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This Is The Modern World: New exhibition showcases Paul Weller from The Jam to The Style Council

As a new exhibition on The Jam and The Style Council opens in Brighton, curator Nicky Weller – sister of Paul Weller – takes us behind the scenes.

Nicky Weller was a teenage pop fan. Then her brother Paul Weller became a teenage sensation, as singer and driving force of The Jam. It became the family business – with their father John managing the band while Nicky ran the fanclub.

Now, Nicky is curating a new exhibition, This Is The Modern World, featuring music, clothes and incredible ephemera offering a new view on The Jam and The Style Council.

We can see Paul Weller’s school books and reports, the first ever photoshoot of The Jam (with handwritten comments by the singer), original handwritten lyrics, The Jam’s 1982 Subbuteo team, Weller’s iconic Whaam guitar, torn trousers given away as a fanclub prize in 1977, and a talent contest trophy the band won as teens in Woking. We can even step into a re-creation of the cover photo of The Style Council’s brilliant second LP Our Favourite Shop and so much more.

Nicky Weller at the new exhibition in Brighton

It’s The Gift that keeps on giving. And it’s taking place In The City of Brighton until the end of August. We asked Nicky to tell us some of the stories behind the exhibition.

“My brother started playing guitar at an early age, and my dad, who was a builder and worked taxis at night, got them a few gigs and stuff,” says Weller.

“But it was always a family affair. My mum used to look after their clothes and make sure they were smart and washed and ironed. Me and Mum were the sort of rent-a-crowd in those days. We had to be the first ones to get up and dance.

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“But it kicked off when they got signed. I started the fanclub because there was piles and piles of post coming through the letterbox. I was 13 or 14 and I was a member of the David Essex fan club – which for £5 a year was pretty crap, to be honest. So I thought I could better than that.

“So it’s been a bit of a cottage industry for all of us. We lived and breathed it. I was still at school and the highlight of the week was the Friday Night Disco in Knaphill – so when I started to go up to London to the Vortex Club and the Marquee and see all these mad punks, this was like another world.

“We are all magpies. I’ve always kept scrapbooks from day one. My brother put stuff into my scrapbooks as well. So there was always a mix of me and him writing in there. And my mum kept every newspaper cutting. And it wasn’t until my dad died and I cleared out his garage that I realised how much stuff he kept.

“Me and Russell [Weller’s husband and co-curator] went to clear out my brother’s shed at his studio when we were doing some stuff for him down there. That was incredible – finding his schoolbooks and stuff he didn’t realise he had.

“I went to the David Bowie at the V&A three times before we did The Jam one at Somerset House. We were like, if we can make ours even a quarter as good as this… There were so many artefacts and personal things and that is what it is all about, keeping those memories alive.

“Every band at one time in their life should have an exhibition. It is nice to go and have a reminisce.”

Let’s take a look at what’s on show.

School Report 1968

Paul Weller’s school report from 1968 – his lowest grade? Music

This is the earliest one. He was at Maybury County Primary School – just up the road from Stanley Road, where we lived. He was quite a well-behaved lad at the time. But since he got to secondary school he’s always been a rebel. They were just teenagers that didn’t want to be at school.

Lambretta Doodle

Paul Weller’s rough book sketch of a Lambretta

His schoolbooks have zero work in, just his poetry and these doodles. That Lambretta! Our mum had a job driving car parts around the Woking area. My brother was well chuffed she could get half-price mirrors for his bike. His flipping scooter was horrendous – our mum had to manoeuvre it down the alley between the terraced houses, because Paul’s like me and never had much patience.

It was ridiculous – like something out of Quadrophenia. He was only 12 or 13, so this was before he could even drive it. But he was always into the Small Faces and that mod scene, which he got into at a very early age.

Scooter Boys: The Style Council making their short film JerUSAlem in 1986

1972 Talent Show Trophy

Paul Weller and The Jam won this talent contest trophy in Woking in 1972

I can’t remember what they played. It was some rock ’n’ roll song. There was a band on called Rock Island Line, who had just been on my favourite film, That’ll Be The Day, and they were telling all the other kids, especially the bands – and it was Paul Weller and The Jam at that point – that they might as well go home because we’ve got this in the bag. And then they won. And it was amazing. Paul was 14 at the time.

Opportunity Knocks letter

The girl that wrote in was Jenny Harvey, who at the time was Paul’s girlfriend. She wrote into Opportunity Knocks and of course, she got knocked back, saying I don’t think they are what we are looking for. Thank god, eh? It would have been like The X Factor today.

Opportunity Knockback – a lucky escape for The Jam?

