Saturday, October 30, 2010

From The Royal Mail To The Forum: Paul Weller

From The Royal Mail To The Forum: Paul Weller

I am a massive Paul Weller fan. And I didn’t even realise it until a few days ago. I mean, I’ve always liked him, and regularly include his songs on mixed compilations. But it finally dawned on me just how much Paul Weller stuff I have. In anticipation of his concert, I began listening to various songs on my iPod. I have a couple of The Jam albums, all of The Style Council, and most of his solo work. In fact, as I look back, Paul Weller has played, and will play, a significant role in the key moments of my adult life.

As a young man I was hooked on A Town Called Malice and That’s Entertainment. They were the type of songs I wished I could write. Sadly, my efforts didn’t even come close. For our wedding, my wife and I chose You’re The Best Thing, which is still a very special song for us. I still remember the DJ we hired did not have a copy of the song, so he bought the album. It makes me laugh now as I recall he announced the married couple to the dance floor and played track 9, not track 10. For those not familiar with Cafe Bleu, track 9 is the rather unwedding- like Strength Of Your Nature. Across the other side of the room, we were frantically waving (and laughing) at him to stop. Finally, he stopped, apologised, announced the married couple again, and then proceeded to play the exact same song again. This went on another two or three times. In the end I had to go over to him, put his headphones on him, point out track 10, and let him hear the song properly. Shouldn’t he have played the song prior to the wedding reception? There was rapturous applause when, at last, we hit the dance floor to You’re The Best Thing. Of special significance to me is the song Brand New Start, which is one of the many songs that feature on my Funeral CD (but that’s another story).

So, it was with much excitement that I caught a train into the city to see Weller. As it was a warm day, I’d decided to meet Scog at the Royal Mail, in West Melbourne. The Royal Mail is just past a short walk from Flagstaff Station. When I say just past a short walk, I mean it is just enough past a short walk in order to build up a healthy thirst, loathe joggers, and appreciate cabs. The Royal Mail is a quiet and unassuming inner city pub, of the old school type. Most of the patrons are locals, and newcomers are greeted happily and welcomed. Everyone dips in and out of each other’s conversations. It’s not flashy or pretentious, and it delivers exactly what it should every time – a perfect cold beer on a hot day. It seemed like the perfect place to be before a Paul Weller concert. The idea was to have a few quiet beers between 5.30 and 7pm and then Scog would make his way to the station and I’d wander on down to The Forum. By 8pm, I was still caught up watching Scog play pool, and chatting about music, football, and family. I called it quits at 8.40 pm and stumbled out to catch a cab to The Forum.

The atmosphere was fantastic. I’m not sure if the people who had seats at the back paid more for them, but I reckon if they did, they were robbed. The real excitement was the standing room right in front of the stage. Perfect viewing, a bit of banter, and a short push and shove to the bar. Although, after taking out a second mortgage to pay for the two Jack Daniels, I decided I’d had enough to drink for the night.

Weller swaggered onto the stage, belting out tracks from his latest album, Wake Up The Nation, as well as from As Is Now. This was no Greatest Hits compilation – I suspect he chooses which songs to play carefully. And, at 52, Weller could easily settle for touring around with Hits and Memories, with such a vast songbook of popular tunes. It is a credit to him that he writes as good as ever, and he plays his songs with such passion and energy, that both old and new mesh together so well. A few songs in and Weller was well settled, alternately chewing gum, smoking, smirking, and singing, with a voice that hasn’t lost any of its vibrancy, or aggression.

The crowd helped to step it up a notch, getting into Shout To The Top, and That’s Entertainment. But, for me, the performances of You Do Something To Me, and Brand New Start were brilliant, as was Fast Car/Slow Traffic and Wake Up The Nation, which showcased the excellence of his backing band. The truth is, it was a perfect set. Each song fitted in place to enhance the whole show.

It was clear that Weller was enjoying himself, too; returning for four encores, including a superb acoustic session. There were a few murmurs about why A Town Called Malice was omitted from the set. Each to their own. The band were so good at what they did, that it was a privilege to watch them play anything. Weller should be congratulated for not being predictable, and having the courage to take some of his more complex arrangements on the road. And, after all, he is The Modfather – he’ll sing you a song you can’t refuse.

