Paul & Andy
The sunshine boys
He hits me with his rhythm stick every time I meet him. After a show in Brighton we chat half the night away in his hotel room. The interview appears in the Evening News, which is a real coup because Paul refuses to talk to the ‘big’ papers, believing them to be the unacceptable face of capitalism. I’ve also interviewed him for the Daily Star and Daily Record. None of the national journos get to know these bands the way music-paper writers do. We’ve been on the road with these guys, got pissed with these guys, snorted drugs with (some) of these guys. The early bird catches the worms, which, incidentally, my hair has been free of since that fateful haircut late December back in ’67 (oh, what a night!). So . . .
Welcome to the two-tone zone.
The Jam. Two-tone mohair suits, two-tone shoes, two-tone harmonies, two-tone attitude.
Their sound is icky-sticky, neat and tricky. A growing legion of fans has pushed their latest album, Setting Sons, straight into the charts at number seven. The sound is fun, young and even charming, but the lyrics are dark, set in that adolescent void hogged by Jam fans − alienated teenage demi-mondes with no prospect even of a dead-end job. No employment means relentless TV and a dangerously disproportionate amount of self-analysis. Kings of nothing. But that two-tone approach has finally brought the band the kind of stardom that has eluded them since the beginning when they trod the same London pub boards as the Sex Pistols and the Clash back in 1976. Their single, ‘Eton Rifles’, is currently number three and this Sunday they start a sell-out three-night stint at the Rainbow.
Other bands from that era have since fallen by the wayside, deluded by malignant self-importance and dogged by misfortune. But the Jam, especially guitarist Paul Weller, refuse to inflict their egos on the pop public and quietly continue making a stream of classic singles.
‘I suppose I’ve been cynical since I was fourteen years old,’ says Paul, ‘since my teachers kept telling me what I should know when they knew absolutely nothing themselves. All they were good at was tripping out on acid. I could tell them more than they could tell me.’
It’s been four hours since the end of the show and he’s been drinking solidly ever since. Paul has always maintained that his shoulder is a chip-free zone. But that’s incongruous. Chips are necessary to any rock artist who’s worth his salt and my guess is there’s a whole plateful up there with the odd piece of skate thrown in.
‘I love the English language but when I wanted to read contemporary books at school they insisted on stuffing Dickens down my throat,’ he says. ‘Same with music. All they played was Beethoven and Tchaikovsky when they should have started from Elvis. Christ, I couldn’t even fill in a tax form when I left school. I had to educate myself. I haven’t got any special perception. Many of the letters I receive articulate my sentiments better than I do. It’s just that when I was thirteen I first saw the Pistols and they blocked my brain. At last, I thought, the whole youth culture has arrived. Before that the only bands I’d seen were Status Quo and Wings. You could never be them − but you could be a Sex Pistol.’
Older stars, like Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, infuriate Paul when they start spouting about the young generation. ‘People like that, setting themselves up as spokesmen for the kids, make me spew.
The young are the strength, the future of this country. I’m still young, I’ve got time on my side − what have they got?’
So how will he avoid falling into the same trap when he’s twenty-seven?
‘I’ll know when I’ve got nothing left to say. Then I won’t write things down any more -- I’ll lose my bottle.’
Surprisingly, Paul remains optimistic about the immediate future of music in Britain. Whereas contemporary observers are confidently predicting the end of the rock epoch, Paul firmly believes that the scene now is better that it was in 1976. ‘There are so many great bands around that I can only foresee it getting better. Groups like the Skids, the Ruts and the Undertones point the way − barring outside interference.’
Outside interference? From whom?
‘The Government. I know this will sound really stupid in print, but I wanted to send a copy of our new album to all the heads of state, just to try and make them aware of how the young feel about certain things. But I never did. I didn’t think any of them would bother to listen.’
Paul and his ilk are in touch with their followers because they have largely un-affected lifestyles. He lives with his girlfriend Jill in a London flat.
‘What else can you do but watch TV or go out for a drink? I do exactly the same as any other guy my age. Oh, sure, some people think you’re different, but that’s because they want to. Our fans know we’re just three ordinary geezers.’
