
"Well, to me, takin' a really objective view of All Mod Cons, I would say that our next step is to advance even more, you know, which could be a bit silly really. We could end up soundin' like Genesis or somebody in three years' time. I wanna keep it simple all the time. But you're right, too. You can't suppress progression. I wouldn't suppress nothin', cos it's pointless."
I mention the obvious progressions on All Mod Cons and how it was practically a concept album. Weller agrees, informing me that there was a vague idea to string all the songs together, but seeing as the Who did it with Quadrophenia, he'd rather come up with something original.
"I'd like to do a concept album. The term has an awful sorta sound to it. It makes you think of Jethro Tull an' that, but I'd like to do something in that direction. I've been thinkin' of doin' a 45, you know...a concept single, havin' an A-side and then turn it over to the B-side and have a continuation."
'Down In The Tube Station At Midnight' was, in a sense, a concept single.
"It was more like a little play really. The words to it were like a poem, you know. I write a lotta stuff apart from actual song lyrics. That was a poem, and I put it to music. When we first started doin' it, I was thinkin' about makin' it like a TV theme, like a Sweeney. I was goin' to make it into like a vinyl play."
There were a lot of characters on All Mod Cons, people like 'David Watts' and 'Billy Hunt'. The situations you portray in songs are more complex, now.
"Yeah, but it's just that I think my songs have been takin' more of a general view. I mean, I can't write any more kids' anthems now, 'cos I'm 20 years old and you can't go on doin' that."
But 20 isn't old, I persist. Weller's retort is uncharacteristically emotional.
"It is to me, man, fuckin' 'ell. Once you're over 20, mate, you've had it. I can't go on writin' those type of songs. That'd just be lyin'."
Do you really believe that?
"Yeah, I mean, I felt the change, you know. I just felt so much older. You're not a kid any more. All the time you were under 20, like you were one of the kids an' it's great...but one has to face up to these things. I think that everybody must feel that, but they just don't want to admit it. It doesn't really bother me. Not too much. But now I've got to take a more general view, you know. I really like youth songs, really old classic youth songs, but I mean, it's just a lie to carry on writin' 'em."
That, I supposed, was the main difference between This Is The Modern World and All Mod Cons. Modern World was full of blatant "statements".
"That ('The Modern World') was a misunderstood song anyway, and a lot of the other songs were very personal. This one (All Mod Cons) is very much more general. I think you can get different age groups relating to 'em."
"That whole song was about all these sorta creeps who said that the Jam were derivative and 'not part of the contemporary scene' an' all that shit, so it's just a statement sayin', you know, 'We're just as much entrenched in the seventies as anyone else'."
That brought us to a subject I was intending to raise: its 1979, already, and the Jam are still thought of as a Sixties group.
"But you can't name one artist who's been totally original, you know. We was talking about it the other day and I could only think of one band that was totally original, an' that was the Pistols. An' then I thought about the 'In The City' riff which they nicked from us, for 'Holidays In The Sun'. So, you see, everybody steals.
"Everything's been done before, you know. How much further can you go? All this technical stuff today: The Beatles an' Pink Floyd were doin' that type thing in '67. As far as I'm concerned, the songs I write are about today, so that always pisses me off. Still does. The clothes I wear has nothin' to do with it. I dig these clothes, so that's it."
We talk a while about how Weller got into the mod image. He was eight years old when it was all happening, but maintains that he's into the "collective imagery of it all, the clothes and the music. People think I'm tryin' to put on some sorta front when they ask me about it." He wore the clothes to look different, but surely the clock has turned full circle again? It's not so flamboyant now to wear mod gear. In some cases, its the norm.
"Probably, yeah," he offers. "But it's not gonna affect me...I was here first. People put us down for being Sixties revivalists but we was doin' them clubs the same time as all the other bands, you know. I can use any chord sequence, no matter what period it comes from. No one's got a copyright on 'em, you know.
Most of the people who champion the Jam's cause refer constantly to the Sixties link.
"Yeah, that's true. I think that Charlie Murray, his review of the last LP in the NME was about the best piece of journalism we've had done on us, 'cos it was the first time that somebody had taken our lyrics seriously, which pleased me a lot. That was more important than any front pages we had in the past. But when it all boils down to it, it's the kids that buy our records and come an' see us that's really important.
"I think we're still representative of the kids. We still understand the kids, and vice versa. What I'm sayin' is that I can't go round writin' songs like 'I'm Still Young' – cliches and get away with it."
"Yeah, well, I don't think I'd ever do that. Like, we've dropped 'In The City' an' 'All Around The World'. I don't wanna be a Greatest Hits band. That's a deception. Our songs are still gonna be representative, and there are a lotta fans that are still gonna relate to 'em, like everyone related to 'Tube Station', but those early songs are now down on plastic for that period, like little vinyl photographs, and hopefully we'll have other greatest hits coming along to take their place."
I mention the early Jam image: the suits, the Union Jack on stage, the occasional rumblings of conservatism and monarchy, all combined to give them a right-wing identity.
"Nah! It wasn't right wing. I never thought it was right wing."
That was the impression.
"If that impression came across, it wasn't meant to 'cos I've got no allegiance to any fuckin' party. I hate all of 'em. I made that silly comment about votin' Conservative, right, and that was quite funny. It was all a bit of a joke. I was very annoyed 'cos there's a lotta kids who hang onto your every word, so you're influencing 'em – an' that's a bad thing, so I wouldn't make that type of statement again.
"I was just pissed off that their other bands were into this cosy thing of, you know, strict sorta left wing an' all that bullshit. I wanted to cause a bit of trouble between ourselves and other bands. An' I did. We received telegrams an' that. That's all we done it for, to get up their nose.
"The only reason the Union Jack was involved was 'cos it looks great on stage. That's the only reason I put it up there. The colours. You've got all the black and white, very negative, an' then you've got this flash of colour."
Influence is a power that is inevitable when a band is in an elevated position.
"Yeah, but all I'm sayin' is that I would use that power more wisely now. I think more about what I gotta say. I don't really wanna cram things down people's throats.
"The main reason that someone picks up a guitar is not to get across a political message. I don't ever believe that. That's a lie. You can do it but it's not the prime motive. The main reason you pick up a guitar is that you wake up one morning and you don't wanna go and work in a poxy factory. An' you can pick up more birds if you play in a group. That's the real truth of the matter. Anyone who says any different is a liar.
"You get a lot of these bands who moan about everything, but I regard myself in a lucky position, you know. I'd hate to be stuck in a factory from 8.30 til 5.30. This sounds corny, but I think it's good that kids who're stuck in that position have got some release with a band like us – or any other band."
I agree with Weller. One quickly became fed up with all those new brave people endlessly moaning and preaching but offering no solid alternative.
"Well, we done a lot of that as well, which was really stupid lookin' back, bitchin' about silly little things. I was thinkin' about this the other day, you know...all the bands that started off, once the competition thing started, slaggin' each other off – we done it, I'm not sayin' we didn't – an' really if all the bands had stuck together, it couldn't been so much bigger and so much more important. Everybody's talking now about...what is it?...oh yeah, the 'demise' of the new wave, an' in some ways it died as soon as all the bands got signed up. It was dead from that moment onwards."
It was inevitable that they would be signed up. But did the new wave have to die as a result?
"I don't think it had to happen, but that's when it did die. The moment you stick your name down on the contract, the whole thing's blown anyway. Everyone was tryin' to lie an' say 'We're not gonna get sucked in', but that's not the point. Even now, things could be a lot better. If all the bands got together and said 'I'll put some bread in and you put some bread in an' we'll start a club, we'll start a label' – but instead of that everyone just wants to boost their creditability by sayin': 'Look, I've done this first. Look, kids, I've stuck to my word', which is bullshit. That's not what it's about. It's about unity."
