Moseley Souls

Daniel Rachel and Simon Fowler, back in the day, at The Jug of Ale, Moseley, Birmingham

It’s that time of year, when websites and magazines publish their Best Of lists – ours is coming soon.

When it comes to music books, one of the best and most entertaining we’ve read in 2022 is One For The Road: The Life & Lyrics of Simon Fowler & Ocean Colour Scene.

Written as a series of conversations between Simon Fowler, the frontman and chief songwriter of ’90s Britrockers, Ocean Colour Scene, and the author, Daniel Rachel, Simon’s former flatmate and lifelong friend, the biography, which centres on his lyrics from 69 songs, but weaves them into Simon’s life story and the highs and lows of the band – by the way, there are a lot of highs, and that’s just the drugs and booze – is a fascinating read.

Often very funny and sometimes poignant, it’s a very honest book that doesn’t shy away from documenting the excesses of the ’90s Britpop scene, but also deals with some serious issues, including Simon’s outing at the hands of The Sun newspaper. 

It reveals the stories behind the songs, as well as the people and the places that inspired them, like the music scene in Moseley, Birmingham, where both of the authors lived.

There are also over 200 personal photographs, lyrics to 13 unreleased songs, memorabilia and handwritten song words, as well as an exclusive 7in single featuring two songs recorded by Simon in 1986, The American Way of Life and I, captured on a portable tape recorder.

To celebrate the launch of the book, Daniel and Simon invited Say It With Garage Flowers to The Hawley Arms pub, in Camden, North London, for an exclusive interview.

One for the road, anyone?

Simon Fowler, Sean Hannam and Daniel Rachel at The Hawley Arms, Camden – December 2022.

Q&A

Was the way you approached the book, with it being based on song lyrics and how they relate to your life story, inspired by the McCartney book, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present?

Simon Fowler: It was, because the idea of doing ‘In the beginning…’ – we wouldn’t have been able to collaborate on that, because of my memory… There’s a lot of memorabilia in the book, too…

[To Daniel]: You have a good memory and you’ve collected a lot of stuff from Simon and Ocean Colour Scene over the years, haven’t you?

Daniel Rachel: That’s how it’s turned out, but I don’t remember doing it as systemically as that. I can remember Paul Simon saying that he went round to Bob Dylan’s house and Bob was walking around while Paul was just picking everything up and saying to himself, ‘Maybe I’ll find out the answer…’

To be honest, I thought it was really amazing what Ocean Colour Scene were doing as a band, and seeing the process happen during all the different stages. I always loved the music. The memories were imprinted on my mind because it was incredible what was happening in-front of my eyes. When you have those moments, you get photographic memories of them.

We were living together, and I’d said to Simon: ‘Have you got any tunes?’ He’d pick up a guitar, play me Get Blown Away and say, ‘What do you think?’

Your friendship goes back a long way – pretty much 40 years…

DR: Simon knew me when I was five, but I didn’t really know him – I knew his dad.

SF: Their family lived about three doors down.

 

[To Daniel]: There’s a story in the book where you say you can remember Simon staying up until the early hours of the morning, getting stoned and writing songs…

DR: That’s what everybody did in Moseley – Simon was one of quite a lot of people.

Was there not much else to do in Moseley?

DR: That’s why you’re in Moseley – because you’re into music, going down the pub, taking drugs and going to clubs. All the people that liked those things congregated and then they’d come back to our flat and everybody would pass around the guitar and play tunes. It just so happened that Simon was the best of the lot.

‘The book isn’t just about me and my songs. It’s also about our friendship and all of our gang. It’s a story’

When did you start working on the book?

DR: Simon phoned me up this year and said, ‘Do you fancy doing a book? I’ve read Macca’s one – why don’t we do it like that?’

SF: I think it was February.

So, it’s come together really quickly?

DR: Amazingly quickly – in the publishing world, that’s unheard of. My original idea was for it to just be Simon’s words.

SF: But it developed. The book isn’t just about me and my songs – that wouldn’t be as interesting. It’s also about our friendship and all of our gang. It’s a story.

It’s turned about being an autobiography, but via the songs…

SF: It has.

Why did you choose 69 songs?

DF: That was completely coincidental.

SF: [To Daniel]: Was it? I thought you were giving me a hint.

[Everyone laughs]

DR: I chose all the songs that I thought should be in it, then Simon said, ‘What I think is my best lyric isn’t in there.’ I said: ‘Oh dear – what’s your best lyric?’

He said it was Men Of Such Opinion. So that was added to it, and I think we lost one or two songs and the fact that it ended at 69 was arbitrary – there wasn’t a plan as to how many songs we’d have. What dictated it more was that the book was always going to be 288 pages. Also, I was born in 1969… when The Beatles were still going.

‘I couldn’t be arsed to be a mod. I just used to dress like Neil Young – jeans,  a Millets shirt and a leather jacket’

SF: I was born while The Beatles were still going and before we won the World Cup.

In 1965?

SF: Yeah

Picture: Featureflash Photo Agency, via Shutterstock.

[To Simon]: Growing up, you liked Bowie, Neil Young, Dylan and The Beatles, and you were into folk music, but Ocean Colour Scene got tagged as mods…

SF: Yeah – we did have that influence… Are The Beatles or The Stones a mod band? The Who weren’t really a mod band – The Small Faces were. The Who’s management turned them into a mod band. My first incarnation as a lead singer was stolen directly from The Who video, where there’s a lad who looks like Jean Seberg – I fancied him. It’s one of those single like I Can’t Explain… He’s wearing a Breton top, white trousers and desert boots.

DR: It’s when The Who are at Shepherd’s Bush in ’65 and there’s a lad dancing. The funny thing is, neither of us have ever been mods.

SF: I couldn’t be arsed to be a mod. I just used to dress like Neil Young – jeans,  a Millets shirt and a leather jacket.

DR: Simon was into The Kinks and The Who and those kind of bands – he just wasn’t dressing like a mod. The mod thing was how Steve Cradock [Ocean Colour Scene guitarist] dressed.

SF: He got that from Paul Weller.

In the early days of performing on stage, you were quite camp, weren’t you?

SF: I got that from Bowie.

DR: And Jagger.

SF: I was looking for some kind of release. I think the definition of camp was defined by George Melly. He said something like, ‘It’s a lie that tells the truth.’ In fact it’s in one of my songs…

DR: That’s from My Brother Sarah.

How was it going back through your memories and putting the book together? Was it fun or cathartic?

SF: It was great. What we did was Daniel used to come and stay at my house, which is in a village just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, and we’d get up at 10ish, have a cup of coffee and then at 10:30 we’d do two or three hours, then say we’d had enough. We’d go to my local boozer, where I’ve got my own table, and we’d do another two or three hours.

Structurally, it’s like Craig Brown’s book, M’am Darling [biography of The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret], where you can just read one chapter a day. Read it in the morning, have a cup of tea and bore everyone for hours.

It’s a conversational book…

DR: The conversation isn’t strictly the way it appears – it was more just freewheeling, with our thoughts and memories. And then I crafted it afterwards to fit in certain themes.

