Thursday, January 26, 2006

Paul Weller - A solid bond

Paul Weller will win the Outstanding Contribution to Music Award at the Brits. David Lines has spent 25 years in thrall to him

For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Weller's work has resonated like a heartbeat in my life, pumping hope and love and inspiration and attitude through my veins, driving me and guiding me, lifting me and loving me. Does that sound too flowery? I don't know. And get this: I don't care.
I was 13 when the Jam's This is the Modern World blew me - literally - off my feet. I was a strange boy in a strange city - Leeds. Uprooted from my native Nottingham and plonked in Yorkshire, I thought that my life would be in turmoil for ever. I was miserable. At my new school I had the piss ripped out of me constantly for the way I talked, I missed my family and the friends I had left behind terribly, and something of my childhood was also left behind in Nottingham. But then one day I found the Jam, and suddenly my life didn't seem so empty. This is the Modern World kicked down the door and flooded my world with fresh new life, breathing power and glory and attitude into that little boy lost in Leeds. I'd found the Jam, I'd found Paul Weller and I knew, I just knew, that I was in it for the long haul.

First there was the music, then came the style. I did my hair like Paul's and saved up pocket money for a pair of desert boots. I reversed my school tie so the thin bit was at the front. I couldn't afford a real fishtail parka but I did have a blue snorkel one. Spray-painting 'The Jam' on the back of it somehow didn't have the same effect... White socks and boating blazers, bowling shoes and button badges all eventually became part of my wardrobe, and the image that I so desperately wanted to re-create helped me get through becoming that most self-conscious yet least self-aware of things; a teenager.
It wasn't all plain sailing. Having a hero had as many pitfalls as it did pleasures. I'd seen pictures of Paul in Smash Hits wearing a Dennis the Menace button badge. I'd been hunting everywhere for the same one for months but, unfortunately, my search proved fruitless. Then, one Saturday afternoon in summer, I stopped outside the local record shop. A toddler, with a mop of blonde curls so enormous that it looked like a comedy wig, was sat in his pushchair waiting for his mum to come out of the shop. My heart skipped a beat - pinned on his romper suit was the exact same button badge as the Dennis the Menace one I so desperately wanted. I had to have it. I looked around - there wasn't a soul to stop me taking it from him. I reached down and unclipped it. His bottom lip started to tremble and he began to cry. I quickly tried to stick it back on him before his mother appeared, and in doing so I pricked both my thumb and my conscience. 'Here you are, I think he dropped this ...' I muttered to his mum as I stumbled off.

And then, just when it was all coming together for me, just when the world seemed right and fun and full of good things, Paul Weller split the Jam.

Of course, I took the whole thing terribly personally. I built a bonfire at the bottom of the garden and piled in all the posters of Paul I owned. In, too, went the T-shirts and interviews once lovingly Blu-Tacked to my bedroom wall. I even threw in the badges and bowling shoes I had saved so hard for. Then I set fire to the whole lot. He'd hurt me and I didn't know why.

When Weller re-emerged with the Style Council it all suddenly became very clear to me. The Jam were totally unique and that's why the Style Council were so different from them. The new direction Paul was going in with the Council tested fans to their limits, and many jumped ship. But not me. I completely dug the Style Council. They never failed to delight me with all manner of new sounds: lounge jazz album tracks; heavy, funky numbers; and soulful, sweet pieces of pure classic pop.

While the Jam had made me want to go and bring down a deckchair on someone's head, the Council made me want to go and get my nails done. When Paul was going through his French phase I, too, threw colourful cashmere sweaters around my shoulders and launched myself into full-frontal Frenchness. I switched my brand of cigarettes from Silk Cut to Gitanes and subsequently spent the next six months peeling bits of tobacco off my lip.

With the Style Council, Paul made me see the split from his old band afresh. He'd been unhappy with the Jam - so he left. I was unhappy at school - so I left. I wanted to write for a living and I knew that being at Garforth Comprehensive wasn't going to help me, so I walked out and got a job in a bookshop. It turned out to be the best move I'd made, surrounding myself all day with great writers - and all because Paul Weller split the Jam.

When I was a teenager I followed Weller's music, his look, his shoes and his haircuts obsessively. Anyone who's a real fan knows that it's never just a phase, it's real, it means something and there's a special sort of relationship that exists between a fan and the subject of his devotion. And while friendships change and your youth slips away and your life isn't quite what you thought it would become, there's something solid and comforting in following someone who has never let you down. Even 25 years later, what was special about The Mighty Paul Weller still holds true. He is still the greatest singer-songwriter this country has ever produced. His latest album, As Is Now, is the best thing he's ever released. He continues to write real songs about real life that move real people.

Next month Paul Weller gets his gong at the Brits. It's on 15 February, which happens to be my birthday. I'll be raising a glass to the great man and playing some of my favourite tracks. Some men follow a football team, man and boy. Me, I follow Paul Weller. He's written the soundtrack to my life and there's a song for every occasion. There always has been and there always will be. He just gets better and better with age.

Someone asked me the other day which album I thought was Paul's best. I didn't flinch when replying. 'The next one ...'

· David Lines, a very early convert to scooter culture, has his book, The Modfather: My Life with Paul Weller, published by Heinemann on 2 February

*texto publicado na ediçao de domingo, Janeiro 22, 2006
do suplemento cultural do semanario ingles The Observer