Paul Weller (born John William Weller on May 25, 1958, in Sheerwater, near Woking, Surrey), is an English singer-songwriter.
Weller was the leader and creator behind the formation of two successful bands, The Jam (1976-1982) and The Style Council (1983-1989), before starting a successful solo career in 1990. He has remained essentially a national rather than an international star, possibly because much of his songwriting is rooted in British culture. He is also the principal figure of the 1970’s Mod revival and is often called the “Modfather”.
Weller was not academically minded and disliked the discipline and routine of school; however, he keenly read the lyrics on pop music records and watched Top of the Pops on the television. From about the age of ten he was interested in playing in a band, and when he was twelve-years-old his family gave him a guitar, which he learned to play from a few basic music lessons and by playing along to music. In 1973, at the age of fourteen, Weller performed his first gig, with his friend Steve Brooks, who helped to form The Jam. They had a regular Wednesday evening slot there and they played cover music to a very small audience. As a teenager, he began to realize that a career in pop music would be ideal when a gig the band played in the lunch hour at his school was successful and popular with girl pupils. The band played in social clubs, working men’s clubs and pubs in Surrey and London for about five years, with his father as manager. They attracted a good following and were signed by Polydor Records in 1977.
The Jam, which he had formed four years earlier in Woking with his friends Steve Brookes (lead guitar), featured Rick Buckler (drums) and Bruce Foxton (rhythm guitar). Weller himself took lead vocal duties and bass guitar. When Brookes left the band, Weller and Foxton swapped guitar roles.
Although The Jam emerged at the same time as punk rock bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Clash, The Jam better fit the mould of the so-called New Wave bands who came later. Also, being from just outside of London rather than in it, they were never really part of the tightly-knit punk clique.
Nonetheless, The Clash seemed to take the most notice of the band. Joe Strummer even supposedly had a conversation with Weller and suggested he write songs about things that affected him, as well as songs that involved society and politics. The Clash was also sufficiently impressed by The Jam to take them along as the support act on their White Riot tour of 1977. The Jam went on to be far more successful in the singles charts than The Clash in the UK.
The Jam’s single “In the City” took them into the UK Top 40 for the first time in May 1977. Although every subsequent single had a placing within the Top 40, it would not be until the band released “The Eton Rifles” that they broke into the Top Ten, hitting the Number Three spot in November 1979.
From then on their blend of pop melodies and politically conscious lyrics made them hugely popular, and in 1980 they hit Number One for the first time with “Going Underground”.
By the early 1980s, The Jam had become one of the biggest bands in Britain. They became the only band other than The Beatles to perform two songs (“Town Called Malice” and “Precious”) on one edition of Top of the Pops (the feat would later also be equaled by Oasis and Manic Street Preachers). The Jam even had one single, “That’s Entertainment”, reach Number 21 in the UK singles chart despite not even being released in that country - it got there purely on the strength of the huge number of people buying import sales of the German single release. Weller, however, was eager to explore other musical avenues that he felt he could not follow with The Jam. Later Jam songs, such as “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)”, often described by critics as “a Style Council song pretending to be a Jam song” - were written in a more melodic, soulful style.
In 1982, Weller announced that The Jam would disband at the end of the year. Their final single, “Beat Surrender”, became their fourth UK chart topper, going straight to Number One in its first week, which was still a rare achievement at the time. Their farewell concerts at Wembley Arena were multiple sell-outs. Their final concert took place at the Brighton Centre in December 1982.
At the beginning of 1983, Weller collaborated with keyboard player Mick Talbot to form a new group called The Style Council. Weller brought in Steve White, who was 17 at the time, to play drums. White played with Weller from then on (apart from a two-year break in 1989-1990) until 2008, when Weller put together a new band featuring Steve Pilgrim of The Stands on drums.
The Style Council played in a wide range of musical styles, from pop and jazz to soul/R&B and folk-styled ballads. The band was at the vanguard of a jazz/pop revival that would continue with the emergence of bands like Matt Bianco, Sade, and Everything But the Girl, whose members Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt contributed vocals and guitar to a Style Council’s “Paris Match”.
One of their early singles “A Solid Bond in Your Heart” was originally written and recorded during The Jam era, this earlier version later turning up on that band’s Extras compilation. “Walls Come Tumbling Down!” did well in North America, appearing with “The Internationalists” on the Live Aid album and getting airplay on some college radio stations.
