Vox - November 1992
To go straight to the pictures that they showed, press here

Paul Weller. He laughs, he smiles, he looks inward, he finds himself. But finding a record company to release his latest album-now that's another matter...
"I can't see myself ever moving back to a major label. If I put any records out, they'll more likely I than not be released on my own independent Freedom High label." When he spoke to VOX in January of this year, Paul Weller was confident that he had the whole world in his hands. Despite having parted company with Polydor, who had rejected his last Style Council album a matter of months earlier, Weller assumed the air of a confident man. A man who had decided to play things his own way no matter what. Yet here we are, six months later, back-stage at the 3,000 capacity Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, and he's pondering again.

"I really think I've found myself with this album," he says, pausing to shake another Marlboro Light out of its crush-proof packet. "It may sound a bit odd sitting here and talking like this. But what you hear is what you get." Weller had exhibited the same New Age reflection after his show at L.A.'s open-air Greek Theatre a couple of days previously, lounging by the side of the pool in his favourite hotel. But under 80 degrees of sunshine that can turn an unsuspecting pale English skin lobster-red inside 45 minutes-"it can do your 'ead in if you're not careful"-you can find yourself saying anything.

San Francisco is different. It may no longer be the hippy haven of yore, but it's still the flower in the hair of the California coastline. It has echoes of a special magic-and Weller has been sampling it, riding cabs and tramping streets in search of the lost photo opportunity. Up to the top of Knob Hill and down to Fisherman's Wharf, and then along to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge he goes, with lens man Watson snapping all the way. For those who think all this "found myself" business sounds like Me Generation stuff-not quite what you'd expect from Post-Modernist Paul-we are in 'Cisco; and if you're going to get introspective in the US, here is probably the place to do it.

Judging by appearances, Paul Weller is a changed man. Relaxed and happy, he laughs, smiles, cracks jokes and is plainly content with the hand life has dealt him. And that, in itself, is something new. "I used to feel terribly guilty about everything," he says. "The money, the lifestyle, the hotels and stuff. Now I just think that I worked fucking hard for it all. So why shouldn't I enjoy it?"
Weller still maintains a political edge, aggrieved at the way Tory policies have duped the British people. "They've made them lose their houses and their businesses and persuaded them to buy shares in things they owned anyway," he says. "Have you met some of those people?" he continues. "When you actually get into the Houses of Parliament and see what's going on, you discover it's not about ideologies at all-it's about power and money. All the time it's the little people who get fucked over." Now a father of two, he worries how kids can grow up with any respect, "when all they see is a social system which shows less and less respect for its own people."

In spite of his dismissal of today's pop music, Weller refuses to eulogise the late-' 70s. "Most punk stuff was just posturing and rhetoric and bullshit. The Clash and the Pistols and maybe The Jam had something real to say. But many of the bands that followed only wrote about dole queues and kids on the street, because that was what you had to do to get record deals and get in the charts. You don't think 999 really meant it, do you? And at the end of the day none of that stuff said as much as a Smokey Robinson song, did it?"
Paul Weller is working his way back to Britain after nearly a month in Japan, where his new album, simply entitled Paul Weller, sits securely at the top of the charts. Bearing in mind that the record won't be released in the US until the autumn, Weller has suddenly found himself one step ahead of the game. From the Ritz in New York to Los Angeles' prestigious open-air Greek Theatre, the former Jam purveyor and Style Councillor has been filling venues normally reserved for the highly hip and the hotly happening. His father John, still manager and still on the road, is over the moon. "It's all been a gamble," he admits in an unguarded moment. "But it's certainly paid off."

It's certainly a step forward from 1989, when Polydor unceremoniously rejected the fifth Style Council album, and keyboard cohort Mick Talbot split to take up a new career as a producer with the likes of Galliano. Weller was left weighed-down with a failed record company (Respond), struggling recording studio (Solid Bond), and a reputation for being 'difficult'. It looked like the end of the line.

"You learn by your mistakes, don't you?" comes the philosophical riposte. Enforced time off enabled Weller to take stock of his strengths, which were plainly not as an A&R man, label boss or studio proprietor. Weller was proud of Solid Bond, the Marble Arch recording facility that had once been owned by Philips and played host to legendary sessions by the likes of Dusty Springfield and The Walker Brothers. But in a get-out-now-or-sink-without-trace move, Solid Bond went under the hammer at the end of 1990. The Wellers decided to invest what little money they received for it in Paul's next album. With no record company to bail them out, they booked six weeks in Comforts Place, a deep Surrey residential studio bought in 1984 by Bucks Fizz managers-cum-producers, Andy Hill and Nichola Martin.

'The whole album was recorded with just me, Brendan Lynch (who was house engineer at Solid Bond) Steve White on drums and Jacko Peake on saxophones and flute. I'd never been away to record like that before, and it was a real pleasure. I sort of had the songs written before we started, but a lot of them developed out of the three of us jamming away, and taking the songs in freeform directions which were never planned.

"I found I could do more of the things that I hear in my head," says Weller. "That always used to get me so frustrated, hearing what I should be doing but not being able to get there."

But has he limited his chances in today's dance-conscious marketplace?

"I don't think I've got much to do with modern pop," he answers. "I've been around long enough to be outside of it. People may say I'm being brave or stupid, but I'm just doing it the way it comes out-which is all you can do if you want to make music with integrity. If you start chasing markets and thinking formats, you end up vanishing up your own arse. I'm not making any direct comparisons, but I feel I'm like Van Morrison or Eric Clapton. I don't have to worry where I fit into today's marketplace."

Just the sort of thing your average A&R man doesn't like to hear, of course, and no doubt a major reason why the Wellers had such difficulty finding a taker for the album. It was only a deal with Japanese label Pony Canyon, struck shortly after last Christmas, that finally freed up sufficient capital to mix the LP. Fate struck again when a projected deal with Virgin satellite label, Circa, was scotched by the EMI buy-out, but luckily Go! Discs supremo Andy MacDonald stepped in at the eleventh hour, and Weller left for his Japanese dates with the ink barely dry on the paper. MacDonald says he was unafraid to take the album, "because Paul's gig at the Warfield was an experience without parallel.

Honed to a fine edge by nearly a month on the road, the Paul Weller band-drummer Steve White, former Orange Juice percussionist Zeke Manyeka, ex-Central Line and Hindsight Britfunker Camelle Hinds on bass, Helen Turner on keyboards and Jacko Peake on saxophones, flute and harmonica-proved themselves an intuitive outfit, stretching and straining the songs into new and more satisfying shapes, adding extra textures and some shimmering new colours.

Come the encore, Weller picked out the opening chords to the Style Council's languid 'Long Hot Summer', but before he could make it to the bridge, the stage was invaded by a bevy of Californian beauties, eager to show their appreciation the American way-by swamping him under a deluge of kisses.

When he finally came back up for air, Weller was wearing a grin very nearly as wide as San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.
VOX November 1992

Click On A Thumbnail to See A Larger Version

Press here to get back to the top of the page