Daniel Rachel talks to a variety of English songwriters about their craft. Below, The Jam’s Paul Weller discusses what makes a song particularly British:
“Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” revealed your sophistication and depth as a songwriter. Can you describe the evolution of that song and your changing ability to hone in on the small and the particular?
That started as a long prose-poem thing, like a short story in a way. It came from my insecurity and paranoia at being in London. I didn’t have any music for it. I was in two minds whether to do it. I was coaxed and talked into it by Vic Smith, our producer at the time. He was saying: “This is really good, you should try and set it to music.” The attention to the details is part of the person I am anyway, but it’s also bound up in the mod ethos which is predominantly all about attention to detail. We were talking about English songwriters: it’s picking up on the mundane, the everyday things and putting them, into a different setting, the very, very ordinary feelings, emotions or details that, once in song, you hear them in a different way. Without something too poncey or pretentious I was thinking about pop artists as well, where they took the everyday objects and made them into art. I don’t think it’s that dissimilar.
What was the appeal in chronicling the mundane?
It’s a very English thing, the way we all like to moan about the weather or we like a cup of tea or a particular fucking biscuit and all that nonsense, but it’s us. It’s our identity, isn’t it?