Sep 092015


I was never a mod. Too awkward, too uncertain, too utterly lacking in cool or style, too scared of my own shadow. But I loved The Jam. Absolutely bloody loved them. I remember thinking – and saying – and believing – that, in the late Seventies, Paul Weller was writing songs that I would write if I had, if I had… whatever it was Weller had. Their music – that first album and All Mod Cons particularly – made me feel alive, raw, real, certain, understood. And, just like someone in the film, Weller sticking a Shelley quote on an album-cover dug poetry – and politics – deep into the soil of the rest of my life.

Of course, when I say I wasn’t a mod, it wasn’t through lack of trying, at least for a few months. I bought a (terrible) parka in Second Time Around. I got my hair cut like Weller (only to end up with something that made me look more like Rick Buckler). I bunked off school and went down to the Royalty to try and get a part (unsuccessfully) as an extra in Quadrophenia. I once sang ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ live on stage, at The Pegasus in Stoke Newington (to what was almost certainly huge acclaim from adoring fans, I don’t know – I was too drunk on rum and black and fantasies of Whatsername being there to see my moment of glory).

There are those who would question whether Weller was a mod anyway, whether The Jam were really a mod band. I don’t know that either: I’m not sure what mod really means. I’m not sure how subversive, how modernist, how political it ever was/is. Or whether that matters. I do know it was proud and glittering and embracing and precious and exclusive and – sometimes – beautiful and it wrapped itself around some of the greatest black-and-white music ever made. I think it was/is important. And I know I wasn’t ever a mod, however hard I tried.

Which, in itself, may or may not matter. I wanted to cry at times watching this thing and I’m still not sure why. It reminded me of growing up, of course, of my parents, of my kids, of time passing. It reminded me of twenty-odd years living in Woking, of people and places lost, of dreams diluted or dumped, of hope kept alive by music and friendship and love and language and football and art. It reminded me of how like and how unlike Weller I am. And how the people who made the film (most particularly, Weller himself) couldn’t ever bring themselves to admit that.

Someone said the other day that Weller was ‘the man we all wanted to be’, because he was ‘more of a man’ than us. Well yes. And no. I watched the film and I could see why he enraptured us. I could see why I’ve spent half my adult life talking about him (have a look at…/soaked-in-treasure-a…/…). Watching this, I recognised the part of me that still wants to be him (or at least the 19-year-old him). And yet…There was no darkness in this: this was hagiography, a weird, cartoony panegyric. People like me, and (more importantly) people who should have been in it because they directly helped make Weller who he is, were airbrushed, in a Stalinist way, from the story. When my daughter watched it and said, ‘I suppose I never heard them chronologically, you just showed me the individual songs you liked, not the full albums in order. I’m jealous, honestly, that I didn’t grow up with it in the same way’, I felt hugely guilty for a moment. I envy her her distance from it all in a way. And I envied Weller. But he wasn’t a bloody saint. He was a projection, a screen, a mirror. He was a single-minded, selfish twat. He was a bully. He was charming and clever and I once watched him be hugely, unnecessarily kind to someone at a gig. He was utterly unlike me (apart from the selfish twattiness. And the charm, obviously). We’d probably hate each other if we ever met. I can only play the driven, sure-of-himself working-class hard man convincingly for about a second. (And, of course, that might be the point: I suspect without his slow-burning, finely-crafted public brand, Weller could only actually play the driven, working-class hard man for a few seconds. Because – yes – he’s ever-changing…)

Another friend said, after watching this, ‘he seems more comfortable these days’. True, perhaps – and her saying that emphasised to me that Paul Weller has never actually been comfortable, ever: his drinking, drug-taking, his entire life seems to have been one of seeking comfort and simultaneously spitting at it and running from it whenever it appeared round the corner. He’s written some fine songs (each one, interestingly, a straightforward love song) in the last thirty years. But his attempts at experimentation, to distance himself from The Other Two and his essential Sixtiesness, have seemed (mostly) clunky and self-conscious.

Paul Weller: completely unlike me. There’s a fabulous moment about 25 seconds into this post-Jam (but desperately/knowingly-nostalgic-already) Style Council video, filmed at Woking Football Club. Watch him leap off the scooter and notice the car shake:

He’s human. Uncomfortable. A bit crap. It’s one of my favourite Weller things, that moment. Wonderful. And, oddly, not in this film.
Which is a shame. Because it’s almost – almost – as wonderful and telling as watching the power, hope, certainty and utter uncrapness of this:

 Posted by at 6:18 pm
Mar 072013

Wilko Johnson is currently playing his last-ever series of gigs, following a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer in January. He talked to the BBC a couple of weeks ago about being given that diagnosis: “We walked out of there and I felt an elation of spirit. You’re walking along and suddenly you’re vividly alive. You’re looking at the trees and the sky and everything and it’s just ‘whoah’. I’m actually a miserable person. I’ve spent most of my life moping in depressions and things, but this has all lifted.”


‘She’s one of them tambourine-shakers, can-rattlers, God-botherers,’ says the man, with a degree of rancour rare, in my limited experience, for someone wearing a Gong tee-shirt. He goes quiet soon after – for the first time in about twenty minutes, he isn’t slagging someone off (so far his victims have included women under the age of 40, teachers, taxi-drivers, R&B singers, Ranulph Fiennes, Kate Middleton, Hilary Mantel and people with DVD players) – and my attention turns back to the noise of the pub behind me, to the touts and the rush-hour traffic, to far-off lovers and the sweet choke of dope smoke and to not knocking my whiskey off the window-sill. Continue reading »

Mar 172012














You can hear Bowie, Neu, Eno, The Pogues, Throwing Muses, Lee Perry, Jesus And Mary Chain: and that’s just on Springsteen’s first track…

Both Weller and Springsteen have always worn their influences heavily, of course, both of them self-consciously, even pathologically eager to weave their own myth into one strand of their nation’s narrative: blue-collar, male, romantic, principled, unbending. Both have always wanted to simultaneously hug you, punch you, kiss you, infect you, inject you, provoke you, change you, keep you just the way you are. Both have always wanted to make your life better, while reminding you just how crap that life can be. Both have always wanted to make the world different. And both have always stood imperiously apart from that world. Continue reading »

Dec 062010

I scraped the snow from the December -beaten car this morning, opened the door, sat down in the driver’s seat, stuck the keys in, just sat there. For a couple of minutes, there was no traffic, no sound: a pre-industrial peace. This calm stillness was pricked, suddenly, by a rush of fierce thoughts and blurred, threatening memories and I quickly scrabbled around for some music to put on. I stuck Nebraska in the CD player, wondering briefly why this was the first time I’d listened to it for years, wondering when I’d actually bought a CD of it, wondering if the heater was ever going to start working, wondering if Springsteen had ever driven a bloody Seat Leon. I put off turning the key a little longer, just sat there, shivering, as song followed song, as the thoughts and memories shifted and as, slowly and surely, a misty, twisted, echoing cloud of tired, sick ghosts eased into the car with me: young people whose zest and fire was long-ago extinguished by the adult world’s sly envy; unemployed middle-aged men who’d worked all their lives for family and self-respect and their country; lovers whose joy in each other had turned to pity and alienation; coppers and criminals whose ideals had disappeared in nights of need and desperation; women whose love and desires and heat had been suffocated, petrified. I turned to look at all these familiar strangers, felt an angry, insistent guitar slice through me and I thought: this is the soundtrack to our future.  For what seemed like hours, I didn’t move, just listened, still cold but OK with it until, halfway through Johnny 99, I brought myself back, took a deep breath, turned the engine on and drove us all off, carefully, down sharp-white, funereal roads towards our English town. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:55 pm
Jan 112010

Whisky music, beer music, wine music. If you’ve come across Lucinda before, you’ll know which one this album is. She says she wrote it at her kitchen table in California but you can’t really imagine her sitting at a kitchen table. Or in California. On beds in musty, stained mid-West motel rooms, on stools in deep blue Southern bars, in beat-up Chevys in the dusty Badlands, bottle in hand, yeah, you can imagine that: sitting there, broodingly, waiting, lost but still emotionally predatory. And you can imagine her- yeah- struggling to her feet, beaten and bloodied but on the move again, off on the endless search, guitar-on-back, lusting, yearning . . . Continue reading »


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