Most seasoned musicians would know only too well that to nickname you the “Changing Man” would be tantamount to giving the music press a loaded gun on hold. But Paul Weller is not most musicians. Wonder Woking’s insatiable appetite to create and evolve saw him last week releasing his sixteenth solo album, Fat Pop Volume 1 and last year joining Lennon and McCartney as the only three artists to have had an album. number one in the UK for five consecutive decades. So it looks like he chose his soul mate well in multi-talented and award-winning composer Jules Buckley.
It turns out that Buckley and Weller first tried out this project after performing at a Quincy Jones concert, with Buckley admitting to taking the opportunity to sew the seed. No project too daring for Buckley it seems? Almost, but even the creator of the Heritage Orchestra and recipient of multiple Grammy Awards admitted that he found the prospect of reinventing Weller’s songbook “intimidating” through three incarnations.
If Weller thought he screamed at the top during the two-night sale at the Royal Festival Hall in 2018, this Barbican curation won the day. In this majestic setting we see a large orchestra, a trio of gospel-type choristers and of course Weller’s constant companion and “legend”, Steve Craddock.
Andromeda is the opener with Buckley taking his rightful place in the limelight. The second issue, English Rose, sees us go back over forty years and a few different Mod cultures, to realize that Buckley did his homework here by choosing some delicious work from Jam’s first song.
‘The Maestro’, as Paul Weller playfully calls it, waves in an elaborate trumpet before this hard-hitting jazz intro for ever-changing moods. “Daylight turns to moonlight” as Weller finds her range on a sumptuous arrangement. Ferocious scales on strings, improvisational backing vocals, is it when he’s at his best? Most likely then the camera gives a telltale nod of satisfaction, as if to say “did my music sound really that good”.
The silence between songs, without applause, is excruciating to begin with: even an old man like Paul Weller gets a few chills when he introduces the wrong song. The slower pace of On Sunset offers scarcity and room for virtuosos, one being the floating flute. ‘And the palm trees are swaying’ and the music too, it’s enchanting.
Carnation, from The Jam’s last album, is moving and thunderous and then we hear Glad Times, a track from the last LP and again it’s hard to find fault. “One of the greatest voices on these shores” is James Morrison’s greeting as he leaps up with a nod to the mod and accompanies Broken Stones with aplomb. There’s a curious chemistry between songwriter and conductor, and room for rumbling on a private bet on a football game, which intentionally remains vague to all of us.
There’s a myriad of things to mention, but our next guest is “an old friend” Boy George and while his vocal range has aged his showmanship doesn’t have one iota. Dressed in an exuberant three-quarter jacket suit and sneakers, he’s all set on Your the Best Thing. Celeste is our latest guest, “one of my favorite talents”, who is once again dressed to impress the mood and the partners on a haunting rendition of Wild Wood. Whether the Paul and Jules dream-team repeats itself or not remains to be seen, but on the basis of this performance, we can only hope for a rereading.
…. There’s another chance to hear or see the concert next month here:
BBC Radio 2: June 13, 2021 / BBC 6 Music (highlights): June 17, 2021 / BBC Two: June 19, 2021
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