The Independent Interview
Paul Weller: How I became hip again
Ten years after the release of the massive-selling album 'Stanley Road', Paul Weller remembers a watershed in his solo career
As told to Lois Wilson
27 May 2005
Initially I wanted to call the album Shit or Bust, because that's how I felt about it. I put everything into it, emotionally and physically. It was the culmination of my solo career to date. I knew it was special. We had a playback and I could sense the excitement among the people listening to it.
We settled on the title Stanley Road because it seemed to suit the mood of the album best. I was looking back on my life, on my roots, where I'd come from, where I'd got to on the journey, and Stanley Road is the place where I grew up as a child. The house isn't standing any more but the tiny zebra crossing nearby is, and I did debate recreating The Beatles' Abbey Road sleeve artwork for the cover but the idea got vetoed.
It was a funny time for me. My second solo album, 1993's Wild Wood, had gained commercial and critical success, the first time since The Style Council's Our Favourite Shop. I was back in the press's good books. Blur and Oasis were citing me as an influence, which was great. Their younger fans were discovering my work, backtracking and hearing The Jam for the first time. I have a great friendship with Noel [Gallagher], and it was the first time that I felt an affinity with my contemporaries, something I hadn't with my so-called peers in the Eighties. I was aware, however, that I was a good 10 or 12 years older than most of them, so I was conscious of not being one of the old fellas trying to muck in with the kids.
At the same time I was going through a lot of different feelings and trials. I had split with my wife Dee [C Lee] a year before. I was feeling tremendous guilt about splitting the family up, and worried about my relationship with my kids. I was doing a lot of drugs, staying out all night. So on the one hand I was having a whale of a time and a second youth, and on the other I was coming back in the morning and asking, "where's my life heading?". Stanley Road was a way for me to vent a lot of those things, turn them into something positive. On a personal level it was a fucking nightmare, but artistically it was a very exciting time.
We were very buoyant when we entered the studio. A lot of the material had been written up front. There had been a good year-and-a-half of playing on the road in between Wild Wood and the making of Stanley Road so I'd written at home, on the tour bus, in hotel rooms, wherever I could snatch the time, and we had a chance to play a lot of the songs in on the road.
We returned to The Manor, in Shipton-on-Cherwell, near Oxford, where we had recorded Wild Wood. It's a magical place, one of the last of the old-school residential studios where you could make it your own and go a bit barmy and be indulgent, just get on with the music. It also helped because we recorded everything live; that way you know immediately what you've got when you play it back, and this is the album where we got everything right.
On Stanley Road, I threw everything into "Porcelain Gods", everything I felt at the time. I was questioning my life, questioning fame. I remember playing that song to a friend and she said she found it hard to listen to because of its foreboding menace. I was trying to write an English blues song in a sense and give it that swamp, voodoo, dark edge.
I loved Dr John's Gris-Gris LP and thought his "Walk On Gilded Splinters" followed on thematically with its own sense of paranoia. I'd first heard the song when I was a kid in 1973, a version by Humble Pie. Noel plays acoustic guitar on my take. He came down to the studio to hear what we'd been working on and while he was there he just grabbed his guitar and joined in. He says he first met me when he was the roadie with the Inspiral Carpets at an airport in Tokyo. He said I was off my nut which is probably why I can't remember. I returned the favour, playing guitar on "Champagne Supernova" on Oasis's (What's The Story) Morning Glory and we guested on The White Room TV programme. It was strange, I'd been in the wilderness, had the press ignoring me, and all of a sudden I was being touted as hip and trendy again. I found it quite amusing.
Stevie Winwood played keyboards on "Woodcutters Son" and piano on "Pink on White Walls". We called his manager and asked if he'd like to do it. I had read somewhere that Jim Capaldi (Steve Winwood's partner in Traffic) had liked Wild Wood and phoned Steve, telling him to check the album out because he'd like it. That gave us a way in. He was great; very humble, modest, quiet, and an immense talent. I was a real trainspotter fan, asking him about all his Traffic recordings. I'd ask who played bass on this track and he was like, "I did", so I'd say well who played lead guitar here, and it would be him again. He seemed to do most of it.
It was also the first of my albums to feature guitarist Steve Cradock on most of the tracks. He joined the live band at that point and is still in my band today, although he did go off with Ocean Colour Scene for a while. When Steve was 16 he came down to our studio at the time. He was a massive Jam fan and was in a dodgy mod band and he gave me his tape to hear. He was like a stalker. We had to chase him off in the end because he was a pain in the arse. I didn't see him again until Ocean Colour Scene came down to record their debut LP in our studio and I thought, I recognise you from somewhere.
"Wings Of Speed" is an amazing song. I said at the time that Carleen Anderson's voice on it is the nearest I'll get to hearing angels sing. It's heavenly. She sang one verse free-form and we put it down. Then she did another take, then another, and she wouldn't play them back so we put them all together, weaved them in and out of each other. The song is about how I feel when I look at John Waterhouse's painting, The Lady of Shalott. The lines "With Jesus at the helm" and "one candle left to light the way" refer directly to the painting. I love Waterhouse's paintings, the drama in them, and I was trying to capture that in music.
After the Abbey Road sleeve idea was scrapped we got in Peter Blake to design the cover. I was overawed at first and it took a while for us to communicate properly and for me to get across exactly what I wanted. I didn't like his first draft so I did a sketch of how I thought it should look. I gave it to him nervously. He was really nice and we finally got it right. He asked me to bring along objects and photos that meant a lot to me. We settled on using my Small Faces' Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane figurines and pictures of Aretha Franklin, John Lennon and George Best - I was into football when I was a kid.
I still play songs from Stanley Road in my live set. You can never get bored playing tunes like "You Do Something To Me" or "The Changingman" because as soon as you strike them up you get lifted by the energy of the crowd, there's a real surge.
Stanley Road was one of those perfect moments when everything slotted into place naturally. It was a dream. I don't think of the album as being 10 years old. I guess if an album is good enough, it doesn't age. It remains fresh. That's Stanley Road.
The deluxe edition of 'Stanley Road' is released on 30 May on Island Records
For a good look at The Lady Of Shalott, click on the picture
A smaller version can be seen by clicking Here