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Paul Weller Biography

John William Weller, 25 May 1958, Woking, Surrey, England. The rise and fall from critical grace, and subsequent rise of vocalist and guitarist Paul Weller could occupy a small chapter in any book on UK rock music of the 70s, 80s and 90s. The recipient of almost universal acclaim and ‘spokesman for a generation’ accolades with the Jam, after the release of the Style Council’s second album his relationship with the press became one of almost total antipathy, some might argue with good reason; the thread of soul-stirring passion that had always seen Weller at his most affecting had been squandered in a less earnest quest for dry musical sophistication. The fact that he was now married (to Style Council backing vocalist D.C. Lee) and a father of two children contributed to what he later admitted was a lack of thirst for music.

By 1990, he found himself without either a band or a recording contract for the first time in 13 years. This period saw him reacquaint himself with some of his old influences, the omnipresent Small Faces / Steve Marriott fixation, as well as discover new ones such as house and acid jazz, as well as Traffic, Spooky Tooth, Tim Hardin and Tim Buckley. Inspired enough to write new material, despite his recent travails with the Style Council having drained him of confidence, he began to set up a new band in the autumn. Comprising Paul Francis (bass), Max Beesley (keyboards, vibraphone), Jacko Peake (saxophone, flute), Joe Becket (percussion), Damon Brown (trumpet, flügelhorn), Chris Lawrence (trombone) as well as Jam biographer and ‘best friend’ Paulo Hewitt (DJ) and Style Council drummer Steve White, the band was christened the Paul Weller Movement. They made their live debut on UK tours in November and December, with a second spree in April 1991. These served to renew Weller’s previously unimpeachable self-belief and test new songs like ‘Round And Round’ and ‘Kosmos’. The line-up now saw Henry Thomas (formerly of music education television programme Rock School) on bass, with the brass section reduced to Gerard Presencer (trumpet/flügelhorn), with Zeta Massiah and Lina Duggan on backing vocals.

Weller released his first solo single, ‘Into Tomorrow’, on his own Freedom High label in May, before contributing seven compositions to D.C. Lee’s Slam Slam project. However, he was still refining his muse and the vast majority of the Movement and the name itself were dispensed with, leaving a kernel of White and Peake with guests including Robert Howard (aka Dr. Robert of the Blow Monkeys), Marco Nelson of the Young Disciples, Style Council bass player Camille Hinds and singer Carleen Anderson. However the debut album was delayed for almost a year while he searched for a suitable label. It was initially released on Pony Canyon in Japan, where Weller maintained a formidable personal popularity, six months before a UK issue on Go! Discs. Paul Weller was strangely overlooked by the UK press, who at this stage seemed resistant to the artist’s revival, despite the presence of fine songs in ‘Clues’ and ‘Strange Museum’. Further line-up changes accrued during the quiet early months of 1992, with Orange Juice drummer Zeke Manyika joining, as did former Style Council compatriot Helen Turner (organ). The subject of second single ‘Uh Huh, Oh Yeh’ was Weller’s Woking youth, and its Top 20 UK status kindled a prodigal-son welcome from the UK press.

Weller’s renaissance was confirmed in 1993 with the release of ‘Sunflower’, a breezy, Traffic-inspired folk rock enterprise, and Wild Wood, possibly the finest collection of songs Weller had written since the Jam’s All Mod Cons. With a fresh, natural production from Brendan Lynch, and multitudinous musical accompaniment from White, Turner, Beesley and Howard plus Mick Talbot (Weller’s former Style Council songwriting collaborator), D.C. Lee, Simon Fowler and Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene), the set was nevertheless firmly located in the classic English singer-songwriter pantheon. Live favourites ‘The Weaver’ and ‘Hung Up’ again reached the charts as Weller was at last able to shake off the albatross of his previous musical ventures. He was joined on tour in Japan by new bass player Yolanda Charles in October, while early 1994 saw him jamming on stage with Kenny Jones (Faces), James Taylor and Mother Earth for the filming of The History Of Acid Jazz. The summer of that year saw euphoric performances at the Glastonbury and Phoenix Festival stages, before a 1994 double live album drawn from four different sets between late 1993 and mid-1994. In 1995 Weller joined with Paul McCartney and Noel Gallagher from Oasis in a short-term project called Smokin’ Mojo Filters. The trio recorded together for the Help War Child charity album and their credible version of John Lennon’s ‘Come Together’ was a sizeable hit at the end of the year.

For the first time in a decade Weller had cultivated a new set of fans, rather than dragging existing followers with him, and this fact drew evident satisfaction. Stanley Road was titled after the street in which Weller grew up, and featured Noel Gallagher on a cover version of Dr. John’s ‘I Walk On Gilded Splinters’. Of more enduring interest were the Weller originals, however, which spanned a wide range of musical styles unified by the ‘live’ approach to recording. The follow-up Heavy Soul showed Weller to be at the peak of his musical powers and still retaining the support of the majority of the music press.

Weller’s fans were forced to wait another three years for the follow-up, Heliocentric, and although much was promised, the album lacked the punch and sparkle of previous efforts. Much more gutsy and electric was 2002’s Illumination. On this album Weller sang with renewed conviction, in particular his duet with the Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones on the fabulous ‘Call Me No. 5’. Fly On The Wall, released in 2003, was a 3-CD box set of b-sides and rarities, featuring some excellent cover versions including Neil Young’s ‘Ohio’ and Traffic’s ‘Feelin’ Alright’, and a number of credible Beatles’ interpretations. Weller continued in covers mode on the following year’s Studio 150, his debut for the V2 label, tackling an eclectic range of material including Rose Royce’s ‘Wishing On A Star’, Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Bottle’, Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early Morning Rain’, and Young’s ‘Birds’. As Is Now, his first collection of new studio material since Illumination, was released in 2005.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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