[To Daniel:] There’s a nice moment in the book when you and Simon talk about a tape you’ve got of him, singing and playing some of his earliest songs in his bedroom, in 1986.

DR: I’m glad you picked up on that. There were about 20 songs on it. Inside the cassette, there’s a piece of paper that’s almost like tissue paper, and on it,  Simon has written a description of what he thinks each song is about, in blue Biro. The comments are in the book and you get a real insight into the way he was thinking. What’s really interesting is that I think his approach to songwriting and the subject matters are completely different to what he’s become known for as a songwriter.

‘I was aged at least nine when I wrote my first song, because that’s when I got a guitar’

When you listen to a lot of the songs, it sounds like he’s having a conversation with himself about what’s going on in his mind. It’s almost like a diary – an outlet for it. I don’t know whether he agrees, but that’s how I hear it.

It’s fascinating because if you’re into Ocean Colour Scene, or any band, you want to know the genesis of them. When you hear In Spite Of All The Danger [Paul McCartney – the first song recorded by The Quarrymen] it’s utterly joyous because you can hear the first manifestation of what they’re going to be like. As a fan of Ocean Colour Scene, to hear these songs with such formulated and intelligent ideas and lyrics is really amazing.

[To Simon]: What was the first song you wrote?

SF: The song I was the first significant song I wrote. It was from when I was about 20.

That became Foxy’s Folk Faced, by Ocean Colour Scene, didn’t it?

SF: Yeah. Steve named it that because it was a good description of me at the time. I was aged at least nine when I wrote my first song, because that’s when I got a guitar.

[To Simon]: I think you’re underrated as a lyricist. When people think of Ocean Colour Scene, they tend to remember the riffs, rather than the words…

SF: Yeah. It’s because the band is basically seen through The Riverboat Song and The Day We Caught The Train, but, for all of those, one of my favourite Ocean Colour Scene albums is B-sides, Seasides and Freerides. And, also, what a great title that is.

DR: It’s natural that an audience knows the band by their singles, but the B-sides and album tracks give you more scope.

SF: I think The Circle is one of my best songs, but it’s better as a ballad. [Recorded as Outside of a Circle on the compilation album, B-sides, Seasides and Freerides]

[To Simon]: You trained as a journalist, but, before that, you wanted to become a football commentator, didn’t you?

SF: That’s right. I wanted to be John Motson.

There’s a quote in the book where you say, ‘Wanting to be a pop star seemed a stretch too far. It seemed daft enough to want to be John Motson, let alone John Lennon…’

DR: I love that quote.

SF: I didn’t come from a highfalutin background. Match of the Day was my favourite programme and I was obsessed with football.

‘From the very first day I started hanging out with Simon, in ’85, it was an unwritten thing that he was going to be famous’

Did you want to be a pop star when you were growing up? 

SF: I think I did. It was probably Bowie, really – if you’re into Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, they’re not really stars… My favourite band were – and still are –  The Beatles. I remember The Beatles when I was four.

DR: From the very first day I started hanging out with Simon, in ’85, it was an unwritten thing that he was going to be famous. It was a given. He could sing and he could write songs and he had incredible charisma.

How did you feel when he got famous?

DR: I thought it was unbelievable and everything that I’d ever hoped for for Simon and for Steve and for Damon [Minchella – Ocean Colour Scene bassist]. I desperately wanted it to happen. I was joyous. Steve had an absolute drive that he was going to make it. It wasn’t like they were arrogant or going on about being famous – it was an assumed thing and they were trying to find the portal or the path that would get them to the next level. They knew it was going to happen – if they played that gig, got this review, or recorded that… They climbed the ladders and there was an inevitability about it. So, when it happened, it wasn’t a surprise, and when it doesn’t happen, it’s a set back and everyone else is wrong. I always believed in them being right.

SF [To Daniel]You knew Steve before I did.

DR: Yeah – we were mates at junior school.

Was it due to the use of The Riverboat Song as the soundtrack to Chris Evans’s TV show, TFI Friday, that Ocean Colour Scene really made it big?

DR: I think it was Radio 1 more than TFI – Chris Evans on the morning show. He used to play a promo version of You Got It Bad before Riverboat. Then Riverboat was released as a single and Chris really played it and made it Single of the Week…

SF: For two weeks in a row.

‘We started to learn how to deconstruct music and make records, instead of standing there, like a cross between the Velvet Underground and Buzzcocks’

After your debut album, Ocean Colour Scene, you reinvented yourself for the follow-up, Moseley Shoals, didn’t you?

SF: That was down to being at Bob’s [Lamb – record producer]. Steve and Damon started to learn how to use the [recording] desk, so suddenly we started to learn how to deconstruct music and make records, instead of standing there, like a cross between the Velvet Underground and Buzzcocks.

DR: What happened to Ocean Colour Scene isn’t dissimilar to what happened to Blur, but Blur had a nightmare tour of America and Ocean Colour Scene had an amazing one.

But Ocean Colour Scene didn’t crack America…

DR: No, it’s curious that.

SF: It’s because we were too English and we just said, ‘Thank you.’

[To Simon]: There’s one bit in the book where you reflect on playing TFI Friday on New Year’s Eve 1997 and doing three nights at Stirling Castle the year after – you acknowledge that Ocean Colour Scene have done it on your own merits. For a while, did it feel that you had made it thanks to the patronage of Chris Evans, Paul Weller and Oasis?

‘Paul Weller’s always been our fifth Beatle’

SF: Paul and Noel were great, but it was Chris who made us break through – quite frankly, it wouldn’t have happened [without him]. We did that first biggish Oasis tour – Leeds Town and Country Club, Newcastle Riverside… That wouldn’t have happened. When we became well-known, bands would use to say, ‘We’re backing Ocean Colour Scene.’ One of those bands were Coldplay…

Paul’s always been our fifth Beatle. We enjoyed our time with that lot enormously.

The music press always gave you a hard time, didn’t they? Why do you think that was?

DR: Because they changed so much and they became something that they weren’t originally.

And there was the whole dadrock thing…

DR: If I remember correctly, I’m sure dadrock happened after Moseley Shoals, in 1998 – it was retrospective…

Blur went from being a baggy band to listening to The Small Faces and The Kinks and changing their image, but they didn’t get the same flack as Ocean Colour Scene…

DR: That’s absolutely true.

Why do you think that was?

SF: If someone says, ‘What’s your band?’ I say, ‘We’re traditionalist.’

DR: I think that’s what more important is that Ocean Colour Scene became a people’s band – they had the record buyers, who decided their popularity, regardless of what the press said.

SF: We weren’t part of the zeitgeist, but the problem with the zeitgeist is that after a while it becomes like a new jumper in the shop – it becomes old hat. Being fashionable is maybe not  great, because how long does that last? Especially now.

You did well as a band, though…

SF: Yeah, but we were dreadful at making videos and doing photoshoots – basically we hated all of that.

