An Orchestrated Songbook: Paul Weller With Jules Buckley & the BBC Symphony Orchestra is the latest live album release from Paul Weller and, in a way, a kind of extension to 2019’s incredible Other Aspects – Live at the Royal Festival Hall… You can buy the new LP here.
Where as that performance featured the full band, with the brilliant Hannah Peel as arranger and conductor with the London Met Orchestra, this sees Paul with Steve Cradock from his usual line up, backed by three fabulous BVs (more on that later) and the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Jules Buckley.
The concert at London’s Barbican, was originally scheduled for February 2021, but shifted due to lockdown and so it ended up instead being performed just one day after the release of the brilliant chart-topping Fat Pop (Vol 1) album.
15th May 2021 – I remember it well because my team – Chelsea – lost the FA Cup Final to Leicester. A fact mentioned on the live stream of the gig – along with the upcoming European Cup Final (which they did win!) – as Paul’s Chelsea scarf (a gift from Steve Ellis) lay on the piano – all content that didn’t make the cut of the album by the way!
How much this change of date ended up tweaking the setlist is unknown by me but at a guess he may not have included the two tracks that feature from that new album – and so holding off for a few months actually gives us the chance to experience to incredible new highlights in a frankly already ridiculously high-quality back catalogue – and the inclusion of Glad Times and She Glides The Stream – which are both simply beautiful.
This extraordinary performance takes 18 songs from his vast catalogue and reworks them for a sonically beautiful experience that really takes your breath away. The first time that Paul has sung an entire set with an orchestra this size and reading the sleeve notes for the album it was clearly a real privilege for him.
Talking during in rehearsals to the BBC, Paul said “It was nice to revisit some of the old songs. There were certain things that I wouldn’t have thought of putting in the set, but I’m glad they were picked. There’s a lot of things I’ve not played for God knows how long, a long time. You’re The Best Thing probably last time I played that was 1985 or something, but they are all choices that I felt I could do justice to. Most of them are popular enough that people would know them and there’s also enough things in there that I find interesting that people might not know, but I think the should hear. There’s some good songs there.”
I’ll save how I think it stacks up against Paul’s other live albums for another article, but it’s fair to say that this is something very special. Whilst I obviously enjoyed the live stream and BBC showing of the concert (and numerous replays since) the sound without the visuals is outstanding. The production of the album is even more lush, epic and grand. To quote Paul on the sleeve notes “To hear them go from storm and darkness to early morning sunlight and all in between was mind-blowing.”
We’re treated to two classics from The Jam, three from The Style Council and a mix of early solo to True Meanings, On Sunset and those two corkers from 2021’s Fat Pop album.
We kick off with Andromeda – reworked from 2010’s Wake Up The Nation LP. Paul taking his seat in front of the orchestra, alongside Chopper, but he’s guitar-less. His voice the only instrument that he plays on this track and much of the performance throughout – incredible… “Tiny, tiny shades of light came dancing gently through my window, as I waved goodbye to my other life” – and we’re into a stunning re-working of the songs “I raise my glass and I remember her. Oh sweet Andromeda”
On the night, Paul commented “We’re going to be playing a few different songs tonight from different decades, some from different centuries. This is something called English Rose.” although the quips and comments don’t make the cut on the LP. The Jam classic is taken to new heights. Back in 1978, it’s said that the reason Paul left this track unlisted on the All Mod Cons album cover was because he was so embarrassed by the honesty of the song. I’d love to know how The Jam army felt when they first played that album – The Jam gone soft? or something very special that you listened to and loved but didn’t talk about? or something else? Since then, Paul has written plenty of beautiful, emotionally naked, honest, open, revealing love songs, some of which feature on this album, but there’s something very special about this performance. I didn’t think that the Days of Speed version could be bettered for me but this one edges it. His voice gets better and better with age and the emotional pull of this one showcases it beautifully.
The Style Council’s My Ever Changing Moods is a song that regularly gets called out on my podcast as a favourite, and it’s easy to see why. I’d always assumed that this was a song based on being a grumpy old sod one minute and a laugh and everyone’s best mate the other but Paul once told Mojo: “It started from the title. I thought, ‘What a great title, My Ever Changing Mood. But it’s about nuclear holocaust as well. ‘The hush before the silence, the winds after the blast’ and all that. I think it’s probably like a lot of songs I’ve done… they start of being about myself and then I get bored with it and I make it into something else.”
The emotional impact that this song has in that context really hits home with the orchestra driving it forward – the brass and strings taking it to new levels. This is one of those songs that seems to be so versatile that every re-take, re-imagining just grows the love for it.
Teardrops turn to children, who’ve never had the time to commit the sins they pay for through, another’s evil mind”
Complete with new ‘ever’ and ‘changing’ echos from Paul and the BVs throughout. Simply beautiful.
