Paul Weller – ‘Stanley Road’

Following Weller’s musical resurrection with his debut solo album in 1992, his follow up the next year further enhanced his status. Wild Wood was a stunning album, a notable step up from Paul Weller it was heavier and more soulful, blending folk and psychedelic bluesy jams. Steve Craddock was in and adding the perfect musical foil to Weller’s swank and vigor.

For five or so years from ’94 I saw Weller live more than a dozen times, and he was never less than totally captivating. His passion completely dominated his live performances, riding as he was on the crest of adulation from not just the new wave of Britpop admirers but also his original Jam and Style Council fanatics. Weller’s devotion to his art is unquestionable and his influences are celebrated through his music, never better than on his classic ’95 release, Stanley Road.

Musically, those influences are all over the back of Peter Blake’s album cover: Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane figurines, Artetha Franklin, John Lennon, a dude on a scooter plus mod and Stax iconography. You know where he’s at. For me, Weller’s influences are right at home in my record collection and on Stanley Road they shine magnificently. That said, this is a Weller album through and through; heavy and soulful with a groove that has attitude pulsing at its heart. Changing Man is just a classic Weller single and with Porcelain Gods and Dr. John’s Walk On Gilded Splinters the voodoo groove is blues swamp perfection.

The groove becomes more soulful through Stanley Road and Broken Stones before the intensity returns on the glorious Out Of The Sinking. It’s all there; a rock and blues stomp with Yolanda Charles and Steve White’s rhythm matched by Carleen Anderson’s stunning gospel vocals. The slower, piano lead tracks are great, but for me it was all about the full band at full tilt, and that was at its peak on Whirlpool’s End, a live classic that showcased the skills of Brendan Lynch and rhythm king, Steve White.

Ten years later Paul Weller said: “Stanley Road was one of those perfect moments when everything slotted into place naturally. It was a dream… 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.”

To me, in over 40 years over making music Stanley Road is Weller’s best ever album. He was idolised by two generations, he’d just split from his wife DC Lee and he was partying with much gusto. His creative juices were fully fuelled, no doubt stimulated by his contemporaries who looked up to him for inspiration, and boy did he deliver.

William Orbit – Strange Cargo III

As 1994 progressed and more friendships formed, my out of work adventures escalated. The boorish ‘lad’ culture was everywhere, and Bournemouth’s roaring ‘80s pub and live music scene was fast changing to accommodate the booming wine bar and club culture. Dance music was dominating the charts; the late ‘80s acid house scene kicked it off before branching out into dozens of sub-genres and by ’94 it went from mainstream to literally underground, depending on where you were at.

For a few years in the mid ‘90s it’s true to say I ‘partied’. My first party was with my flatmates in autumn ’94 and I had a great time. The dance scene in Bournemouth was huge; Bump N Hustle became the king of clubs with the likes of Bob Povey and Jon Coomer playing the widest spectrum of the finest house music. Jazz Juice was an authentic and colossal night of ‘70s funk and disco, Big beat clubs were playing Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and all sorts from the Skint and Heavenly labels and the Hothouse and others were there for alternative, indie and britpop. Mod and soul nights were around too, one of which would soon become my second DJ residence. I went to them all, and I went with much gusto.

Those same lovely flatmates with whom I partied had fine taste. They played me Strange Cargo III by William Orbit. For those years of dancing my ass of at clubs of every variety, my perfect music to play when ‘unwinding’ would be this absolute gem of groovy ambient electronica. Listening to Time To Get Wize, The Story Of Light and his magnum opus, Water From A Vine Leaf takes me straight back to that flat and those happy, playful times. It brings a smile to my face.