DR: I was always baffled ultimately as to why Ocean Colour Scene were so severely slagged off. There were so many contradictions in the ’90s – contradictions are good, but you can never understand them. It’s like the Britpop battle. You had Blur, who were Britpop – Damon invented it – and Oasis, who weren’t Britpop. Then you get into semantics and it doesn’t add up. The sound of Blur was nothing like the sound of Oasis. It’s a strange one.

[To Simon]: One of the parts in the book that really struck me was when you talk about being outed by The Sun. That must’ve been awful for you. And you ended up meeting the journalist responsible for breaking the story… 

SF: It was horrendous – hideous. All my pals knew – the only people who didn’t know were my family.

But you then go on to say that it was the best thing that’s ever happened to you…

SF: It was. I went out on the town with the **** from The Sun, with Steve and Ian McCulloch, trying to score cocaine, and all we did was meet Bobby Charlton. We were in Lyon, because I’d done the World Cup song [ (How Does It Feel To Be) On Top of the World –  England United, 1998]. Ian told me that I sounded like Roy Orbison.

There’s a lot of drink and drugs in the book. At one stage, you tell a story about when you’re in a hotel, on tour, seven floors up, you’re all on coke and Steve jumps off the bed and bounces off the window. The next day, you have a meeting and agree that you might need to calm things down. Was that the peak of the craziness? You were really into coke, weren’t you? I always saw you as more of a drinking band. One For The Road and all that…

SF: We were big coke fans and a big smoking band. And acid – Steve and I were really into acid, well, it was more me, really.

Do you have regrets about any of the things you did in the ’90s?

SF: I regret the fact, perhaps not in the ’90s, that I didn’t carry on writing songs in the same volume. When I lived on Westfield Road, [in King’s Heath, Birmingham] I used to write songs in the evening so that Steve and I would have something to do the following morning.

You were a hardworking band, though…

SF: If we weren’t touring, we were on the radio, doing TV shows and interviews.

How was it when you became famous? Did you enjoy it?

SF: I did.

And how was it after you became less successful?

SF: After the Moseley Shoals and Marchin’ Already albums, One From The Modern didn’t do quite as well. Unless you’re U2 or Oasis… new bands come along, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

DR: Brendan Lynch [music producer] made a good observation at the time. When he came up to Birmingham, he said there was a scene around Ocean Colour Scene. And there was. It wasn’t just Moseley – it was a wider thing.

Everything they were and who was around them, doing drugs and writing and singing about your lifestyle, was there before the fame – they just carried it through into what they were doing. It was just magnified by the press.

The more pertinent thing was that when they eventually got the PRS and the money, they moved away from one another and Moseley, which had been an inspiration  – particularly Simon and Steve. Simon moved in with Robert, the man who he loved, and found happiness in being outside of the Birmingham scene.

SF: Steve and I used to live out of each other’s pockets.

[To Simon]: You were the main songwriter in the band, but there were some songs, like The Riverboat Song and 100 Mile High City, that you all came up with together, weren’t there?

SF: Yes – the more rock ‘n’ roll ones. About 75 percent of the songs on Ocean Colour Scene albums I wrote on my own.

The band shared the writing credits, though…

SF: I always thought that without Riverboat, we wouldn’t have gone anywhere, so that seemed fair enough. I joined the band because I wanted to be in a gang.

DR: What Simon’s saying is that because they were a gang, the music wouldn’t have been Ocean Colour Scene unless all four of them were on it. He made that decision right at the very beginning to share the money. There are very few bands that have done that – it speaks a lot about Simon’s personality. That comes out in the book – he’s a very generous person.

SF: Steve could work machines – I couldn’t have put those songs together myself. It was just me and an acoustic guitar.

[To Simon]: What’s your songwriting process like? Do you sit with an acoustic guitar and come up with something?

SF: I’ve got an old Sony tape player – like you’d get for Christmas in 1972. I have about four of them, but only one of them works. The problem is that if you leave them on at night, and don’t turn off the power, the motor fails and you can’t rewind the tape.

So, what’s next? Is there a new Ocean Colour Scene album on the way?

SF: Hopefully.

There’s a 15-CD retrospective boxset coming out too, Yesterday Today 1992-2018, with all the studio albums, plus bonus discs of B-sides, etc, and a 72-page hardback book, with notes by Daniel. And there are vinyl reissues of the first three studio albums being released, and you and Oscar [Harrison – drummer] are going out on tour as a duo. It’s a big year for Ocean Colour Scene in 2023…

SF: Me and Oscar are going out in May.

DR: And we’re doing an evening with Simon Fowler in Notting Hill, in March.

How does it feel…

SF: [sings] To be on top of the world.

[Everyone laughs].

How does it feel to be celebrating over 30 years of Ocean Colour Scene next year?

SF: I don’t know really.

It’s not the original line-up, but what’s kept the rest of the band together?

SF: I don’t know how to do anything else, to be quite honest. I’ve never used a computer in my life.

DF: He hasn’t even got one.

Do you still enjoy it?

SF: I do when we go out on tour – recording has never been my favourite thing.

DR: With the book, Simon is celebrating what he has done – he’s never done that before. It’s really important to recognise – there are so many songs… There are only 69 in the book, but there are hundreds that he could be celebrating. There’s great humour but also pathos – you get two sides of his personality. It’s an incredible thing to have done and to reveal in print. Over the last couple of hours, you’ve probably realised that one thing you can say about Simon is that he’s very honest. A lot of pop stars aren’t. He’ll invite you into his world and he should be admired for his openness.

SF: I don’t know what my parents will do when they get the book for Christmas.

One For The Road: The Life & Lyrics of Simon Fowler & Ocean Colour Scene by Simon Fowler and Daniel Rachel is out now. You can buy it here. It retails for £50.

The 15-CD retrospective boxset, Yesterday Today 1992-2018, is released on February 24 (Edsel/Demon Records) as part of a year-long campaign marking 30 years of Ocean Colour Scene. You can pre-order it here.

The band’s first three studio albums, Ocean Colour Scene, Moseley Shoals (2LP)and Marchin’ Already (2LP) are being reissued on coloured vinyl on the same day.

https://www.oceancolourscene.com/

http://danielrachel.com/

 

The Butterfly Effecters

Picture by Richard Bardsley

You could be forgiven for thinking that Foxton & Hastings is the name of an estate agent, but it’s actually the moniker for the side-project of Bruce Foxton, former bassist with The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers, and guitarist/vocalist Russell Hastings – both of whom can usually be found playing in mod revival band From the Jam.

This month (October 28), the duo release their third album, The Butterfly Effect – a solid and enjoyable collection of good, old-fashioned, ’60s-style guitar tunes with their roots in Revolver-era Beatles, The Small Faces, The Who, classic soul and, coughs, solo ‘90s Paul Weller.

This is the modern world, but Foxton & Hastings aren’t afraid to turn to the past for their musical influences. Listening to The Butterfly Effect is like digging into a great record collection that’s full of vintage pop, rock and soul  – the same kind of music that influenced The Jam, and, subsequently, most of the Britpop scene that emerged a few decades later.