Would you be willing to do something like that?
"Yeah. I'd do it tomorrow. If Strummer or someone came up and said: 'Yeah, let's do this', I'd do it. I'd love to do it. That would make it so much more meaningful. But no one's prepared to do that."
What sort of thing would you envisage?
"Well, a good club would make a difference, you know. There's nowhere really. Or a good rehearsal room for bands. I'd like to do a lotta things but I ain't got enough bread to do it on me own. That's what it should've been about.
"There were too many egos, I suppose. I experienced that myself, when we made our first record. There was competition to get records into the charts an' when somebody like the Buzzcocks or Sham went in, you thought 'You bastards'. That's the reason why people slag off other bands, 'cos they're scared of 'em. They're scared of competition.
"It's all down to prestige. I remember when it all started off, everybody was pluggin' everybody else. I remember when we was trying to get a deal with EMI about two years ago, I was sayin' to the bloke 'You should go an' see the Clash', when we was there tryin' to get a deal. I'd've loved him to sign the Clash an' sign us an' sign all the bands. That's the sort of thing I'm talkin' about, but we all went to separate companies an' started doin' our own thing."
All this amounts to a confession from the Jam, as well as an indictment of all the other bands who failed to live up to the new wave spirit.
"I'm not excludin' us. I've always said that I hope that new bands come up and give as a hard time, but there's a lack of bands....or rather there's loads of bands goin' around but the record companies are too scared to take the plunge any more, 'cos they realise they can't make any more money out of promotin' bands as 'punk rock'. They're waitin' for the next big thing an' they've got a long fuckin' wait. There's some great bands about but nobody'll take a chance on them, like the Nipple Erectors an' the Gang Of Four an' the Vipers. It all stems from the companies an' us, the top bands, doin' nothin' for 'em, not makin' enough room for 'em."
It sounds as if you're fed up with the routine.
"Me? Fed Up? Nah. I've never enjoyed it more. The last tour was the first time I've enjoyed playin' since the 100 Club and Red Cow days; the first time I've really got a charge off playin'. The only thing I'm pissed off about is that it could've been so much better. I'm not really talkin' about the Jam, 'cos I'm really happy with the Jam, but just generally. I mean, we could become the biggest band in the world, but it won't mean much really. There could've been something much more purposeful than that."
The Jam: Riding Waves And Setting Standards Mike Stand, Smash Hits, 6 March 1980
WHEN I met Paul Weller I saw red. His shirt, his trousers, his pullover, his shoes – and I daresay his St. Michael Y-fronts – were all in shades of scarlet, with only the odd dash of white for two-tone tastefulness.
He looked magnificent. A king. I wished I’d worn my sunglasses but the gloomy day outside Polydor’s offices had given no warning of the visual onslaught inside. I also wish I’d noticed what Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler were wearing so I could give you a complete rundown what the devoted Jam fan might like to have in the wardrobe right now, but they were eclipsed.
Which tends to be the way of things with The Jam. As a team of musicians the readers’ polls in the weeklies show that all three are rated guvnors of their particular instruments but when it comes down to personalities, it’s Weller the songwriter everyone wants to know about and Weller who steps up naturally as their main spokesman.
Meanwhile Foxton contents himself with the one-liners and falling off his chair when something strikes him that way and Buckler smooths off any rough edges in his capacity as genuine easy-going Mr. Nice Guy.
I sat down, switched the recorder on, and put my foot in it. "I’ve been listening to your albums in time-order," I began only to be brought up short by Mr. Weller leaping down my throat. "You can say ‘chronological order’ if you like," he said. "There’s no truth in the rumour about us being a bunch of thickies!"
Ouch. "Time-order", I ask you. What kind of patronising malfunction tipped that tortured phrase off in my brain?
But it’s no wonder Paul is so sharp to pick up on any hint of snobbery that comes his way. Pretty soon it emerged that the driving force behind The Jam’s rise to their present peak of popularity and critical esteem has been an ongoing Harvey Smith aimed at people who scorned or denied their potential from childhood upwards.
In ‘The Modern World’, Paul wrote: "All my life has been the same/I’ve learned to live by hate and pain/It’s my inspiration drive." That’s more than vicious, even in terms of standard 1977 punk rebellion.
Paul: "That song was about school (Sheerwater Secondary in Woking). I found the whole process painful. The hate was directed against the teachers. I’m a bit less cynical now because there’s been some relief in writing songs and having the chance to communicate with thousands of people I’d never have met otherwise.
"Some of the kids who went to school with me are like little old men already, like Toby jugs. But now there’s less opportunities than there was for us. A kid leaving school now knows he’s straight down the dole office, so his ambition drive is probably zero.
"What outlets are there for being different, apart from music and sport? What a choice! Every avenue should be open to you."
Also in ‘The Modern World’, Paul wrote: "Even in school I felt quite sure/That one day I would be on top." I believe it from the gimlet eyes and small, intense frown of Weller, a man who could drop into the conversation without sounding boastful the remark that "Of course we think ‘Tube Station’ should have been at the top of the charts for six months".
But I wondered whether the others had shared that feeling or been happy to scud along in his wake. They proved to be just as assertive.
Bruce: "I wasn’t thinking of music back in school but I did want to be Number One in whatever I was capable of doing, even though that was a nine-to-five career at first (printing). That drive was in me all right."
Rick: "Everyone feels ambition. When you first get a new job you want to be good at it, don’t you?"
Maybe, but I think it’s that sort of purposeful energy which they take for granted that makes The Jam special and different.
I turned to how they've stayed together since they were 15, despite the demands and turmoil of becoming stars during the period of fastest change in anyone’s life. I’m sure there are some interesting points in there but I couldn’t get the subject going, except that Bruce fell off his chair when I mentioned the word "sex". When he’d recovered, I suggested to them that they had survived partly because of the protection afforded by Paul’s dad, John Weller. He became their manager at the start and made the band into a kind of family unit with mutual trust unquestionable.
Dreams of Children
Paul wouldn’t wear the idea that they’d been sheltered, but his answer did imply a certain coziness preserved by John intercepting all the financial worries.
"We take an interest but we don’t get involved. That’s why I’ve always said I don’t feel a part of the music business. I see us as a group the same way I did when we were 15 and starting off. Maybe it’s not entirely true, but it’s how I like to look at it."
And so the picture takes shape. A band together for six years. Four chart albums and nine straight hit singles with the latest the most successful of the lot. Musical and family life merged. Paul living with the girl he’s been going steady with for years.
It’s a picture of extraordinary stability in the light of the Jam’s often black and violent music. I asked Paul whether the harsh material all came from his past, whether he had now found true happiness?
Paul: "I’m never really happy wherever I am." Rick: "Miserable sod, isn’t he?" Bruce (falling off his chair sobbing): "O God, I’m so sad."
Paul seemed neither disturbed by this mockery of his artist’s tragic soul nor inclined to take himself too seriously: "I never see life as being steady. I’ve always been uncertain. I’ve never felt I could sit back and relax – there’s just too much going on.
"I’m sitting there in front of the TV moaning on about world politics saying ‘Look at these bastards’ and Gill just says, ‘Yeah, shall we start tea then?’ And she’s quite right.
"Maybe I’m only an armchair radical. But every night I watch the news and I get so frustrated. I write it all down then in the morning throw it away because it’s rubbish, just paranoid rantings and ravings. Still, after six or seven pints I do start to cheer up a bit. That’s basic philosophy for you. Yeah, I think lager should be on the National Health."
Despite appearances. there was one loud hiccup in The Jam’s development. I had only to mention summer ’78 and Bruce groaned, "Don’t talk to me about that! I need my pills. We were near to committing suicide then." Even now they find it hard to put their finger on exactly what went wrong. Rick described it as "collecting our thoughts. We’d been in the business a year and we needed to suss out where we stood."