Featuring the angelic Both Orton on vocals, Water From A Vine Leaf would be the one song that encapsulates those years of excess and indulgence. The mid ‘90s were heady and exhilarating times and William Orbit shines over all of it, like a soothing dreamscape of paradise. Strange Cargo I, II and Hinterland followed and added to his legend, but for me Strange Cargo III is where it was at. Press play, close your eyes, switch off and enjoy the bliss…

Booker T & The MGs – live at The Strand, Redondo Beach, Los Angeles

I got lucky. At the Oktoberfest in Munich I met a friendly young woman. It was a brief chat and we were both heavily steined. After many letters, the following April I was staying with her amazingly hospitable family in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles; a six-month stay including paid work, delivering hair products and picking up cheques. I was driving around Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, Malibu and Melrose Avenue. Yeah, I got lucky.

That six-month stay included three months of travel across the States, so I saw enough to say two things. It’s an incredible country to visit but I’d never want to live there permanently. Amongst dozens of great memories a few were musical. A very friendly face gave me a tape of The Grateful Dead, one side American Beauty, the other Workingman’s Dead. I played it loads in my beaten up Honda Civic and Truckin’ loved it. That beaten up Civic took me all the way to Beale Street and Graceland in Memphis and New Orleans for the Jazz & Heritage Festival. The Radiators and Robert Cray stand out, and B.B King is memorable only for the horrific after effects of a colossal bowl of dodgy Cajun gumbo. Oh, the pain.

I saw Santana play at the Greek Theatre in L.A. That was special, though with daft, unrealistic expectations I remember being disappointed they weren’t as stunning as their live stuff on Moonflower which blew me away a couple of years earlier. Lastly, and most memorably, I saw the Stax house band, the Memphis soul originators and ultimate groove legends Booker T & The MGs at The Strand on Redondo Beach. I saw the billboard advertising the gig and I remember doing a double-take and thinking… THE Booker T & The MGs? Oh yes!

Booker T Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass and Anton Fig on drums. I was living the dream.

It was dark, it was smoky, it was emotional and everything I hoped it would be. I’ve seen Dylan and The Who in their later years and they bored me shitless. I was faintly nervous going in, but on that stage Booker T & The MGs were still the ultimate groove. That ‘60s sound was alive and totally happening. Green Onions, Time Is Tight, Hip Hug Her, Soul Limbo, Melting Pot… zero disappointment, maximum R&B.

The Jam – ‘The Gift’

If I had to pick my favourite album by The Jam I’d have to go for All Mod Cons, but as a pre-pubescent 12-year old it came a few years too early. By 1982 and with my schooldays coming to an end, The Gift was The Jam’s sixth and final long-player and whilst not their finest, there were new sounds and new influences that felt fresh, leading to a voyage way beyond its eleven tracks.

Soul and Motown had already become regular visitors to my turntable, but The Gift introduced me to a whole new scene. I was about to discover northern soul. Weller was never shy of nicking a riff, and with Trans-Global Express he could be accused of daylight robbery. I had little knowledge of northern, and much less than that of World Column’s pounding So Is The Sun, but I, like many others I sourced Weller’s inspiration and used it as my own.

The Gift, in patches, was heavy on the funk, none more so than on Precious, a double A-side single with soul-stomper Town Called Malice and the band’s third UK No.1 single. With northern, funk and stabs of jazz appearing for the first time, it was an album less immediate than its predecessor Sound Affects, but more an exciting, eclectic mix of new, old sounds. Weller was clearly getting into his early mod roots, seeking out the jazz riffs and digging the French café culture. This was Weller’s first foray into a different kind of early 80s new romantic.

Whilst Weller was delving further into his mod roots and broadening The Jam’s sound he was still a master of writing a classic, and Carnation was up there with his best. Beautiful, inward looking and riddled with self-doubt, it struck a chord with my ever-growing shy and introverted softer side. Then, to counter that emotion I would crank up the volume to the max to bring in the album’s rousing finale, The Gift. Then I’d play it again, and again almost as if to instil its positive message and can do attitude to ward off my self-doubt and shyness. Not for the first time and certainly not the last Weller was shaping my outlook on life and the way I lived it.

“Move – move – I’ve got the gift of life
Can’t you see it in the twinkle of my eye
I can’t stand up and I can’t sit down
I gotta keep movin’ – I gotta keep movin’
All the time that gets wasted hating
Why don’t you move together and make your heart feel better”

– The Gift