The Revolution Will Start When Paul Weller Has Supped His Pint
I WOULDN'T say I'm a very articulate person, but I seem to be able to articulate when I write lyrics..."
Paul Weller's voice is south east deep and wide, possessing only in patches the flash, cynical vulgarity of, say, an extrovert East Ender. He's engaged in promotional conversation, and he's forcing himself.
And I'm confronting him with...You tend to say a lot that you're not a very interesting person, that in this situation you have nothing to say.
"The thing is, like, when you read something like...well, take that Clash article you wrote. Joe's a really interesting person, he's clever the way he strings words together – it's an art form innit, right? I'm not saying he's pretentious. I'm just saying he's clever. It makes good copy, it's interesting reading.
"I'm not coming out with my theories on world politics, because I don't think it's very important. It's not up to me to say. I'm not a spokesman or anything like that."
Paul Weller finishes what for him is a lengthy outburst, perhaps pleased that he's made that spokesman point again, perhaps not. Who can tell? Weller's expression remains as smooth as his skin. He dutifully waits for the next question, neither patient nor impatient.
I wonder what is important for him.
"Important things are making sure there's food on the table, making sure you can generally pay the rent, making sure that I can buy clothes and generally do what I want to do: Same as anybody else."
He shrugs his shoulders, finishing with yet another barely disguised poke at the absurdity of the pop interview procedure. And waits. I clumsily panic into the next point.
It's a little affected your sitting back and saying you don't give good copy. Once you've agreed to do the interview, the copy's going to turn out whatever.
"Yeah, I suppose so..."
All it consists of is you apprehensively picking your way through half answers, saying you don't give good copy, and content to let Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler get on with it.
"I don't want to get in the situation where I'm the spokesman for the group. The Jam is a group. I don't like the idea of getting singled out."
You said once that you were upset about someone at Record Mirror deciding you were a dull simple lad.
"Not upset. Nothing gets me down. The person who came along was just doing his job and fair enough he's got to earn his bread and butter, but I just can't see the point of coming along just for the sake of it, just to get the X amount of words a week."
Do you dislike doing interviews because you feel the person on the other side of the tape recorder is not really interested?
"Sometimes. But to be fair, most people, I hesitate to say were fans, but they have really wanted to do it. I'll speak to anyone who's interested."
And then throw up things like "I'm not very interesting." Is this how you genuinely feel?
He wears down. "Most of that, it's like taking the piss. My sense of humour is like incredibly funny to me but probably non-existent to other people."
Paul Weller's sense of humour is well hidden. He waits for another question. Do you dislike talking about your lyrics because you feel there's nothing else to say?
"Yeah. I just think, if I was doing something like not very clear lyrics then I'd feel that I'd have to explain outside the songs, but mine are really self-explanatory."
Do you feel a need to explain the person behind them? Maybe you feel the interviewer isn't bothered – but what about the reader, the person who buys your music?
"Yeah, I imagine they are. But another thing: I hate some person living up in Manchester or wherever it may be, Newcastle, to get the wrong impression of me, as if I'm doing something I'm not. That sort of bothers me. The best time for me is after gigs, like I can talk to people then. Afterwards, you actually meet the person..."
What do you talk about?
"Songs and that. A lot of it's about the songs. I find I can talk to them a lot easier than I can talk to you or whatever. They're probably fully into it...they're on the same wavelength. I'm not into sort of trying to convince anyone – it's not that important to convince anybody how really great we are, how much you should listen to our music, 'cos it's up to them. It's people's choice."
Do you feel a need to convince people about any particular ability to communicate?
"I suppose a subconscious one. Yeah, I mean I suppose I must have something inside me that wants to convince people – otherwise I wouldn't go on stage. To me that's gotta be like 80 per cent of going on stage, y'know. I mean I think what we do is good, therefore I want other people to hear it, but I'm not going to become so dogmatic about it that I ram it down other people's throats..."
So, I ask, what do you think is good about The Jam? Paul Weller smirks; not laughs.
"I dunno. Honesty..."
The thing he mostly respects Pete Townshend for is his honesty.
