It's a while since I could tell you how long the tracks on his last album are, even what it's called, but that wasn't always the case. As a teenager I would sit and re-read the sleeve information on The Jam albums and singles and ponder such earth-shattering questions as why "Strange Town" wasn't on an album, or who Vic Coppersmith-Heaven was'
For me, at the time, The Jam's songs caught where I was, trapped in that political anger that smoulders when you realise the world's not fair, your parents don't want to be together, and there's no pot of gold at the end of your school years. Sprinting home at lunchtime to hear the top five on a Tuesday. In at one "Going Underground", "Town Called Malice", "Start!". First band to do that since Slade. Wondering whether to buy the NME, Melody Maker or Sounds, depending on which would feature The Jam most.
Weller was angry, direct, straight-talking. He didn't seem much older than us. My mates at school were into Jethro Tull and Zeppelin and Hawkwind; it seemed surreal to be listening to songs about goblins when the news was full of riots, strikes and American missiles. Weller and Strummer and Co seemed to be addressing the issues.
And on it went, he became the ladder of influence that allowed me to climb out of the pit of Thatcher's mass unemployment. I wrote a piece on The Jam in my fanzine and sent it to Sounds after I saw a job advertised there. I was 17. Sounds called me down to see about hiring me. I'd just passed my O-levels. The chance slipped away. Two years later I ended up on the same paper, and then six months later I was hired by the NME. The guy I sat next to had written a lot of Weller's sleeve notes. Back in Leeds, my best mate, Geoff Storer,* * would interrupt my tales of how much free drink there was in the life of a music journalist to ask repeatedly: "Have you met Paul Weller yet?'' That was the benchmark.
This was Style Council time, the later years when he rarely received a decent album review, when everything he did was compared with The Jam. I went along to the Albert Hall and reviewed them, alongside Simon Reynolds of the Melody Maker. Simon wrote clever, considered analytical reviews, I wrote angry, impatient diatribes. We both raved about the gig. They had class. They played clean, fast-moving pop. He still had it.
A few years later and he's lost his big company record deal and he is signed by Andy McDonald, the man who found Billy Bragg and the Housemartins, two acts hewn from the influence Weller had cast. And so he starts the comeback trail.
I start looking for staff for a new magazine. A bloke I met at a World Cup match, Tim Southwell, likes The Jam and Leeds United. So do I. It seems a good starting point for an editorial team and outlook. A bloke-ish simplicity surrounds The Jam fan - it's music to jump up and down to. The early solo stuff has touches of it. He has energy and passion again, free from the shackles of the world's withering opinion of The Style Council, Weller is re-emerging like a lost artist.
The first issue of loaded, and Tim and I want to put Paul on the cover. To interview him, we send Sean O'Hagan. The powers that be encouraged us not to put Weller on the launch cover of loaded because they feared people would think it was a music mag. Paul Weller, the guy who drew the founders of loaded together, never appeared on its' cover. We use a picture of Gary Oldman and put the names of him, Weller and Cantona in equal billing under the phrase Super Lads, a play on the chant Super Leeds. We are wrongly credited with inventing a new type of man.
(Later I move to GQ and need a first front cover to announce a change. I call Paul, he agrees to help out. A great photograph, one of my favourite magazine covers I've done.)
And then after years of jumping up and down at the front of his gigs and occasionally crossing paths in the NME offices or at clubs, Weller started to let us hang out backstage. I think Tim probably vomited with glee the night he finally got to hang out in Paul Weller's dressing room, certainly they were exciting times.
Music, drugs, scooters, sex. I drag a waitress I fancy off to see Weller in Bournemouth. He invites us to hang out for the night to shoot the video for his single "Pebbles on a Beach" at Portland Bill. We take the tour bus to the Reading Festival. Like the characters' in Squeeze's "Up the Junction", I and the waitress get drunk for a few years and get married in the middle of them. At the ceremony, the registrar demands I remove Oasis from the stereo, my best man Geoff hastily puts another random CD in, my wife walks in to the sounds of "Pebbles on a Beach".
Eight years later, the waitress is in Wales with a teacher and I'm back writing about Paul Weller while dumping "Pebbles On A Beach" off the iPod. These things go in cycles. Now he's being honoured at the Brits. He deserves it, he's got attitude, front and a sense of humour.
A fan approaches him in the West End after a gig, offering chips. Weller rears back, shocked and confronted. He probably didn't want chip fat on his jumper. Grumpy, funky and still well-dressed. Strange things happen - and I don't just mean his haircut. The Leeds United captain, Paul Butler, scores a goal against Queens Park Rangers last Saturday and over the Tannoy comes the announcement: "Leeds United's second goal is scored by Paul Weller." "Who the hell is Paul Weller?'' asks an old bloke. He's the boy about town that you've heard of.