Paul Weller: ‘The UK is led by idiots – public-school idiots. They don’t give a f**k’

The singer’s new album is his most political since The Jam eviscerated England’s class system with Eton Rifles in 1979

There are days Paul Weller can’t bear to watch the evening news. All the suffering, pain and anger creeps under his skin and darkens his mood. “I like to think I’m quite an optimistic person. I like to look for the good things. Sometimes I find it hard. I have to not watch the news for a bit. It makes me down,” says the British rock icon, pausing to pour a restorative glass of water.

“It becomes your world view. It permeates your everyday life, which is not good. It’s shocking what’s going on. Obviously, with Israel and Palestine, it’s incredible that the whole world’s not up in arms about it. I don’t understand how, in the modern 21st century, genocide and ethnic cleansing seem to be brushed under the carpet. It’s f**king weird, man. Politically, our leaders as well: on the one hand you’re sort of selling guns and bombs and bullets, on the other you’re delivering food aid. It’s f**king incredible.”

Weller, who’s playing two open-air concerts in Ireland this summer, is seated at a glass-top table in a blindingly swish apartment in central London, where he’s promoting his new album. It is called 66 – a wink towards the summer when England won the World Cup but also a reference to the age the former Jam and Style Council leader will turn the day before its release.

It’s a cracking record, brimming with emotionally raw ballads and psychedelic rockers. It also contains some of the most political songs Weller has written since eviscerating the English class system with The Jam’s Eton Rifles in 1979.


The album opens with Ship of Fools, an energetic duet with Suggs, from Madness, that evokes images of flailing men swimming in circles while a “storm takes flight” with “no land in sight”. Weller is even more explicit about the wayward state of British politics on the LP’s closing track, Burn Out, where, singing lyrics written by his friend Erland Cooper, the Scottish composer, he wonders why we can’t “bring back revolution”.

“It’s a mess, man, a total mess,” Weller says of the UK government when we talk, before news breaks this week of Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a general election. “It’s led by idiots – public-school idiots. It hasn’t ever been too different. The difference now is that they’re blatant about it. They don’t give a f**k. They take the piss and are not really bothered whether you know or not. That’s the feeling I get from it. Just looking after the boys’ club. That’s what it is. It’s always been that, right? But it’s more upfront now. They are probably more emboldened about what they can do. There’ll be a backlash against it eventually. I don’t know when it will happen, but I think there will be.”

Weller wears the decades well. Though the songwriter looked up to by generations as the “Modfather” has accumulated the inevitable worry lines, his eyes are bright and inquisitive. He’s still a great dresser, too: this morning he sports a fantastic gossamer cardigan that looks like something from a hipster remake of The Lord of the Rings.

A significant contributing factor to Weller’s sprightliness is his decision 14 years ago to give up drinking. He had never been an out-of-control carouser. There were a few embarrassing videos of him on the town, but nothing that would ruin anyone’s reputation. There were certainly never any messy gigs or public meltdowns. The problems were in his personal life. In 2010, he was about to marry for the second time. For the sake of the relationship, he needed to sort himself out.

“It definitely made a massive difference to me, personally. In my thinking and that. Creatively, I don’t know if it made a difference or not. Because I was still fairly prolific before that. Still making, I think, good records – 22 Dreams and Wake Up the Nation, both of which I remember very little of making at the time, because we were just on it, on the session.”

He remembers everything about making 66. Much of it is political, but other songs paint a riveting portrait of domestic bliss. While the album was written after lockdown, he leans into his memories of that time: quiet days with his wife, Hannah Andrews, their 12-year-old twins, John Paul and Bowie, and their seven-year-old daughter, Nova. (In all, Weller has eight children and is also a grandfather.)

The album is a proper pick-me-up in places. The positivity flows on the balmy single Rise Up Singing. “When you’re heading out/It’s only love that you’re bringing,” he sings in a soft croon very different from the propulsive rasp he affected on classic 1990s moments such as Wild Wood and The Changingman.

That tone continues in the ballad Nothing, a beautiful ode to his wife, in which Weller reflects on the importance of love (“It was only by having nothing/We were able to realise/We needed nothing else”). Lockdown brought out something different in him, he says. He had toured nonstop since he was a teenager. When it all came to a crashing stop, he finally had the opportunity to take stock – and count his blessings.

“That first part – the weather – I don’t know what it was like in Ireland but from March onwards it was [sunny] every day for months. I made the most of it, man. I made a record during that time, Fat Pop. For me, lockdown was good. I was down the studio recording and doing stuff remotely with my band, and that was good stuff. My kids were down with me as well. We were all together. We were lucky.”

He is good company but a tricky interview. He’s the opposite of his friend Noel Gallagher, who will offer a gonzo opinion on any topic you care to bring up.

Weller, by contrast, doesn’t dabble in controversy. He starts the conversation, for example, by talking approvingly about the campus protests in the United States opposing Israel’s actions in Gaza. Ask about Israel’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, however, and he swerves expertly. “Israel – is that Europe now, then? Is everyone in it? Abu Dhabi? So Europe’s extending?”