“We all know what ‘The Butterfly Effect’ [the phrase] means, but, in basic terms, when I was listening to George Harrison or Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, in 1969, as a four-year old kid – I was born in 1965 – I was inspired by George’s 12-string guitar playing… or by hearing Stevie Marriott,” says Hastings – him and Foxton are talking to us over Zoom in late September.

‘We didn’t have any perception of ‘This track’s got to sound like The Who’, or whatever – it’s just what came out of the bag’

“Bruce and I have always been inspired by stuff over the years that’s had a knock-on effect [further] down the line, without us knowing it. It’s not a conscious decision – you end up playing a song in a certain style, so, when you record it, you have no idea what it sounds like at all to other people… and then they make their comments about it. The album could’ve been called Influences, really.

“It’s funny when you hear people’s interpretations of the songs – it’s not meant to be disrespectful, but you think, ‘Wow – I wonder where they got that from?” says Hastings.

Adds Foxton: “We didn’t have any perception of ‘This track’s got to sound like The Who’, or whatever – it’s just what came out of the bag.”

Produced by Al Scott, at Brighton’s Metway studio, which is owned by folk-rockers The Levellers, The Butterfly Effect features Big Country drummer, Mark Brzezicki, and Andy Fairclough (From The Jam) on keys. It came about as a result of lockdown.

“You sit at home and there’s only so much TV you can watch,” says Hastings. “It wasn’t a definitive ‘Oh, let’s make an album’ – it started with, ‘Here’s a good little tune – how about this?’”

Adds Foxton: “We had some ideas and then we’d just work on them, but it was difficult to get a band together, because of Covid. Thank God for technology.”

“There was a good mood in the studio. We were just glad to be alive!”  

The two musicians would send ideas to each other and then, over a year later, they finally got in a room to play as a band and work on the new songs.

“I remember it well – we all had Covid test kits, even the engineers, so we could get rid of our masks when we were in the studio,” says Hastings.

“Otherwise, we would’ve had muffled vocals,” jokes Foxton.

The Butterfly Effect is largely a positive and upbeat record: “We were just glad to be alive!” says Hastings. “There was a good mood in the studio. We’re pretty positive people.”

Talking about lockdown, he says: “When I look back at it, it seems so ridiculous – we couldn’t even go round each other’s houses and do what we are supposed to do.

“By the time we could physically all be in the same room, we had four of five great ideas. In our first three-day stint, we churned it out. It was a great experience to get into the studio and play.”

The album’s opener, Electronic Lover, is throbbing, bass-driven, heavy, psych-tinged, blues-rock, with backwards Rickenbacker, and first single, Lula, is infectious, ‘60s Californian-pop-meets-The-Beatles, with a superb sax solo by Tony ‘Rico’ Richardson (Bad Manners), that was apparently recorded in his wardrobe, as Covid prevented him coming to the studio.

Feet Off the Ground is a delicious helping of funky and psychedelic, late ‘70s soul-pop, with wah-wah guitar and some great Hammond organ – it could’ve easily come off Weller’s self-titled solo album, from 1992 – while The Fab Four are back on the jangly, harmony-drenched, mid- ‘60s sound of current single, She Said – even the title nods its mop top to a Beatles song.

There’s also a track called Rain, although, to be fair, it doesn’t sound like Lennon, Macca and co, it’s a moody, late-night, cinematic and Weller-like introspective ballad.

One of the standout moments is also a ballad – the reflective and nostalgic Too Old To Cry, Too Young To Die, with a pastoral feel and a stately string arrangement.

Circles and Two of Us are mighty, Who-like power pop – the latter also throws in some Small Faces ‘sha-la-la’ backing vocals – and Time On Your Side is pure, joyous ‘60s/’70s soul with horns that bring to mind Give Me Just A Little More Time by Chairmen of the Board.

There’s more brass on the anthemic closer, Anything You Want, which sounds like The Jam having a knees-up with The Small Faces and a Motown revue, but with George Martin on the control knobs, adding some far-out studio effects for the final section.

Q&A

Feet Off The Ground and Walking With Me have a jazzy-soulful feel – they’re quite acid jazz and pastoral, and they remind me of early solo Paul Weller or The Style Council. 

Russell Hastings: Right – that’s the end of the interview! [laughs] You’re right – they probably are. The instigator of all that stuff – Bruce and I often laugh about it – was Spirogyra, in the late ‘70s. Without trying to be too arty about it, they were just grooves that we sat on – we demoed them at Water Rat Studios [in Woking, Surrey].

I like it when someone says, ‘It sounds like that…’ – that’s fine by me. There was never any deliberate attempt to make the songs sound like anything.

Picture: Richard Bardsley

On that note, Two of Us, does have a touch of The Who about it, and some Small Faces-style ‘sha-la-la’ backing vocals… It has a ‘60s and ‘70s mod/power-pop feel, so it’s apt that you recorded it in Brighton…

RH: Unashamedly – yes! It’s got Brighton written all over it – we came up with the riff at Bruce’s house and did a demo version on a phone, while we were playing it live. It has that Who-esque / Mooney style – it’s a homage to Brighton, which is a place that we hold close to our hearts for many reasons. That whole historic thing.

‘I recorded the vocals for Time On Your Side in the morning, and then I tested positive for Covid in the afternoon, so, if they say it’s bad for your voice, it’s rubbish – my vocals sound really strong on it’

Time On Your Side is very Motown, with brass from Nicky Madern, and some great Hammond organ by Andy Fairclough…

RH: Nicky Madern plays brass on one of Liam Gallagher’s albums, and Andy’s our live player – he’s done a sterling job on the whole album. I recorded the vocals for that song in a morning, and then I didn’t feel very well in the afternoon. I tested positive for Covid, so, if they say it’s bad for your voice, it’s rubbish – my vocals sound really strong on it.

I think there’s a Revolver-era Beatles feel to some of the tracks on the album…

RH: I’ll take that.

‘There are no dour or negative messages. I’m not clever enough to write like that’

The last song, Anything You Want, has a Revolver-like psychedelic ending and Motown-style brass – like Got To Get You Into My Life, and She Said has a similar title to a Beatles song from the same album…

RH: Yeah. It’s only now you’re mentioning it… it’s funny and it makes me smile. One day, in the studio, Bruce was already there and I walked in. It was a nice, sunny, early spring morning, back in March, and I’d been listening to Across The Universe. I grabbed a guitar, and said, ‘Hold on – I can’t stop!’ I’d had an idea… Across The Universe blows my mind – it’s simple and so good.

Too Old To Cry, Too Young To Die is one of the album’s more introspective moments – a big ballad with strings – but it’s still quite a positive song, isn’t it? There’s a line in the lyrics which says: ‘Things are getting much better…’

RH: Yeah – there are no dour or negative messages. I’m not clever enough to write like that, to be honest. You get some people who are like, ‘Oh, I wrote this when, blah-blah-blah….’ Oh, fuck off – you wrote it ‘cos it ‘cos it came out like that! Unless you’re some kind of ultra-genius, like Bowie – people like that. I’ll take it from them, but not anybody else. Some people can get far too up their own arses about it.