Next we move on to the title track of 2020’s On Sunset with Paul picking up his acoustic guitar to play along. The song takes on a new meaning for me – those opening horns now sound sad, searching, missing something, building to that realisation that time has moved on “I was gonna say hi, but no one there. There’s me forgetting, just how long it’s been…” I try not to read to much into Paul’s lyrics, trying to second guess his thinking or taking comments made in interviews and having that as the meaning behind the song when I listen, I much prefer to think about what they mean to me and this version of the song reminds me of Time Passes from Stanley Road in a way. A song that means more to me with every year passing. Listening to On Sunset, I am struck by the realisation that time goes so fast, that things change so quickly, that I have to make the most of every opportunity and occasion. “And the world I knew has all gone by…”
Man alive. We’re only 4 tracks in and this is an emotional rollercoaster already right?
I have to say that Paul’s vocal is outstanding on this song. The combination of strings, horns with Paul and Steve, and those fabulous backing singers, building on the album version throughout it’s 6 and a half minutes.
We’re back to a classic from The Jam era for a performance of Carnation – taken from 1982 album The Gift – and last performed by Paul live around Christmas 2012 at Hammersmith Apollo – a song about capitalism and its negative impacts on people that still, sadly, rings true nearly 40 years later. The orchestra soars alongside Paul’s vocal here with Steve Cradock’s guitar playing lifted in the mix for the album vs the stream – and rightly so – the balance is just perfect.
Glad Times from Fat Pop is next, one of my favourites from the recent album, since it was first aired on Jools Holland one Friday night before the album arrived. “Hey baby, where you been? I get so lonely waiting for you. Thought you didn’t love me anymore.” Lord knows how you create a setlist for a Weller gig but I was surprised that this had no place on the 2021 tour – so it’s a real delight to hear it again here.
Broken Stones (the pebbles on a beach song”) is our first collaboration, with the brilliant James Morrison. On the BBC TV performance of this concert, Edith Bowman asked Paul “What do you look for when you think about collaborating? What is it that attracts you to an artist?” and he answered “Probably me as a fan to be honest. It’s like ‘I really love that persons voice, I’d love to sing with them…”
On James Morrison, he said, “I love his voice, I think he’s one of the greatest vocalists that we’ve got from any era.”
I remember when I first moved to London, joining Magic Radio, James was one of my first ‘celebrity’ experiences – coming in to the studio one Saturday morning to record a little advert for us to promote a secret gig. He was bubbly, warm, funny and, in his words, really f**king hungover – haha – we were done in ten minutes and then he was off. Definitely somebody who I’d love to have on the podcast too – so brilliant.
Check out his new Greatest Hits LP and 2022 tour here and get hooked on a real talent.
This song is the perfect vehicle for the two of them to duet on – tag-teaming through lines throughout – James smashing his vocals all the way through – what a voice – when we hit 2 minutes 30 – we’re into a blend of them together – mixing with the BVs – all working beautifully in the mix – taking this classic to somewhere new – incredible nearly 30 years after it was written. Paul moved on to piano for this one by the way.
Gravity from 2018’s True Meanings album is a very special song for so many fans – another one that is often called out on the podcast. Paul is back on guitar with Steve Cradock and a lush, under-stated arrangement and performance from the orchestra. It’s hard to build on perfection but this is so lovely – and a real lump in throat moment for me (a sign of getting older or just being exhausted?!)
One of the undoubted highlights of 2020 for any Weller fan was incredible Sky Arts Documentary on The Style Council and a very special finale of the band performing It’s a Very Deep Sea together for the first time in over 30 years, and whilst it would be impossible for this version to reach those emotional heights, it’s not far off.
If I remember rightly the BBC showing of this gig cut this song completely so it’s lovely to hear it on the album.
For our listening pleasure we’re now on to Bowie (again from True Meanings) and a song written with the super-talent that is Erland Cooper. Interviewed in Uncut Magazine about their collaboration at the time, Paul said “Even though it’s about Bowie, it’s about coming to terms with loss – so I related to it on that level. But I liked singing someone else’s lyrics. I’m critical of my own lyrics. Probably a lot of the time – it doesn’t even matter – it’s just me getting hung up – so it’s liberating to sing someone else’s words.”
Equanimity from the On Sunset album comes next. A word that I don’t mind admitting that I had to google when I first heard it. In case you were wondering… ‘Equanimity is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.’
Paul called it a ‘cheeky little number’ on the night before introducing one of his favourite singers Boy George. Last heard with Paul on A Kind Revolution smashing the vocal for One Tear, George performs The Style Council classic You’re The Best Thing with Paul here. I can only find two other performances of this song since Paul has been a solo artist – back in November 2005 in Cambridge for the As Is Now tour and at a Teenage Cancer Trust gig with James Dean Bradfield from Manic Street Preachers in 2004 – (Paul played guitar rather than sang on that one from what I can remember) and prior to that it was October 1987 in Manchester with TSC – Amazing! It’s such a beautiful love-song and so great to hear it performed live. I’d love to know why it’s not been played much over the past 30-odd years. I have to highlight how great Steve Cradock’s Gibson guitar playing is on this one – an absolute joy to behold as he kicks off with that unmistakable riff before Paul sings “I could be discontent and chase the rainbows end…” and George counters back with that unmistakable soulful voice. “I might shoot to win and commit the sin of wanting more than I’ve already got”. Paul was 25 when he wrote this song. Mind-blowing.
