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.

 

 

‘I don’t set out to make psychedelia… I like making music that’s a bit 3D’

Steve Cradock has been busy during lockdown. The singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist for Brit mod-rockers Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller and The Specials used the time to revisit his 2011 solo album, Peace City West, which he has remixed and remastered for its first ever vinyl release.

Not only that, but he’s also played on Weller’s brand new studio album, Fat Pop (Volume 1), which was recorded at the Modfather’s Surrey studio, Black Barn, last summer, when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

Fat Pop (Volume 1) is due out next month. Say It With Garage Flowers has had a sneak preview of it and we’re pleased to say that it’s brilliant –  a worthy successor to last year’s On Sunset, which, alongside 2018’s True Meanings, has seen Weller hit a purple patch.

Coincidentally, Cradock’s Peace City West, which was the follow-up album to his 2009 solo debut, The Kundalini Target, started to take shape when he recorded the first song, Last Days Of The Old World, at Black Barn, shortly after the sessions for his first album. That track, which features Weller on bass and backing vocals, inspired him to make the rest of the record.

Cradock recruited fellow Weller band member/ The Moons frontman, Andy Crofts, to assist with some of the songwriting for the record. They demoed the songs while on the road and then recorded the album in December/ January 2010 at Deep Litter Studios, on a farm, in rural Devon.

The album, which features drummer Tony Coote (Ocean Colour Scene/ P.P. Arnold, Little Barrie), and actor James Buckley (The Inbetweeners) on guitar and guest vocals for one track, I Man, is a lost gem. It’s a collection of 10 really strong and highly melodic songs, from the infectious and jangly, Beatles and Jam-like power-pop of opener Last Days Of The Old World, to the ’60s psych of The Pleasure Seekers, the pastoral cosmic pop of Kites Rise Up Against the Wind, the gorgeous and folky ballad Finally Found My Way Back Home –  co-written with Crofts and ’60s soul singer P.P. Arnold, who Cradock produced a solo LP for in 2019  – and the country-tinged Lay Down Your Weary Burden.

‘Peace City West sounded bad because of the mix. It was time to re-do that, get rid of the interludes, make it sound like it should’ve done and put it on vinyl – those were the three things that were missing’

After Peace City West came out, Cradock decided he wasn’t happy with the final mix of the album, or the psychedelic instrumental interludes that he’d put in-between the songs, so, 10 years later, he decided to do something about it.

“We mixed it badly on a laptop in January 2011 and then it was finished, but listening back it just sounded bad because of the mix,” he says. “It was time to re-do that, get rid of the interludes, make it sound like it should’ve done and put it on vinyl – those were the three things that were missing for me.”

Working at his home studio, Cradock set about the task of giving the album a new lease of life. “The first track I tried mixing was The Pleasure Seekers, which is the second song on the record, and as soon as I heard the proper drums in it that’s what made me think it’ll be worthwhile doing it,” he says.

Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Cradock, who was at home in Devon, where he has his studio, Kundalini, to find out more about the album, and also gain an insight into his recording process, his influences and his collaborations with P.P. Arnold and Weller.

Q&A

I listened to the new version of Peace City West and then the old one. I think the psychedelic interludes on the original release detract from the songs a bit…

Steve Cradock: That’s what I think – the new version gives it more focus. I like the fact that it’s now simple – it’s just the songs. Hearing the vinyl test pressing made me smile, which was good.

There was a lot of meandering nonsense on the old version, but, at the time, that was where my head was at – I thought it was interesting. There were bits of road music on it, from when I was in Egypt. I recorded a guy saying a prayer. I was enjoying that self-indulgence, but, in 2020, I wasn’t.

Until you came to remix Peace City West, had you listened to it recently?

SC: No – I can’t remember the last time I listened to it. That’s why I was so shocked by the quality of it when I did. I thought it if was going to come out [again] it needed to be put into its own space.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. The opening track, Last Days Of The Old World, has a power-pop feel and it reminds me of The Jam…

SC: Musically, I was maybe copying a bit of Elephant Stone [The Stone Roses]. It’s also quite Beatlesy – it’s got a 12-string Rickenbacker on it. The last chord is like The Jam, or it could be a Beatles thing.

Lyrically, it talks about how the rise of social media and smartphone culture has affected society and how we communicate with each other. Are you a reluctant user of social media?

SC: Not – not at all. I wrote the chorus lyrics and the melodies, but Andy Crofts wrote the lyric in the verse. I like social media – I like Instagram and Twitter’s alright.

