Paul Weller on missing gigs, writing his 16th solo album in isolation — and why Belfast gigs are so special
Paul Weller certainly put in a shift during lockdown. Rather than making banana bread, doing aerobics via Zoom or waiting on yet another Amazon delivery, the veteran musician managed to create his 16th solo album, Fat Pop Volume 1, immediately after its predecessor, On Sunset.
Safe to say it has been a prolific period for one of the UK’s most successful artists. As someone who has scored number one albums in five different decades and played countless shows with The Jam, The Style Council and as a solo artist, his work ethic remained resolute.
“I’ve never had that much time off before,” Weller tells me.
“I just thought I couldn’t sit around for a year and waste time, so I started working on new songs. Some of them were done remotely, I would send songs to the guys in my band and then they would add their parts and send them back to me but a lot of the album was recorded as live because when the lockdown restrictions were lifted last summer, we were able to get into a room together and jam songs through. So it’s been a bit of a mixture in that respect.”
That mixture represents some of Paul’s finest compositions in years. The experimental and catchy Cosmic Fringes leads the way for highlights such as the dramatic soul sound of The Pleasure, the epic Still Glides The Stream and the pure pop single Shades of Blue featuring the modfather’s daughter Leah on vocals — songs that in fact would not have been written had it not been for the constraints of the past 12 months .
He reveals: “I’d have been out on the road for a good year-and-a-half touring On Sunset, so these songs wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t even have been thinking about making another record. I was really looking forward to getting out and playing shows but since that wasn’t an option I decided to do the next best thing and make new music. I’m lucky that I have my own studio where I live so that was a big help.”
Having that studio to hand was indeed a major factor in facilitating new material but as Weller explains, the psychological implications were so much more important. Being able to physically immerse himself in a creative process at a time when everyone (including very famous musicians) found themselves in such an emotionally vulnerable predicament was a blessing.
“Music has been everything for me throughout my life, whether it’s informative, emotional or exciting. Music has always made me feel a whole range of emotions and has also always been very counselling for me in many ways,” he explains.
“I’ve found comfort and solace in both making music and listening to it over the years and it has always been a very good and consistent friend to me through various times in my life. In fact, I don’t think music gets enough credit for the positive effects it can have on our day-to-day lives and sometimes we don’t give it the value it deserves. I really think it is a far greater spiritual and cultural force than we give it credit for.”
With that in mind, Weller is itching to play live again to his army of fans. As the type of musician who firmly based his whole raison d’etre on standing in a tiny club or on an arena stage, guitar in hand, delivering his songs with pride and passion, performing live again is not just desirable — it’s essential.
“Yeah, I can’t wait to get back out and do a proper show. It feels so weird to me, man, to not be performing with the band and feeding off the crowd. I’ve never had this much time away from gigging and it’s made me reappraise the whole thing. It’s made me appreciate it more and be aware of this very visceral and physical thing that we do as musicians and how important it is to us. I’ve really missed that contact on stage with the band and, of course, the fans.”
The 62-year-old singer has very fond memories of performing in Northern Ireland and one venue in particular seems to have really struck a chord.
He recalls: “I’ve always had a great time playing in Belfast and I really like Custom House Square. The fact that it’s right in the city centre is great and the view from the stage is amazing. It feels like a really iconic location to perform in. I enjoyed playing there when it was part of Belsonic.
“I like the Ulster Hall as well, that’s a great gig too. The last time I played there it was excellent. The crowd was really up for it but they always are in Belfast. I kind of liken it to gigs that I’ve done in Scotland too — you can really feel the warmth from the audience and they play their part so much in making the shows so memorable. I can’t wait to get back to Belfast to do a gig again, it will be another night to remember.”