Paul thinks it might simply have been exhaustion from recording two albums, touring America, Europe, and Britain twice all in less than a year.
Whatever the reasons, it’s clear The Jam were within measurable distance of breaking up. In interviews at the time Paul was musing on the possibility of opening a value-for-money mod clothes shop while Bruce seemed to fancy becoming a Basil Fawlty in charge of a seaside boarding house (though he claims he was drunk when he said that).
Crucially, the band decided to scrap about an album’s worth of Weller and Foxton songs just when they were scheduled to produce the follow-up to This Is The Modern World. This drastic act of self-criticism is probably what saved them.
Paul readily admitted, "A lot of the trouble at the time stemmed from me because I was messing around writing these soppy songs or trying to be smart and arty. I had to realise that’s not what the Jam are about. Those songs were rubbish."
"Who said?" I said.
"I said," he said "If anyone from the company tried that on us we’d tell him to stick his head up his bum. I think we’ve got our own really good refining system, we always know when something’s not up to standard.
With that behind them, The Jam set off on the streak of hot form which has sustained them up to the present. With All Mod Cons suddenly the playing of all three was matching up to the impact of Weller’s lyrics.
They opened by getting things off their chests with the title track and ‘To Be Someone’, reflecting on failure after fame. One line goes: "You drop us like hot bricks" but Paul denied that this was personal experience because he’d had very few friends anyway outside the band.
Then they blossomed into a dramatic realism with a strength they had never touched on before in the horrors of ‘‘A’ Bomb In Wardour Street’ and ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ and my more cheerful favourite, the portrait of ‘Billy Hunt’. "No one pushes Billy Hunt around/Well, they do, but not for long/’Cause when I get fit and grow bionic arms/The whole world’s gonna wish it weren’t born."
Setting Sons took The Jam’s growth another huge leap forward. Musically they advanced with the bold use of an all-strings arrangement for Foxton’s ‘Smithers-Jones’ and the complex structure of ‘Little Boy Soldiers’, but also lyrically with the stunning imagery and form of ‘Burning Sky’ and the movingly precise descriptions of a person under stress in ‘Private Hell’: "Alone at 6 o’clock – you drop a cup – / You see it smash – inside you crack –/You can’t go on – but you sweep it up."
Paul Weller cares about his lyrics far more than most songwriters, as you might guess from his recent launching of a small publishing company with a book of poems by his long-time friend Dave Waller. But Paul’s by no means satisfied with his own efforts yet, and only half of his Setting Sons compositions really pleased him, namely ‘Thick As Thieves’, ‘Wasteland’, ‘Eton Rifles’ and ‘Burning Sky’.
He’s working on it, however, partly by not allowing increasing wealth to run up the shutters between him and real life. For instance, where do you think he spent his holidays last summer? The Bahamas? Mustique? No. In a caravan near Portsmouth, like his parents used to. And while he was there he wrote ‘Eton Rifles’.
The Jam, Or, How To Not Break In America (Because You Don't Want To) Chris Salewicz, Creem, March 1981
On a damp, dank Sunday lunchtime the three pasty-faced, unhealthy-looking members of the Jam sit in an uncomfortably functional room in a nondescript London hotel close to Oxford Circus, and consider their new album, Sound Affects.
On this latest long-player, the simplicity and directness of which is epitomized by the melodic minimalism of the ‘Start’ single already lifted from it, guitarist Paul Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler have once again worked with producer Vic Coppersmith, who by now appears a major force in the establishing of the busy, bleak sometimes violent sounds of the Jam: for the next time the group record, though, says Foxton, they are searching for an 8-track studio, in which they may well produce themselves.
Recorded at London's Town House in brief bursts of studio activity in between tour dates, this fifth Jam LP took three months in all to make – Setting Sons, their last album, only took two.
"We never really go into the studio with 12 songs, all arranged, all rehearsed," explains the group's songwriter Paul Weller, the normally thick tones of his South London accent rendered even more rasping by a dose of flu, "If we did that we could probably do an LP in two weeks.
"As it is, of late we've been going into the studio with vague ideas and odd bits of song structures, and worked the song out in the studio. It's mainly a lack of time, though, that makes us do it like that. The actual music is always created in the studio, though I may already have written some lyrics...It's not the ideal way of recording or the way we'd really like to do it – it's just down to present circumstances.
"Obviously the first album was just the stage act we were playing at that time, which we just put down on vinyl."
"Because we knew all the material," adds Buckler, "we did that one in about 11 days."
"I thought Setting Sons was a bit too slick, a bit too polished," offers Weller. "I don't think it's a really true sound...although it was certainly never intended to be a rock opera," he grimaces, "which is one impression I've heard bandied about of it."
Earlier this year, the Jam played their fourth brief foray of American dates. Unlike most British bands, though, the Jam express no great desire to conquer the States.
"I get very negative about America," says Weller. "In fact, I tend to go over the top about it and generalize much too much. The main thing, though, is that I just don't see the same enthusiasm there. It's so totally different from Europe, and it just becomes so frustrating, because it seems that we've just wasted a lot of time there when we could have been playing to a much more positive response to audiences elsewhere.
"I just get the impression that the majority of Americans just want to be entertained, they seem to need to be coaxed in some way into liking us. They don't seem to see much difference between rock 'n' roll and TV entertainment."
As are most of the post-'76 rockers towards their contemporaries, Weller is derisively dismissive of the Stateside triumphs of such competitors as the Pretenders and the Clash. "Just play their records," he barks gruffly of the Clash, "and you'll see why they did it in the States: 'Train In Vain' sounds like something by Nils Lofgren." Perhaps he should take some comfort in the knowledge that the Clash consider the music of the Jam to be equally comtemptible. Bruce Foxton, possibly with some accuracy, dismisses the Police as "just like another Bee Gees."
"I'm beginning to question the whole point of going to America, though," continues Weller. "Why, after you crack England, are you expected to immediately go and break America? It's a bit of a joke: why not Russia or Red China? Pete Townshend said that the reason people go and play in America is that they're the only ones who can speak English. But that's rubbish: the reason bands go there is just for money. Nothing else.
"The Jam have got much more in common with Europe. I suppose it should really, because the environment our music is coming out of is European."
The band shakes its collective head in amused, bemused denial at the suggestion that the group enjoy a sizable success in Europe. "We've got a good following in Sweden." Bruce Foxton shrugs his often tense shoulders. "But everywhere else we seem to be regarded as a bit of a cult group. Japan was good, too – we went there earlier in the year – but there also we're only on that sort of level."
In the UK, the Jam are certainly the most popular of all the credible New Wave Brit Rockers, consistently knocking up number one single hits. Considering the orgasmic reaction the group had received at the Rainbow Theatre the previous evening on the first of the four London dates they were playing to climax their British tour, it is surprising to have to realize the group's large success is limited essentially to this island.
The group seems almost abashed, though, when I mention the degree of reverence with which they are regarded by their British fans – on the tube home from the Rainbow, the train had been crammed full of kids, many clad in the not always desirable late 70's mod style, the blame for which movement many lay about the neck of the 60's-obsessive Weller, metaphorically rocking the carriages with their choir-like renditions of such appropriate Jam near-anthems as ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’.
Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
"That English following's taken four years to get that large." offers Paul. "We've been building it since 1977. Recently it has suddenly got a lot bigger and more fanatical – probably because of the number ones – but really it's the result of a slow build-Up over the years. Mind you, we've always had a really strong following: even when it was only 400 people those 400 were a really powerful force.
"We get loads of mods coming to our gigs," he adds, "but there's loads of other kids also...Really, despite what's been claimed, that New Mod thing that happened last year was nothing to do with us. It really came out of a few pubs down the East End of London."
