A FUNNY thing happened to Paul Weller on the way to Swindon... his tour bus got stuck in a country lane near Chippenham, wedged in for 45 minutes on a scenic detour from the previous night’s show in Plymouth.
Which is why I’m at the bar at the Oasis instead of talking to the Modfather, who is pounding through a late sound-check in the arena below. Twenty minutes later he shrugs off the incident with a grin. “I dunno, you can’t get the staff...” Looking as fit as any man of 56 has a right to, Weller is one gig into a tour of towns and cities “often missed by bigger artists” which will take him to the likes of Carlisle, Halifax and Scunthorpe.
He says: “It’s just nice to come out and do these places. For a lot of people a UK tour is six big venues. It’s too easy to forget about the other places.”
A cavernous sports hall like the Oasis isn’t, perhaps, the greatest of venues. Does he mind? “I hate it, I hate it…I ******* love it, mate...”
He goes on: “It’s what people do to a venue. You try to transform it into something else. You make it yours for the night.” Asked whether he got the same kick out of live work as he did during the frenetic early years of The Jam he responds: “Probably get more of a buzz now than I did 40 years ago.
“I just love playing music. It’s my life. It’s immediate, the reaction is immediate. I’ve been doing it since I was 14.”
By my reckoning Friday’s show was his fifth in Swindon, including a couple with The Jam during the late Seventies. “We played here back in the day, we played some little club here, I dunno what it’s called.”
It was the Brunel Rooms. I mention I was at both gigs and on one occasion, saw him and bass player Bruce Foxton jump into the crowd and bash a few Wiltshire heads for spitting before resuming the set.
But Paul is having nothing none of it. It didn’t happen, he says. “That’s what it is mate, folklore.”
With a dozen solo albums, crammed with nuggets, how does he choose what to perform? “It’s difficult really, like you say, so many songs. Generally, we have a massive list of songs.
“At rehearsals we go through them, see what we’re feeling, what works at the time. There’s brand new songs and songs we haven’t done for a long time “People say I don’t play many old songs but Changing Man is 20 years old now, and things like Kosmos and Into Tomorrow [from the first Paul Weller album] are 23 years old.”
The new material is from a soon-to-be-released 12th album, Saturn’s Patterns, which, says one report, features some “bonkers” moments. “There a few little bonkers bits on it. At the end of the day there are good tunes on it, good melodies, good songs.”
Weller fans, I suggest, would be surprised if there weren’t any surprises in store. “It’s nice to have surprises in life, we all like surprises.
“I am just trying to push myself forward. See where else I can go with music. After all these years, there’s still other places to go.”
Weller’s 2008 epic 22 Dreams – one of the finest British rock albums of the decade – saw him explore a raft of new directions which has become, I offer, his ethos ever since.
“I guess it has...I think it opened up other musical possibility for me which kind of set me on a different course, in terms of working methods, writing process. I am trying to find new ways of doing it, to keep it interesting for me really.”
It must be gratifying that Weller shows attract audiences of all ages, not just old guys like me... “or me,” he says. I’m especially thinking of a glorious sunlit show at Westonbirt Arboretum a couple of summers ago.
“It’s brilliant, it’s pan-generation. A lot of young kids come and sometimes they come with their mums and dads which is great. It’s wicked, I love that.” Loving it every bit as much as his fans.
“HOW lovely it is to be back in Swindon,” says Paul Weller as he surveys the Oasis sports hall, which is jam-packed to the rafters in a gig that sold out virtually in the blink of an eye several months ago.
While a straggle of touts try to off-load the last of their tickets in near freezing conditions, Weller and his well-drilled band begin at the very beginning… Uh Huh Oh Yeh.
First track, first album – “Dear reminders of who I am/The very roots upon which I stand” – found Paul Weller in 1992 looking back but looking forward to a solo career now in its 23rd year.
It sets the tone for the evening – 24 songs in two hours, a sparkling over-view of post-Jam, post-Style Council soul-fuelled rock.
A smattering of new songs (I’m Where I Should Be, These City Streets, Long Time) from his forthcoming 12th album, Saturn Patterns, sit easily alongside both well-known and lesser-aired tunes from previous records.
Wake Up The Nation is especially stirring, not that anyone here needs waking up as the man with the familiar iron grey barnet and matching grey T-shirt appears to be enjoying himself as much as any one of his fans in the throng.
Weller temporarily abandons guitar for the second set of encores, hunched over the piano for Broken Stones – one of four songs from the massive Stanley Road album – and Picking Up Sticks.