Collectively it’s about a load of great pop songs… You walk away and you think ‘This is a great tune…’ That’s what it’s about it, innit, Bruce?

BF: Exactly.

The album almost sounds like a Best Of – it’s really varied…

RH: Yeah. I’m really excited for people to hear it. When you’ve reeled off those tracks… It’s been a while since I’ve heard it.

Credit: Kay Janet Photography

 

You’re always playing live, as From the Jam, but do you plan to play any of the songs from The Butterfly Effect in concert?

RH: We’re gonna do a couple – we’re always conscious never to bore the audience to death amongst a load of Jam songs! Possibly Lula and Feet Off The Ground, or She Said, which is a great, simple pop song, with a mandolin on it.

Bruce Foxton: Picture by Richard Bardsley

It’s 16/17 years since From the Jam formed, but, Bruce, it’s 48 years since you joined The Jam… 

BF: Forty eight! Which band was that? [Everyone laughs.]

It was in 1974, which was the year I was born…

BF: Wow!

How does that feel? You’ve been in From the Jam longer than you were in The Jam…

BF: I was in Stiff Little Fingers longer than I was in The Jam. It seems like another life – it doesn’t feel real, to be honest with you.

‘It was a shame that Paul and I fell out in the first place. We’re good friends again now, thankfully. Life is short – it really is. You should cherish it’

I saw you play in the band One Hundred Men, in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. My dad took me, in the ’80s…

BF: Wow – that’s going back. It was cowboy boots then…

RH: That’s enough of that! Only cowboys should wear cowboy boots.

BF: I just wanted to keep playing – it’s what I do and what I love doing. I also played with The Rhythm Sisters during that period, before I joined Stiff Little Fingers.

[To Bruce]: It’s been well documented how you reconciled with Paul Weller more than 10 years ago – the death of your wife and his dad brought you closer together. How did that feel to renew your friendship? Was it good to let bygones be bygones?

BF: Totally – we’re too old for all that malarkey. Life is short – it really is. You should cherish it. It was a shame that we ever fell out in the first place. We’re good friends again now, thankfully.

Russell Hastings: Picture by Richard Bardsley

After Covid stopped you touring, it must be good to be back on the road again with From the Jam.  You’ve got gigs lined up for this year and next…

RH: It’s great – we’ve sort of forgotten about the pandemic. We’ve both had a few health scares this year,  but we’ve got over that, which has put life into a little bit more perspective – what’s important and what’s not. What’s not important is sitting in traffic jams around the UK for days on end, to line the taxman’s pockets, so we’ve eased back a little bit as far as the workload’s confirmed. We were tending to say, ‘Yes, we’ll do that…’, and you end up chasing your own tail and you become ill.

We’re in good health now. I woke up this morning and thought,’Oh – the album comes out soon…’ I like to hear people’s opinions of it. To be honest, we’re doing this album because we liked the tunes that we came up with – we didn’t have any ulterior motives. We were free to say, ‘Fuck it – we’re going to write and whatever we want to do, we’re going to do it’. ‘If it sounds a bit country, great’ or, ‘If it’s got strings on it, great’. We weren’t afraid of anything.

‘We’ve both had a few health scares this year, which has put life into perspective – what’s important and what’s not. What’s not important is sitting in traffic jams around the UK for days on end, to line the taxman’s pockets’

Is it nice being able to do different stuff with Foxton & Hastings other than just being in From The Jam?

RH: Bruce was in The Jam, but I almost had to prove that I was a musician myself and not just a parrot-fashion one. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before. I don’t know where that came from, but it’s true. I wanted to say, ‘Go fuck yerself – I’ve cut my teeth and I can hold my own’.

Picture by Richard Bardsley

 

The Butterfly Effect by Foxton & Hastings is released on October 28 (Townsend Music).

https://foxtonandhastings.tmstor.es/

https://www.fromthejamofficial.com/

‘We wanted to get back to some ‘60s stuff – good, danceable grooves’

Back To Business is a new collection of groovy, hipshakin’, organ-heavy instrumentals by duo Bangs & Talbot – pioneering acid jazz DJ, musician and producer, Chris Bangs, and mod keyboard wizard and founding member of The Style Council, Mick Talbot.

The two of them have made their first album together in 20 years and it’s a scorcher – just the kind of soundtrack for a long, hot summer.

Talbot lays down some great Hammond, Wurlitzer and Rhodes piano, while bassist and drummer Bangs ensures the tracks always have a great groove – from the jazz club vibe of Sumthin’ Else to the Latino-soul-meets-West-Coast-Beach-Beat-sound of Surf ‘n’ Turf, and the explosive Kookie T, which, with its blaring brass and high-octane Hammond, sounds like the theme to a car chase scene from a Swinging Sixties action-thriller.

Marvin Gaye’s soul classic, How Sweet It Is, has been reinvented as a cool shuffle – Brand New Heavies’ guitarist Simon Bartholomew provides some tasty licks –  while Stingray pays its respects to gospel and evokes the atmosphere of legendary California club P.J’s. 

It’s Alright takes a trip to Detroit, with fuzz guitars, and the jazzy Leela’s Dance has more than a touch of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five about it.

“A lot of our past stuff was influenced by the ‘70s, but Chris wanted to get back to some ‘60s stuff – good grooves that were danceable,” explains Talbot, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers.

“That’s the great thing about a lot of this album – it’s either head-nodding or dancey. It’s got a lot of different grooves, but most of them are quite immediate.”

He adds: “I’m not always sure what all the influences are because on a lot of the tracks Chris puts an infectious rhythm together – he likes playing bass and he also plays drums, guitar and keyboards. 

“Sometimes he suggests stuff and asks me to adapt it – I’m not precious. He might do a slide on a keyboard on one of his demos,  I’ll get the gist of what he wants me to do and redo it all, and then he’ll say, ‘I really miss my slide!’ So, I say, ‘Put it back then!’ [laughs]

Bangs & Talbot

‘Chris tries to paint a picture with sound – each track is a vignette of a movie’

“Chris does a lot of different things – he’ll give an arrangement to the horn players of him singing what he thinks they should play, so you get a funny demo with him singing, thinking he’s a saxophone.

“He tries to paint a picture with sound – each track is a vignette of a movie. It creates an atmosphere and conjures up an image, but, Chris is so poetic he wants to tell you what that image is.”

Q&A

Did you make the record during lockdown?

Mick Talbot: Yeah – but there were various times when there was a little bit more freedom. We wanted to try and capture the atmosphere of half a dozen people playing in a room, but that wasn’t possible at the time. Chris and I were only in the same room on two occasions – the rest of it was all done [remotely] with musicians we know.

While we were locked down, I did a few remote sessions, but I always go to my friend Ernie McKone’s studio, in Muswell Hill, where a lot of my vintage gear is, like my old Hammond, Wurlitzer, Clavinet and Rhodes –  he maintains them for me.

All those ancient things need care and attention – they get a bit sick if you take them on the road without souping them up – and he’s got the space for them. The colours on my palette are all there – the five or five principal sounds that I gravitate towards.

