John Weller by Paul Weller:
There was nothing I could do that would shock him
If you were asked to write about your father, what would you say?
Ted Kessler posed this question to a number of well-known names for his book, My Old Man: Tales of Our Fathers. Their responses, by turns funny, tender and heartbreaking, offer a unique opportunity to reflect on our own relationships with our dads—who they really are, and how we come to understand ourselves through them.
In this exclusive extract, Paul Weller, singer and songwriter, remembers his dad John Weller.
He was my best friend. As well as him being my dad, we had a long working relationship, from the age I wanted to get a band together when I was 13 or 14. And we were lucky enough to continue that throughout my career, right up until he got ill towards the end. He was very supportive of me; one of those dads that whatever I was into he’d be right behind me. When I was into football he got a football team together, even though I was the worst player on the pitch. He was always up for whatever I was into. It was probably because he had such a lousy relationship with his own dad. That would always come out whenever we talked about being a father, how he didn’t want to repeat what his dad had done. He’d always be encouraging. And then I got into music and he could see I was serious about it.
He was still working when I was getting The Jam together, on the building site or on the cabs. He’d get a van, hustled off someone, and drive us to gigs. We’d have some gear but we also had to beg, borrow or steal other bits and he weighed in there too. Then he started getting us gigs. We’d go out in the week, the two of us, go round all the social clubs, working-men’s clubs, Liberal clubs in Surrey and hustle gigs for the weekend. Then it started becoming a bit more serious and he became our manager, not so much reluctantly as nervously. I remember him saying to us around the time we got signed to Polydor, “I’m not sure I can do this.” All of us said, “Well, if you’re not doing it then we’re not.”
“He was always up for whatever I was into. It was probably because he had such a lousy relationship with his own dad.… he didn’t want to repeat what his dad had done.”
He learnt as he went along. He had no prior experience other than street smarts. But he was the manager when The Jam were signed. After the initial scramble when The Sex Pistols and The Clash got signed, all the labels went out to find their own punk band and we were coming in with the next tide. The A&R man from Polydor came and saw us at the Marquee and it all led on from that. We thought ourselves very lucky to have been signed. Six grand and we couldn’t cash the cheques because none of us had a bank account. So my dad asked for it in cash. You can imagine how that went down.
I was 18 coming up to 19 around then, which was when I was meant to be rebelling, but there wasn’t much to rebel against in my old man. He was a cool geezer. There was nothing I could do that would shock him or that he hadn’t done himself—maybe drugs being an exception—and that could be a bit frustrating as a teen rebel. No cause.
“There was nothing I could do that would shock him… and that could be a bit frustrating as a teen rebel. No cause.”
But there were compensations. We always had a good relationship. If he was going to the working-men’s club for a drink, I’d go along with him. We were always mates. It wasn’t perfect: there were things that I did in my career that he wasn’t always supportive of. Such as splitting The Jam up at our peak. That’s probably top of the list. He thought that was mad. Like, why are you doing that? You’re number one! Any manager would be like that, though. And even he came round to The Style Council after a while. But if we didn’t see eye to eye then we’d have a tear-up and that would be that. Back to normal. You knew where you stood with him. He was brusque but charming with it. He was a bit of a bull in a china shop but you had to forgive him that.
Some of my happiest memories are after working on the building site with him when I was a kid, loading knocked-off gear into the back of the van that he’d borrowed. Also travelling back from gigs we’d played in clubs and pubs in London. After all the years of working-men’s clubs in Surrey, it was just nice to see some youngsters again. Then coming down the A3 afterwards, being p****d in the back of the van, singing with him and the band. Those are some of the best memories.
“But if we didn’t see eye to eye then we’d have a tear-up and that would be that. Back to normal. You knew where you stood with him.”
It should have been difficult spending a lifetime together, but we had some of the best fun. The best memories nearly always involved booze, always shorts, never beer. He could drink a river dry of booze and still be bright and breezy in the morning. God knows how he did it, because he was only a little geezer. Nobody could ever work it out. Maybe he had hollow legs. I have so many memories of him reducing me to tears of laughter and some incredible scenes in my mind. Nearly always in bars. Hotel bars. Backstage bars. Airport bars. Lots of bars. I’ve got so many stories about him but none that anybody could print. So quick-witted that he got away with murder because of his charm. A Teddy Boy managing a rock band. Everyone just loved him.
I thought his passing was a blessing. He was really not in a good way the last four or five years—he was ill before that, but those last years were really sad to watch. It’s a cliché but if he’d been an animal you’d have had him put down. This once proud, strong man looking like someone in constant turmoil was not good to see. You can never tell how you’re going to feel with someone’s passing. I wondered if I was going to fall apart, but I didn’t because the person I knew had gone years before.
“It should have been difficult spending a lifetime together, but we had some of the best fun… I have so many memories of him reducing me to tears of laughter and some incredible scenes in my mind.”
When I saw him dead in the hospital it was a beautiful April day, really sunny. The window was open and he looked at peace at last. I dealt with it okay because of that. I’m my father’s son. He was strong and I have some of his strength of character. I also see the lineage of him and our forefathers in my kids. It’s not so devastating when you can see that link passing down through the generations. I really believe that. He’s still here in my kids, in me.
Loneliness leaves a child unsure of their place in the world, it inhibits their development, and it deprives them the need to give and receive love. Between 14–20 June we’re exploring how isolation impacts lives, and we’re celebrating the bonds of family—where children belong.
Buy Ted Kessler’s My Old Man: Tales from our Fathers from Bookshop.org and all good booksellers.
Copyright © Individual Contributors, 2016
Selection and Introduction © Ted Kessler, 2016
Extracts from My Old Man: Tales from our Fathers reproduced with permission of Canongate Books Ltd.