I guess if you’re a musician who’s stuck at home during lockdown, social media is crucial for getting your music and message out there, although, I’ll be honest, I think there are too many online concerts happening…

SC: Do you know what? Even when they first started, I thought: ‘there’s no way I’m going to be doing any of that shit!’ There were people doing it in their kitchens and the sound was shit. I haven’t done one and I won’t be doing one.

The Pleasure Seekers was the first song you remixed for the album, wasn’t it? It’s got a good drum sound on it. Was that key? I think the track sounds a bit like The Who at times…

SC: The Who? Really? Oh right – the fast acoustic guitar… Yeah – it is a bit Who-y. It has Chris Griffiths from The Real People singing on it and his brother, Tony, sings on the chorus, which sounds really nice. Do you know the history of The Real People?

They were almost Oasis before Oasis, weren’t they?

SC: They wrote some great tunes and they helped to demo Oasis when they first got together. I think Liam Gallagher sings like Tony Griffiths because of that. Without being controversial, I don’t think Liam sang like that before they worked together. I know he tries to sing like Lennon but… anyway… blah-blah-blah.

‘When online concerts started, I thought: ‘there’s no way I’m going to be doing any of that shit!’ There were people doing it in their kitchens and the sound was shit. I haven’t done one and I won’t be doing one’

Like several of the songs on the album, The Pleasure Seekers has ‘60s flute sounds on it…

SC: Yeah – it’s that ‘60s Mellotron sound, but I also love a real flute. At the time of the album, I had a new digi-Mellotron called a Memotron – everyone had one. Listen to The Moons from that time – it was everywhere, like a bad rash, because it was new. The title of The Pleasure Seekers  came from a ‘60s film poster at Weller’s place.

Kites Rise Up Against The Wind has more ’60s psychedelic flutes on it and it’s pastoral…

SC: That song was originally a backing track that Charles Rees, who is the engineer at Black Barn, recorded for a bit of fun. That was around 2007. We would play it and love it – there was something about it. He gave it to me to write a tune for it.

‘I tried to put a really pretentious middle part into it, where you leave Earth and go to some other planet and then you come back to Earth. It was an experiment. Whether it worked or not, I’m not sure’

There was a guy called Davo [Paul Weller’s keyboard tech] who had a typical Scouse wit. He used to say [puts on a Scouse accent]: “Kites rise up against the wind, la.” I was like, “fucking hell – say that again!”

It was borrowed and I tried to put a really pretentious middle part into it, where you leave Earth and go to some other planet and then you come back to Earth. It was an experiment. Whether it worked or not, I’m not sure.

Little Girl is a very pretty song, with acoustic guitar and a really nice string arrangement, and Lay Down Your Weary Burden has a country feel, with pedal steel…

SC: On Little Girl, I was trying to go for an acoustic Neil Young thing. The lyric for Lay Down Your Weary Burden came from a poem Weller gave me – I put chords to it and then wrote a vocal melody. It’s kind of a dark, bitter tune, but hopefully the melodic chorus gives it some light at the end of the tunnel – there’s something beautiful about it.

The last song on the album, Ring The Changes, is a lullaby. It has snoring at the start and your daughter, Sonny, sings on it…

SC: She is horrified about it now. My son, Cass, was sleeping and we mic’d him up. It’s a nice little ending to the album. The middle eight is in F-sharp. When we were recording, we visited the local church when the bells were being rung. I spoke to the guy who was ringing them – the bell master. He told me they were in F-sharp. I said: “no fucking way! Can I record them on my phone?” He said:  “Oh yeah – of course you can.” It was luck – right time, right place.

And right key…

SC: Right fucking key! You can’t put a capo on church bells, can you?

The album is a lot more psychedelic than I was expecting it to be. When you’re doing solo records do you feel you can afford to be more self-indulgent than when you’re playing in a band, like Ocean Colour Scene?

SC: No – there’s no difference really. I like making music that’s a bit 3D – I love using delays and reverb. I don’t set out to make psychedelia. Some people have a spliff and it opens everything up – I try and make music like that. You don’t get it all from the first listen.

‘I’ve been recording with Weller’s daughter, Leah. I’m working on an album with her and it’s starting to sound really mega’

You have your own home studio, Kundalini. What’s the set-up like?

SC: It’s in a double garage at the back of my house. It’s sweet, man. I’ve got a drum kit, a grand piano and timpani drums in there – there’s a vibe. I do it all in a box – I use Logic and UAD. It’s so good these days. I’m not a big fan of MIDI – I play everything and then record it in a box. That set-up works for me. I’ve been recording with Paul Weller’s daughter, Leah – I’m working on an album with her and it’s starting to sound really mega.