"I think what we're saying is realistic. I just think it's more honest than a lot of what other bands are doing. I think one thing is, we're not supplying answers, we're not even questioning things, I'm just stating what I feel at the time..."
He waits for another question.
Without a care in the world.
PAUL WELLER talks, moves around rooms, climbs up stairs, drinks coffee, plays pool, says hello and bye bye as if he hasn't a care in the world. There seems to be an entire absence of pressure or concern. Maybe it's discipline, maybe it's shyness; more likely it's resignation. Resignation – that makes you either laugh out loud all the time, cower in a corner or get all distant. Weller's more distant than anything.
Aah! The snap assumptions and descriptions of the pop interview!
Awareness is pain. For Paul Weller awareness is all this; a little bit of frustration and indignation and a lot of resignation. This doesn't mean he has no energy or pose, no ambition or dignity. He is no exhibitionist, but he has beliefs. There is a kind of humanism about him, a combination of pragmatism and drowsy idealism. He is solid rather than serious, ultimately accepting rather than gloomy. He refers to the glamour and hustle of the pop world only incidentally and even then reluctantly.
He is rather young; a whisper into his third decade. With characteristic self-deprecation, which is perhaps just an off-putting extension of the flat, natural way he accepts praise, insult or comment, he'll dismiss notions of rock'n'roll precociousness or genius.
"No, I don't think I'm particularly special or anything. I mean, there are loads of kids who can articulate a situation without having to write a song or write an article.
"You'd be surprised. There are lots of people who do write things down. It's just a sheer fact that they never get them published, y'know, they never get a chance to make records. But anyone could do it and lots of people do. Like this publishing things that I've got going"
Weller's modest, natural literary aspirations have caused him to set up a small publishing company, Riot Stories, to encourage and perhaps publish the private writings of "non-professional" poets and lyricists .
"a lot of kids have sent stuff in that's like really good. They've probably just scribbled it down one night they were in the pub or something, it probably doesn't mean anything to them at the time, but y'know, some of it's great.
"Because I can relate to it, it's on the same sort of wavelength as me. They're writing things that if I just came out and said them, in black and white would sound very mundane – you'd have to read them. I mean they're just basically talking about their life, about work, about everything, I dunno – everyday experiences.
"Like me old man" – silver-haired puffy-skinned John who manages The Jam – "he can say in just a couple of sentences something you try and say in three songs. Y'know, I'm not special. I may have been young to have made three, four LPs but it's like I was 18 when we were signed up and I've been through a lot in the past three years.
"I feel lucky, I feel proud, I feel all those things, to have got where I am, to be able to make records. It's a bit of luck and it's conviction, what you feel, what you believe in. I'd never go cap in hand, though: thank you for putting me here..."
Weller is an uncontroversial, unyielding opposite to Pursey's brash caricature of the working class animal up to show. Working class not meaning anything here but a series of values. As with Pursey, Weller's work is often at the mercy of crude emotions, but unlike Pursey it can be taken seriously as inventive descriptions of surrounding and internal turmoil. Weller's words are deft and driving sketches of contemporary values, encounters, communities, distorted by wishful thinking.
Weller has been reading a lot lately.
"I dunno, I was really thick and I couldn't talk to nobody," he wrily notes with a twinkle in his eye. He's been reading British novels of the late '50s, early '60s. Sillitoe's Saturday Night And Sunday Morning and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner are favourites. Like Sillitoe, Weller has the ability to be simple, precise and effective, and the hatred of injustice, hypocrisy and exploitation that forces its way through Long Distance Runner is not unlike Weller's own.
"I feel that I'm doing something similar in the sense that books are a chronicle of their time, and that's the way I feel about our songs."
He eagerly points out that none of their books really give an answer. "Not giving answers" is something Weller sees as positive within The Jam, and will often refer to; the hopefully objective power to describe atmosphere, emotion and environment but not preach. But not giving answers to what?
"To whatever the social problems are, y'know...but the main thing, most of the characters in Saturday Night and The Long Distance Runner, they just said that whatever the pressures were upon them and inside them, they'd never change, they'd never get beaten..."
Is that optimistic or pessimistic?
