Into Tomorrow – Paul Weller and Me

BBC Four re-ran a 2006 retrospective of the career of Paul Weller before Christmas which caught my attention. The 90 minute cycle struck chords as much for its parallels with my own life as the music and Paul’s career to date. From The Jam, into The Style Council and onto various solo adventures through various music styles, Weller’s life also picked its way through world events which influenced my life, politics and musical tastes. That is not to say we were in sync; in fact, his musical and political leanings were in perfect opposition to my own growing pains and experiences. Paul and I finally came together with the release of Wild Wood in 1993 which for me became a singular musical experience – an album I played end-to-end and over-and-over.

Stepping back, the gently biographical presentation included lengthy contributions from his Mum and Dad and reflected his warm, Woking upbringing with the family support which underpinned his success. His father was his manager through the band years of Jam and TSC and a key figure in his life (John Weller sadly died last year). Some minor resonance with the likes of Ian Curtis whose stable, polite and pleasant background belied the angry-man stage presence which diffused Joy Division and which, likewise, became the subtitle for Weller’s Jam. As a writer, Weller majors on meaning before he tackles the melodies. His lyrics come first, followed by the score, whereas I was always captured by the music before I even considered the words.

I had bought or stolen most of the vinyl that The Jam released at the end of the 70s and the start of the 80s but, strangely, I am not sure that (then) I really liked it. More a product of my fascination with the Mod resurgence at the time, I remember preferring Two Tone and the softer influences of Ska than the harsher, Tory tones of the Jam. The band was pushed into politicisation – prompted to publicly support the Conservatives at the 1979 election. I was firmly a Callaghan fan as part of my emerging political awareness at 13 years old, and virtually distraught at the coming of Thatcher. Come the Falklands and the subsequent patriotic outpourings, Weller and I swapped sides again as he closed down The Jam and whistled up The Style Council. He changed and embraced a new musical and political ethos with the TSC coming out for the Labour Party, CND and other trendy, left-wing causes – and at the same time poncing ostentatiously round Paris. Keeping to our opposing life choices, I was writing teenage treatments in praise of monetarism and despairing at the naivete of nuclear disarmament, whilst discovering the softer delights of The Eagles, ELO and Steve Winwood. The contrasts continued as he moved into romantic stability with his TSC vocalist – the wonderful Dee C Lee – at a time when my Too Much, Too Young marriage was disintegrating following the birth of my son.

Characteristic of Paul Weller is that – musically anyway – he never looks back. And me ? Of course I beg to differ. I am rediscovering The Jam and loving them. Being at school in Slough and frequently competing with the privileged kids ‘up the road’, “Eton Rifles” always resonates and “Start!” gets me pogo-ing dangerously round the living room. Even hearing the occasional Style Council track prompts a degree of comfy nostalgia. Paul’s divorce and return to writing which prompted “Wild Wood” and then “Stanley Road” finally unites us. The programme revealed this later incarnation of Weller as mature, comfortable and relieved (that he still had ‘it’). Gone is the almost pompous posing of the TSC years, as are the shy, clipped stutterings of the younger man – Paul talks confidently and calmly to camera as a man who is enjoying life and sees his journey continuing.

“Into Tomorrow” then is all about my life as seen through the career of Paul Weller. I am convinced by this documentary that Paul is my best mate …. but we’ve never met. As opposites, we would probably punch each other. As fellow travellers through the 80s and 90s, we might perhaps just kick back and get pissed down the pub – bitching about Blair, laughing at Foot or Kinnock, and bemoaning Thatcher. Of course, I would ask the usual NME crap about Jam reunions, TSC justifications and Wild Wood influences. Weller would no doubt spit back with thinly disguised disdain and wry humour at my lack of cred; before we burst out laughing.

The programme content is compelling (and not just because of its parallels and contrasts with my own life). Director Stuart Watts and Editor Duncan Hill have cut together a charming stroll through Weller’s career which lacks any lofty pretence. It stops short of Studio 150 and 22 Dreams and hence could do with an update but for those like me who hanker for reminders of the 80s, well worth catching on iPlayer.