From the old to the new (that’s the song not George and Paul btw!) – we’re on to Fat Pop and that album closer Still Glides The Stream with Paul back to the piano and Steve back on acoustic. Shout out to Patrick Linton, Vila Malinga and Ladonna Young on backing vocals for this whole concert and album – and for me what is their best performance together on this track. Patrick’s closing moment is just beautiful.
Paul starts up on the guitar for Movin’ On taken from True Meanings – “I got the key to my heart, I don’t need nothing else” and before we know it we’re on to our final special guest, BRIT Award Winner & BBC Sound Of 2020 sensation Celeste who Paul called on the night ‘a favourite of mine for some time’.
A huge Weller fan, Wild Wood was also one of the songs that she covered on her first live performance so it clearly has a special connection to her personally and its great to hear her absolute smash her debut performing with an orchestra on one of Paul’s finest solo outings. The opening sounds more James Bond than the folky-classic that we know and love – but we’re soon into that unmistakable strum of Paul’s acoustic guitar and “High tide, mid-afternoon, people fly by in the traffics boom”. Celeste picks up the vocals for “Don’t let them get you down” and the two tag-team on verses and lines through the song. I must have heard this song live over 50 times and on record with 500+ plays in my lifetime and this new version is f**king fantastic.
The album now moves on to Rockets – with even more swooping strings added to On Sunset’s album closer, and then into that unmistakable piano opening of You Do Something To Me from Stanley Road.
A lovely way for anyone to spend 4 minutes – I’ll never get tired of hearing this song, and much like Ever Changing Moods, every version and re-imaging seems to take the song in a new direction and build on that 1995 original – It’s safe to say that he’s found now found that ‘peace I cannot find’.
Then we finish on White Horses – another Erland Cooper co-write from True Meanings – which also bookends that LP. The added flourishes from an orchestra at the top of their game bring things to a close and with a “Thanks a lot and good night” – an hour and eighteen minutes passing through a selection of 18 songs is done. It’s a brilliant listen and another fabulous live album to add to the collection.
Massive congrats to all involved – and especially to Jules Buckley – conductor, arranger, curator and composer, he really is a unique and rare breed of artist. On the one hand, I would love to have Jules on the podcast but on the other hand it’ll cost me a fortune. Let me explain. I have this crazy notion that for every guest who appears I need to own their work – their books, artwork, albums (vinyl now obviously)- some I already had as a fan of them already but the idea was to get a collection of work from some amazing talent over the course of this series – and in my head have something that I can hand to my kids in years to come with the podcasts for them to then take a deep dive into all of the connections that Paul has made throughout his career. Jules had already collaborated with some of the most important musicians on the planet before working with Paul, trailblazing his way through a staggering discography of almost 70 albums – so if Jules ever comes on the podcast my plan is screwed or I’ll need to re-mortgage the house.
In recent PR interviews, it has been great to hear Paul talking about Jules and how he pushed the boundaries and took him out of his comfort zone and the fact that the results are now a record for us to enjoy for ever more is a real delight.
Jules comments on the sleeve notes for the album… “It’s impossible to really describe the gratitude and love I have for someone whose music has soundtracked mine and so many people’s lives, so I figure a daft anecdote is better. One hour before the Champions League final I, as a cocky Man City fan, decided to double the bet I had with Paul on the game… I am still learning to live with the consequences…’
In case you’re wondering about the packages – I got the deluxe CD, which has a photo book inside, complete with postcards and English Rose sheet-music (which is a nice touch) and the double LP (bigger photo book but no postcards / sheet-music).
All songs were arranged by Jules Buckley except Gravity (Andy Crofts), My Ever Changing Moods (Tim Davies), On Sunset (Callum Au), Glad Times & You’re The Best Thing (Damiano Pascarelli), Broken Stones, Equanimity & Movin’ On (Jochen Neuffer), Still Glides The Stream (Tom Trapp), It’s a Very Deep Sea & Wild Wood (Simon Hale) and Rockets (Tommy Laurence).
All songs were performed by Paul Weller & Steve Cradock, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra: Leader, Stephen Bryant, Backing Vocalists – Vula Malinga, Ladonna Young and Paddy Linton.
Album Track Listing
- English Rose
- My Ever Changing Moods
- On Sunset
- Glad Times
- Broken Stones (Featuring James Morrison)
- It’s a Very Deep Sea
- You’re the Best Thing (Featuring Boy George)
- Still Glides the Stream
- Movin’ On
- Wild Wood (Featuring Celeste)
- You Do Something to Me
- White Horses