Live from the Barbican: Paul Weller and the BBC Symphony Orchestra
Paul Weller is no stranger to performing live with an orchestra. He did so to critical acclaim in support of 14th studio album True Meanings in 2018 at the Royal Festival Hall. Now, as part of the Live from the Barbican series, the singer returns, his symphonic backing increasing from 11 to 31 instrumentalists. In addition, the arrangements are from Jules Buckley, rather than Hannah Peele. Like the ever-evolving Modfather himself, the evening does not repeat the previous sounds of 2018. If anything, the 18-song set betters the Festival Hall night, thanks to Buckley’s spectacularly-composed arrangements.
The setlist is assembled from Weller’s last three studio albums, his greatest solo hits from the 90s, and deep cuts from The Style Council and The Jam. Regardless of which era of Weller’s extensive back catalogue the material is taken from, though, all the songs are invigorated by arrangements that range from the richly theatrical to the cinematically operatic. Such rousing, feel-good reworkings even inspire Weller to shake off the disappointment of his beloved Chelsea’s loss in the FA Cup final (whose blue scarf is draped across the grand Steinway piano) to give a sonorous vocal performance from start to finish.
To pick standout highlights amid such an abundant suite of mellifluous wonder is tough. Even the famously laconic Weller is so impressed that he offers effusive praise and gratitude throughout to his conductor, backing musicians and special guests. The most memorable numbers, though, are those where the individual segments of the composite arrangements can shine. These rapturous moments include the soulful duet of Broken Stones, between the Steinway-sat Weller and James Morrison, that ends in a groovy a capella outro, gorgeously augmented by three backing singers. Alongside this is the wondrous Wild Wood, which is warmly enriched with the jazz-tinged vocals of the immensely talented Celeste and the mournful brass of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
It is also interesting that all the deep cuts from The Style Council outshine those of The Jam – a band that gave Weller superior chart success. The vibrant string tremolo that replaces the rat-a-tat drumming of My Ever Changing Moods and the serene harp glissando ending to It’s a Very Deep Sea have a captivating quality that surpasses English Rose and Carnation.
The Live from the Barbican season continues through to July. If other artists match this performance, it will be, without doubt, the strongest season of contemporary music the Barbican has commissioned.
Photos: BBC/Mark Allan
Watch the video for the single Shades of Blue here: