The organisers of Record Store Day might be disappointed by Paul Weller’s announcement that he’ll no longer be involved, but they shouldn’t be. Now everyone knows about this annual celebration of vinyl racks and “real” music, and even if a mere handful of people are inspired to buy a turntable and get spinning, then it’s job done.
Weller’s stand came after he discovered that copies of the limited edition single he’d done for Record Store Day had been put on eBay before they went on sale on the day itself. Apart from doing the back-to-vinyl movement a big favour, the episode confirms that he’s one of the last of a dying breed – the good guys of rock. He can come across as something of a curmudgeon, but there’s always been the sense that his heart and mind are in the right place.
His outburst was a welcome attack on the sleazebags and parasites who blight everyday life with their cheapskate schemes and tawdry little enterprises. The endorsement by the new Culture Secretary Sajid Javid of ticket-touting (or scalping, as the Americans say, a much more on-the-button name for it) passed by with remarkably little moral outrage.
Weller has form in the curmudgeon stakes, famously spluttering with anger when told that David Cameron had named “Eton Rifles” as his all-time favourite song. “Which part of it doesn’t he get?” he wondered. “It wasn’t intended as a fucking jolly drinking song for the cadet corps.”
Perhaps the most curmudgeonly thing he ever did was to split up The Jam at the height of their fame. They were always a band apart, thanks in part to his lyrics, which could be elegiac and wistful for old values, but often with a jagged edge, an anger at the state of things.
Rather than allowing The Jam to become a heritage band, he ended it all when they were still at the top, saying, “I’d hate us to end up old and embarrassing like so many other groups do. I want us to finish with dignity.” And so he did (though the other two weren’t as keen), hoping that the memory of the band – which had stood, he said, “for honesty, passion, energy and youth”, could “maybe exist as a guideline for new groups coming up to improve and expand upon”.
As Bob Stanley recalls in Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, Weller capped ticket prices for Jam gigs and always made sure they finished in time for fans to catch the last train home. It’s the kind of thing you might imagine Bruce Springsteen doing, and he’s one of the few other rock giants who comes to mind as possessing the kind of qualities that make Weller stand out.
Who else is there? Bob Geldof, of course, and Chrissie Hynde, forever kicking up a fuss for good causes. Stories abound, too, of how terrific a bloke Robert Plant is, while Guy Garvey, judging by his brilliant 6Music radio show, is the all-time nicest man on the planet. There’s Bono, some might say, but he’s disqualified by the air of preening self-importance that seems to hang around him.
That’s the quality that marks out the likes of Weller and Springsteen – their stardom seems to matter little to them. They come across as regular, right-thinking guys who happen to be musical gods. Representatives of the modern breed – will.i.am, say – are certainly stars. But there’s a sense that this is what’s most important to them, and most important about how we view them. I could tell you a fair bit about will.i.am, but I couldn’t hum many of his tunes.
It used to be about the music; now it’s about the wealth and status music can bring you. Which is why vinyl is important for reasons that go beyond sound quality and good design. It’s a reminder of old values. We need Record Store Day, but we also need grumpy old men like Paul Weller telling us what’s what.
Why Paul might not be the only one going underground
The B612 Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting us from asteroids, has put out a cheery little video detailing each of the major impacts between 2000 and 2013. The voiceover is calm, almost robotic, giving the whole thing a sinister quality to chill the bones. They ranged in explosive power from one to 600 kilotons. For comparison, the Hiroshima A-bomb was 15 kilotons.
Happily, they all exploded in the atmosphere and caused little damage down here – and unlike the Chelyabinsk incident last year, most of them occurred over the oceans. The foundation is backing the Sentinel telescope, which from 2018 is scheduled to scan the skies from orbit and give us early warnings. The message is clear: it needs only one of the asteroids to get through and we could be on our way to mass extinction. Carpe diem, my friends. Carpe diem.