"When we were doing the album at the Town House," laughs Rick, "I was up there on my own one day and I heard a noise in the corridor outside the studio: when I looked out I found the place had been invaded by about 50 mods. They'd broken in through the door and were swarming all over the place. When they found which studio we were in, though, they just seemed satisfied and said they were going down the pub.
"They asked me to come with them for a drink but I figured I couldn't really get through about 50 pints, so I just carried on mixing tracks."
"I thought that mod thing was alright," continues Paul, "It gave a bit of new blood to the music. People said it was all very contrived, but I don't think it was from the kids' point of view – It's not their fault all those poxy shops filled with crappy clothes started up.
"But, anyway, there'll be something else in six months' time. That's the way it seems to go at the moment."
Although the Jam were spring-boarded to their current success by the rapid emergence of punk at the end of 1976, the group had already been in existence for nearly three years, although its live work was mainly restricted to dates in the group's home town of Woking, just to the south of London. In retrospect then, does it seem that the group genuinely was a part of the Punk Movement?
"I certainly felt part of it, yeah!" nods Paul. "We didn't call ourselves A Punk Band, because there didn't seem any point – there doesn't seem much point in any of those labels. But I still felt part of it."
"And really," butts in Rick, "it was really so much more than just a fashion thing. You could go and see a band that wasn't 35 years old and playing music that'd been around for the past five years. It was definitely an alternative that people could very much relate to."
Paul Weller has no doubts whatsoever of the place of Punk in the history of rock 'n' roll: "Punk was the most important musical development in our time – certainly! In fact, it's a pity for really young kids today that things seem to have got away from that sense of unity that was around then – now it's all this splintered tribalism.
"It's a shame, really, that something like 2-Tone didn't stay in the clubs for a bit longer, but it did rise very quickly to the big venues."
Although the more politic Buckler sees them as "a good alternative, although I don't personally like it," Paul dismisses the electronic industrial chic purveyed by outfits like the Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark as "a load of fuckin' shit."
"The whole 'art' thing that goes with it," Weller expands, "has got very little to do with the experience of the average kid. It's like all those Liverpool bands – there's some little Scousers that follow us around, and I ask them, 'What do you think of these new Liverpool bands like Echo And The Bunnymen?' And they replied, 'They're a load of art school wankers!'
"In fact, I think a lot of the music made by those bands is very good, but the feeling I get off of them is very elitist.
"The bands I like are usually bands I can also trust – people like the Ruts and the Skids: they seem pretty trustworthy."
Although when initially revealed, the concept of the Jam being managed by Paul Weller's father seemed both curious and constricting, the group have had the last laugh. As all around them bitter financial feuding continues apparently indefinitely between New Wave groups and their management companies, Paul can contentedly comment: "Well, at least we know we haven't been ripped off."
Over the past year, indeed, Paul himself has launched his own financial, though artistically-based, venture: Riot Stories is the name of the, small, near-underground publishing house he is attempting to establish – contrary to reports elsewhere he has not wound it up, but is investigating cheaper, more immediate forms – poetry books in the form of fanzines seem for the moment to hold favor in the group's songwriter's head.
Though he quotes Shelley on the sleeve of the new album, and expresses a desire to study the works of English mystical poet William Blake, Paul cites the often dauntingly precise, sometimes deadeningly pretentious, currently unfashionable Liverpool poets like Brian Patten, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri – 60's British simulacrums of America's 50's Beat poets – as his favourite wordsmiths. Perhaps one should bear that in mind when considering the lyrics of the punningly titled Sound Affects.
Paul Weller is a great lover of the writings of George Orwell, though he disputes the currently fashionable belief that in 1984 the writer was delivering a prophecy of how he believed the world would be by that year: "I thought always that it was much more a consideration of all the flaws of an apparently Utopian society – because that's what the state of things Orwell's writing about has developed to. It's just a very hard-edged look at what such a society would really be like – unlike' the romantic way that people like Aldous Huxley saw it."
Equally, adds Paul, he sees no hope for the future of the world in the outmoded political dogma to which both the Left and Right adhere. The sorting out of political problems, he believes, can only be arrived at by people sorting out themselves.
"Until quite recently," he explains, "I was a convinced atheist. I completely abhorred the concept of God and the Church. Now, though, I'm quite convinced that a lot of the problems in the world are down to people not believing In God – whether it be a Christian or a Buddhist or a Muslim God...Although I'm sure that He's sitting up there and laughing at all those ridiculous re-born Christians and those Californian religious sects.
"That's the trouble: organized religion always seems to get corrupted – though it should be up to the people themselves not to let it get like that!"
The Paul Weller Interview Chris Salewicz, The Face, May 1982
As Paul Weller says, in the mid-1960s the original spirit of Mod implanted itself into the soul of young Britain with a self-nurturing, almost religious zeal. Outside of London in particular it has continued to be nourished by such cultural phenomena as Northern Soul and scooter clubs. It is also worth repeating that a large part of the sharpest, most stylish edge of Punk had its roots in Mod.
As a glance at The Jam's live audiences attests, this has been a major factor in sustaining the colossal British popularity of the group: especially in the provinces, the Born Again Mods of the ‘70s are vastly outnumbered by those who - no matter what their particular current tribal loyalty - draw the majority of their roots direct from the source of that main mid-‘60s British youth movement.
But the main reason for the huge success of The Jam is the hypnotic listenabilty of Paul Weller's songs. His melodic modern folk music, spattered with the action painting of his words, is at once distantly aloof and super-intimate, a paradox given clearer definition by the austere figure of Paul Weller himself, an older brother rather than a prophet or icon to The Jam's increasingly youthful live audiences.
We talk in his room at the Leicester Holiday Inn, prior to second of the group's two shows in that East Midlands town. There is a Cromwellian, Puritanical obsessiveness in the manner in which Paul Weller continually returns to railing against what he defines dismissively as "those pop groups" - the likes of Depeche Mode and Adam Ant - betrayers, he believes, of the destiny of their musical form.
Always lighting yet another cigarette, Paul Weller gathers his worried brows into a v-shaped knot between his eyes, like a stone arrowhead emblematic of the forward flight of his purposeful intent. Weller responds with pensive, spontaneous anxiety to the sometimes troubling subject-matter arising out of our conversation, leaning his gaunt body across the table that separates us. Only occasionally does he flop back on his chair and emit a light laugh.
It's serious business being Paul Weller, especially when you are constantly checking yourself to ensure you are not being self-deluded into taking yourself too seriously. Incidentally, there is no sign whatsoever of his delivering a practised stock interview rap - half the time he is interviewing me, asking me what I think.
The ostensibly well-ordered Weller reveals much of his humanity in the tip-like state of his room, a situation about which he apologises with a satisfied smirk. The room is littered with unfolded clothes belonging to both him and his girlfriend, who is in charge of the group's merchandising when The Jam are on the road.
Running shoes lie on the bed next to a Bush mono record-player. On the table in front of us, curling up at the edges, is a plate of white bread cheese sandwiches - Paul Weller has been a vegetarian since his girlfriend converted him from meat-eating in 1978. An Eek-a-Mouse LP is at the front of a pile of recent reggae records leaning against the bed: "Eek-a-Mouse is a bit gloomy. I much prefer Clint Eastwood - he's got much more life, more bubbly."
On the floor is an open copy of a history of the French Revolution. "I just read anything that interests me," he says. "I don't think I've got such a thing as a favorite novelist, apart from Orwell. I've just read All Quiet On The Western Front. That says a lot about how we arrived at where we are today, about the feelings of the young people then who were involved in the First World War - it's really strong."
