Paul Weller is one of the most well-respected musicians Britain has to offer. He started his musical career as the fresh-faced frontman of Woking’s premier trio, The Jam. In that band, Weller would pen some of the most stinging takes on British society in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He was only a teenager when the Jam burst onto the scene and presented himself as an old head on a young body.
Many of the band’s lyrics were concerned with working-class life and the social turmoil of the ’70s. The Jam biographer, Sean Egan, commented that they “took social protest and cultural authenticity to the top of the charts.” Weller was an avid reader, taking huge influence from thinkers such as George Orwell – particularly the 1984 author’s time in Barcelona.
His own working-class background greatly influenced Weller. He also knew that life is not black and white and is full of contradictions.
Whilst he had little personal exposure to the daily grind of low-paid work, the future ‘Modfather’ came to articulate every facet of working-class life across the country brilliantly. This was astonishing as the band were so young. By the time they split in 1982, Weller was only 23. Remarkable.
After The Jam split, Weller would truly come into his own as an artist. From 1983 to 1989, he fronted the blue-eyed soul group, The Style Council, a stark departure from the “angry young man” temperament he was seen as espousing whilst in The Jam.
After The Style Council split up in 1989, Weller found himself without a band for the first time since he was 17. However, this would not phase him for too long. Throughout the ’90s and beyond, he embarked on a highly successful solo career that also managed to keep hold of the fans he cultivated in The Jam and The Style Council. Currently, he has released sixteen solo albums, with the latest, Fat Pop (Volume 1), released in May 2021.
His solo career has seen him touch on styles such as acid jazz, funk, rock, folk and even tango. If it has not already been made clear that Weller is an all-encompassing musician, it is fitting that he has a wide range of influences. Weller has spoken about his love for the Small Faces, The Who, Nick Drake, the Beatles, and James Brown at points over his career.
However, another figure influenced Paul Weller, so much so that it led to Weller writing a song about him. This mysterious character is none other than Pink Floyd founder and one-time frontman Syd Barret. Barrett has inspired no end of iconic musicians, and given that the guitar music of the ’60s massively influenced the young Weller, it comes as no surprise that Barrett has also made his mark. This seems less surprising when you note both’s penchant for paisley patterned shirts.
The song in question is ‘When Your Garden’s Overgrown’ from Weller’s 2012 album, Sonik Kicks. The song is an aptly psychedelic ode to the late Pink Floyd man, drenched in reverb and featuring lots of weird, B-movie feeling synthesiser lines. Furthermore, Weller brought in none other than Noel Gallagher to provide the grooving bassline. Speaking with Absolute Radio, Weller praised Gallagher’s musical talents. He said, “He’s a good all-rounder, people don’t realise what a good musician he is; he can play keys, bass, all sorts really, harmonica, electric kettle, all sorts.”
However, coming back to Syd Barrett, Weller explained, “I think this song’s about Syd Barrett”. He continued, “It’s like, what would it have been like if he hadn’t got into music? If he’d gone off to the continent and just been an artist on the side street in France. He probably would’ve been happier. There’s some lines in there about the brush strokes of fame, and I’m thinking of Syd at the time. He was an artist at heart, not a rock star.”
Weller directly name-checks Barrett; the line is “Roger’s off on holiday”, a direct reference to Barrett‘s real name or perhaps his Pink Floyd bandmate, Roger Waters. After, he mentions “Syd’s unflinching stare”, referring to Barrett’s iconic ice-cool stare. Weller provides us with an uplifting yet yearning song concerning what Syd Barrett could have achieved in life without the infliction of celebrity and all the pitfalls it brought. It is a touching testament to Barrett and well worth a listen.
Listen to ‘When Your Garden’s Overgrown’ below.