Mick Talbot

‘All my ancient gear needs care and attention – it gets a bit sick if you take it on the road without souping it up’

I did a remote session for a fella in New York – having been around for quite a while, it’s amazing to me to think I’ve just done something that’s on an album in New York and I didn’t have to go there…

The shenanigans people used to go through when they were doing an international project in the old days – they were scared of putting analogue tape through X-ray machines because you could wipe it quite easily. You couldn’t leave it in your hand luggage. Now I just do a session and, with a little ‘ping’, it’s gone thousands of miles and it’s on someone’s track.

How did you first get into playing keys? Are you self-taught?

MT: I’m a mixture of things. My nan was a piano player and she played by ear. I was quite enchanted by that and I asked her to try and show me some things, and she did, but she couldn’t really show me much because it was hard for her to explain the instinct – she just did it. It felt a bit mystical to me.

She told me there was a lady round the corner who taught piano, but I had the horrors about that because I wanted it to be like how my nan did it – like magic. She said, ‘If you’re keen, you don’t need to stick at it,’ but I did it for three years and it benefited me more than I thought.

Once I’d got the rudiments, and I got more of a personal taste for music, the fact that my teacher was principally a classical one, I wanted to try and apply that to the playing that was on the records I liked to buy. By the time I was about 12, I started trying to form school bands, so I stopped going to piano lessons and tried to develop what I’d learnt.

When you were growing up, were you listening to soul, jazz and funk? Have you always been into that?

MT: I liked all the English ’60s bands as well, but I guess they were R’n’B or soul-influenced. My mum was quite a fan of Motown, so, when I was really small, that was playing a lot.

My dad was more of a modern jazz fan, which I got to understand more as I grew older. He was good at sussing out records that would bring us together – he got me a Sly & The Family Stone album and said, ‘Some people think this bloke is jazz, some think he’s rock and some think he’s soul – they’re having trouble defining him, but I think he’s good and I think you might like him, but I don’t like all your music…’ We bonded over that.

When you and Paul Weller formed The Style Council, people had trouble labelling you too, didn’t they? You embraced so many influences: soul, pop, funk, rap, jazz, house music, European café culture, classical…

The Style Council

 

MT: We were only drawn to things that we actually liked – it wasn’t a calculated thing. We didn’t come into the studio one day and go, ‘We haven’t done anything that sounds like Kraftwerk yet.’

To me, it all seemed to make sense  – the more you look into music and go a bit deeper… The European influences, for instance – elements of Debussy, Ravel or the Romantic Classicists –  a lot of that music, in turn, influenced people like Duke Ellington, Burt Bacharach and Thom Bell of the Philadelphia sound.

‘The Style Council were only drawn to things that we actually liked – it wasn’t calculated. We didn’t come into the studio one day and go, ‘We haven’t done anything that sounds like Kraftwerk yet’.

Prior to forming The Style Council, you were in mod revival band, The Merton Parkas. When you were growing up and listening to soul, was it then a natural step to becoming a mod? What attracted you to that scene?

MT: When I was really little, I can remember that I liked that look, and then, in London, in the mid-’70s, just prior to the punk thing, there was a real explosion of energy with Dr. Feelgood –  they influenced a lot of the punk bands with their attitude and their look. I liked that on the sleeve of their first album [Down By The Jetty], it almost looked like they were from another time, like the mid-’60s.

Fast forward a couple of years and I saw The Jam just before they got signed to Polydor. I thought, ‘Hold on, this is a band for my generation’ – no pun intended – who were more of my age than Dr. Feelgood and they had some affinity with that ’60s mod thing and they were playing a few soul covers in their set.

I did see a lot of the early punk bands, but I thought their image was artificial on some levels – I knew a lot of weekend punks who dyed their hair green with food colouring and washed it out before they went to their respectable job. I thought it would be nice to be someone you could be all the time, and there’s no doubting that there’s a generation of bands who were so influenced by The Jam.

‘I saw The Jam just before they got signed to Polydor. I thought, ‘Hold on, this is a band for my generation’ – no pun intended’

Of the first five bands that surfaced with New Wave or punk, I felt The Jam were the most honest. A lot of them were trying to say it was Year Zero and that they weren’t influenced by anything, whereas The Jam weren’t shy about saying they were influenced by The Kinks, The Beatles or Wilson Pickett. It wasn’t like they’d just been dropped there by a spaceship in 1976.

‘I knew a lot of weekend punks who dyed their hair green with food colouring and washed it out before they went to their respectable job’

And I guessed you carried that approach through to The Style Council, as on the front cover of your second album, Our Favourite Shop, you had a store featuring memorabilia, books and records from some of your favourite writers and musical artists. You were literally wearing your influences on your sleeve…

MT: The visuals on that record had far-reaching consequences – people were trying to find copies of books that were out of print… I’ve met people who’ve said, ‘I think I’ve got three-quarters of what’s in that shop!’

The nice thing about that sleeve is that 90 percent of what was on it was mine and Paul’s and the rest of it was stuff that we wanted that we got our designer, Simon Halfon, to source. It wasn’t put together by a stylist – it came off our bookshelves or out of our lofts. It felt part of our makeup.

I always love reading about who or what influences the musical artists I’m into – it often sets me off listening to them and discovering new stuff…

MT: It’s the same with me. As a kid, I’d read about The Beatles and thought that maybe I should check out The Everly Brothers or Little Richard – whatever they were talking about. I liked The Rolling Stones as well and they helped me to find out about Howlin’ Wolf and Solomon Burke. It’s a nice process – I guess some bands are more open about that sort of thing.

Are you a record collector? How do you listen to music?

MT: I listen to it on any format because the moment you rely on streaming –  I don’t want to get into the politics of that, but they don’t bloody pay you enough – there’s sometimes a grey area. Things are missing, like you particularly like a B-side of a 7in single, but it’s not on Spotify. Why haven’t they got the one I’m searching for? It’s an anomaly.

‘I’m not a music format snob, but I appreciate there’s something about magnetic, analogue tape and vinyl that is just warm and nice’

Wiggle Wiggle, the B-side of the Bangs & Talbot vinyl single, Sumthin’ Else, is on Spotify… What’s your hi-fi setup at home like? Is it a big system?

MT: No – just normal speakers. My brother-in-law found me an old Dansette – sometimes I like to stack up some singles on that. I don’t do it all the time, but it might be influenced by something, like finding a rare record in a little junk shop, and I think ‘I’ll definitely have to get that red plastic thing out again…’

I’m not a format snob, but I appreciate there’s something about magnetic, analogue tape and vinyl that is just warm and nice.

Mick Talbot in the studio for Monks Road Social

You’ve played with so many acts, including Dexys Midnight Runners, Galliano, Gene, Candi Staton, The Blow Monkeys, The Young Disciples, Monks Road Social, Wilko Johnson, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend… Any collaborations that stand out?

MT: It’s really hard to pick out one. It’s whatever I’m currently working on.