"It's pessimistic, but there's light at the end of the tunnel."
For Paul Weller the problem is the pressures of society, the claustrophobia of expectation and exploitation; his solution is tolerance and resistance. Talking about The Jam's new single 'Eton Rifles' he'll say: "It's a piss-take on class. It's an imaginary setting and that – the two classes clash, like the trendy sort of revolutionary saying in the pub, 'Come on, sup up and collect your cigarettes cos there's a row down the road', and it's like 'The revolution will start after I've finished my pint'. That's how a lot of people feel. That's how I feel. It's a lazy attitude, but in another sense it's a realistic one. There's all this going on in the world and that, Cuba and that crap and nuclear threats and everything, but as long as I've enough for a pint I can tolerate all this."
And that's how you feel?
"Yeah, basically. I don't think there's too many people who feel different."
Thinking about starvation and Cuba and nuclear activity: do you think about these things enough to paralyse you?
"It scares me sometimes, but I also think what the fuck can I do about it? The sheer fact that I put it down on plastic isn't going to change anything. I could put my feelings down on plastic and send it off to all the heads of state in the world and they're not going to hear it, and even if they did they wouldn't do anything about it. So all you can do really is operate within your own people. It's like a series of tribes or something, we're just operating within our tribe...
"But I still don't think, depending on what your background is, I don't think you've ever got much chance of breaking out of being owned."
You feel people are telling you what to do?
People you can identify?
"A bit of both. Outside of record companies, they don't hassle us too much...just y'know, the Tory Government..."
Does it scare you?
"I find it a bit frightening. I think the most frightening thing is that there is nothing you can do about it – not unless you talk about revolution, and that doesn't mean a lot. All you can do is vote against it.
"Like, you're not in control of your future. There's a line in 'When You're Young' – The world is your oyster but the future's a clam' – that's just how I feel about it really. The world could be your oyster really, there's no reason why it should be confined to one country or one lifestyle. But that's how it is and it'll never change."
So that's your attitude: that's how it is, there's nothing I can do about it, I might as well carry on?
"Yeah. I mean I'm not saying I accept it, like the character in Saturday Night – he knows that everything's going against him and he realises that there's nothing you can do about it, but there's obviously something inside him that says they're never going to make me change and I'll always think this way and that's all you can do – and that's pretty much how I feel."
PAUL WELLER would call his upbringing 'smooth'.
"Yeah, it was smooth. We always had food and we always had clothes and that. But there are still things that annoy me. Like we've been sort of knocked for writing class songs and that but I feel justified in writing them. Like Woking's a very class polarised town; there's a very working class area and then a middle class, rich area, which is very extreme in that sense. But I never had it hard, you know what I mean?"
The Jam have been around in various forms since Weller was 14. Singing love songs "without ever having experienced anything". Punk made him drastically reconsider.
"It made me realise that everything I'd done before was a load of shit, and like I should do things naturally instead of doing American and trying to sing like Otis Redding, which is just impossible."
Weller seems to have gone out of his way to associate himself with the punk thing.
"I don't associate myself with anything too closely, I don't think it pays to really. If it wasn't for punk nothing else would have started anyway. I wouldn't say we started it or anything but we still carry on some of the traditions. Not for the safety pin Fleet Street part of it, just the honesty behind it..."
That you express yourself honestly?
"Yeah. It sounds corny..."
Is that putting yourself down again?
"Huh, maybe. I dunno, everything that's really honest is always trying to become clichéd because you've had it and it's the truth and it starts to be repeated so many times."
The Jam were an original punk group, distinguished by their acutely English approach and their attitude towards presentation, influence and discipline. In three years they have been up and down, across the ocean, in the charts and teeny magazines and cuddled by the heavy critics. There have been three LPs and a steady stream of singles, most of their 45s doing enough to warrant TOTP. The group have pulled through the various problems that have affected the Punk groups; the ones of compromise and routine and attitude that have done strange things to the Pistols, Clash, Damned, Sham, Banshees, Devoto, Penetration, the ones which Joy Division, Slits and Gang Of Four haven't come up against quite yet.