His own publishing company, Riot Stories, is shortly putting out a fanzine with its own flexidisc, as well as another volume from Newcastle poet Aidan Cant. "I'm definitely going to expand the publishing thing," he threatens. In addition, Weller and The Jam now run two record labels, Respond, distributed by Polydor, and Jamming, which they themselves put into the shops.
Paul Weller rarely goes out in the evenings. Never an ardent club-goer, he says he has now given up nightclubbing completely. Occasionally he visits the cinema, though he seems to be invariably disappointed. Carry On films are his favourite: "I saw an advertisment for Death Wish II: it seemed to have all the ingredients for a box office success - a few rapes, a few murders. To me it all just adds to the fuckin' sickness. The other week I saw Heartbeat, that film about Kerouac. But I wasn't impressed. I'm not impressed with The Beat Generation anyway. It's the same with Burroughs. I read one of his books when I was at school – Junkie - I thought it was a load of crap to be honest - another big myth. Like Henry Miller. I'd like to read some DH Lawrence, but the mentality of that time seems so hard to get into."
"What about the music papers, though?" he suddenly demands. "I think they're terrible!"
Anyway, I hear you've given up drinking.
I gave it up last October. I still have a pint now and then, but I don't get pissed anymore. I got fed up waking up feeling like a sack of shit. Mind you, it was only about one night a week that I'd stay up all night, pissing it up. It used to be a laugh. But you can't do it forever. I particularly used to drink on tour, because it's so boring, hanging about with nothing else to do but drink. I've given up dope as well, but I was never a great drug-abuse person. Mainly it's just that I want to keep straight so that I can think straight.
Part of the dope myth is that it makes you think more clearly.
It doesn't do that at all. It's like people say that speed is good for writing, but that's complete crap: it's a totally different vision that you're coming out with then. It's not your truth.
A lot of the lyrics on The Gift are very good: it's an excellent record.
I think it's the best thing we've done. I thought that at the time about All Mod Cons, and then about Sound Affects - not as much about the other three. But this one - definitely. I really felt it at the time we were making it. There were no precious decisions about what we were doing. It was just a case of putting everything we'd got into it. And to me that comes across, especially when you hear it on the radio, next to all the other records. It just leaps out.
I heard you were worried about making the record.
I'm always worried about doing a record. Because I'm not the kind of writer that always has 12 or 14 songs all ready and rehearsed for when we go into the studio. I pick up ideas as I go along. In fact, a lot of the time I write in the studio. That really slow track, ‘Ghosts’, was done like that. I really think it's one of our best songs.
That's the song with the lines, "Don't live up to your given roles/There's more inside you that you won't show/But you keep it hidden just like everyone". Are those very autobiographical lines?
Probably, yeah. That song is about all the cults that British people adopt, including myself with the Mod thing. And I think that comes about because a real sense of purpose is missing in most of our lives. A kid who's straight out of school, even if he's not on the dole, all he's got at the end of the week is his wage packet. And that is just not enough. It's not just down to a money thing, is it? It's down to a sense of purpose in life. Even money isn't a great power to actually inspire people's lives.
I read something where you were slagging off Ghosts In The Machine by The Police, saying that if there wasn't a political solution you might as well give up.
Of course there's a solution. It's just that none of it works at the moment. The thing is to get away from the idea that the way it is at the moment, in both East and West, is therefore the natural order of things. Neither system works - that's obvious.
Yet you were prepared to vote Labour simply to try to keep the Tories out. Which in the end is obviously a very negative decision to make.
It is, because it means you're not voting for them because you think they're a great party. On the Continent the Social Democratic Parties are very much the middle party. But in England the SDP is not the same thing at all - they're like another fuckin' Tory Party.
In the past, you've compared all political organizations with Boy Scouts or school societies. Yet you've joined CND.
I think people are right to be suspicious about all such movements. But as far as campaigning against nuclear arms goes, I don't think there's a political choice - in fact, you can only decide one of two things: you either want nuclear arms or you don't. The worst thing is when people feel they're powerless to do anything about it, and they think, "Fuck it: I might as well have a good time if I can't change it." To me all those pop groups are just feeding them that – that's morally wrong as well as dangerous. Mind you, it's because of those groups that I think our audiences are getting younger-otherwise I wouldn't have any explanation as to why we get such young people coming to see us, even though I also think there are a lot of people who've grown up with us since 1977. But generally there isn't much going on in music. All those pop groups are so fuckin' shallow, and those kids are seeing them for what they are.
I know you're very into the idea of The Kids. But isn't it more to do with people's attitudes than their ages?
I don't know. I tend to get a bit chauvinistic about youth. I believe in it. I know what you're saying - that the basic thing should just be people. It's just that I always remember the feeling of being 18, and it's great to know that you're that age.
Have you lost that feeling?
Yeah... But it's not a question of losing it, but of accepting that you can't have it anymore. The important thing is to remember what it was like. That's the trouble with older people - they forget. Even people my age have probably forgotten. They regard 16 and 17-year-olds as idiots. In fact, most of my old school-mates do. But Punk really was the alternative culture to that. People put Punk down now.
I know. Especially in the music press - that sickens me. It's all about... sniggering at it. But I still passionately believe in it. So does that put you in a difficult position? Do you feel you have to become like an elder statesman?
I don't feel I have to. It just gets hoisted upon me. The Elder Statesman at 23? I think that's a load of fuckin' crap.
You speak out against the notion of heroes. Yet you yourself certainly are one.
Yeah. And that pisses me off. Because it's a trap.
A trap for yourself, or for those regarding you as a hero?
For them, really. Except ultimately it will trap me and the group as well. That's my one big worry - that we'll become institutionalised, and that'll be that. It means you have to keep working within the confines of whatever image people have put upon you. But what else can you do about it? You can shy away from certain things, like the daily papers, and all the pin-ups, and be honest with people. But... I dunno: if there were a lot of other groups working the same way as us then it could be different. But most of them opt out for commercial success and everything that goes with it. It's like all the bullshit you hear from people in those pop groups - that people want stars, that they want the chance to dress up once a week, and escape from it all. Who says they want that?
Personally I would have thought that you should be able to feel good all of the time.
I would have thought so.
But how do you cope with money? Presumably you now have a reasonably large bank balance: do you feel guilty about it?
No. I used to. But I don't feel guilty about it anymore, because there are a lot of people who've got a lot more fuckin' money than I have, who don't deserve it. I feel guilty when I think about the money people like nurses get, people who are doing...[laughs] I was going to say, ‘proper jobs'. Anyway, people who're doing really important jobs. All that's ludicrous, but that's our whole money system, isn't it? But I am trying to do something with what I've got, like the two labels, for example. And I'm also trying to get a studio. I'm not just hoarding it, and I'm not extravagant with it, either. I think I'd feel a lot more guilty if I was extravagant - if I was buying my girlfriend mink coats, or shooting up a 1,000 worth of junk every week.
Heroin is very popular these days, of course.
Another decadent trap. It really surprises me about a lot of the bands who've come from the punk era. Do you know what I mean? They're just like any fuckin' American rock group, just debauched junkies. It's that whole rock'n'roll thing. It's all returned to that again - it's almost like punk never happened. That's basically what I think we should be fighting against in The Jam. There are other bands like The Beat - they've got the right idea. I think it's just a question of smashing all that myth, all those pop and rock'n'roll myths.
Do you still go on public transport?
Yeah. Obviously if you're on tour you don't, because people know you're in town. But in London I do, because there are so many people there you just get lost amongst them all. When we were recording The Gift up in Oxford Street I used to get a bus there every day. I think things like that are important, because... I dunno: when you say it keeps your feet on the ground it sounds a bit patronising. But really it's a question of still mixing with ordinary people, isn't it?
But do you do that? Aren't you a bit of a loner?
I suppose I'm quite a private person.
