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.

Paul Weller – ‘Paul Weller’

The last Style Council album I bought was Our Favourite Shop in 1985. I loved it. I didn’t bother with Home And Abroad, the ’96 live album, and by the time The Cost Of Loving came out in the next year my near ten-year obsession with Paul Weller was over. The bland, sickly slick faux-soul was not for me. Ditto next year’s Confessions Of A Pop Group. By ‘90 and with no more Style Council, Paul Weller was no more on my mind, especially as I was otherwise engaged somewhere in a van in Europe. 1991 was the same, except swap Europe for the USA. But, whilst I was finding myself overseas, Paul Weller was finding his musical mojo having lost it somewhere he didn’t really belong. And find it he most certainly did.

I bought Paul Weller’s self-titled debut solo album at the tail end of ’92 whilst living in Dublin, a city with the same energy, spirit and passion as that fantastic comeback album. The Paul Weller Movement was the start, re-introducing Steve White on the sticks, and Brendan Lynch as a mixer, co-producer and beat-king. Weller had released Into Tomorrow in ’91 and my interest was instantly alerted. Uh Huh, Oh Yeh and Above The Clouds were released in ‘92 heightening my interest so by the time Paul Weller was released later that year I was all ears. I couldn’t wait.

Going into 1993 dance music was dominating everything. House, techno, garage, RnB, hip-hop and all sorts of cheese was stinking out the charts. Britpop was about to kick-off and shake shit up. Weller must’ve felt something in the air because his solo debut was perfectly timed, riding the wave of the blossoming acid jazz scene, and bands like Suede, Saint Etienne, Pulp and Blur who were making new music; a new British sound with more than a nod to the ‘60s. Paul Weller fitted right in, blending and mix of mellow and acid jazz rhythms with heavy riffs and, thank fuck, that forgotten Weller attitude and swagger. Most importantly, he was writing great songs again.

The singles set the tone with Above The Clouds perfectly easy groove matching the riff-heavy Into Tomorrow. Steve White was a brilliant blast of energy and skill with Bull-Rush, Round And Round, Amongst Butterflies and Bitterness Rising showcasing his prowess, and with the dubby trip-fest closer Kosmos the album felt brilliantly of its time. At the time for me these 12 tracks were more than a launch pad to Weller’s solo career, they recaptured my belief in the man himself, and when you’ve believed in an artist as much as I and a nation of other teenagers had done ten years earlier, that felt huge. It felt like our hero had returned.

New Model Army – ‘Vengeance’

With new friends came new musical influences and an ever-growing political awareness. Thatcher was at her full-tilt worst during the miner’s strike, backed up by her fully armed police ‘boot boys’. Mentally and morally impacted by the likes of Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, the Glastonbury CND Festival, the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, Paul Weller and Billy Bragg, my views were well to the left.

Someone must have mentioned New Model Army to me. I think it was Martin Common. Martin also introduced a few of us to something else at the time, and boy did we laugh. Aged 18 my gig history was limited to say the least, but I’d heard enough of, and about New Model Army to go to Bournemouth Town Hall to see them play as part of the Vengeance tour.

I was getting into jazz and reading Roger McGough and Billy Patten. I had never been a punk or anything near. So, the memory of entering that hall and seeing a sea of punks looking twice my age will stay with me forever, heightened massively when NMA let rip. I was literally blown away by the ferocity, the intensity and the anger, and lead singer/guitarist ‘Slade The Leveller’ had me transfixed. I was almost too in awe to take it all in, but I know I had to find out more, so I bought their mini-album Vengeance.

New Model Army reeked of anti-authority and anti-establishment. They were fucking intense. The album is immense from start to finish; I was aware it was louder, angrier, heavier and a huge musical diversion from what I’d been listening to. But I loved it, and played it LOUD. The chunky as fuck, thudding bass demanded it. Lyrically it had plenty to inspire me, and choruses to intoxicate…

“Is it a crime to want something else?
Is it a crime to believe in something different?
Is it a crime to want to make things happen?
To spit in the faces of the cynical fools”

– Smalltown England

“I believe in justice,
I believe in vengeance,
I believe in getting the bastard”

– Vengeance

From the caustic opener Christian Militia and that trademark pounding bass, Vengeance is brilliantly relentless. New Model Army contributed massively to my rapidly expanding musical appreciation and social conscience. If there’s ever an album that encapsulates the feeling of the social disorder at the time, it’s Vengeance.

Everything But The Girl – ‘Eden’

If there’s an album that brings back memories of 1984, my time in Christchurch in a new flat, with new friends, an ever-growing social scene and a Weller-inspired (who else) foray into jazz, it’s the sublime Eden by Everything But The Girl. Three jazz-juiced albums were released around this time which tickled my French fancy: The Style Council had introduced Café Bleu to a mixed reaction amongst Jam fans, and with Working Week’s Working Nights and La Varieté by Weekend, a smoky waft of French accordion café culture was the new thing.

We took this new thing seriously, seeking out a weekly modern jazz club in some remote country pub. We dressed up sharp, we applauded after each solo, and we were very European. I have never smoked cigs, but I was probably tempted just to complete the look. This was summer time, we were hip young cats who took boat trips in blazers along Christchurch quay, and we listened to Eden.

From the opening soothing brass, gentle rhythm and Tracy Thorn’s exquisite vocals…

“If you ever feel the time to drop me a loving line,
maybe you should just think twice,
I don’t wait around on your advice.”

…the tone is set. Each and Every One is a perfect opener; a beautiful, understated jazz groove with Tracy Thorn’s seemingly effortless, perfect tone. Everything on the album feels restrained and authentic, musically and lyrically, exploring the labyrinth of love’s complexities. Ben Watt and Tracy Thorn looked shy and unassuming, which to me made a pleasant change from most popsters from ’84, swaying gently, almost awkwardly with no hint of attitude.

At not long past 30 minutes Eden’s 12 tracks are packed sweetly tight. Another Bridge, Frost and Fire and the gorgeous Bittersweet evoke immensely nostalgic memories of exciting times. I was growing up fast amongst special friends. Gary, Simon, Lisa, Simon… thank you, those were the best of days.