Jam's survival may be due to Weller's prosaic attitude. Whatever, The Jam have never been stronger. I ask Weller if three years with Polydor and its effect has seen them lose touch with what he feels is The Jam audience.
"I would say quite the reverse. I dunno, I think we've reached the stage where we're communicating better than we've ever done before. Definitely – apart from the size of the halls and everything – and I think that if the songs are powerful enough they get over that anyway. The songs are the breach between that."
You feel you're growing up, sharpening your craft?
"Probably, yeah. I'm taking a wider view of things rather than dashing into things and making rash statements. I try to look at things from all angles, basically. But predominantly I'm writing for myself. I think you've got to do that really, otherwise you might as well write everything as if you're writing for a certain audience."
How do you view success?
"I dunno, I'm not into world domination and all that. Conquering the States and trying to break the States doesn't seem to be the thing to do. I think that situation would be if a lot of people would just buy it for the sake of it."
You'd be taken one dimensionally?
"Eventually, yes. At the moment in the States there are lots of people who are really into it but that's just on the cult scale and that's just as bad really. They'd go and see anyone remotely connected with punk and new wave. The short fact that they're going to see us as The Police is enough in itself. Or the Dire Straits as a new wave band, or M and their 'Pop Music' in the American Top Ten and Paul Gambaccinni saying this is the first British new wave record in the American charts!"
Do you see large-scale success as irrelevant?
"I think it's just a personal thing. I couldn't hope to define success. I don't think in terms of success at all. I don't think, getting to number 15 – oh, there's another success, another hit. I'm obviously pleased but I can't relate it to something like being successful. Success to me is writing a song that I really like."
"Satisfaction's such a complacent word. I feel pleased that I've eventually got something out, but I still keep striving and the day I stop giving is the day I turn out shit. You might think that already...The day when you start writing songs purely because there's another 1p due..."
You've got there yet?
"Not yet. At the moment I'm full of ideas."
If you felt that you were losing that conviction, that it was becoming routine, would you quit The Jam?
"Initially I would say yeah, I would, y'know, but there would be lots of things that I'd miss. I'd like to say yeah I'd do something else, but I don't know."
I HAD MY two-hour package tour through the glimpsable fringes of Weller's views at a recording studio a five-minute drive from the West End of London. The Townhouse, Virgin's latest weapon in their world takeover, where The Jam and established producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven are busy unfussily tidying up the group's fourth LP.
In the control room, furnished by Habitat and Space Age Electronics Inc., Coppersmith-Heaven spreads his arms wide over a bewildering array of coloured buttons and switches, half of which are surely for show, painstakingly mixing all over a song called 'Private Hell'. I perch on the side of a sofa. Paul Weller saunters in and leands up against the side of the mixing panel. I hold my breath.
Tall, bony, almost prim looking, his pointed face shows no traces of beard at all and he looks unnervingly many years younger than his actual 21. He's dressed in C&A light green casuals, with black bootees, and even as he begins to speak to me he seems mildly preoccupied. He's speaking quickly and blandly yet seems to be quite worked up about something.
"I've been listening to Joy Davision upstairs...very American. He sings a lot like Jim Morrison, don't you think? It's all down to 4/4 beat though. There's no such thing as nothing new..."
Taken back by the unexpected force of this assault I stutter the introductory conversation to a halt. Weller doesn't seem to notice. He asks for some coffee. I have some as well. He sits next to me on the sofa. I talk to him.
Since Thrills had branded The Jam's new LP as a "concept album" over a Nick Kent snippet a few weeks back, Weller has been at pains to re-affirm that it is not a concept LP. Like he said originally, "the story is based around the songs as opposed to the usual approach which is vice versa." It's series of songs with a link, that grew out of a story Weller conceived with friend David Waller; a fictionalised interpretation of a real-life trio of old friends, Weller being one, whose attitudes and solutions differ. The characters to the left and right of Weller he'll refer to as "strong and opiniated. Like one of me mates ia real Wolfie Smith type character, and the other one's a real sort of business man, and I'm in the middle. I can see both their points of view.
