When Tom Jones kicked off the 2022 Live at Chelsea festival at the Grade, I listed Royal Hospital Chelsea, the weather couldn’t have been more idyllic for the series of open-air concerts in the courtyard. The weather turned sour for the penultimate Simply Red performance but the Crowd spirit, Mick Hucknall’s voice and the gorgeous setting of the 300 years old setting home of Chelsea pensioners ensured a good time was had by all.
For the final evening, the audience was better prepared for the weather, with far fewer people dressed in shorts and t-shirts, and instead of tumultuous cloud bursts, there was light drizzle. Irrespective of the weather, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and producer Emma-Jean Thackray proved to be a fantastic crowd-engaging support act for Paul Weller.
With 17 solo albums, excluding greatest hits compilations and The Jam and The Style Council catalogue, Paul Weller had no shortage of material, and he could easily surprise the audience in the courtyard. Weller chose to open with two songs from 2015’s Saturns Pattern, “White Sky” and “Long Time”. Owing to the seal of the bass drums, material from Fat Pop (Volume 1), his second number one album of the 2020s, was inevitably going to be played beginning with “Cosmic Fringes”.
When Weller began playing his hit singles, starting with “From The Floorboards Up”, the already standing audience descended evermore forwards towards the stage. Following this came the first of four Style Council songs beginning with “Headstart for Happiness”. The gorgeous use of saxophone was felt throughout. Paul would play and dedicate “It’s a Very Deep Sea” to The Style Council keyboardist Mick Talbot who was in the audience.
Paul also played three songs from his 2020 album, On Sunset. This material included some of the most mellow and tranquil of the set with “More”, which introduced the flute, whilst “Rockets” was acoustic led and ended unexpectedly. Then came material from Weller’s first two solo LPs. “Above the Clouds” from his self-titled debut and “Into Tomorrow”, which laid down the roots for what would be “Sunflower” from his sophomore effort Wild Wood. Despite the audience being well acquainted with Weller’s material, “Wild Wood” would be the first song they would join in verbatim.
Once Paul began singing The Jam material, beginning with “Start!”, the courtyard was singing and dancing along with escalated elation. Singing and excitement continued to soar as Weller played Heavy Soul’s lead single, “Peacock Suit”. An encore followed, and Weller returned with Stanley Road’s mellow ballads “Broken Stones” and “You Do Something to Me”, which the audience sang along.
The BPM levels and crowd jubilations increased when Paul played “That’s Entertainment”. Ecstasy jumped further when Madness frontman Suggs joined Paul on the stage as they sang the brand new song they dropped earlier this year called “OOH DO U FINK U R”. The crescendo with the penultimate “Changing Man” and playout track “A Town Called Malice”.
Paul Weller, dapper and slick with a bright red shirt and black trousers, was well supported by his five-piece band, which included Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Craddock on guitar and wowed the Royal Hospital with a proportionate cross-section of five decades of original material.
He didn’t need to overindulge in specific albums as many, including his debut album turning 30 and The Jam’s The Gift becoming 40, reach poignant milestones. Nonetheless, based on audience reactions, most would opt for The Jam if they had to choose between more of The Style Council or The Jam material.
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Unlike the night before where Simply Red played to the audience I cannot help feel that Paul Weller these days suits himself and to a certain extent rightly so. It took far too long for him to get the crowd on his side and who after being rained on were desperate to be uplifted. I can’t help feel that Paul Weller loves doing his thing on his terms but sometimes he misses the point.