A warm summer’s evening, a beautiful setting at Delapre Abbey, a sell-out 6.500 crowd and Paul Weller, one of British music’s greatest singer-songwriters, on stage belting out classic tune after classic tune.
I doubt Northampton has ever been quite so Alive.
Yep, the opening night of the three-day Alive@Delapre music festival on Friday was a triumph.
It was a fantastic occasion, with Weller on top form and the crowd revelling in the opportunity to see a genuine legend of the music world strutting his brilliant stuff, right here in Northampton.
As far as I know, Weller has only played in town once before, and that was a hastily-arranged Phoenix Festival warm-up at the Roadmender way back in 1995.
Much to my frustration I was out of the country at the time as I was on holiday, so there was no way I was missing the chance again to seeing the former Jam and Style Council front man in my home town this time around.
You may have gathered from what I have already written that I am a big Weller fan.
His music has been a major part of my life since I was a 10-year-old kid at St Mary’s Middle School in Northampton.
At that time, in 1979, The Jam were on their way to becoming the biggest band in the country.
I was hooked from a young age, and have been a fan ever since, through the Style Council and then on to his solo career, which alone has now stretched to 21 years.
All three stages of his 37-year musical career were represented at Delapre, and it was a fantastic performance.
Weller may be 55, and his hair may now be silver, but he is in better shape than he has been for many a year and can still kick it on stage.
He began with Sunflower from his Wildwood album, and in a blistering start followed up with Wake Up The Nation, From The Floorboards Up and Fast Car/Slow Traffic.
The one Style Council song to get an airing, the brilliant My Ever Changing Moods, soon followed before Weller got stuck into songs from his most recent album, last year’s number one Sonik Kicks, including the excellent That Dangerous Age, which was introduced by Northampton’s own Andy Crofts, who was as good as ever on keyboards and clearly relished this rare Weller performance on ‘home soil’.
Crofts’ fellow member of Northampton band The Moons and town man, Ben Gordelier, was also a star on percussion, and the band overall were a class act, with Steve Cradock on guitar, Andy Lewis on bass and Steve Pilgrim on drums.
Weller was on good form, and acknowledged his was the first gig to be staged at Delapre Abbey, before joking that ‘there’ll be covering it on concrete now’... But with the weather as it has been, there is no need for concrete and the venue is a good one, with excellent viewing and good sound.
The gig continued with more songs from Weller’s solo catalogue – including the wistful and under-rated Above the Clouds from his debut – but there was no doubt many of the sell-out crowd had come to hear classic Jam songs and Weller’s big hits.
Their patience was rewarded when the gig was wrapped up with That’s Entertainment, Start and The Changing Man, which were split by a storming Whirlpool’s End – a personal favourite!
After a huge ovation, the band returned for the encore, and although Weller slowed things down as he often does with his cover of Rose Royce’s Wishing On A Star and the beautiful Be Happy Children from Sonik Kicks, he still managed to slip in Out Of The Sinking, merged with Wildwood, before finishing on the highest of highs in the shape of perhaps his best-known song, Town Called Malice.
The crowd lapped that up, as they had the entire gig, and left Delapre happy, knowing they had seen a master at work.
Chatting afterwards, some who had been at the gig felt Weller should have played more of his old stuff, more Jam songs, more Style Council songs, but this is a battle Weller can’t really win.
Because this wasn’t a Jam gig, it wasn’t a Style Council gig, it was a Paul Weller gig, and he is a performer still at the top if his game, still writing and recording number one albums.
He wants those songs to be heard, he wants to perform them, that’s his job.
And with a catalogue of more than 500 songs to choose from, getting that down to a set-list of 24 as he did at Delapre can’t be an easy task.
Anyway, all in all, this was a fantastic gig, clocking in at an hour and 40 minutes, and a great start to the Alive@Delapre festival.
And here’s hoping Weller enjoyed it enough to make a return to Northampton a little bit sooner than than the 18 years it took him this time!
Set-list: Sunflower, Wake Up The Nation, From The Floorboards Up, Fast Car/Slow Traffic, Sea Spray, My Ever Changing Moods, Kling-I-Klang, The Attic, Going Places, Friday Street, Porcelain Gods, That Dangerous Age, Above The Clouds, Dragonfly, 7&3 Is The Striker’s Name, Peacock Suit, That’s Entertainment, Start!, Whirpool’s End, The Changingman.
Encore: Wishing On A Star, Out Of The Sinking/Wildwood, Be Happy Children, Town Called Malice
Pictures: David Jackson