"I went out for a meal a little while ago with the one into commerce. He's making a lot of money, and he says this is his way of getting out of the rat race, and this is really alien to me but he is a totally different character. I can see that point of view to a certain extent. I can't agree with it but I can respect it."
Only five of the record's songs are concerned with these three characters. "That alone dismisses it as a concept, and I hope that these songs aren't interpreted as being the LP."
You seem very concerned about it not being seen as a 'concept LP.
"Not really. It's just that 'concept' sounds awful. Like ELP or Genesis or something...the word's very stigmatised, and when people hear the word 'concept' they get a very one-dimensional view of what it's going to be. Songs – they're just songs. I want people to make their own minds about what they're about, what it's going to be.
"Conventions are different, people have a different idea of tradition. Individually you never know what anyone's doing, how they're taking it. I still maintain that rock should be more than just show, but the first thing should be can you dance to it..."
By now the studio engineers have made a cassette tape of the new LP. Weller leads me upstairs to the pool room for a listen. As we make our way, I ask if Weller sees himself as 'a writer.'
"That sounds a bit pompous. I just don't like people having set ideas what things are about. I want them to make their own minds up. There are enough people forcing ideas down people's throats."
As we reach the stairs Weller decides. "I like the word writer better than artist...that sounds really bad."
IN THE POOL room, sat either side of a wooden table, before Weller plays the cassette of the LP, we do the interview. This is what it's all about.
Paul Weller is very skilful at ducking and weaving. Not self-conscious or embarrassed, but very careful, he doesn't want to assume responsibility – although accepting that to some extent he already has an amount – or pretend importance. He seems to want to appear correct and orderly with little to say for or against anybody, and little to say about himself.
Sometimes natural feelings pull him away from his comfortable reserve and he'll edge towards words of passion. Feelings come in spurts and dribbles, somewhere amongst the pauses, shrugs, I dunnos, yeahs and in a sense. Time goes by so slow.
Intentionally or not, he succeeds in emphasising the absurdity of the packaged small room interview by immersing himself into the interview vacuum at most only halfway. "My attitudes change once a month. Same as everyone else I suppose."
Is that another reason for your interview reluctance? A few feet behind Weller, Bruce Foxton, a hard-faced bassman, pools about. "It can be like that...you go back on yourself. It's another reason why I don't make too many rash statements. That's why we don't make good copy."
He doesn't give up. Do you hold anything back?
"Yeah, sometimes. I wouldn't say I was dishonest though. There might be something I'm dying to say but I know that in two years' time I'll feel totally the opposite."
Is it the same with songs?
"Yeah, sometimes. Maybe some stuff on the first album. I can't say I regret it. Records are a difficult situation, you've done it...you either do it or you don't. You can't sort of worry about the repercussions that might come about a year later or summat. You either make a statement at that time and stand by it or you move on...I mean there's been a lot of stuff that we've moved on from."
He turns round and looks at the strange lady from Polydor press office, "Exciting innit?" he mock sighs. Bruce Foxton smashes a ball into a corner pocket. Weller sticks the cassette of the new record into the pool room machine. I turn the tape over in mine.
HE SITS DOWN opposite again and tells me above the noise of a lively new Jam riff why they've stuck a couple of 'pure pop' songs into the record. "Most of the songs we do are pretty pessimistic, we had to lighten it up a bit."
Don't you feel comfortable moaning?
"Noooh! Otherwise people might think I'm a manic depressive or something. I'm not really, I'm sort of up. I'm not pessimistic in a certain sense. Just with making records, that's a start..."
He asks me what I think of Buzzcocks new LP. It's very introverted, I say.
"Yeah, that's another thing. It's hard to listen to something like that...it's a bit selfish, innit, yeah, introverted..."
I shout about the thick and dry Jam surge, and ask him how he feels the new LP is different from the previous three.
"More personalised. It's just something that happened...The songs have become more directly about myself. Just one of those mental stages I went through...
"The sound is a lot stronger. All Mod Cons had a fairly thin and weedy sound, I think this is a lot stronger. I think my voice has improved a lot more."
'War And Hate' rumbles to a close. If he feels there is nothing new in terms of music, does he think The Jam borrow from the past effectively?