The Jam, 1974

That is Steve Brookes, Rick Buckler with long hair, and my brother wearing lovely kipper ties for their first publicity shots. It was all about being uniformed at the time. And that’s Paul’s handwriting on there. It says: ‘love you’ coming out of Steve’s head, Rick in the middle says: ‘I love you too’, and Paul’s saying: ‘Back off bitch, he’s mine!’ That’s hilarious.

Steve Brookes, Rick Buckler and Paul Weller – in the pre-Bruce Foxton era of The Jam

It says: ‘In The City’ on Rick’s tie – that song was already knocking about but was a much slower version back then. It only sped up once he went to see the Pistols in London, then it became 100 miles per hour. That first show had a real impact on him. 

Paul Weller’s torn stage trousers from 1977 – a prize for one lucky member of The Jam’s fanclub

Ripped Trousers (1977)

That was from the In the City tour and Paul would regularly lose a jacket, get his trousers ripped, smash up a guitar or whatever. All the stuff they didn’t want or didn’t wear any more or was ripped, I gave them out as competition prizes for the fanclub.

So this guy Gary Hockney contacted me saying he had these ripped trousers and that none of his friends believed they were Paul Weller’s and blah blah blah.

Believe it or not I found a letter saying he was one of the winners. I didn’t throw anything away – which is quite sad, really!

The Jam – 1980 Japan Tour Jacket

I wore it a couple of times when I was a wee slip of a girl but it is lovely – and quite collectible now, I think. Paul’s a man of few words, but when I first did the exhibition [The Jam: About The Young Ideas] at Somerset House, he said: ‘Oh my god, who’s going to come to that?’

Nicky Weller’s tour jacket from 1980. Highly collectible…

He ended up coming along six or seven times and thought it was fantastic. So he has been involved. I’ve got all his lovely iconic guitars again – I hate even having them in my house for a night, I’d have to leave the country if anything happened to them – but he will visit at some point. It will be lovely – every mod and every music fan comes to Brighton in the summer.

Our Favourite Shop LP cover recreation

We have lots of Style Council stuff. Luckily my best mate is married to Mick Talbot, and she’s been in the lock-up with me every day. And Mick has been up in his loft digging stuff out, trying to find things people have never seen.

For the Our Favourite Shop re-creation, Mick had this bag of stuff from it. I went round my brother’s and said ‘Mick’s found that, Mick’s found that’ and then my brother said, ‘hang on a minute, I’ve got the Georgie Best coathanger’ and went upstairs to get it. It was all Mick and Paul’s stuff in the picture – they got a bit competitive trying to find it all again.

The original shot used for the cover of Our Favourite Shop – and recreated at the new exhibition

The album cover was given a wash all over it. It was a very colourful picture originally. We’re trying to recreate it for the exhibition. By the time it opens, we should have a good representation of it. To the left of the Otis Redding T-shirt – which is on a Twiggy hanger, there is a John Lennon hanger and in front is a Georgie Best hanger. That’s the one we have got. Paul gave me it two days ago and last week I was in his cottage and saw the gramophone from the picture. I said ‘I want it’ and Paul gave us that as well. But it was Mick who got me really excited by it.

TheStyle Council Poster

We pretty much have every Style Council poster. They sat in boxes for yonks. We didn’t know they were there because they have been folded up for over 30 years. Some purists might think, ‘Oh my god, folded posters’, but it has kept them really tidy. The orange one is really nice. And I’ve tried to get Tracie [Young] involved and all the honorary Councillors.

The new exhibition features posters and ephemera from The Style Council – much of it unseen for years

It was kind of serious towards the end of The Jam – they got so big so quickly. In the first year, 1977, to have two albums out was bonkers. But by The Style Council the pressure was off – they were a serious band but also had a bloody good laugh. People don’t think of my brother as being funny, but Mick Talbot brought out the best in him. If he wasn’t a pianist, he could have been on the stage as a comedian.

Red Wedge – pop and politics combined in 1985

RED WEDGE / LIVE AID

Reading all the music press, the NME and Sounds and Melody Maker, all those things that don’t even exist any more, when you look at the front covers, it is like we have gone full circle. The politics of today is on those covers from 40 years ago. I’m bringing the more political side of The Style Council with Red Wedge and the Miners’ Strike into this exhibition.

It was all done with good intentions, but then I think maybe Paul realised – not saying any names, but Ken Livingstone and the other one with the dodgy haircut – they were using him a little bit. Then he took a step back. The interviews he did then were very political, but maybe he felt the music was getting a bit lost.

And Live Aid – what Bob Geldof did was amazing. Paul wasn’t into hanging around with all the pop stars, but The Style Council were one of the first bands to agree to do it. Straight away they put their hands up. They were supposed to be first on, but then they found out Charles and Di were going to attend and her favourite band were Status Quo. So they went on first instead.  

This Is The Modern World is showing until August 29,Valley Gardens, Brighton.

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