Different things have enchanted me for different reasons – there are people I’ve not recorded with, but I’ve worked with… I did Jools Holland’s Big Band for a while, when his brother, Chris, who plays Hammond, took a couple of years out. That gave me the opportunity to play with Ronnie Wood, Dr. John, Edwyn Starr – all sorts of people. When you’re working with Jools, you’re never quite sure who you’re going to get. It’s quite spine-tingling when you’re playing with a legend.

It was a real thrill for me to work with Wilko Johnson – it was really mad, because I used to see him at Hammersmith Palais in 1976, and then I ended up working with him. He’s so influential.

Through working with him, I got to work with Roger Daltrey, and out of that I got to play with The Who very briefly. I filled in for a charity event – we did a medley. It was thrilling to be sat behind Pete Townshend while he was swinging around – that was a buzz.

‘I did Jools Holland’s Big Band for a while. That gave me the opportunity to play with Ronnie Wood, Dr. John, Edwyn Starr – all sorts of people’

There was one week in 2018 when the second Wilko Johnson album I’d played on came out, as well albums by Roger Daltrey and Ray Davies that I was on. They were all recorded at different times, but it was like three buses turning up at once.

People say to me, ‘What are you up to? Are you still in the music game?’ ‘Well, this week, I’m up to quite a lot, but next week it will look like nothing’s happening…’

Mick Talbot and Matt Deighton (Monks Road Social)

 

I’m really looking forward to the next Monks Road thing coming out, as it’s been put on hold for a while. We did the third album [Humanism] in Spain, but we ended up doing the new one in London, at RAK Studios, in one week. I love that studio – I’ve been fortunate enough to have been there a few times in the past couple of years and, for me, it’s second only to Abbey Road in terms of an old-school studio that still has every option available.

‘It was a real thrill for me to work with Wilko Johnson – it was mad, because I used to see him at Hammersmith Palais in 1976’

We have a mutual friend, Matt James, who was the drummer in Gene. You’ve played on his debut solo album, Breaking The Fall, which is released next month, haven’t you?

MT: Yeah – that was really nice. He had a few of the old Gene boys [Steve Mason – guitar, Kev Miles – bass) involved. It was great to catch up and play on it.

Matt always had that vocal thing going on – I can remember when I was playing live with Gene, they’d sometimes get Dodgy’s drummer [Mathew Priest] in, so Matt was featured more as a vocalist and a guitarist.

It’s great that it’s always been in him and that he’s got round to doing his own album. There’s one song that’s quite Northern Soul on it and a nice one where I played an accordion sound, with a rural or Cajun influence, or a bit like Ronnie Lane.

So, what’s next for you?

MT: I’m halfway through working on an album with an act called BirdSMITH – they used to be called First Congress. They’re the vehicle for a songwriter called Tom Van Can – he used to be a director of independent films. I first met him about 12 years ago, when I did some stuff for a soundtrack. He’s focused on music now. They had a single out called Kiss It Better – it got played on Radio 2 a bit.

I’ve not seen Candi Staton for a while – she’s coming over for a handful of festivals, so I’m going to play with her – and the next Monks Road Social album should be looming soon.

I’m also working on a second album for what I hope is an ongoing project with Chris Bangs, and there’s a Jam and Style Council exhibition on in Brighton [This Is The Modern World]. They’re showing the Style Council documentary [Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council] and I’ll be there for a couple of days, doing a Q and A.

Nicky Weller [Paul’s sister] is curating it and she tracked down one of our early video directors who had lots of outtakes – there’s all sorts of things. Her partner, Russell, has been editing stuff – he sent me a film of me playing with The Jam at The Rainbow, in 1979. I had no idea anyone was filming it.

Were you pleased with the documentary? I watched it earlier this year, on Sky Arts, and I thought it was brilliant. 

MT: It was good – it was very hard to try and shove everything into one film, but they did a good job. It really reflected the personalities of a lot of people well.

Paul and I did a combined interview – the people who put the film together were hoping there might be a commercial DVD release, because they said they’re sitting on about half an hour of stuff from us that they couldn’t get in that’s really funny. It shone a light on some things, but it didn’t work in the film. I guess it’s all owned by Sky… it’s not my shout.

How was it talking about that time again? The film was pretty candid…

MT: Having to film it over a couple of days and dredge up seven years of your life was kind of exhausting… it was a bit of a blur.

A lot of it was shot at Paul’s studio – while I was down there, I played on three tracks for his album, On Sunset, which he was just finishing. I thought I played on two, but it turns out I’m on three. There was so much going on.

The Style Council got back together to play one song at the end of the film, It’s A Very Deep Sea. How was that? It’s a lovely performance…,

MT: I was really pleased it came together. I saw Paul play in London a few weeks ago and it’s in his set now – I don’t think he’s played it live for a very long time and it’s nice that’s put a new focus on it.

I had concerns about whether or not we should work up three or four songs, in case it didn’t click, as it had been so long, but Paul went, ‘No – just that one.’ He was very definite about it and he said, ‘If it works – it’s great, and, if it doesn’t, we don’t have to use it.’

I was really hoping it would work, but if hadn’t, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, as nobody knew about it but us.

People might think we sweated over it for a long time – I listened to the song a lot at home – but, when we did it, we started playing it, Paul thought it was really good, his instinct kicked in, and he said, ‘Let’s take it now.’ We only played it through all the way once. It felt good – a real pure performance.

‘Having to film the Style Council documentary over a couple of days and dredge up seven years of your life was kind of exhausting… it was a bit of a blur’

Do you think the film has opened up the Style Council to a new audience? You were so ahead of your time and more groundbreaking than you’ve been given credit for…

MT: It can’t do any harm. I was at a family party the other Saturday and I was quite surprised at some of my wife’s younger cousins who were aware of us. I think a lot of that is down to the documentary.

Some of the political issues you were writing about back in the day are still relevant now, aren’t they? 

MT: Some of Paul’s more pointed lyrics seem like they were written about today, but they’re from 35 years ago. It’s astonishing how little things change.

 

Back To Business by Bangs & Talbot is released on June 17 on Acid Jazz. It’s available on vinyl, CD, digital download and streaming platforms.  

www.acidjazz.co.uk/

For more information on The Jam and Style Council exhibition, This Is The Modern World, click here.

Fat’s Entertainment

 

Paul Weller
Photo: Sandra Vijandi

Paul Weller’s latest album, Fat Pop (Volume 1) – his sixteenth – is one of his best. A collection of short, sharp and instant songs, its influences include soul, funk, Krautrock, synth-pop, dub and punk. Say It With Garage Flowers gets a sneak preview of its ever-changing moods.

When Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Paul Weller’s long-term guitarist, Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene, The Specials), earlier this year, he’d just emerged from Black Barn Studios in the village of Ripley, Surrey, where the Modfather and his band had been rehearsing a bunch of new songs.

“Weller’s made an album during lockdown – it’s called Fat Pop and it’s coming out in May,” he told us.

It’s fair to say that lockdown has been good for Weller. In just under 12 months, the elder statesman of Britpop has released two albums – the summery and soulful On Sunset and now its follow-up, Fat Pop (Volume 1), which, like its predecessor, is one of the strongest records he’s ever made.

