Home-made Jam: the very English poetry of Paul Weller

By Lee Gale

Writer and musician Simon Wells knows a thing or two about cool British culture. His previous books have covered The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and homegrown cult films, and he’s also co-curated a Sixties film season at London’s National Film Theatre. Perhaps, though, his latest project falls closest to his heart. His new book, In Echoed Steps: The Jam And A Vision Of The Albion, is an investigation into the poetry and literary influences of Jam frontman Paul Weller.

To Wells, the Modfather is more than mere pop legend. He’s on a par with Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and Lord Byron, albeit with a distinct talent for distilling his thoughts into three-minute psychedelic compositions. So take off your green parka, dust down a copy of Geoffrey Ashe’s 1971 tome Camelot And The Vision Of Albion and butter some crumpets using the blade of Excalibur. As you are about to discover, Weller’s words have a lineage that can be traced back to King Arthur.

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The generator game: a visit to Drax Power Station

Despite the industrial ravages of the Eighties, the landscape of Doncaster in England’s unfeasibly flat north-east is still one of railway sidings, chimneys and canals. There is, however, a recent exclusion from the horizon. Colliery winding gear, so long a feature of the terrain, has vanished, although from the window of a Hull-bound train you’ll still see the odd slagheap sprawled out like an oversized, fast-asleep Labrador. Coal, which powered the industrial revolution and the engines of the British Empire, is no longer mined in Yorkshire. In 1984, there were 56 pits in the region but the 2015 closure of Hatfield and Kellingley collieries brought to an end an industry that had been active since Roman times.

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Bills ’n’ thrills and violins: Peter Hook

Clocking in at over 700 pages, former New Order bassist Peter Hook has much to say in his new book Substance, which catalogues, in fan-delighting minutiae, his tumultuous tenure in Britain’s foremost indie four-piece. Intra-group wrangling, love trysts, moodiness, shocking amounts of white powder and hangovers from hell defined the band’s existence. Throw in some jet lag, tax issues and ownership of a loss-making nightclub and you have a story that’s more epic than any film could ever capture (although Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People from 2002 gave it a good try.)

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Tony Garnett: the film-maker with his own epic story to tell

As autobiographies go, Tony Garnett’s The Day The Music Died: A Life Lived Behind The Lens is as gritty, honest and heart-wrenching as the film and television work that he’s known for. In the Sixties and Seventies, his career was entwined with that of director Ken Loach, a producer on such notable dramas as Kes (possibly the finest film ever made), Cathy Come Home and Up The Junction. In the Nineties, Garnett’s BBC projects This Life, about a group of hedonistic law graduates, and The Cops, focusing on a police station in the fictional northern town of Stanton, were both controversial and strong signifiers of their time. Continue reading Tony Garnett: the film-maker with his own epic story to tell

808-orchestrate: Rowetta and the Haçienda Classical

When Rowetta joined the Happy Mondays in 1990, not only did she bring the Mancunian masters of indie-dance crossover a more soulful presence, she provided additional visual stimulus to a band that was already pretty watchable in the first place: cos the Mondays had Bez!

With her dominatrix toughness and body hugging bondage attire, Rowetta arrived as an equal partner in this most laddish of lad bands. Here was a woman who was clearly having a ball. With every swish of her whip, Factory Records shifted towards the mainstream: no longer would indie automatically mean an embracing of the mediocre. Soon, Pills ’N’ Thrills And Bellyaches arrived, an LP that was basically a summer holiday on vinyl, reaching No.4 in 1990. Rowetta’s extraordinary vocal range and “Yippee-yippee-yay-yay-ay”-ing perfectly counterbalanced Shaun Ryder’s Nike Air-wearing, couldn’t-give-a-toss cool. We just wished that our girlfriend was hot like Rowetta.

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One foot in the groove: Cock & Bull Festival 2016

When your knees have started to knock and there are too many miles on the clock, the idea of spending a weekend in the sprawling metropolis of Glastonbury brings on a sense of unease rather than excitement. All that expanse, all those people and, can you believe it?, Coldplay!

Nowadays, of course, there are more festivals than bands but for those of us not overly fussed about standing three-quarters of a mile down a field to watch Muse on a distant screen, there are options. Take the Cock & Bull Festival near Bath, for example, a 500-capacity gathering that manages to mix music, DJs, farm animals, decent food and reasonably priced drinks. Cock & Bull is more Livestock than Woodstock, with pigs, cows and sheepdogs all delighted that you could make it.

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Donald Trump is not amused: the illustrations of Stanley Chow

Unless you have broom handles for legs, it’s become practically impossible to buy jeans in Britain. “Skinny” is now the nation’s regular fit, while “Regular”, well… you have to assume every pair has been dragged from the shelves of the high street and taken to the nearest incinerator. All of a sudden, everyone’s starting to look like Max Wall.

One location that’s stubbornly impervious to the enforced narrowing of fashion is Manchester. Here men, on the whole, still dress like they’re off to see Oasis at Maine Road. Perhaps it was an act of black magic conjured in the bowels of the Factory Records office one long night in 1989, but it’s like a spell has been cast on the city, meaning that the width of jeans will forever provide legs with much-needed space. It certainly pays to visit Manchester in the sales and stock up on wide-fitting denim.

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A nation divided: Frank Field MP on Brexit

Two weeks on from the referendum and the dust is far from settling. Some people are a few friends lighter while others are feverishly posting messages about loopholes that might prevent the UK’s break from the EU. Facebook, once home to throwaway banter and pictures of slap-up breakfasts, has transformed into a political shooting alley. Leave voters tread with extreme caution on social media or have stopped using sites altogether. Right now, there seems no end to it, although the ever-reliable Billy Bragg made a valuable point on his Facebook page earlier this week, telling his 273,000 followers: “Though it may be painful for the Remainers, democracy must prevail. The alternative is unthinkable.”

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Vinyl demand: Tim Burgess puts the needle on the record

Bloomsbury, London: the heart of British literature and not a shop selling vinyl records for, oof, at least half a mile. Tim Burgess, frontman of The Charlatans, is sitting in a stupendously sunlit room in the offices of Faber & Faber, publisher of his new tome Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco. Part paean to LPs and part autobiography, it features a cast of 54 contributors including Ian Rankin, Lauren Laverne, Andrew Weatherall, Bob Stanley and David Lynch, with each naming an album that deserves closer inspection.

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