He also skilfully sidesteps a question about U2. In 2018, Gallagher claimed Weller had called him to complain about Apple foisting U2’s dire Songs of Innocence album on to iTunes accounts globally. “Weller called me up and said, ‘Tell your mate – tell your f**king mate – to get that thing off my iPhone,” Gallagher recalled. Asked about the alleged incident, Weller shrugs affably. “I never got the app on my phone because I didn’t have a phone.”

One Irish person about whom he speaks warmly is George Best. The Belfast soccer star features prominently on the cover of Stanley Road, Weller’s classic love letter to symphonic rock and freewheeling soul-pop, which arrived in the glory days of Britpop, in 1995. The image is by Peter Blake, who famously designed the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and who, at 91, created the sleeve for 66.

It was Weller’s idea to put Best on Stanley Road. “I only ever saw Georgie once – in the late 1960s. He was still at Man U. They played a charity match in Aldershot, which is kind of near where I come from. That was the only time I saw him in the flesh. He was just f**king brilliant, man.”

He is equally effusive about Blake and his catching cover design for 66. “He’s f**king brilliant still. My first introduction to him was Sgt Pepper. I didn’t know about artists particularly when I was a kid. I knew his name from Sgt Pepper. I liked all those pop artists. It wasn’t until the pop artists that I related to it.”

The memory of England’s first and only time lifting the World Cup burns brightly in Weller’s memory. He was only eight but vividly recollects Geoff Hurst scoring the winning goal against Germany. He also recalls the music.

“I was up in Cheshire. I was visiting relations up in Chester. I remember that. It was a good year – quite a good summer, as I remember,” he says of the soccer tournament. “And incredible records coming out. The Stones: Paint It Black. Reach Out (I’ll Be There) by the Four Tops. God Only Knows and Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys. It exploded.”

Like all musical careers, Weller’s has had its ups and downs. The Jam were acclaimed, but many of his fans turned on him when he formed the more soul-tinged Style Council. “Dispensable dross”, Sounds said of their 1984 debut, Café Bleu. “Should have been an EP”, went an NME review of their 1987 album The Cost of Loving.

In the 1990s, his fortunes changed again. Weller’s second solo record, Wild Wood, from 1993, received acclaim across the board. Two years later, he released Stanley Road, his masterpiece, which is named after the street where he grew up, in Woking, a commuter town in Surrey, just southwest of London.

Stanley Road made Weller the toast of the Britpop generation. He wasn’t much older than his fans in Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene – he was just 37 in 1995 – but because he had been around for punk, their veneration knew no bounds.

“I wasn’t calling it Britpop. I was happy to see – and it had been some time – proper bands going out on the road. And, more importantly, all these people wanting to come out in the clubs again and see bands. That was the great bit of it – a bit like punk. It got another generation of young kids to go and see live bands again, man. You didn’t have that in the 1980s, I don’t think – not in the same way. [The 1980s] was an era of everything being big – you had to sell millions of f**king records. You had to have shoulder blades, like, this big. It was nice to see people genuinely excited to see live bands again.”

Britpop reminded Weller of his early days with The Jam, which he formed with friends at school after seeing Status Quo in concert in 1972. He also discovered mod culture, a celebration of dapper dressing, slicked-back hair and an omnivorous musical diet of rock, pop and jazz.

He was off to the races. Managed by Weller’s father, The Jam did the pub-and-club circuit in Surrey. Then, in 1977, their debut single, In the City, went top 20. From that moment on, it was all go.

“It was good fun. It was the first time I saw what it entails to be in a proper working band. Prior to that we’d done gigs, but only playing pubs two or three times a week. Then we got on the club circuit a little bit and started to get a few more shows. We’d never done a proper tour that lasted for a month or something. It was getting used to that. The physical side of it as well. I was only 18, 19, so you’ve got the energy then. I was still f**ked by the end of it. It was an interesting time.”

Productive, too. The Jam released their debut LP, also called In the City, in May 1977. Six months later came the follow-up, This Is the Modern World. “With the first album, it had taken me two or three years to get the songs together. And then our A&R man said, ‘You should do another album this year – a second one, like The Beatles used to.’ So I was, like, ‘Sh**… I’ve got to write another album.’ It took a little while for me to get the hang of it. Then by the third album I’d [got it down].”

Weller is happy to reminisce – but only to a point. Taken too far, nostalgia can be counterproductive, he says. When he reflects on the past, he tends to dwell not on his achievements but on his embarrassments. Better to push on than stew over mistakes and things he has regretted saying.

“When I look back on a lot of life I sort of cringe – some of my views, being rude to people and drunk and generally f**ked up at times, mentally or whatever way. There are times I look back fondly. To look back is not always beneficial. It will either make you sad because that time is gone or will make you cringe because you were a different person then and would have done things differently. I’ve my head in today, to be honest. Not even tomorrow. Just now, as much as possible.”

66 is released by Polydor/Universal. Paul Weller plays King John’s Castle, Limerick, on Wednesday, July 3rd, and Trinity College Dublin on Thursday, July 4th