Weller appeared on 1984’s Band Aid record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and the Style Council were the second act to appear in the British half of Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985.
In December 1984, Weller put together his own charity ensemble, the Council Collective, to make a record (“Soul Deep”) to raise money for striking miners. The record featured the Style Council plus a number of other performers, notably Jimmy Ruffin and Junior Giscombe. In spite of the song’s political content, it still picked up BBC Radio 1 airplay and was performed on Top of the Pops.
The Style Council was marginally more successful in the US than The Jam had been, with “My Ever Changing Moods” providing them with their first of only two singles to ever make the Billboard Hot 100, the other being “You’re The Best Thing”. In Australia however, they were far more successful than The Jam, having a Number One in 1984 with “Shout to the Top” and many other Top 40 singles.
As the 1980s wore on, the Style Council’s popularity in the UK itself began to slide, with none of their singles even reaching the Top 20. The Style Council’s death knell was sounded in 1989 when their record company refused to release their fifth and final studio album, Modernism: A New Decade, although this did eventually have a limited vinyl run and appeared on The Complete Adventures of the Style Council, retrospective CD box set.
In 1989, Weller disbanded The Style Council and disappeared from the public eye for a couple of years, before returning to prominence as one of the major influences of the mid 1990s (beginning in 1991 as The Paul Weller Movement and later simply as Paul Weller). With his long-term drummer and friend Steve White in tow, Weller successfully joined the ‘Britpop’ movement that gave rise to such bands as Oasis and Blur. Weller even appeared as a guest guitarist and backing vocalist on Oasis’ hit song “Champagne Supernova”. During this time Weller’s music was also marketed among the emerging Acid Jazz scene. Such tracks include “Here’s a New Thing”, and “That Spiritual Feeling” (which was recycled from the then-unreleased Modernism sessions).
Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher also appeared on Weller’s album Stanley Road, providing guitar and backing vocals on the cover of Dr. John’s song “I Walk on Gilded Splinters”. Weller was an important influence in the development of Ocean Colour Scene, and members of that band, particularly guitarist Steve Cradock, who has been a regular fixture in Weller’s band since the early 1990s, except for 1999-2000 when Ocean Colour Scene had reached their peak and guitar duties went to Matt Deighton of Mother Earth. Weller went back on the road, performing Jam and Style Council covers, under the guise of The Paul Weller Movement, eventually releasing the single “Into Tomorrow” on his own Freedom High record label. His first solo album, the self-titled Paul Weller was financed partly from the sale of his West End-based recording studio, Solid Bond. The difference between his last work, the house music workout Modernism - A New Decade and this solo album four years on were astounding; the self-titled album saw a return to a raw guitar sound, featuring samples and a funk influence, with shades of The Style Council sound.
Fans and critics hail Wild Wood as one of Weller’s finest albums. Recorded deep in the English countryside, it had the sound and style of the new “get-out-of-the-city” Weller, a man matured and married with children.
His 1995 album Stanley Road took him back to the top of the British charts, and went on to become the best-selling album of his career. The album was named after the street in Woking where he had grown up. It marked a return to the more guitar-based style of his earlier days. The album’s major single, “The Changingman”, was also a big hit with the sampling the Electric Light Orchestra single “10538 Overture” and taking Weller to Number Seven in the UK singles charts. The album also featured a second popular single, “You Do Something to Me”, which was his second consecutive Top Ten single, peaking at Number Nine in the UK. It also featured the Number 20 hit “Broken Stones” and a new version of 1994 single “Out of the Sinking”, which made it to Number 16.
Heavy Soul, the follow up to the million-selling Stanley Road saw Weller twist his sound again. The album was rawer than its predecessor; Weller was now frequently playing live in the studio in as few takes as possible. The album reached Number Two in the official UK charts, mainly because a limited edition was deemed to have too many “freebies” included to be chart-eligible. The issue was that the images featured in the booklet of the main release were separate in the limited version. This would also include a small but often unrecognized use of Gil Scott Heron’s “Lady Day & John Coltrane” on the track “science”. The first single, “Peacock Suit”, which continued in his hard-rock vein, was the most successful released from the album, reaching Number Five on the UK Singles Chart.
New Jam and Style Council “best of” albums took his earlier career back into the charts, including a reissue of “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow”) and his own solo “best of” collection, Modern Classics, was a substantial success in 1998.
