As I watched Paul Weller perform at Glastonbury last night my wife said that he ‘was looking good’. Being a secure kind of guy I had no problems with this undoubtedly true observation, but when she followed it with the question ‘how old is he now?’ I felt a little more uneasy, as contemplation of Paul Weller’s age led me to reflect on what has happened to us both over the years.
It might initially seem that there is little in common between Paul Weller and me. One is the founder of The Jam, a rock star of worldwide fame and a renowned smart dresser, and the other…well, the other isn’t. There is one thing, though, that gives us a close connection – we are both sons of Sheerwater. Paul John Weller was born in this area of Woking in 1958 and I was born only a few months earlier and only a few streets away. Whenever I hear a Jam or Paul Weller song or whenever, as last night, I see him perform, I am reminded of the fact that we go back a long way.
That’s what I said to my wife last night as The Modfather performed some of his most famous songs on The Pyramid Stage. She was good enough not to point out how often I had told her this before and as she marvelled at his haircut (‘you could get yours done like that’) she was also good enough to let me trot out my ‘me and Paul Weller’ anecdotes.
The first concerns a schoolfriend who, in 1975 when we were in the Sixth Form, answered an ad in the local paper and turned up to a room above a Woking pub to audition for a band. This friend, a bass player with a love of BB King and the blues, didn’t make it ( ‘we had musical differences’), but he realised a couple of years later that the boy who had auditioned him was Paul Weller and that the band in question was the one that became The Jam, the band whose songs provided the soundtrack to my college years and my early adulthood.
The second is about the way one of The Jam’s songs provided both the inspiration and the title for a screenplay I wrote in the early nineties. ‘The Eton Rifles’ was a film about an exchange programme between a boys’ boarding school and a struggling inner-city Liverpool comprehensive. It was a comedy of class warfare, the kind suggested in Weller’s hit song (‘all that rugby puts hairs on your chest/what chance have you got against a tie or a crest’), and it caught the attention of Alan Bleasdale who , ever since ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’, had been a particular hero of mine. Bleasdale was producing films by new writers for Channel 4 and he took on ‘The Eton Rifles’. An exciting few months followed. I had made it, I thought. A glittering screenwriting career lay ahead.
As is so often the case when you think something good is round the corner, I turned it to meet a wall. ‘The Eton Rifles’ , alas, was never made, but whenever I hear the song that inspired it I always think of the more famous son of Sheerwater and ask myself whether, back in 1958, we might possibly have passed each other in our prams.