The following morning the band poses for some photos on the beach and I dash back to London for an appointment with Andy Williams. From Genesis to Revelation.
‘Andy,’ says the PR girl to the honey-voiced entertainer in his London Hilton Hotel suite, ‘this is Barry who writes mainly about punk.’
‘Oh, really?’ he says, as we shake hands. ‘What -- like the Ramones and the Clash?’
Andy Williams. Shit! Who would’ve thought I’d be getting it on with the moonriver man himself (verbally speaking)? This guy is so laid-back he makes a sloth look like a cheetah. He caught the wind a long time ago, boxed it up and sent it second class to Saturn.
He lives in a breeze-free world that only money can buy.
Still, he’s definitely top of the pops as far as his three children are concerned. Noelle, sixteen, Christian, fourteen, and ten-year-old Robert all call their dad Poppa. And he loves it. ‘Their mother, Claudine, always called her father Poppa, like most French kids, and the three picked it up,’ says Andy, between puffs of a giant cigar. ‘I hope they never stop calling me it.’
Andy is preparing for his first British tour in three years. It coincides with the release of his new album, The Classic Collection. Dressed casually in pale blue polo-neck sweater and jeans, he paces the room as he talks of his divorce from Claudine. ‘The kids reacted to it very well, but then it wasn’t such a bad divorce. Claudine and I were separated for several years before the final split so they were used to it. But we have remained close friends and see each other a great deal.’
After the couple divorced Andy found himself emulating the character in one of his most famous records, ‘Solitaire’. ‘I was very lonely, not for a woman but for a family because, more than anything,
I’m a family man,’ and pretty home-loving too, I hear. ‘I missed the children and Claudine. But there was never any doubt that they would live with their mother.’
Then Andy met a beautiful young actress called Laurie Wright. ‘When I met her she was feeling very down because coincidentally, her parents had just divorced. ‘I invited her as my guest to Las Vegas where I was appearing in cabaret. It was all above board. She slept in a spare bedroom in my suite. In fact, Laurie was a house guest for six months before we started getting involved.’
Would he consider marriage again?
‘Not at the moment. She has her own career and her home in Beverly Hills. But I do like her to come on the road with me.’ Not many.
During the tour Andy will be consuming large quantities of champagne and beer. ‘It helps me unwind after a show. But I never take drugs. Just give me a few good friends, a decent meal, some fine champagne and I’m happy.’
When Andy returns to America he’ll go straight to Aspen where he’s just bought a ski lodge, and where Claudine and the children live. He’ll holiday there before heading for his new home in South Carolina. Then he’ll start work on his first Broadway show − in which he plays a Catholic priest. ‘I’ll have to grow a beard and dye my hair blond for the role. I’m excited about the whole thing.’
Andy, who’s sold more than thirty-five million records during his career, hopes his new single ‘Jason’ will be successful − for personal reasons. ‘I wanted something that tied in with the Year of the Child, and then a woman sent this song about a mentally retarded boy. When I sing it I think of my son Robert. He’s not retarded but he does suffer from dyslexia. It would be great if ‘Jason’ turned out to be a hit for me. It’s funny, the whole world is changing these days.’ He stares out of the window, still talking.
‘Things you read in the papers about some rock star’s sexual secrets wouldn’t have got in a few years back. Although I’m against censorship of any kind, the only thing that bothers me is that just because some star like David Bowie says something young kids might be influenced by it. I wouldn’t like to think that my kids were unduly influenced and that they could stand by their own ideals.
‘Look, I’m not against homosexuality. I think my children can take care of themselves in life and if one of them came to me and said he was homosexual I’m not going to beat him up. Life is over for me now. By that I mean I’m very content in doing what I’m doing. I have no more worries.’
(No worries. He did marry again, not to Laurie but to Debbie Meyer in 1991. He died of bladder cancer in 2012 aged 84, so he’s not almost there anymore. His birthplace in Iowa is a tourist attraction.)
© Barry Cain 2014
Check out Barry’s novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives