The Modfather discusses The Jam and his new solo career in this 1993 NME archive piece
It’s a long way from In The City to Wild Wood, but then one record was made by a callow 17-year-old and the other by a man settling uncomfortably into middle age. Gone are the fervently expressed political ideologies – not ditched for the benefit of mainstream pop audiences, but stacked away in a dusty corner of his mind. During the ’80s, if you had an ounce of conscience within your soul, you pinned your political colours to the mast. The Style Council were initially applauded for taking songs like “Walls Come Tumbling Down” into the Top 10. But as Thatcherism gradually demolished the opposition, Weller and co became whipping boys for the Labour Party’s abject failure to galvanise young voters through the Red Wedge movement. In retrospect, the notion that a motley crew of bright young things could have moved the immovable seems faintly ridiculous – but they were very different times. Now they’re just desperate. Either way, Weller has now adopted a more organic approach to his work. Although he believes that some of his later stuff with The Jam and early Council tracks were streets ahead of his contemporaries, he now adopts the no-frills approach.
“There’s really no point getting wrapped up with worrying about an image,” he sighs, “or what the NME thinks about me. All that ‘spokesman for a generation’ bullshit – it just got to a ridiculous stage. There was a time with The Style Council around ’85 when we were doing press conferences and people would ask, ‘What do you think of Maggie Thatcher?’ and, ‘What are you going to do about the Tory party?’ – all these heavy-duty political questions.
“We were just in a fuckin’ band for chrissakes! It wasn’t entirely the press’ fault because, to a certain extent, it was my own doing. And I’m really out of my depth on that, I think. I really believe more and more that I’m just good at what I do. Playing guitar, singing songs and that’s about it. People who look for more than that are going to be disappointed, to be quite honest. But I’ve come to terms with that.
“It’s not to say that I’ve reneged on all those things – that’s a different matter. The fact that I’m not writing about them any more doesn’t mean I don’t feel them or think them. I just don’t feel right writing about politics or social issues. My attitude might change, but at the moment it doesn’t come naturally to me.”
If there’s one clear link to the past on Wild Wood, it’s that Weller continues to dabble with childhood images. It’s the kind of fragile tie to the early days that both Weller and his fans find such a rich source of inspiration. The title track itself is inspired by memories of the dense woodland that surrounds his home town of Woking. It’s the kind of song he feels most comfortable with. “‘Wild Wood’ is all about these magical memories I have from when I was a kid,” he explains. “‘The Place I Love’ on All Mod Cons is a bit like that, too. ‘Monday’ on Sound Affects, ‘Boy About Town’ – those are the songs I like now. I can relate to those images more so than ‘Going Underground’ because that was just how I felt at one point in time.
“There was a period, particularly during the early days of The Style Council, when I just couldn’t listen to Jam songs. But when Polydor sent me a tape of Extras to check through (last year’s Jam B-sides and outtakes compilation), it kind of made me feel nostalgic. I started digging out some of the old records, listening to them in a totally different way. Getting into them because they were good records, not just because I had something to do with them. I enjoyed that experience and I found there were a lot of good songs I’d turned my back on. But I still feel uncomfortable playing some of them. I’ll get a verse or two in and then I’ll find two lines of a lyric that I can’t really sing anymore because they’re so badly written. I have a problem playing songs I don’t feel completely confident about. I have done it, but I don’t like it.”