I was born in 1977 so unlike the vast majority of Weller fans who I’ve come to befriend over the years it wasn’t the Jam that switched me on to him, although those songs have come to mean the world to me since I discovered them.
My first big switch on to music came from watching Queen live at Wembley in ‘86 on the tele. I was totally hooked by the size of it, the showmanship of Freddie Mercury and the sheer flamboyance of it. I kind of measured everything else through my early years and into my teens to it. My school years got me hooked on Guns N’ Roses and Metallica and watching the massive shows that they were playing in stadiums around the world just whet my appetite for the big rock beast even more.
By the time I’d got a job, some money and eventually a car I just wanted to get out and get to some of these big shows. I cut my teeth at Donington Park watching a Monsters of Rock headlined by Metallica, followed this by watching Aerosmith in Wembley Stadium and many other large scale hairy rock shows. I truly believed it was the be all and end all.
The change in me started whilst at V97 – pivotal in switching me on to the whole Britpop thing that had blown up in the UK. Watching the likes of Blur, Beck, Placebo and an early incarnation of the Foo Fighters took a serious hold on my music tastes and brought me from the Kerrang genre into the NME / Melody Maker crowd. I followed this by going to many smaller shows than I’d ever done watching the Manic Street Preachers in Kettering of all places and the likes of Space in Cambridge. I got the attitude of I will go anywhere and watch anything – the live thing had gotten me totally hooked.
My cousin, who had been a massive Jam fan and a big advocate of the Style Council, suggested to me about going to see Paul play at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. She had never seen him and her fella reckoned that listening to him was as pleasurable as smashing a dustbin lid over your head. She didn’t drive and basically had no way of getting there so I felt it was my duty to take her.
Weller was touring “Heliocentric” at the time and still riding extremely high off the back of “Stanley Road” and “Heavy Soul”. I obviously purchased these records and set about listening to them along with his “Modern Classics” best of cd. I knew of “Wild Wood”, “Broken Stones” and “The Changingman” but wasn’t too up on the rest of it. I liked it but wasn’t initially overcome with it.
On the night of the gig we sat at the front of the balcony in the Hall. Weller if memory serves me correctly donned in Adidas original shirt and trainers looking very sharp and full of attitude – almost like he could explode at any minute. From the moment they started I sat forward totally transfixed by this bloke playing his guitar with more anger and passion than anyone I’d seen before. Singing clearer and more powerfully than anyone I’d heard before and backed by a band that was tighter than anything I’d witnessed before.
I’d already seen Ocean Colour Scene prior to this and was aware of the genius of Steve Cradock but him and Weller on stage really is a masterclass in musicianship. Add to this Steve White on drums and Edgar Summertime on bass and you’ve got a cracking band. I turned and looked at my cousin during “You Do Something to Me” and she’s in pieces. It was a truly brilliant show that rocked, had soul, a bit of psychedelia – unlike anything I’d seen before. He’d got me drawn in!!
Obviously I had to go again – so we then purchased tickets to go and see him at Shepherds Bush Empire. This show was part of his “Days of Speed” tour. A tour which was basically him acoustic. No band, no production, no gimmicks – just Paul Weller sat on a stool surrounded by 3 or 4 guitars playing his songs. I was down on the barrier for this one surrounded by his die hards and as long as I live I doubt I will ever see such an inspirational show. I’d never seen the solo acoustic show done (although many had done it before).
From the moment he opened with “Brand New Start” I was totally in awe of what I was watching. The real mind bending moment came when he played “English Rose”, a song from the Jam days which obviously is held dearly by every Jam fan on the planet and which become obvious to me when I was surrounded by women in floods of tears and blokes welling up whilst singing every single word. I’d never seen anyone play anything that could move people to that level. It made the hairs on my neck stand up and it has never happened to me since. In one 3 minute hit I’d just been given the musical education of a lifetime and I’ve never forgotten it.
That night changed how I listened to my music completely. Volume and showmanship got totally thrown out of the window and I got into discovering songs more and seeking out all the classic songwriters. Weller’s influences suddenly became my homework and I found myself digging out the Small Faces, The Kinks, and The Who etc. My Record collection took on a whole new look and then ultimately my wardrobe followed suit and then eventually a certain way of having your hair came along. The Mod scene had taken another victim.
I’ve seen him now not far off 40 times and luckily got to meet him a couple of years back before a show for 400 of us in Camden. He has totally infused my life and opened my eyes to things that during my younger years I never would have gone for and for that I am eternally grateful. I’ve gotten to dig back through his back catalogue and fall in love with songs that had the same power and effect when I was still crawling around in nappies. His music stands the test of time and as long as he still wants to go out and play I will be there somewhere down the front lapping it up.