45 of Paul Weller's 63 years have been spent in the music industry, so it's not surprising that over that time the legendary singer-songwriter-punk-rocker has generated a huge amount of material. In 2021, Weller reflects on his career, teaming up with Jules Buckley and The BBC Symphony Orchestra to recreate some of the highlights in a brand new way. The Mic's Maia Gibbs gives her take on 'An Orchestrated Songbook'
Everyone has tokens from their childhood which shape them in later life. Maybe it’s a favourite film you watched with your siblings, a book that your grandparents got you, a family recipe. One of mine is my dad and his love for Paul Weller. The Woking warbler served as a soundtrack through many of the special moments of our shared history. You’re the Best Thing was my parents' wedding song, Sweet Pea, My Sweat Pea is mine and my dads and, as he kindly told all of his children, (as people over 50 tend to do) a Weller track to be played at his funeral. So to hear some of his best songs reimagined in such a beautiful way is truly a treat.
One seems to forget the great scope of Weller’s song-writing and musical achievement. His career started with mod revival/punk rock band The Jam, who pumped out 18 consecutive top 40 UK singles, including 4 number ones. Amazing, I know - I certainly went down a rabbit-hole on their Wikipedia page. Did you also know that as of 2007, That's Entertainment and Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero? remain the best-selling import singles of all time in the UK? That’s an anecdote for any musically literature party you may be attending this festive season.
"Weller’s voice is in great form, perfectly harmonising with Boy George on You’re The Best Thing, Celeste on Wild Wood and James Morrison on Broken Stones."
Followed by The Style Council, who as Weller paired with Dexys Midnight Runner’s keyboardist Mick Talbot, saw a more soulful songwriting direction. Yet the band saw a diversity of musical styles - and was definitely my favourite of Weller’s career.
Yet the true scope of his can’t be described in one article - he’s credited with the creation of the Red Wedge, a pioneer of the emerging acid jazz scene and an aficionado of an eclectic and diverse solo creation.
Weller has released hit after hit and tune after tune. To release a ‘high-brow’ version of his tracks does in some way feel comical considering how intellectual and inspirational his records have been. Yet to hear these collection of iconic songs rearranged with the BBC orchestra is like Christmas come early.
This is a great collaborative piece, as Weller pairs up with Jules Buckley, the esteemed conductor, composer, and arranger. He is a true match to The Modfather, being a Creative Artist in Residence with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, previously collaborating with Massive Attack, and John Cale. Weller’s voice is in great form, perfectly harmonising with Boy George on You’re The Best Thing, Celeste on Wild Wood and James Morrison on Broken Stones.
I will admit the Orchestra isn’t really my cup of tea, so I thought it best to just write about the songs I enjoyed most. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by critiquing musicians that have more talent in their left eyeball than I do in my entire body. Although I love spreading my opinion like it’s a new variant of covid, I do hate to look stupid. (I have also found that critiquing Boy George has never gone down well either – so I won’t do that either).
The album starts with Andromeda - which is oddly (though enjoyably) Christmassy. It’s twinkly and grand, the original guitar riff being replaced by a great string section. It feels very traditional in that sense, but that is coming from me - who knows nothing about orchestras.
The album’s filled with some of The Jam’s classics. Including English Rose, which has a sixties sounding arrangement. It, as-well as Carnation are transformed with a mood that feels distinctly pensive and deeply reflective.
He could definitely sell some of these songs as film scores, that’s for sure. They’re suitable for an Edgar Wright or a Guy Ritchie – something quintessentially British and dramatic. 1988's It’s a Very Deep Sea and Wildwood are filled with swinging strings and grand brass, which although don’t make for casual listening could possibly be good if you were doing something energetic, extravagant.
Maybe running? Or the gym? I don’t know. Who in their right mind does that? This isn’t to say that the album is completely classical and serious, though.
It’s my personal opinion that their isn’t enough Mariachi brass in music at the moment. Something which My Ever Changing Moods gladly corrected. The horns and strings sections are terrific and is definitely the standout of the album. If you ever wanted a Mexican infused, Northern Soul reminiscent, British Indie classic reimagined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra this one is certainly for you.
Overall An Orchestrated Songbook is another show of Weller’s musical shapeshifting – an album full of innovation and nostalgia, it is definitely worth a listen.
Edited by: Elliot Fox
Featured images courtesy of Paul Weller via Facebook. Video courtesy of Paul Weller via YouTube.