Profile: Paul Weller - Still jamming

HE may have ditched the blond highlights, given up the booze and started going to the gym but Paul Weller hasn't given up on rock'n'roll.

Last week, it was announced that the "Modfather" is up for this year's Mercury Music Prize for his tenth solo album, Wake Up The Nation.

Now sporting a grey feather cut, the 52-year-old musician takes his place on the shortlist alongside whippersnappers Dizzee Rascal and Mumford & Sons.

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Weller, who recently joked that he would soon be the "Modgrandfather", said of the nomination: "I'm glad the record is going to get more recognition," although he added that he expected an outsider to win. Critics, however, reckon he is in with a chance and have heaped praise on Weller's new output, even comparing it to some of The Jam's best work. Praise indeed.

Musically, Weller is enjoying a return to form. His 2008 double album 22 Dreams was acclaimed as a masterpiece, and Wake Up The Nation comes after a tumultuous period in the musician's life. In December 2008, he split with Samantha Stock, his girlfriend of 13 years and the mother of his two youngest children, and set up home with Hannah Andrews, a backing singer less than half his age who sings on several tracks on the new album. On top of that, in April last year, Weller's much-loved father, John, died aged 77. A former boxer, construction worker and taxi driver, John bought Weller his first guitar when he was 12, and was his manager throughout his career with The Jam, the Style Council and as a solo artist.

According to friends, Weller has cleaned up his act and is enjoying a new lease of life. His apparent new-found sobriety comes after a video clip appeared on YouTube of Weller and his girlfriend lying drunk on a street in Prague in 2008. Commenting on his relationship with Andrews who, at 25, is just four years older than Weller's eldest child, the rocker said: "Because she's so much younger than me, the press was all 'it's a mid-life crisis', 'wrinkly rocker', 'mutton dressed up as ram', 'old enough to be her Modfather'. But it isn't like that. We're really in love and that's that."

Born John William Weller in Woking, Surrey, on 25 May 1958, as a boy he became known as Paul. A precociously talented schoolboy, he was 18 when The Jam released their debut single, In the City, in 1977. The Jam exploded on to the scene at a time of economic upheaval and the dawn of a Tory Government. Plus a change. Now the current Prime Minister and Old Etonian David Cameron boasts that he used to enjoy dancing to Eton Rifles, the Jam's satiric hymn to class warfare. "Which bit of the lyrics didn't he understand?" Weller growled.

When The Jam signed with Polydor, Weller's dad told the A&R men that he didn't have a bank account; they'd have to pay him the 6,000 advance in cash. Weller and his bandmates, Bruce Foxton on bass and Rick Buckler on drums, left with their pockets stuffed with tenners. They went on to have 18 consecutive top 40 entries and four No 1 singles, including Going Underground and Town Called Malice. But Weller quit the band at their peak in 1982, allegedly sending his bandmates letters to inform them of his decision. "I don't want to drag it on and mean nothing - I want it to count for something," he said at the time.

He went on to form the jazz and soul-influenced Style Council in 1983. As a young man, he riled the NME by saying he supported Thatcher, but he is a tribal Labour voter whose stint with Red Wedge, the anti-Thatcher alliance of 1980s pop stars, left him increasingly disillusioned. He voted Labour in the last election but these days claims all politicians are as bad as each other.

After his record company refused to release the last Style Council album, he languished for a few years before reappearing in the early 1990s as a solo artist with Paul Weller, the acclaimed Wild Wood and singles like You Do Something To Me. In 2006, Weller accepted a Brit award for outstanding contribution to music but refused a CBE, declaring: "I'm not in any way a lover of the Royal family." Throughout his career, the artist behind Changing Man has shown a capacity for reinvention, not least after he emerged as the "Modfather," friend and mentor to Brit pop acts and mucker to Liam and Noel Gallagher. Weller has always enjoyed a hard living reputation, particularly when it came to booze and women. He has five kids from three women: budding musicians Natt and Leah, 22 and 18, 14-year-old Dylan, who lives with her mum in LA, Jesamine, 10, and Mac, nearly five. His five children were all sent to private schools. "I'm lucky I've got enough money to do it, and there are very few state schools round my way I'd want to send my kids to. I guess you get what you pay for; my little lad's only four and the other day he was counting in French."

Beneath his working class, man-of-the-people persona, there is a hard, driven ambition. In his biography of Weller, Paolo Hewitt, a music journalist and one-time friend, says: "Paul has a very good heart beating away inside him. Yet he could also be aggressive, bullying, selfish, highly intolerant and thoughtless."

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Reflecting on his reputation, Weller said: "I've been called ruthless. But I'm a pretty loyal person."

For a man who describes himself as "loyal", Weller has a knack of jettisoning people he has been close to. After he split up the Jam, he didn't speak to bassist Bruce Foxton for more than 20 years. It took the news that Foxton's wife Pat was terminally ill to get the two former boyhood friends back in touch. Foxton plays on two tracks on the new album.

While friendships, bands and romances have fallen by the wayside, the most stable relationship in Weller's life seems to have been with his father. Trees, a track on the new album, commemorates him. When he was dying Weller refused to cancel a US tour, causing a rift with his mother and sister, but he maintains that his father would have supported his decision. Weller said: "I was so lucky to have the relationship that I did with my dad. It's not always a good idea to go into business with your family, but we were successful. And he was a great dad. I count my blessings, really."

Though he says a Jam reunion "will never happen", Weller has no intention of giving up music. He said recently: "It's quite liberating to get to a certain age, because you're not chasing the No 1 hits or trying to be an international superstar. I've done all that. I'm not out to prove much more to anyone but myself really, to be an artist and see if there is a new undiscovered music out there to make."

Facts of Life

On his hard-living reputation: "I think it is possible for someone to write something very beautiful and still go for a kebab afterwards and get plastered and fall over in the street."

On songwriting: "I could dry up at any time. But I'm just glad when it's here and it's happening and I can embrace it. I've learnt with age that sometimes it just ain't going to happen. It used to destroy me... now I know it's only a phase."

On music as a career: "I can't think of anything finer to do in life. It's good for the soul."

On technology: "It's strange that people my age spend all evening on Facebook talking to their 'friends'. Why not go down the pub?"

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On living in the Noughties: "I like 2010. For all my Sixties and Seventies fixations, I wouldn't want to be in any other era. I can remember the Seventies, and it was so f**king drab. Pubs were grotty, and there weren't any nice restaurants."

On going to the gym: "I really look forward to it. It's the best sort of high."