It’s rare these days that you find yourself stood in a queue full of 40-something music fans and realise you’re one of the youngest there by a mile. But the amazing thing is that at a gig such as this, you realise that you all share something unique in common. The artist you’re about to see has influenced and inspired the lives of so many people over generations, and despite the difference in age, you’re one of those people.
This is the feeling I got as I waited patiently in line for Paul Weller at Delapre Park on Friday 19 July. It was the first of three headlining gigs at the new Alive @ Delapre festival in Northampton, and as I queued amongst the old and the young, a relaxed but excited buzz was obvious. It was clear that many of these fans had seen the music legend in concert before – perhaps whilst he fronted the hugely successful band The Jam in the 70s, or even during his days with The Style Council in the 80s. For me, this was a first and I found myself jealous of those who had seen him in his early The Jam days.
As we were allowed to enter into the venue at 6pm sharp, it became clearer to me that there were so many fans there that appeared to completely idolise Weller. In a sea of Fred Perry shirts and Mod haircuts (that resembled Weller’s almost a little too much), I became very aware that his 37 year career had truly affected people in ways I couldn’t even imagine. Most of these fans had probably seen The Jam when they were about my age.
Once I’d gotten over my feeling of inadequacy, I turned my attention to support band, TOY. Having heard very little by them beforehand, I hoped that this gig would introduce me to something new and a little exciting. I was spectacularly wrong. A band that seemingly wouldn’t crack a smile if you threw live puppies on stage for their entertainment, TOY played songs that – to me – all seemed to blur into one, long, psychedelic instrumental. Their stage presence was relatively inanimate, bar a few bobs of the head here and there and lead singer (who showed an uncanny likeness to Placebo frontman Brian Molko) seemed to stare of into space from behind his curtains for the entire set. I was pleased when it was all over, to say the least.
It was then time for the main attraction. Strutting onto stage with all of the swagger you’d expect from the Modfather, Weller went straight into opener ‘Sunflower’ from 1993 solo album ‘Wild Wood’, donning a pair of yellow shades. Seeing Weller so close in the flesh really makes you realise what a fucking cool guy he is. At 55 he can still perform with all the grace and swag he had back in the 70s. It’s awe-inspiring stuff.
Following with ‘Wake Up The Nation’ and crowd favourite ‘From The Floorboards Up’, the atmosphere began relatively chilled as the warm summer’s sun gradually set over the picturesque Delapre Park. However, after performing the beautiful ‘Sea Spray’ and launching into Style Council classic, ‘My Ever Changing Moods’, the crowd changed. From mellow, the crowd turned to excitable and many a middle aged Mod began jumping around emphatically to the soulful sounds of The Style Council.
This marked a change for the entire gig to be honest. Each song produced a rougher signal of appreciation from the crowd and you got the feeling that the older generation were reliving their days of glory with every song played. After playing a few songs from most recent album ‘Sonik Kicks’ including ‘Kling I Klang’ and the fantastic ‘The Dangerous Age’, Weller did what all had been waiting for and went into The Jam classic ‘That’s Entertainment’.
For a relatively slow, acoustic song I’ve never been in such a rough crowd. It was the ultimate crowd pleaser, and I can imagine there were a few tears shed from fans who’d waited many years or even their whole lives to see Paul Weller performing The Jam once again. Not only this, but with barely a breath in between, Weller threw us into ‘Start!’ by The Jam, and a whole new level of excitement hit the crowd. Being knocked to and fro, I and 6,500 others chanted along to The Jam in bliss.
Rounding off the set with huge number ‘The Changingman’ from 1995 solo album ‘Stanley Road’, the crowd was sad to see Weller and his band walk off stage. Not for long though, as they returned shortly afterwards to perform an encore of four songs, including Rose Royce cover ‘Wishing on a Star’ and ‘Wild Wood’. Ending on his biggest number to date, the 1982 number 1 hit single for The Jam, ‘Town Called Malice’, almost every person in the park was on their feet dancing. A proper feel good end to a fantastic gig, everyone left the park in high spirits and with a genuine feeling of elation.
Whilst I heard many in passing say that they had hoped for more early songs from The Jam, I had to disagree. I thought the set was perfectly proportioned, even though admittedly there were many songs I hadn’t heard before. Why should he have to fill his set with songs by The Jam or The Style Council when the show was for Paul Weller? His solo career warrants a big enough catalogue of songs to not have to rely on past bands to make up the numbers. I think the songs chosen were well thought out and incredibly enjoyable. Kudos, Weller. You made the night one I will never forget.