 

I love the 2019 album you made with P.P. Arnold – The New Adventures of P.P. Arnold. Any plans to do another one together?

SC: I don’t know – we haven’t really spoken about it. That record took us a long time – we were working on it from 2016 to 2019. It wasn’t continual, as I was out on the road, but… it’s a double album. Anytime she asks to work with me, I would, of course.

How did you end up working with her? You were obviously a big fan, as she was a mod icon…

SC: Ocean Colour Scene had a studio in Birmingham that was close to a theatre that she was working at. As a fan, I took my copy of her album, The First Lady of Immediate, to get it signed, and I gave her some flowers. I told her we had a studio down the road and I asked her if she fancied coming to do some singing. She gave me a look and said [he puts on an American accent]: “Well, actually I’ve got to get back…” I was thinking ‘oh fuck.’

The next time I bumped into her was when I was playing guitar with Paul and she came to do a backing vocals session – it might have been for the Jools Holland show or something. She came in and went, ‘oh – it’s you!’ She remembered me.

She sang on Traveller’s Tune and It’s A Beautiful Thing for Ocean Colour Scene – she’s great and she’s still got a really fantastic voice.

Talking of collaborations, is there anyone you’d like to work with?

SC: I’d like to work with a rapper called Leaf Dog – I’ve spoken to him quite a few times. I got into him through my son, Cass. I think he’s really inventive – the way he uses loops and puts it all together. He’s really out there. I’d like to be in a room and see how he does his shit – it’s only four or eight bars and that’s it. It’s not like my generation and where I come from, which is all about songs and arrangements: intros, verses, bridges, middle eights and codas. He has a different take on it.

What music have you been enjoying during lockdown?

SC: There were two tunes. There’s a group called The Innocence Mission who have a song called On Your Side, which really resonated with me – I just think it’s so beautiful – and the other one was a track called The Poison Tree by The Good, The Bad & The Queen. I couldn’t stop playing it, like 20 times every day.

During lockdown, a lot of us have had time to reflect. How do you feel now about the height of your success with Ocean Colour Scene during the ’90s? Your album Moseley Shoals sold over 1.3 million copies around the world. Do you get nostalgic for that time?

SC: No. I don’t even think about it – the heyday. I’ve not listened to the record for many years – I don’t see the point really.

When did you first learn to play guitar? Were you self-taught?

SC: I’m self-taught. I was originally a bass player, from the age of 11. I had a really shitty classical guitar and I used to listen to the UB40 album Signing Off a lot. I’d pick up the saxophone melody parts, or the guitar parts that Robin Campbell would play. That’s what started me trying to play.

What other music were you listening to when you were growing up?

SC: My first three albums were all Greatest Hits : Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Booker T and the M.G.’s, but the first record that really did it for me was the B-side of The Jam’s The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow) – it’s a song called Pity Poor Alfie. I listened to that tune every day throughout my teenage years and I still listen to it a lot now. It totally blew my mind.

I liked The Jam, UB40, Elvis Costello and Blondie, and I really liked pop stuff, like Marc Almond and Soft Cell – I thought they were great. It wasn’t until later that I started to get into Motown.

 ‘I’d like to work with a rapper called Leaf Dog. He’s really inventive – the way he uses loops and puts it all together.  I’d like to be in a room and see how he does his shit’

You’ve played on almost all of Weller’s solo albums, haven’t you? That’s 15 out of 16 records, if you include the forthcoming one, Fat Pop (Volume 1.) You weren’t on his first one – the self-titled album. How did you first meet him? Didn’t you used to hang around his Solid Bond studio in London? 

SC: I did, but I don’t know about ‘used to’ – I went down once and managed to get in. I played him a demo of a group I was in called The Boys. He said: “It sounds like The Jam, don’t it?” I was like: “Ahhhh – yeah….” He was getting into house music. I went on a pilgrimage from my home in Birmingham – that’s the reason I did it.

Why and how have you managed to stay playing with Weller for so long? What’s the, er, solid bond, that you have?

SC: I don’t know. That would be a question for him, wouldn’t it? I do feel lucky that I’m still involved. He’s always been really lovely to me. He must like what I bring to the table.

 

The remixed and remastered version of Peace City West is out now on Kundalini Records – to find out more, visit http://www.stevecradock.com/.

Paul Weller’s Fat Pop (Volume 1), featuring Steve Cradock, is released on May 14 (Polydor Records).