Do you have many friends?
Not in abundance. But the people I have got as friends I trust implicitly so...
What year was it that you moved up to London from Woking?
You were given a lot of stick about coming from Woking: there was the assumption that because that was your home town you were therefore middle-class, that secretly The Jam were Tory Rock.
People who say things like that are talking out of their arse-holes. You end up having to justify your working-class pedigree - you can't do anything about that, I suppose. But our house in Stanley Way where we first lived in Woking before we moved to the estate was like a Victorian house a hundred years old with no hot water and no bath and an outside shithouse. But if you mention that in print, it sounds, ‘Hello: Professional Working-class.' So I prefer not to really talk about it.
Not only do you have the problem of being regarded as Working-class, but also of being seen as a Professional Earnest Person. Do you find all that very difficult?
It gets on my tits to have to constantly justify myself. My thing is that people either trust me or they don't. I don't think I'll ever let people down, because I have got a basic integrity. Anyway, I couldn't do that to people - I'd just feel too bad if it was for selfish reasons.
Have there been many times when you've realized you had to really watch yourself?
No, not really. Other groups keep me in check. When I see all these other fuckin' groups - all the really fradulent bands that're around - that keeps me in check. That keeps me realizing what we should be doing - showing that bunch of wankers up for what they are. It's like their bad behaviour keeps me in check.
How has having your father as manager helped?
It's great. Because we're really good friends. We always have been. We'd always go out drinking together.
Have you got any brothers or sisters?
A sister. She's about 19.
It's very good that you can have that kind of relationship with your father.
I'm lucky, because I've always got on well with my mum and dad. I think it's because they're younger than many kids' parents - my dad's only 50 now - which really helps.
So how do you feel about the idea of the family unit?
I think it's really important. Like I was saying before, a lot of people when they get past a certain age forget what it's like to be young. But that's one thing my old man never seems to have forgotten. He's not a conventional person - none of my family are. He believes in the power of young people and youth. His thing is that they are the life-blood of the country, which is obviously true, and that therefore they should have a much more important role in saying things. They are the future, so obviously they should have a hand in carving out how that future should be developed. He really believes in that, so it's easy for me to get on with him.
The current fashionable attempts to break down the family structure are obviously fallacious: the family has always stood as a symbol of strength and unity.
Yeah, I agree. I think it would be a bad thing if it ever came about that the family was finally broken down. That was one of Orwell's things: he reflected on it in 1984, but it was featured more strongly in a couple of his essays: that the family unit would be broken down, and people would become isolated. The family unit is important, because if it works it shows you how to work with other people - just that basic commonsense of working with other people, of acknowledging and respecting other people around you. So if the family unit is broken down, then it's like that whole thing gets broken down - that whole kind of respect towards other people, and how you work with them and treat them.
That's one of the important things about groups - people in them have to acknowledge each other's existences and inter-relate with each other.
That's why I like being in The Jam. If we split up there are other things I could do, obviously, but it wouldn't be the same at all. Because it's great when you're doing things with other people and you get something that really works and you're part of. I think I'd really miss that above all else. It's a long time now: it's eight years we've been together - a long fuckin' time. But we understand each other's temperaments.
That's why it's often much better than music that comes from the solo star with his backing band."
It's crap all that. Even when I get singled out, even doing this interview. When the LP came out there was my face on the front of every music paper - what a load of shit.
At the time I wondered if that had been consciously manipulated.
Well, it's tempting, isn't it? I have got a basic ego, just like everyone else. But after you've seen five or six papers, you start to think, ‘Fuckin' 'ell: if I'm getting sick of it, so must everyone else.' And it isn't just me: with my dad as well there are definitely four of us in this group: if you took away one of us it wouldn't work.
But how do Bruce and Rick feel about you writing almost all the songs?
That's always fallen to me - that's my role. I think it's accepted. There's no conflict about it. I've always been the writer in the group - that's what I like most doing. Rick's tried to write songs, but he's never come up with anything. I don't think it really causes anyone any turmoil.
It's known that Ray Davies is your all-time favorite songwriter: what is it about him that appeals so much?
It's only his early stuff I really like. He was the only person writing in that way at the time - writing about basic, ordinary life. And it's very pure English language that he uses - there are never any Americanisms in it.
Certainly he understands what songs are about, about melodies...
Which you do.
I've always been into melodic music. I think in the end that's what it's down to. It's not as confining as people make out - there are a lot of things you can do with melody.
How do you write? On a guitar?
It all depends. I mainly start with lyrics, and work on the tunes later. The way we work, we're a very disciplined group. But my writing's not that disciplined - I have scraps of paper with a couple of lines written on them, or a list of titles which I think sound interesting, and I work from there. I might have about three separate lyrics which in the end I join together into one song. I carry most of my ideas around with me in my head, and it's just a question of finding the right openings for them. I don't know if a lot of people work like I do. Because for all the disciplined image which The Jam have - which is partly true - I don't think many people could work like us: two weeks before we go into the studio, I won't have any songs, and everyone'll be a bit worried. Then I'll just come up with it on the first day. It seems to work for us like that.
Do you think the songs are more personal on this album?
It's directly what I feel, directly me, directly my thoughts on it.
Pete Townshend wrote an article about you recently in Time Out magazine: he said you obviously were in a great rush to get your words out when you wrote them, and that's why they never rhyme - which, in fact, they often do.
But what's rhyming got to do with it? You can tell he's from the Old School. Ray Davies' rhyme, but not conventionally. What is it he does in ‘Dead End Street’? He rhymes ‘And my feet are nearly frozen' with ‘pour some tea and put the toast on'. (laughs) What the fuck does rhyme matter? It's rhythm that matters.
So how do you feel these days about Pete Townshend? He was always made out to be your spiritual mentor.
I think that's a load of shit. We've totally surpassed the Who-thing. When we started off, what we were doing was totally derived from that '65 Who thing - the look, the sound of the guitars, everything. But this is five years later, and obviously we've developed on from that, into us - The Jam. These days I don't think Pete Townshend knows what he's fuckin' on about at all.
Paul Weller: The Mojo Interview Phil Sutcliffe, Mojo, August 2004
Keith Altham PR’d The Jam in the late '70s. In his book of post-retirement open letters to former clients, No More Mr Nice Guy, he told Paul Weller, "You were a typical, uptight, monosyllabic, suspicious, belligerent little 19-year-old punk". He added, "I liked you instantly".
Nowadays, Weller's new record company associates at V2 are pleased to flutter a little about how, aged 46, he's the unusual kind of star who makes the tea when he comes round the office. Yet he still somehow worries them. Partly it's the perma-frown and the moody reputation. Partly it's the sheer agitated energy he evinces - his hands wrestle one another, he shifts and fidgets, and when he stands up it's like a sprinter bursting out of the blocks.
Still, he probably likes to encourage a certain edginess in business people. After all, they are not family, and he is a man who has placed his faith in blood lines. His father, John, has always managed him and his mother, Ann, worked with him for years - "real people in an unreal world", Altham reckoned.
Greeting Mojo, Weller snuffles and coughs because he's recovering from flu, but the accent is the familiar Surrey gorblimey and the cheekbones are chiselled as ever. He wears a check shirt, a cream cardy - style icons are supposed to surprise us, after all.
His new album, Studio 150, could do it too. With his first covers collection after 18 studio albums fronting The Jam and The Style Council or solo, he's honouring influences from Gil Scott Heron and Rose Royce, Tim Hardin and Neil Young (plus a specially excavated Northern Soul rarity, Nolan Porter's If I Could Only Be Sure).
At a cafe near V2's Holland Park HQ, he orders fizzy mineral water and tea - "Normal. Er, English breakfast?" - apologizing that he has to go in two hours because a man's coming about his boiler. He lights a cigarette, first of many. [Danny: re "19th studio album" - that includes Modernism because it was eventually released in its own right in 2001]
A covers album usually marks...
