Paul Weller: Who's the Daddy?
There’s a clip from a TV show called Check It Out in 1980 where Paul Weller’s dad, John Weller (Paul’s manager from The Jam days until his death in 2009, aged 77), talks about his role as a father to his only son. “I couldn’t give him money,” notes John, a handsome, then 49-year-old cockernee geezer, “I couldn’t give him an education, but I could give him inspiration.”
Paul Weller, just turned 54, ponders these words over a latte at 11am in a comically non-showbiz tapas cafe on London’s Portobello Road and nods in recognition.
“He was a unique character, me old man,” he muses. “He wasn’t in any way academic, or me mum. They were proper old-school, working-class people. He had a really lousy relationship with his own dad and I think you either stay in that cycle or you think – I’m gonna change it. And that’s what he did: he took time, encouraged me and my sister.
"So that’s what fatherhood in my eyes is: to be friends with your kids, involved. You didn’t have that so much when I was growing up. Most of my friends, they were quite the opposite: no relationship with their father, or abusive, awful,” he says, suddenly smiling.
“It’s me eldest son’s 24th today and now I’ve got the twins [four months old, non-identical]; all that age range. One of my twins is called John Paul after me dad and he really looks like him as well. There’s something in his eyes.”
If it’s in some ways surprising to hear Paul Weller, sometime Angriest Young Man of the post-punk generation, talk so affectionately about both his dad and his now seven children, be sure he remains as inscrutably tough as the punk-rock renegade he was back in 1977, both buoyantly friendly (still giving up the fags, five minutes in he offers me a puff on his electronic snout) and seen-it-all-sceptical, dressed immaculately as ever in a light blue, shimmering three-piece suit. “But it’s not like I sit around indoors in a three-piece suit, covered in baby shit and puke,” he quips, gamely.
This Sunday, June 17, is Father’s Day, and Paul Weller, The Modfather, has today become an almost mythological, national father figure. “Not to my children,” he snorts, “I’m very real to my children!”
He’s a father to 24-year-old Natt and 21-year-old Leah (from his marriage to Dee C Lee), 16-year-old daughter Dylan from a brief relationship with a make-up artist (both now living in LA), Jesamine, 12, and Stevie Mac, 7, from his 13-year relationship with Samantha Stock.
In 2008, he left Sami for backing singer Hannah Andrews, 26, now his wife and mum to their twins, and this relationship, he’s often swooned since, is the love affair of his life: “I’ve been in love, but not like this.”
Evidently, he’s both emotionally and musically thrilled: his 11th studio album, the tremendous Sonik Kicks, is the record Blur would aspire to make today if they had the spirit, cohesion and effortless melodic nous.
Responsibility, it seems, finally suits him. “I was feeding one of me twins the other day,” he smiles, miming a babe in arms, bottle at mouth, “and I don’t know why it should be such a revelation but I thought, ‘Fucking hell, I’m properly responsible for this little person. He relies on me’. It hit me in a very clear way. It was… wow, d’you know what I mean? It still knocks you out every time.”
Of all the qualities Weller hopes to instil in his kids, the one he cares about most is the one inherited from his parents: “A work ethic. I’m old-school. Anything you want in life you have to work for, which don’t really apply these days. Everything’s the flick of a button or the smash of a window.”
His children, he notes, are “privileged: nice house, good schools, but they’re classless, really”, wishing for them only “to be happy in what they do, but they’re all smart, my kids, pretty sussed, especially the girls”.
Last year, the US comedian Chris Rock advised this to fathers of daughters: “Fathers! Our only job is to keep our daughters off the pole.” Does Weller agree?
“Well, my daughter Leah went to pole-dancing classes, actually,” he chuckles. “She didn’t do it as a profession, but for fitness. Nothing wrong with it, really.”
Would he be happy if his daughters dated someone like him, when he was a young man?
“Pfff, well I’d avoid that if I could,” he balks. “Maybe me as I’ve become, but not when I was younger. I was a right pain in the arse! But Leah and Dylan have both got really nice boyfriends. They seem really respectful. But if they weren’t, I’d sort ‘em out and that would be the end of it, d’you know what I mean?”
Do he and his good pal Noel Gallagher swap dad tips when they meet?
