5pm, dinner’s early today on account of the fact that Paul and his Dad need to be in London by 7pm at the latest. Paul’s a bag of nerves, he can’t eat much. All day has been spent running through the set list on his guitar and chain smoking. His father John is devouring his sausage and mash untroubled by thoughts of the evening ahead. He’s had to leave work early and won’t be home until well after midnight tomorrow morning but John’s been a grafter ever since he left school, hard work won’t bother him. John can see that Paul has a real talent, he’s biased obviously but Paul has that something special, John wants to help Paul with his music all he can and if that means working an extra eight hours on top of a building job then that’s what it takes.Across the table Paul is in another world anticipating the night ahead. All the gear is in the van apart from his guitar lying in its case on the settee in the next room. The suits are neatly hung on hangers from a rail in the van. Paul’s dressed smart even off stage but he won’t put it past Rick or Bruce to turn up in flares or a denim jacket. It always makes Paul cringe to see his bandmates lapses of style and he suspects that Bruce is never going to change that hairstyle despite the constant digs. It wasn’t so bad when they were just playing the working men’s clubs locally but London raises the bar considerably. There’s a whole new energy happening with this punk rock. Paul often feels self-conscious going on stage with his suit and tie. The working men’s clubs expected that you put on a show and that meant dressing up. The punks dress up ok but not in that way and Paul sometimes thinks he’s trying too hard and it shows. He pushes the self-doubt from his mind, punks aren’t the only people in the audiences and now there’s more openness to doing something different. He is no longer having to play Beatles songs or soul staples, London audiences are actually appreciating the songs that he has written for the band now and record companies are starting to appear very interested indeed.
John pushes his empty plate aside, drains his tea cup and picks up his cigarettes.
‘Right lets pick up those other two wankers’
If you read accounts of the early days of Punk it becomes apparent what a small and incestuous scene it was in London. There was considerable overlap between the Pistols, The Dammed and The Clash and later the scene spawned Siouxsie and The Banshees and the Slits out of pool of people living and playing together. For a while The Jam became the 4th band on the scene but it was a scene they were never part of.
For starters the band were from Woking which, like Bromley is nearly London but a far cry from the squats of Ladbroke Grove or Notting hill. The Jam were genuinely working class, the sort of people who left school at 16 and got jobs on building sites or offices. They lived with their parents and at some point would save up enough money to put a deposit down on a house and get married. This work ethic translated to their musical career, instead of scamming or stealing some musical instruments and spending their days thrashing away in the basement of a squat before supporting their mates at a gig, The Jam trekked around pubs and clubs in the commuter belt getting paid for keeping the punters happy.
The one thing that separated the band from a hundred other combos struggling round the clubs was Paul Weller. From his teenage years he felt destined to be a musician in a band. His early infatuation was The Beatles but hearing The Who’s ‘My Generation’ on the soundtrack to the Stardust Film (which starred David Essex as featured here 3 weeks ago- do keep up) changed his focus and he became enthralled by The Who. This meant the introduction of ‘mod’ suits (with slightly flared trousers) but more significantly, in terms of sound, the use of Rickenbacker guitars. The Rickenbacker bass has been used by the likes of Chris Squire, John Entwistle and, most significantly, Lemmy. It’s an aggressive instrument which was able to cut through the general clang of the Rickenbacker guitar and was to define the band’s sound for the first couple of years.
It’s likely that The Jam would have had some success even without punk. I recently listened to their first LP for the first time since it was released and it’s a powerful piece of pub rock. Undoubtedly punk influenced the tempos, on some of the track they are ploughing the same furrows as Dr Feelgood except their energy makes the latter sound like a knackered carthorse (to continue my farming analogy). I can remember playing along on drums to the album and quite simply being unable to keep up, their version of Larry William’ ‘Slow Down’ being particularly testing.
The appeal of The Jam were that they were a tight professional band with decent songs and although they had the energy of punk they were not punk. Rather like The Strangers (don’t get me started on that one) they were at the rock end of punk rock. The band were happy enough to sign with a major label and appear on Top of the Pops and that in itself was enough to render them a major league act within a couple of years.
Weller had youth and attitude but little in common with the punks. Ironically for what was such an English or even, initially, a London based movement Punk was quite influenced by the USA both the New York and the Detroit scenes. Weller was entirely British influenced, the Beatles, The Small Faces, The Kinks and most significantly The Who. In retaliation for being the perpetual outsider Weller began to fall back on patriotism. When interviewed by the NME he announced he would be voting conservative at the next election and he was also prone to making noises about making Britain great again. In his heavy political song ‘time for truth’ on the first album he laments the loss of empire. All this meant different things in 1977 to what they do now. The Callaghan government seemed ineffectual and out of touch, it was unlikely that they really inspired many young people to vote for them, I certainly didn’t when my chance came. On the other hand, extreme right wing organisations were on the rise and even wearing a union jack, as the band were prone to do, was close to flirting with fascism.
And so 40 years ago ‘In the City’ was released and it’s a great record sung from an outsider’s point of view
‘In the city there’s a thousand faces all shining bright’
In the last verse there’s a darkening of mood with the men in uniform who have a right to kill a man. A reminder of the fact that the metropolitan force seemed to be taking over and had their own rules. On top of this Weller had created the best of all things, a guitar riff that anyone can play. It was so good The Sex Pistols stole it for their last single.
So it began, the long career of Paul Weller.
Thinking about this a strange thought came to me.
Weller is the British Neil Young.
There, I said it out loud! Weller and Young both have quite a limited but appealing repertoire which they have spread over endless LP’s. Both have followed their own muse even when it means making dull records or splitting up old friendships. Weller soon seemed to tire of the noise his rhythm section was making. Foxton and Buckler were indispensable to the Jam but eventually Weller had had enough and split the band, never speaking to Butler again (he’s recently remade contact with Foxton). Like Young he is keen to move on musically, it’s fairly clear that the Jam will never reform and hopefully the same will apply to the Style Council which were his next band.
Weller slowly mutated from callow little Englander to left wing to politically indifferent. For most of the Jam he had the same girlfriend from Woking as well as his two bandmates and his dad. He grew up in public where most of us have had the privilege of being arsehole to a select group of people. Approaching 60 he looks increasingly like a member of The Stones, no doubt aided by his high nicotine diet. He’s left the mother of his children and found a younger model, His dad is dead now he can do what he wants.
Since the 90’s Weller has continued with his slightly lumpy dadrock. I will probably never feel the need to buy another record by him but it’s nice to know he’s still around and it’s fairly unlikely that we will hear him play ‘In the City’ again’