"It's not just from the past. I borrow from everything. Like 'Private Hell', after I saw Joy Division on that TV show we did with them I sort of worked out this bass and drum bit – they've got one song which starts off with bass and drum, so I sort of nicked that a bit, but after it goes through loads of different stages it becomes ours y'know, you don't really notice it. And also there's a bit in 'Strange Town', the vocal part, which is nicked off Buzzcocks' 'What Do I Get?' People don't notice cos they're all looking for The Who and The Kinks and The Beatles."
A friend that had talked with Weller a few weeks ago had suggested that he really disliked new groups like Joy Division. Is Weller perhaps jealous of some groups, which melts into admiration?
"Not jealous, it's just admiration. I respect them. I'm not really jealous of anyone...maybe, no...nothing at all really. Maybe they'll inspire me, but there's no jealousy."
Do you feel that The Jam make new music?
"Like the LP is new to me. As far as I'm concerned it sounds like October 1979 or whatever...it's new. People go on about the sound of the '80s. Well this is the sound of the '80s to me."
You don't feel it's going to be electronic or anything?
"No. People are always going to want physical music."
'Eton Rifles' comes over the speakers. Weller gets a little worked up about class – of course – look at his roots.
"It's the old adage of everyone's equal but some are more equal than others. That still exists. I think that everyone should be given the same chance as soon as they're born. I don't think that just because your old man is so and so it should mean anything. I think everbody should be...not Utopia...er, what's the word?...world without boundaries..."
He gropes for the word. This is getting acutely idealistic.
"Did you see Question Time with Enoch Powell? They were talking about a multi-racial society and some person in the audience said you've got to remember that it's a multi-racial world and he's right. I think the days of race and class in the '80s after the world wars and everything shouldn't exist, y'know. I don't see why there's gotta be sums, I don't see why there's gotta be unemployment. I don't think there should be...like fucking Jimmy Carter's show of strength in Cuba. It's just not necessary. The whole world should have realised that the only way to get over the problems is to work together...Yeah, it is idealistic."
Perhaps Weller has to control himself in interviews because if he didn't he'd never stop talking. Is your fight to write songs?
"That's a bit naive."
It works for you. It's your escape.
"I never view it as that. You might be right. I dunno. I don't think the group have got any power at all, even if a million people buy our records and listen to each word it's not going to do anything."
But for you individually...
"Maybe so. I don't feel that it is. But then I'm not naive enough to feel that it's going to make a difference." The old standard 'Heatwave' starts. "Yeah, maybe it's my way of saying fuck the lot of you."
Do you feel that including pop songs like 'Heatwave' will upset the tone of the LP.
"People might see it as a cop-out, I don't know. It's like we were saying before, after all the argument and discussion, it's like let's go for a pint and a dance."
Is that how you see it?
"It wasn't intended as that but it's one way it could be interpreted."
The LP finishes. Weller wanders off to retrieve the tape. He puts on a tape of mixed new music. Public Image's first single starts it off. I ask him how he feels about Lydon's attitude to the business and the fans.
"I don't admire it at all. If he can't get off his arse...I don't know, maybe he doesn't feel a need to prove himself, he's done it already...but if someone's buying your records...I dunno, there's two schools of thought. One is you don't owe 'em nothing. I think I come from the other way. In a sense you don't owe 'em nothing but in a sense you've got a responsibility to go out and play for them. Let's put it this way, you're nothing without them. It doesn't matter how good a band you are, like us, without the fans we wouldn't be able to make the records.
"We'd still be writing the songs and playing them in some seedy clubs, though."
Johnny Lydon sneers his "Goodbye". It echoes around the room. The interview is over.
Weller goes to play pool with Foxton, without a care in the world. A caged animal rattling the bars half-heartedly, comfortably confined. If the cage doors burst open, I think Weller would prefer to stay where he is. Familiar ground.
I leave. As I walk out of the studio I see Robert Fripp talking over a phone. I step onto the pavement and hear afternoon traffic.
I've forgotten all about Paul Weller, and he's forgotten all about me.
Paul Morley, New Musical Express, 3 November 1979