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The new book exploring Paul Weller's musical career

The new book exploring Paul Weller's musical career

From breaking music barriers with The Jam and The Style Council to achieving solo success, Paul Weller has had quite the career, which new book Magic explores in detail

Paul Weller’s musical career has been defined by a singular need to keep moving and breaking fresh ground.

The Mod icon split The Jam at the height of their fame to break new barriers with the genre-defying The Style Council before embarking on a still prolific and vibrant thirty-year solo career. Weller, who recently turned 65, has pursued an ever-evolving career path encompassing sixties guitar pop, punk and new wave sensibilities, soul, R&B, jazz, classical, electronica and much more besides. This almost unmatched need for sonic evolution finds its equivalences only in David Bowie and his childhood heroes The Beatles.

"Weller’s musical career has been defined by a singular need to keep moving and breaking fresh ground"

But at the heart of Weller’s odyssey is classic songwriting: his ability to convey a feeling or a mood and to speak for a generation. It’s that gift he explores in his new book Magic: A Journal of Song. Published by Genesis Publications, it offers an unprecedented insight into his creative process, collecting more than 100 lyrics from across 28 albums, accompanied by an illuminating commentary of over 25,000 words.

As told to journalist and author, Dylan Jones, Magic presents Weller’s most candid and intimate account of his musical life to date, the definitive document of his songwriting career.

Paul Weller

Photo courtesy of Genesis Publications

Magic is an apposite title. Weller writes: “Sometimes I don’t have the words until we actually go into the studio, or maybe I’ve written the night before, as they’ve just come to me. Sometimes it can take months to get where I want to. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but then that’s the beauty of it as well. The whole creative process is magic. That’s what it is. Magic.

“There is talent and there is skill, but there’s a certain amount of magic attached to songwriting. You never know where it comes from and why should you? It’s enough that it’s happened. And if you knew where it came from it would take all the fun out of it. Out of frustration comes something special. Sometimes when you’ve finished it feels as though it’s always been there.”

Early inspirations

Weller talks about his teenage forays into songwriting, copying songs by The Beatles, The Kinks and The Zombies, before finding his feet as his musicianship grew. It was only by The Jam’s third album All Mod Cons he felt he had got to grips with his trade.

Weller’s character studies and vignettes often evoked The Kinks and it is no surprise to read not only was Ray Davies a huge influence on Weller’s development as a songwriter, but his snapshots of life like Waterloo Sunset also left their lyrical mark.

Paul Weller

Photo courtesy of Genesis Publications

He took a keen interest in the surrealism of Liverpool beat poet Adrian Henri, prompting him to write songs in a less linear fashion. Inspired too by Shelley he wanted to show that poetry wasn’t just for the highbrow and attempted to do something lyrically that had a different rhythm and structure from normal pop material.

Indeed, it’s striking how many of his lyrics started life as poems, something that frees him from writing in a traditional verse/chorus/bridge format.

Increasingly Weller became interested in social injustice and felt driven to write about Thatcherism, notably on the Style Council’s biggest-selling album Our Favourite Shop, nailing his colours firmly to the resistance against the deeply divisive Conservative government.

"It’s striking how many of his lyrics started life as poems"

Alongside anthemic generational Jam classics, Weller has written many much-loved ballads like the Style Council’s "You’re The Best Thing", but reveals he was so embarrassed by the tender "English Rose", he didn’t want it on All Mod Cons. It was eventually included on the record but unlisted on the cover.

He became more comfortable writing gentler, more heartfelt material during the Style Council years, something he attributes in part to age but also a desire to hear new sounds, recounting listening to Nina Simone, “the antithesis of loud guitar rock, with softer, more sombre settings”—yet with “a lot of quiet anger”.

The need to keep moving

Time and again the book explores his need to keep moving and not repeat a successful formula. The Jam’s first number one "Going Underground" was the epitome of the band’s recognisable sound, but the next album Sound Affects was very different, angular, jagged, with unexpected arrangements and more abstract lyrics.

Weller writes about his decision to end The Jam in 1982, a seemingly counterintuitive move. By this time, he was reconnecting with soul music and despite introducing elements of this sound on the Jam’s later works, he felt the band was too structured to allow him to pursue it fully. The Style Council would offer him the freedom to reinvent himself on almost a daily basis.

With Solid Bond Studios as his own personal playground, he played with a range of influences from Romantic classicists to jazz to American house.

Paul Weller early solo career

Photo courtesy of Genesis Publications

Left to chart his own course through the Eighties, his record company finally pulled the plug on the Style Council, refusing to issue their final album Modernism. Weller began a new period of reinvention as the Nineties dawned. He admits that having worked with sequencers on Modernism he had not written songs for a few years when work started on his debut solo album. Something that had always felt so natural took a long time to come back, although it was an important learning period.

He moved towards a more traditional form of songwriting, drawing on the more organic sounds of Steve Winwood’s Traffic. The timing was apt as he helped kickstart a decade that would be driven by guitar music. He talks about the "Britpop" era as a generational moment, a “last hooray for British guitar music".

His first solo album met with mixed reviews and, determined to prove critics wrong, he emerged with a pair of classics in Wild Wood and Stanley Road, the latter named after the location of his childhood home in Woking, showing a return to and nostalgia for his personal and musical roots. On a roll, he realised there was an audience for his solo work, which spurred him on to further success.

Struggles with fame and a creative renaissance

He is very candid about his struggles with fame as the Nineties wore on and his issues with drink and drugs—the “duality of success and sadness”. More happily, he writes about his decision to give up alcohol in 2010 and the personal happiness he has found.

The 21st century saw another creative renaissance. As Dylan Jones notes, artists are not meant to have more than one imperial phase, but with 2008’s classic 22 Dreams—recorded as a 50th birthday present for himself—Weller entered another golden era that shows no sign of ending.

"Weller entered another golden era that shows no sign of ending"

A sprawling, eclectic double album that has drawn comparisons with The BeatlesWhite Album, 22 Dreams was intended to be self-indulgent, but fans and critics loved it. Its composer concludes: “It proved to me yet again that you’ve really got to go through life pleasing yourself.”

From the experimentation of Mercury-nominated Wake Up The Nation, Sonik Kicks and Saturns Pattern to the stripped-back acoustic beauty of True Meanings, to the soulful On Sunset, Weller continues to push forward. His work rate still puts others to shame. 2021’s Fat Pop emerged just nine months after On Sunset. He is aware many artists made great early albums and tailed off. Maybe, he ponders, he cares more now because he was “not as good” when he first started.

The magic, though, remains. He concludes: “I can be scratching around at home on an acoustic guitar, or singing a funny little idea into my phone and all of a sudden it becomes a beautiful, fully-fledged song. And I’m asking myself, how did we do that again? I still find that fascinating. It’s magic.”

Magic A Journal of Song Paul Weller

Magic: A Journal of Song is widely available now, published by Genesis Publications. It is illustrated with more than 450 photographs, including both never-before-seen images and iconic shoots chronicling Weller in historic performances, rehearsals, video shoots, and studio sessions

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