Ps: If you don’t own any Weller, you can get Hit Parade, which is a compilation of his better known songs across his whole career. If you can’t afford all his albums but want a deeper insight than Hit Parade, then I suggest three compilations: Compact Snap (The Jam), The Style Council Collection, and Modern Classics (solo work). That should keep you happy for a while.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Radio Daze

Let’s go back. Way back around the early seventies. No iPods. No cd players. Not even portable cassette players. Radio was King. Anyone who loved music would be glued to Uptight, or the Happening 70’s series. GTK was essential viewing. And later there would be Countdown, Sounds and Night Moves.

But, the overwhelming source of Rock was Radio.

Any time that we couldn’t blast out records on our stereo, we could be found with a radio. And on the AM band, it sounded just the alternative was...Nothing! It was our constant companion on weekends and holidays, rain, hail or shine. We’d sneak a listen to it in my dad’s car, if we could, on those days when he’d leave us in the car park of the pub, whilst he had a couple of beers with his mates. Or, out front of the local TAB.

However, the best times, the most special times, were when I’d sneak my parents’ transistor into my room when it was time for bed, and listen to it through my pillow, or under the blankets altogether. This was no tiny pocket radio – it was a big as two house bricks, and, like all radios of the time, the volume only had two settings: ‘Way Too Low I Can’t Hear Anything’ and ‘Way Too High, I’m Gonna Get Sprung Soon.’ The second volume setting was always worth the risk.

As the second youngest, I would be sent to bed before my brother, whom I shared the room with. That gave me plenty of time by myself to listen on my own. Besides, he had almost no interest in music, and to this day still suffers the same affliction. Listening to music then would take me away to a whole new world. The ice cold cement walls that turned your room into a meat freezer, or going to bed still hungry would soon be forgotten as I entered the world of Rock Gods and cared about nothing except guitar solos and looking cool.

I remember being blown away by the CCR cover of I Heard It Through The Grapevine, and would always be disappointed if the station played the edited version, instead of the classic 11 minute jam. Of course, back then I had no idea it was a cover, and didn’t hear of Marvin Gaye until I was a few years older. There are hundreds of songs that had a huge impact on me, but some of the notable ones that I am still fond of now are ones like In The Year 2525, by Zager & Evans which sounds so much better in the dark, on your own. Indian Reservation by Paul Revere & The Raiders is still a good pop song, and certainly stirred the imagination of an impressionable eight year old. The Five Man Electrical Band also had the classic song Signs, which I thought was so cool and rebellious - I'd sing it all day at school, "Imagine that, huh, me, workin' for you? Whoah!" The Weight by The Band is the greatest rock song written, with the classic first lines, "I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin' about half past dead." The DJ's would never say the name of the song. If you asked me as a child what my favourite song was, my reply would be, "That song I don't know the name of by the band I don't know." I think the name I used was The Load. It typified everything I wanted Rock to be back then. It still does now.

The song that still stops me in my tracks is the brilliant Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel. I never tired of listening to it, as did my whole family. It was such a shame that my fourth grade teacher stole the album when I took it to school...Or was that Sounds Of Silence? Anyway, the song first introduced to me on radio, soon became a family favourite. Even our mother liked the song. When she died in 2000, we decided that the funeral ceremony would feature one song chosen by her, I Love You Because, by Jim Reeves, one song chosen by our father, Too Young, by Nat King Cole, and one chosen by the six kids, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Whenever I hear that song , wherever I am, I can’t not listen to it. Of course, it reminds me instantly of my mother. But, it also takes me back to my radio days, driving in the car, sitting around the table arguing, sitting by the pool in the backyard, or lying in my bed, but in a whole other place, until reality gate-crashes the party, when my mother would walk in, turn the light on, give me a clip across the head, and yell, “Your father’s been looking for that bloody tranny! Now go to sleep!”

I miss all of that.

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