In fact, it’s the latest in a purple patch that started with 2018’s True Meanings – his stripped- back and orchestrally-aided, introspective folk-rock album, which coincided with him turning 60. That was a career highlight and, along with his self-titled solo debut, from 1992, it’s easily one of our favourite Weller records.

Work on Fat Pop (Volume 1) began in spring 2020, when he needed something to focus on after his tour dates were postponed due to Covid-19. He had plenty of ideas for new songs stored on his phone, so he started to record them on his own, with just vocals, piano and guitar.

These were then sent to his core band members, Cradock, drummer Ben Gordelier, and bassist Andy Crofts (The Moons), who added their parts. “It was a bit weird not being together, but at least it kept the wheels rolling. I’d have gone potty otherwise,” says Weller.

When Covid restrictions were lifted, the group reconvened at his Black Barn Studios to finish the work.

Highlights of the new album’s predecessor, On Sunset, included the shimmering disco of Mirror Ball and Old Father Tyme; the uplifting, radio-friendly pop-soul of Village; the Kinks-ish Equanimity and the Bowiesque Rockets.

Some of Fat Pop (Volume 1) is cut from the same [three-button mod suit] cloth as the album that came before it. There’s a strong soul and funk feel to a few of the songs, but there’s also plenty of, er, fat pop.

“After True Meanings I thought I wouldn’t have any acoustic guitars for a little while, so I’ve largely avoided those with On Sunset and with Fat Pop,” says Weller. “But more than anything I wanted something vibey – something we could play live. God knows when that will be, bearing in mind where we are with the virus. But in the imaginary gig in my mind I can see us playing all of the songs on Fat Pop live, along with the songs from On Sunset, blending them with some of the old favourites too. What a great set that would be.”

He adds: “On Sunset was quite lavish in places, whereas with this one I wanted to limit it in some ways – make the production less expansive.”

It’s a rich-sounding and eclectic record – vibrant and colourful – and, considering the wide range of influences and styles, it hangs together really well. It feels like a complete piece of work, rather than just a collection of songs.

‘Some of Fat Pop is cut from the same [three-button mod suit] cloth as the album that preceded it. There’s a strong soul and funk feel to a few of the songs, but there’s also plenty of, er, fat pop’

Fat Pop (Volume 1) sees Weller continuing his working relationship with producer Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert, who’s been at the helm since 2012’s Sonik Kicks album.

Sadly, the album’s first single and opening song, the psychedelic, synth-pop-meets-Krautrock of Cosmic Fringes,  isn’t about lockdown haircuts, although Weller is sporting long locks at the moment. Lyrically, it concerns itself with a keyboard warrior: “I’m a sleeping giant, waiting to awake/I stumble to the fridge/then back to bed”, but to be fair, that does sound a lot like lockdown…

 

Weller says the song was written about a person who is constantly brainstorming ideas, but never gets around to doing them. With two strong albums under his belt in the past year, that’s not something you could accuse him of.

The punky True features an unexpected jazzy sax break, as well as guest vocals by Lia Metcalfe of Liverpool alt-rock band The Mysterines, while the dramatic, soaring and symphonic Shades of Blue was co-written by his daughter, Leah, who shares vocal duties on the song.

‘Sadly, the album’s first single and opening song, the psychedelic, synth-pop-meets-Krautrock of Cosmic Fringes, isn’t about lockdown haircuts, although Weller is sporting long locks at the moment’

The title track, a paean to the power of music, has a heavy, dubby bassline – Weller describes it as “Cypress Hill doing something that sounds like a DJ Muggs production”.

He adds: “It’s a celebration of music and what it’s given us all. No matter what situation you are in, and we’re in one now, music doesn’t let you down, does it? It’s my favourite song on the album, I think – it’s about all the times music’s been there for me.”

Glad Times is beautiful and melancholic  – space-age soul with strings. “It’s been around for a while  – it nearly made it onto On Sunset, but I didn’t quite fit,” says Weller. “I really liked it, though, so I’m really glad it made it onto this album instead.”

Testify, with guest vocals by Andy Fairweather Low of ‘60s Welsh pop band Amen Corner, is a great, ‘70s-style, funk-soul strut, with flute and sax supplied by acid jazz veteran Jacko Peake.

“We had actually done it live two or three years ago,” says Weller, “but while I loved the groove, I never really got a grip on the song. Then I did this charity gig in Guildford, one of the last things I’ve done probably – some Stax songs with Andy Fairweather Low. Our voices sound so good together and he’s such a lovely fellow, so I sent him the backing track. As soon as lockdown was lifted, he came down to the studio for the afternoon. We cut it live and that was it.”

 

Pastoral and acoustic guitar-led ballad, Cobwebs/Connections, which could’ve come off True Meanings, features a lovely string arrangement by Hannah Peel, who worked on that album. She also scores the gorgeous closing song, Still Glides The Stream – another reflective moment that was written as a remote collaboration between Weller and Cradock.

If it’s angry Weller you’re after, don’t worry, as he hasn’t completely mellowed with age. On the choppy, ska-tinged rallying call, That Pleasure, which was written as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter campaign and is swathed in lush, ‘70s Marvin Gaye-style strings, he urges us to “Lose your hypocrisy… lose your prejudice, lose this hatred,” adding, “It’s time to get involved.”

Photo: Sandra Vijandi.

Fat Pop (Volume 1) – Weller is keeping his options open for a second volume – is aptly named, as each of the 12 tracks is instant and any one of them could be a standalone single.

“That was a conscious design,” he says. “I even thought about putting every song as a single first then gathering them all on an album, but that wasn’t practical. They all have that strength and immediacy, I think, and they’re all short – three minutes or so maximum.”

Apparently, producer Kybert was so taken with the concept that he half-jokingly suggested that the album be called Greatest Hits, but, wisely, Weller decided against it.

“I quite liked the idea and every song does stand up as a single, I think,” says Weller, “but no, we couldn’t do that really.”

Ahead of making the album, Weller set himself the same task as he does before any recording. “Whenever I make an album I’m always just trying to at least match what’s gone before because each time I think the bar’s been raised. If all goes to plan, sometimes I manage to go over that bar too,” he says.

He’s done it again. Here’s to Volume 2 and plenty more fat pop content.

Fat Pop (Volume 1) is released on May 14 (Polydor Records). It’s available in a variety of versions and formats:

  • Standard CD
  • Individual exclusive cassettes for Indie Record Stores and Paul’s artist store
  • Individual exclusive coloured vinyl for Amazon, Indie Record Stores and Paul Weller’s artist store
  • Black Heavyweight vinyl
  • Exclusive picture disc vinyl
  • Deluxe Formats which include Fat Pop, Mid-Sömmer Musik (the live special from November last year) and bonus tracks:
  • Three-CD Box Set
  • Three-LP Box set – heavyweight black vinyl

www.paulweller.com

Please note: part of this review, although heavily edited, originally appeared in the May 2021 edition of Hi-Fi+ magazine, which Sean Hannam contributes to.