In 2000, he released his fifth solo studio album, and seventh solo effort overall, called Heliocentric (as well as the Modern Classics compilation, there had also been the 1994 live album called Live Wood). There were rumors at the time that this would be his final studio effort, but these proved unfounded when he released the Number One hit album Illumination in September 2002, preceded by yet another Top Ten hit single, “It’s Written in the Stars”. Between these two albums he had also released a second successful live album, 2001’s Days of Speed, which contained live acoustic versions from his world tour of the same name. The LP included some of his best-known songs from his solo career and the back catalogues of his Jam and Style Council days. Weller had again found himself without a record contract and the tour provided him with the opportunity to view his works as one back catalogue.
In 2003, Weller teamed up with electronic rock duo Death in Vegas on a cover of Gene Clark’s “So You Say You Lost Your Baby”, which was featured on the album Scorpio Rising.
In 2004 Weller released an album of covers entitled Studio 150. It debuted at Number Two in the UK charts and included Bob Dylan’s, “All Along the Watchtower”. The album also contained the singles “The Bottle” originally performed by Gil Scott Heron, “Wishing on A Star” by Rose Royce, “Thinking of You” by Sister Sledge and “Early Morning Rain” by Gordon Lightfoot. This was a limited edition, colored vinyl only, double A-sided 7”, along with a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together”.
As is Now (2005) featured the singles “From the Floorboards Up”, “Come On/Let’s Go” and “Here’s the Good News”. Weller released a double live album titled Catch-Flame! in June 2006, with songs from both his solo work and his career with The Jam and The Style Council.
In late 2006, the album Hit Parade was released. This collected together all the singles released by the Jam, Style Council and Weller during his solo career. Two versions of this album were released - a single disc with a selection from each stage of his career, and a four-disc limited edition, which included every single released and came with a 64- page booklet. However, the album did not include the new “Wild Blue Yonder” single, which was released on the same day.
The double album, 22 Dreams, was released in June 2008 with “Echoes ‘Round the Sun” as the lead single. Surprises have always been part of the artistic vernacular for the man who changed rock forever with The Jam, explored a host of eclectic influences with The Style Council and cemented his position as the patriarch of Brit pop with his legendary solo career. Working across a wide range of genres - rock, funk, soul, free jazz, krautrock, classical music, electronica, even spoken word - Weller presents an hour-plus odyssey full of eccentric surprises and loveable chaos. From the blue-eyed soul of “Have You Made Up Your Mind?” and the eerily brilliant “Echoes Around the Sun” (a Weller/Gallagher collaboration), to experimental offerings such as “111” and acid-folk opener “Light Nights”, Weller digs deep into his magician’s hat, and pulls out rabbit after rabbit. Some of the more off-the-wall moments - ”God” for example - won’t be for everyone, but the way everything collides together in a haphazard, devil-may-care manner serves to remind us that we should never write off our beloved veterans - you never know when they’re going to take an unexpected artistic risk
The spirit of collaboration and an in-the-moment creative approach have resulted in one of Weller’s most spirited works and one that is sure to expand the artistic canon of the one and only Modfather.
After the triumphant, Brit Award-bagging success of 22 Dreams (his third solo number one in the UK), his new album Wake Up The Nation (2010) sees one of rock’s most iconic songwriters expand and evolve once more. A departure stylistically from the more pastoral sounds of his last album, Wake Up is lean, mean and as uncompromisingly focused as its maker. It also brings Paul Weller full circle - twenty-eight years on from The Jam’s split, two tracks feature the former bassist Bruce Foxton. The album also sees contributions from My Bloody Valentine guitar alchemist Kevin Shields, ELO’s Bev Bevan and legendary session drummer Clem Cattini.
Enjoying a constant critical high and a never ending creative peak, Paul Weller continues to push the boundaries with Sonik Kicks (2012). The album is the follow up to the Mercury Prize Award nominated Wake Up The Nation and is Paul’s eleventh solo album. Once again, it’s his best yet. Sonik Kicks features fourteen brand new tracks and includes special guest appearances from both Noel Gallagher and Graham Coxon. With Sonik Kicks Paul Weller once again shakes up his palate and stirs his influences anew. He mixes pop art punch with soulful communication; jazzy explorations into psychedelia and dub with razor-sharp melodies and abstract soundscapes with clear-eyed forest-folk.