“No, I never have that conversation with Noel,” he insists. “And we’re dear friends and I live across the road from him. I see him maybe twice a year. He tours a lot. He popped round with his missus and kids a few months ago for a cuppa tea and his two little lads are really cute, lovely little boys, and Anais is big friends with Jessie, they’re exactly the same age, but we never have those conversations.
“I think he has those conversations with Chris Martin, ‘cos that’s his posh friend, innit? He’s gone upmarket with Chris and Gwynnie and left the scum class behind [enormous smile]. But, yeah, I dunno why we never talk about it. We never talk about grown-up things, we just talk about music.”
There was a time when Paul Weller was surely not such a hands-on dad, in the booze and drug-berserk 1990s, when he was – as Noel Gallagher persistently described him – “a nutter”. Once, during a Bonfire Night party round Gallagher’s fabled Supernova Heights, Weller flailed around the garden, last man standing, playing guitar with his shirt off, shouting “Well-ah! Well-ah!” at the top of his voice.
“Only according to him!” roars Weller, incredulously. “I remember I had a piss in his garden, which he wasn’t very happy about. I only went to his house once. But I stayed for three days. Possibly outstayed my welcome. Shocking, that was. We were doing gear [cocaine] and I’m one of those people: I’ll do it until it runs out. I think we’d played a benefit gig with The Charlatans and then piled back. The Who’s Who of Britpop was there, but it’s all a bit murky. The good old days,” he adds, ruefully.
This year, The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess released his autobiography, Telling Stories, which features both Weller and a central, unrelated revelation: Burgess and his bandmates used to blow cocaine up each other’s bums for a lark. Today, the pair are both 100 per cent drug and booze-free.
“I wasn’t as extreme as Tim,” scoffs Weller. “Blowing coke up your mate’s arse… I just think you have to draw the line, call me old fashioned. I was never in that league. And I stopped it all ‘cos I just got bored with it, y’know? It’s the same with any addiction: after a while it’s just a drag, it’s just a burden [he mimes cig to lips]… ‘Gotta have a fag’… You wanna be free of any baggage.
“Same with booze. I stopped two years ago in July. I haven’t had a hangover for two years and that’s the big difference. It’s brought sanity, clarity, to everything. And going out proper on the piss, it took me two, three days to get over it, depressed, and that’s just not me. And I can’t afford to be like that with my kids. You’ve got to be there. And God knows what it would be like with the twins, having a fucking hangover, Jesus!”
In 2012, Paul Weller is, he notes, “finally comfortable in my skin and confident about who I am. It’s taken me half a century to find it properly”. He remains a magnificent swearer, especially when citing the reasons he stopped writing politicised music after meeting local Labour MPs on the anti-Thatcher Red Wedge agit-pop tours back in 1986.
“They were careerists, all of ‘em, including cuddly Ken Livingstone,” he points out, witheringly. “A lot of middle-class fuckers I had nothing in common with. The PC mob as well made me sick, all these cunts living in Hampstead talking about how we should get people to mix and I’m thinking – people mix down here, on Portobello Road, and they don’t need some posh cunts telling ‘em, they just do it anyway. So it was tainted for me, really.”
Politics today, he muses, is “wishy-washy”, today’s politicians “interchangeable, well-scrubbed public-school boys” and adds if he did still write political lyrics, “it’d be exactly the same words as I wrote 30 years ago, ’cos at the core it’s always the same people in control and the same people who get shat on. But, y’know, I play music, I’m not a politician”.
It’s a wonder, ultimately, Paul Weller remains not only a musician in 2012, but a great one, someone who should by now be (as so many of his peers are), either musically woeful, a parody of himself, mad or dead. He contemplates why he isn’t and mentions not his dad this time, but his equally beloved mum, Ann, 71.
“My mum always tells this story,” he smiles impishly. “I was maybe two years old and she took me to see an Elvis film at the pictures. I had a little plastic guitar and I was standing in the aisles [mimes guitar bedlam] and singing along.
"Not that I’m claiming to be any child prodigy. But I’ve just got the music in me, I think. So I never question it. It’d be like comedians saying, ‘Why am I funny?’ You just are, so fucking get on with it.
“I was born to do music. I’m meant to do it and that’s good enough for me. And I’ve no grand ambition outside of just being able to continue doing it as long as I live.”