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LIVE REPORT: Paul Weller
Andy Thomas , October 28th, 2013 08:17

Andy Thomas takes a trip down Mod memory lane when he goes to see Paul Weller play a rare intimate gig at the Wolverhampton Civic

Almost 35 years ago today I looked onto this same stage to a band that would change my life. I had been taken by an older brother to see The Jam at Wolves Civic, my first gig as a little 12-year-old caught up in the mod revival. My ubiquitous Fred Perry and desert boots tying me to a culture that would never leave me, and a man who would guide me through my teenage years. I have an almost cinematic memory of Paul Weller's paisley shirt and bowling shoes emerging through the adolescent fog, as the psychedelic hue of 'Butterfly Collector' bathed the stage.

I wasn't just to follow Weller's dress sense (despite the scarcity of Paisley shirts in the shops of the Midlands) but to hang on to his every word. Song lyrics and NME interviews were dissected for clues to this exciting and urbane, metropolitan world. Steve Marriott, George Orwell, Gil Scott-Heron, Percy Bysshe Shelley - the list of reference points made my teenage mind dizzy and eager to learn more.

At the same time I had found my tribe, a group of young, sharply dressed dreamers fuelled by testosterone and teenage rebellion. There was almost something religious (if sometimes violent) about The Jam concerts by the time of the Trans Global Unity tour in 1982. A few years ago I came across this incredible film of the Birmingham Bingley Hall leg of that tour (and found myself amongst the crowd!)

It captures the pure energy and wild abandon of those concerts. Not an iPhone camera in sight of course, instead a crowd of very young, passionate kids schooled on their older brothers punk albums and Tamla Motown 7"s but now part of their own thing.

I've been thinking about those kids and the paths they have taken on my way back to Wolverhampton. As I look around The Civic, I wonder how many of this crowd were there for that Setting Sons gig. The number of XL Fred Perry's and silver feather cuts makes me think there might be more than a handful. I also wonder how many of these ageing Jam fans have stuck with Weller all along the way. Despite being No.6 in The Style Council fan club, I lost Weller somewhere between Stanley Road and the triumvirate of LPs (22 Dreams, Wake Up The Nation and Sonik Kicks) that have brought him new critical acclaim. It was really Wake Up The Nation that carried me back to my former idol, and it's the storming title track that signals his arrival tonight. Dressed in a simple John Smedley crew neck he looks well, despite the heavy cold that has followed him on this tour. It's been a tour that Weller designed himself around some of his favourite smaller venues he played with The Jam. And the intimacy of The Civic adds to the power of the opening barrage of 'Wake Up The Nation' and 'From the Floorboards Up'.

Weller's band, including long time associate Steve Craddock as well as two drummers, has an earthy and edgy sound that suits the soulful intensity of their leader. Hardly pausing for breath, Weller grabs another guitar and launches into 'Sunflower'. It's a weighty rendition of one of the high points of his solo career, sounding even more powerful tonight than when we first heard it open his Wildwood LP 20 years ago now.

It was always his phrasing as much as his words that made Weller sound as if he was speaking directly to us. It's certainly the case as he delivers the opening lines of 'Sunflower': "I don't care how long this lasts, we have no future, we have no past." It's good to see the scowl we all loved back when he was spitting lyrics about class war is still there, but he is clearly enjoying his return to the Civic. As he slows things down on the opening strains of 'Sea Spray' he cracks the first of many smiles.

It's a joyous and extended version of the standout track from 22 Dreams, the album that began his new direction. "It's great to be back," he tells the crowd as the opening organ riff of 'Ever Changing Moods' fills the hall. The only track from his Style Council days provides a nice segue into the first track from Sonik Kicks a heavy version of 'The Attic'. There's a great pace and diversity to the set tonight, as Weller dips into tracks from his many LPs, including a crowd rousing 'Friday Street' and a psych tinged version of 'Porcelain Gods'.

There are also tracks I'd forgotten like 'Above The Clouds' a ballad from his debut LP. Thirty years from that solo opening Weller has entered his deepest musical phase, one that is epitomised in the kaleidoscopic 'Dragonfly'. He leaves the crowd waiting for the first Jam track with 'Start' turned into a heavy slab of soul rock. After an 18 song set the band has earned a break. They are soon back dressed in multi-coloured Prisoner capes and launching a huge bouncing ball over the crowd for the first of two encores. This includes a stunning version of 'Picking Up Sticks' from one of Weller's lesser regarded LP's Heliocentric. Cries of "Weller, Weller" draw the band back onto the stage, closing the night with a rousing 'Town Called Malice', the words carrying as much meaning now as they did to this young dreamer more than three decades ago.