The end of your career?
It's always a possibility. Does it feel like that to you?
No. I've always fancied it. I tried to make it a complete album - songs I thought I could interpret and do justice to with my usual band, no studying the originals, just find the groove and make'em ours. And ... it allowed me to take a break from writing, which I needed. Making the album wasn't like pulling teeth which it normally is. But I haven't got any plans. Where I go after this I really don't know.
Do you have writer's block?
I don't think so. I've written some songs in the last two years, but I'm just bored with them. They don't fire me up. B-sides if they're lucky.
Did your band react the same way? Can they say, "Sorry, Paul, not up to it"?
Of course. We're not up each other's arses saying, "It's great, it's great!" Me and Steve White (drums) have been together for 20 years. And Steve Cradock (guitar) and Damon Minchella (bass), we've been playing for over ten years, we've got some history.
As a writer, I need to hit on something new, lyrically and musically, and I can't even say what it is. The amount of times in the past year I've sat down in the kitchen, picked up a guitar, played a chord sequence and thought, "I've heard that so many fuckin' times!"
I've written over 400 songs so you've got to say I'm prolific, but it's never been a piece of cake. Well, every now and then I do get one that comes out of the air and seems to be there. Wild Wood (1993) was like that. But only one or two per album and they're not necessarily the best. Sometimes I'll be chipping away at an idea for a year and finally it turns the corner. Ninety per cent of my, uh, vast canon are more perspiration than inspiration.
Writing difficulties seem to be an undercurrent all through your career. The story goes that, in 1978, when The Jam started recording All Mod Cons, Chris Parry, the Polydor A&R man, stopped you because he thought you hadn't got enough good songs.
True. We'd done about eight tunes, Bruce's and three or four of mine, and they were all piss poor. It needed someone to say, "This is diabolical, start again!" We all moaned. "What does he know!" But he was right.
Then on The Jam's last album, The Gift (1982), you're supposed to have collapsed over a pool table and had a full-scale nervous breakdown because of the strain.
Poetic license going on there. It wasn't as extreme as that. We were working hard, but I was just ... tired. We were very young and to come up with 12 songs for each album and more for singles and B-sides year after year was a tall order for anyone. There's the internal pressure as well. If you're any kind of writer you want to be able to say, "Look, I've got this sackful of songs". Then ... you feel very complete as a person. I feel more defined when I've got these songs and I'm making a record. That's what I'm supposed to be doing. Although it has changed now I've got family. Four kids. It keeps you busy. It fills up all the holes you had before. Thank God, I'm glad I've got them but ... I do think I'm at my happiest when I'm working. I don't know if that's the right thing to say. There's something ... complete about working. It gets into your system, it's not just ego ... I don't know how to explain it.
Way back you were quoted saying you couldn't see yourself as a father and you wanted to have a vasectomy, but the doctor wouldn't do it because you were so young.
Dunno. Possibly. I couldn't imagine myself as a father then, that's true. When I was 20 I couldn't imagine myself playing music at 46. Then all of a sudden you're in your 40s and still doing it and you don't want to stop. And I still love it. Not every aspect. But the truth about the music I still love.
Do you remember how you started writing songs?
As soon as I'd learnt C, F and G, I was up and running. Me and the feller I started The Jam with, Steve Brookes, we just went to it. It seemed natural to try and write something as great as the people we grew up with, The Kinks, The Beatles, Motown.
One of your early songs, ‘Life From A Window’ (1977), portrays you as the archetypal observer-writer, "Life from a window/Observing everything around you/ ... I'm standing on the Post Office Tower so I can see all there is to see".
Because I wasn't old enough to write about myself in any detail. I didn't have the deep backlog of personal emotions, the dark corners. So I observed characters, situations, my class of people who I grew up with.
What was it in your life as a teenager that brought the ferocious political anger into your writing? In ‘Modern World’ you wrote, "I've learned to live by hate and pain".
A lot of teenage angst going on there. It's funny to me to look back on because my two eldest kids are going through it now. Everything's shit. What do you think of that? "Rubbish! Crap! Boring!" That's an extreme statement, "I've learned to live by hate and pain." The whole punk thing was that way, wasn't it? Like The Wild One, "What are you rebelling against?" "What have you got?" I really was a frustrated working-class kid. A lot of it stemmed from school, people like me, my class, were just shat on, ignored. Factory fodder. It was taken for granted that was your lot in life and I always thought, "This ain't good enough for me".
But there was this strange period in the early days of The Jam when you were saying, "I'll vote for Thatcher" and speaking up for the Queen.
That was mostly a story dreamed up round the pub with our press officer. We did have a bit of that suburban redneck kid thing, that reactionary side to the working class. How much we meant it, it's hard to say now. I think it was, "The Pistols are into this and the Clash are into that, why don't we say we're into Thatcher?" Fucking dumb when you look back on it. But even my mum still loves the royal family. Which is beyond me. Of course, The Jam were never seen as hip. We were three little hicks from hicktown. We were never part of that trendy art school, social world. We were very much outsiders. Bear in mind we'd done five years playing social clubs three and four hours a night. I was 14 when I played my first gig, Woking Working Men's Club on a Wednesday night, about 10 people in, brown ale and roll-ups, jellied eels and whelks. "Turn it down, turn it down!" That was my schooling. Then it was Fridays at a Woking night club called Michael's. Backing strippers, pushing drunks off your mike stand. That was our Hamburg (laughs, coughs). When we started playing London clubs to people our own age it was a revelation. You couldn't do that in Woking. The people I grew up with weren't interested in going to see a band, they were interested in fighting or getting pissed, that was the lifestyle.
One of the fundamental youth rebellions is against your family, but you didn't go that way at all.
I got on so well with my folks. My mum and dad are both very strong characters, individualist, bordering on eccentric - this sounds trivial, but it was even down to my dad not drinking pints. It was always shorts or a half of beer. I thought that was really cool.
There's a yarn about your parents deciding to buy an amp for you rather than pay the phone bill.
And the phone was cut off. Dedication. Mum cleaned houses and dad was a brickie, carried the hods, drove a cab occasionally. But they didn't want their kids doing that. As soon as I got into music they bought me a guitar for my birthday. My old man was the first to hustle equipment and hustle gigs for us. No "Get a proper job". Although, after I left school, I did have a Brian Wilson period of laying in bed for a few months until my mum said, "Get out of the house and do something, I'm sick of you hanging around". But their attitude was, "You're into music, do it to the hilt". Thank God, I've come through for them.
As a kid starting in the music industry, did you ever feel embarrassed having dad around all the time?
I'm sure there were times. But then the old man loves this rock'n'roll lifestyle even more than I do. He loves being out on the road, the hotel bar. He was 44 when we got signed to Polydor, but he seized it. Loved the life. Loved life in general. A couple of years ago we were sitting in some dressing-room as we always are and he said to me, "How long can I keep this going?" In his 70s now, bless his heart. I said I couldn't imagine being in a dressing-room with another manager. It'll be very odd, to say the least.
Have you ever made a big career move without talking to him first?
Splitting The Jam in 1982. I walked in on a Monday morning and said, "Look, I want out". Bombshell really. "What? Are you totally fuckin' crazy?" That was his first reaction. But I'm as hard-headed as he is. Once I make my mind up about something, that's it. I knew it was right. There was a lot of tension and animosity in that band which was great for us live, because it had this snarl to it. But offstage it was a fuckin' pain in the arse ... Imagine us being the Jam in our 40s. With my dad, it's give and take, but sometimes it comes down to me insisting. He wasn't keen on me doing the solo acoustic tour in 2001.
