You can hear Paul Weller and his band a good few minutes before you see them. But then again, on an otherwise empty Wimbledon industrial estate in mid-November, there aren’t many competing noises. Directions on a text message – right now only Weller’s texting is more prolific than his musical output – won’t be needed. “The world’s oblique”, rasps a voice that few British ears could mistake. “It’s Saturn’s turn/Cut it clean/The pattern’s good”. If there are better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than an (almost) private preview of Weller’s first gigs in over two years, then Uncut can’t call them to mind right now. Dressed in brown merino sweater, blue jeans and chestnut loafers, Weller and his band are a third of the way through a set whose oldest song, “That’s Entertainment”, entered the British chart on the same week as Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime” and Joe Dolce’s “Shaddap You Face”.
Within minutes of its famous staccato intro, a combustibly charged rendition of “Shout To The Top” is blown into the blue by a stellar sax solo from Jacko Peake. Back in 1993, it was Peake’s woodwind ornamentation on the Wild Wood album that underscored comparisons between the resurgent Weller and folk-soul legends such as Terry Callier and Jon Lucien. Indeed, these are the names that most readily come to mind when Weller leads his band into the contemplative terrain of his recent albums: 2018’s True Meanings, 2020’s On Sunset and the acclaimed lockdown labours of this year’s Fat Pop Volume 1. As Weller sings “Aspects” – a song from the first of those records – your gaze is somehow alerted to the sight of Weller’s veteran ex-tour manager Kenny Wheeler. Now the sole survivor of the Jam years, Wheeler is utterly transported by the acoustic reverie being played out by the singer who was still in his teens when he first started working for him. The spell is broken for all by the words that resound from Weller’s mouth on the song’s concluding chord.
“AWOIGHT PETE!” he bellows at me from 50 feet away. “HOW YOU DOIN’?! THERE’S SANDWICHES IN THAT ROOM!”
Moments later, it’s decreed that this is as good a time as any for a break, which is just as well. Run-throughs like this are as much for the benefit of Weller’s wardrobe as his musicianly chops, and the singer has decided that these shoes aren’t going to make the grade. Wandering over to the packing cases that house his wardrobe, he picks out a box-fresh pair of Converse hi-tops and jumps up and down a few times to assess their “springiness”. If any of his Jam and Style Council threads were in here, he’d comfortably fit into those, too. Since his mid-forties, he’s been enjoying regular workouts with his personal trainer Shane – in the gym at first, but since lockdown they’ve been strictly Zoom affairs, which suits this client just fine. “None of that fucking boom bang-a-bang music going on in the background,” he elaborates, before pitching a new business idea to no-one in particular. “Wouldn’t it be great if you had a gym where you actually had decent music to work out to? I mean, it ain’t got to be shit, has it? It could be, like, Little Richard! Stick on his Greatest Hits and you’re sorted! Or The Undisputed Truth. A bit of Norman Whitfield. Or The Dells. Do you know “Wear It On Our Face”? You could either do 500 crunches to that one or happily die trying.”