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.

Santana – ‘Moonflower’

Now I’m in my fifties I like to think of myself as musically open-minded. As the decades passed and my juvenile prejudices departed, I opened up to music I’d previously derided. That said, everyone has their personal likes and dislikes, and for most of my fifty odd years I’ve had an aversion to what I’m going to lazily call hair metal (let’s choose Whitesnake as an example) with shit songs full of fake sentiment. Similarly and around the same time guitar virtuosos like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen, whilst being technically brilliant, did not make music to or for my ears. Too much posturing and not enough soul. But that’s just me.

So, I say all that because Carlos Santana can gurn and throw rock god shapes with the best of them, posing with aplomb. But – and that’s a huge and very important but – he emanates soul and radiates sincerity. In 1989 I’ve no idea how Santana’s Moonflower came to me, but when it found me it blew me away. Released in 1977 it’s an epic, full-blown, four-sided spiritual voyage into a carnival fusion of rock, latin and jazz. Part live, part studio, it felt so warm I would hug the glorious, gatefolded beauty as I played it.

The three live tracks on side one: Carnaval, Let The Children Play and Jugando were new musical territory for me. I loved the euphoric and uplifting sound, like a fifteen piece band of amigos in full flow, rhythmically and magically in perfect harmony. I’ll Be Waiting followed the euphoria and is a perfect example of Carlos Santana radiating soul and sincerity. Just gorgeous. Side two continued the transcendental theme, but then somehow side three found another notch, somewhere in the clouds.

Santana’s version of The Zombie’s She’s Not There is unreal, with the mix of Carlos’ phenomenal guitar, wailing keys and electrifying percussion taking the song to a different world. We’re brought back down to heaven on earth with the sublime Flor d’Luna (Moonflower), only to be sent back sky high with Soul Sacrifice/Head, Hands & Feet, a 14 minute live jam and simply one of the best live instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Graham Lear’s drumming is astounding, but then so is everything. Virtuoso overload.

For me, sides one and three wore out my needle. The other two were great, and Moonflower ends with Savor/Toussaint l’Overture, another outpouring of Latin dynamism and flair, but the album rarely got a start to finish play in all of its near 90 minute glory. I was lucky enough to see Santana a couple of years later at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, but that’s another story…

Led Zeppelin – ‘Led Zeppelin II’

As the years went by bands and artists were being discovered at a rapid rate. With many it was just a matter of time, and some inexplicably took longer than others. Even after obsessing over music for forty years there are plenty I feel like I’ve missed out on, but some voices, or songs, or albums, despite repeat listens just don’t grab you, or just don’t grab you enough to persevere. Bruce Springsteen would be the most obvious of many for me, but who knows… there’s still plenty of time. At 22 years old I’d waited long enough to sink into Led Zeppelin, but when I did I went full tilt.

I bought Led Zep I, II, III and IV in quick succession, I’m not sure in what order, but I do know II was my pick of the bunch. Just. The iconic Whole Lotta Love set the tone, and immediately it was obvious (though I think I already knew) that this was four musicians at the top of their game; musicians who were borrowing from the past, but piling the groove, rock and psychedelia on to the blues. And boy, were they piling it on. Led Zep II was a gloriously heavy musical boogie, with a beautiful stench of 1969.

I could listen to Led Zeppelin II just for John Bonham’s drumming. In fact, if I could pick an all-star line up of vocals, guitar, bass and drums, Bonham would be on the sticks. He just had it all, and had it in spades. John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page would come close to that group too, but that’s a whole different story. With Led Zep, for me it was all about the feel. Songs like What Is And What Should Never Be, Heartbreaker, Ramble On and Moby Dick would ebb and flow, with dramatic, screeching peaks pouring into deep, meandering troughs. Watching live footage of those early performances shows mastery and as much sexual energy as Plant’s pants could muster. All four were killing it.

Throughout my later years, when I’d deny ever having been a mod, many who knew me would titter at that suggestion. I’d DJ’d at sixties/mod clubs and soul nights, owned vintage Vespas and obsessed over Weller, soul and watched Quadrophenia more times than I can remember. Now, I love almost everything about the mod movement, but can a mod love Led Zeppelin? With all that leather and long hair? And Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Santana just around the corner? Now mod is far more than the music, but I always felt my musical and cultural tastes expanded at an early age, and felt it unnecessary to label myself.

Whatever. For me 1988 was Rumours, Moondance and a whole lotta Led Zeppelin. And the gym. Listening to Heartbreaker roll seamlessly into Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman) takes me right back to mixtapes and slogging up hills with my Walkman. Sweat and Led Zeppelin. A rightful mix.

The Police – ‘Reggatta De Blanc’

The Police made great singles. I’d loved the three or four before Message In A Bottle and Walking On The Moon, but it was those in particular who made me part with my hard-earned paperboy pennies for this full length stunner. I played it to death, and not too soon after its predecessor Outlandos D’Amour.

It was around this time that I became overly concerned about my looks, my clothes, hair and my ability, or lack of, to attract the opposite sex. I was a playground playboy at kiss-chase when I was 10 or 11, but that early promise had faded badly through my early teens. I loved the mod look and the 2-Tone attire, but then these guys came along with random clobber and floppy fringes and when you obsess over an album and stare at its cover the image sinks in to your psyche. I plumped for sta-prest trousers and Argyll jumpers and a mid length mop. And random glasses. And a brace. Cool.

Reggatta De Blanc was the first album I remember where my focus was on the rhythm, the blend of reggae and rock, and i became aware of an ability to use of my hands as percussive instruments. Tracks It’s Alright For You, Reggatta De Blanc and No Time This Time sparked my love of a groovy drummer, and there weren’t many better than Stewart Copeland. Sting was cool, but in late 1980 I wanted to be a drummer. I wanted to be Stewart Copeland.

Thirty years later I’d be promoting gigs, managing live music venues, running rehearsal studios and I’d be surrounded by a bounty of instruments. I’d love to say I can play, but despite having rhythm, I have little patience and an inability to use both hands and both feet at the same time. I’ve also got long fingers but little dexterity. These are actually all shit excuses for really giving up too quickly, but soon I’d become a DJ… and that was good enough for me for the next thirty years.

I have a dreamy legion of musical memories from my teenage years, and constantly flipping this vinyl gem in my bedroom whilst hammering out its kaleidoscopic groove is right up there. Since my twenties I’ve had a love affair with France. Maybe Reggatta De Blanc and Outlandos D’Amour planted seeds. But then again, non.