Financial maybe? Playing small clubs. He couldn't see the value. But we ended up doing a whole year, 10 countries.
Do you lay off the dirty work on to him?
What do you think about that?
That's his role. And I suppose it's my role to avoid those things. Not to say I'm not confrontational when it comes to having rows with musicians who aren't serious.
But when there's an actual sacking to be done, you duck it.
Yeah. There's a bit of a coward, pussy thing in most artists - for all their bravery. Two-facedness.
Apparently, you once told Chris Parry, "I'm going to be an important figure. I just know I am. It's my destiny."
I was always a pretentious little fucker.
You used to talk about Mod as a sort of code for living. Is it still that important to you?
Totally. Still in love with it. I can still see these images from 1969-‘70 - when we were mini-skinheads - the top faces walking through Woking town centre. The whole look. The sleek streamlined aesthetic qualities of a scooter. You could say it's a fashion statement, but I think it's more than that: the working-class love of clothes, looking good, rising above your station. I don't think it'll ever die. It's really in our British fibre ... These clothes, my haircut, reflect my attitude and the music I listen to, and they say, "I'm an individual".
Yet it's also about a bunch of people all looking alike.
That's always a contradiction, isn't it? Like my kids are going through this heavy-duty Goth stage. They tell me they're making a statement. I say, "What statement?" They say they want to be individual. Then they go to a gig and there's 3000 people all looking the same. But it's important to the individual.
Being the Modfather and so on, you had an air of invulnerability for a long time, but when The Style Council broke up, you faced rejection all round. The band's house-influenced album Modernism was turned down by Polydor...
And I found myself without a deal, without a band, without a publisher, totally out in the wasteland. But it was a humbling experience, got me head out of the clouds a bit.
What clouds were you in?
You get so self-obsessed. Then you need someone - and it can be yourself - saying, "Remember where you come from, kid, cos you can always end up back there". Which I nearly did. I'd lost a lot of my audience. The Style Council's humour was too cliquey, the ideas were too introverted, it was all born out of this little mad vision of mine. So people couldn't see it and because of that I was building up my defences: "If you don't like it, fuck it!"
What was your mad vision?
I don't know. I don't know where my head was.
Were you becoming some kind of art snob?
I was becoming a complete fuckin' wanker. I'm right and that's it, bang! (Teaspoons jump and rattle.) Plus, after '85, I didn't put enough love or care into the songs.
You were letting yourself down, failing to do your best?
I lost interest, that's the bottom line. Around then Mickey Talbot's girlfriend was pregnant, he was freaked out. I fell in love with Dee, my first wife. Music took a back seat. We went down the pan. We disintegrated.
And suddenly you had no band and no hits.
It was very odd. The feeling of, "I've got to start again from the bottom after all this fuckin' time, all these songs". I thought, "I'm 30, I'm finished, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?" There was a period after the Council split where I didn't write for ... it felt like two years. I'd pick the guitar up (adopts the position, squinting at where the fretboard would be). I'd be thinking, "How the fuck did I ever write songs?" I'm looking at these chords and they just don't make sense. All of a sudden it was misty and distant. Like forgetting walking or breathing or talking. It was a long process to get back to, "Ah, that's how you do it!"
What was the turning point?
My old man saying, "Get back on the fucking road! Work!" He couldn't talk to me about the emotional side of what was happening. He'd think that was all a load of bollocks. It's his generation. Tougher people, I think. I mean, it has it's good points that men now are able to say, "Look I'm feeling fuckin' terrible", and have a blub. He would be much more matter of fact, though, which I admire as well. But then, at first, in late 1990, those gigs were empty. From the stage you saw a little crowd down the front, maybe 150 people, and behind them there was all this ... space. It was just, "Fuckin' hell!" Anyway, the more I played live the more I got excited about the possibilities. And started writing again. It began with ‘Into Tomorrow’ (own-label single, 1991) - that was the lighthouse in the distance for me.
Song after song you wrote then was about self-examination and going back home.
I hadn't been back to Woking for years and years, so when I was fishing around, wondering which direction I should go in, I took little trips down there. On my own. Went back to places I could re-connect with, remembering where I came from, the back streets I played in, the river. Because from the age of 18 upwards there'd just been this non-stop whirlwind really. So it was a chance for me to take a deep breath and see myself, see my standing in the world. I dunno if that's over the top.
Your lyrics from the early solo albums are pretty straightforward about what you were feeling - "my anger shouts at my own self-doubt" (‘Above The Clouds’) and "Who am I, what am I? where am I to go?" (‘Kosmos’, both songs from Paul Weller, 1992).
That's it. I felt totally lost after the Council. It was a scary time for me.
But you not only started writing again, your singing seemed to develop a lot too.
It did. With The Style Council I got so self-conscious about my voice. I'd listen to these great singers - Otis onwards to Alexander O'Neal - and think, "I want to sing like that". I was so desperate to sound soulful that I fell over myself a lot of the time. Thinking, "Does that sound right? Is that black enough?" Every song, I was doing take after take. Talbot used to tell me, "Look, the first take was better, you shouldn't be messin' about like this". So it was a question of trying to disengage my mind from singing. Open my mouth and miss out this middle-man (gestures in the general direction of his brain). If you sing from your heart, then it's naturally soulful anyway. Hopefully. And then it was a joy to sing again.
In Heavy Soul (1997) there are a couple of lines which sound like your philosophical conclusion to all that thinking: "We're words upon a window/Written there in steam".
I like that. Imagine a café we used to go to in Woking where the windows are all steamed up from the Gaggia machine and you write your names in it, "Jim loves Petula".
Which sounds like we're all here to be wiped away and vanish. And I read that your family are atheists...
...but a few references to God creep into your later songs. Did you come to a religious change, a conversion even?
Not in any orthodox way. I've got a problem with organized religions. But a higher force, a higher consciousness, I definitely believe in that now. It's come with age. And children.
Whenever I... This will sound pretentious, but fuck it. Whenever I look at my children I see the face of God. I'd hope most parents feel the same thing really. If there's anything good and worthwhile and positive in the world, you see it in a child's face. To see them grow up... all those things make me believe there's a spiritual force of some kind.
Still, despite the spiritual change, and your parents, and at least coming out the other side of your marriage break-up with a good relationship with your older children, and having a new baby and your girlfriend now - some of your best songs of late have been painfully lonely. Like Love-less (Heliocentric, 2000).
Love-less is me soul-searching again. Loneliness is in everyone, isn't it. There are always moments when you start thinking, "What am I doing in life? Have I done the right thing? Where am going?"
‘Frightened’, on the same album, goes into the same area...
"I shake and fall/Underneath my sheets/The sunlight creeping/From my head down to my feet", that's how it starts off. Whitey is a very straight-ahead sort of feller and he really related to that song. He said it felt like, "I'm 30-whatever, I've got two kids and a wife, and sometimes I'm just fuckin' scared about what's going to happen. Is the money going to be there, can I pay the bills?" I mean, if people think I don't have my periods of self-doubt they're very much mistaken. Those demons will always get you.
A final question covering your whole career: could you choose the Jam, Style Council and solo albums that best represent you?
I would say Sound Affects from The Jam, the 1980 album. We had the sound together, the energy and there was a darker side to it, we were pushing ourselves. For Style Council it's Our Favourite Shop from '85. As a body of songs I thought that was really good, caught the mood of the times politically; the height of Thatcherism, she was just boltin' up everyone - the miners, the general running down of everything we accept as our society. Quite an extreme time. There's a song there called ‘All Gone Away’ which I thought was great, a samba beat and tough lyrics about a town up North where the industry's gone and so the whole town shuts down, all the shops. And from the solo years it would probably be Stanley Road. Every song was strong. And you're lucky to do an album where every song stands up.