INTERVIEW: Desperately Seeking Paul’s Dan Jennings speaks to Gigslutz

INTERVIEW: Desperately Seeking Paul’s Dan Jennings speaks to Gigslutz

When Desperately Seeking Paul was first advertised, I will be honest and say I was a tad put off with my own thoughts that this might be some sort of tacky Weller cash in ploy. However, as with many first impressions of something you are sceptical about without actually listening to the physical product, it was with some surprise and genuine pleasure that discovering Desperately Seeking Paul was like finding a long lost relative, with none of the awkwardness, the phrase getting on like a house on fire sprins to mind.

Dan Jennings has created something worthy of high praise. His attention to detail is also worthy of applause, delving into the lives of those that have been drafted in by the Woking wonder to help him create the music you and me have enjoyed for all these years. Yes, there may be previous interviews of some of those that feature on the podcast, but to selflessly address the topic of Weller with all you interview en masse must be something of a first and quite a feat to behold.

Just to touch on some of the many guests that have appeared on his podcasts, stellar names include: Nicky Weller (Paul’s sister), Kenny Wheeler (exclusive first ever interview), Mick Talbot, Rick Buckler, Steve Brookes, there’s those that have collaborated with Weller; Hannah Peel. Declan O’Rouke, Conor O’Brien, Tracie Young plus a huge list of journalists, record company odd bods, photographers plus many more people of interest to the Weller fan club.

Whilst Dan is fast approaching his 100th episode which promises to be, yet again, something of an eye opener, Gigslutz tracked down the man behind this sensational series of podcasts to shine the spotlight in the other direction for this exclusive interview:

Can you tell us abit about your up bringing? 

A Star Wars mad kid – loved the A-Team and The Muppets. Born in Basildon, Essex in 1975 – not that you probably hear in my voice,  beaten out of me by BBC elocution lessons!

I had a happy childhood with my younger brother, Matthew. We didn’t have much money from what I remember but didn’t seem to want for much (bar the Commodore Amiga which never came ).

I’d say we were working class at the time – Dad was a painter and decorator by trade – hard graft to earn money to get us stuff – he was often away on long jobs, stints in Bath Royal Crescent or Cliveden or London’s Sloane Club, but we were ok from what I can remember.

Mum was amazing – made a wonderful, happy household. We were very loved and still are. She’s super proud of us all. The most amazing set of grandparents too. Super supportive in everything that we’d do. My career choices were rarely conventional, but they all believed in me to make it work.

What was the first music you can remember hearing?

Music was always on in our house as kids. Usually the radio – Radio Essex or Radio 1 – but I also remember this great big record player and this tape cartridge machine – 4 or 8 track was it? – The Beatles and Motown mainly – they had one in the car too. I remember the Motown chartbusters albums especially. My dad had some cool vinyl too – Bowie, Kate Bush, Eurythmics stand out in my memory. Amazing album covers back then too.

What was the first serious music you can remember hearing?

Michael Jackson was the big one for me. Thriller and Bad were incredible albums that I played all the time. My best mate in junior school was a big Depeche Mode fan – local band for us – so I grew to love their music too – early 80s – Everything Counts, People Are People, Just Can’t Get Enough… a great run of singles.

Bizarrely, Martin Gore from the band ended up buying my grandparents’ house (that my granddad built! ) for his parents!.

 

How did you get into broadcasting?

It was all I ever wanted to do as a kid. My parents split up when I was in my teens and I remember listening to a battery radio under the pillow for most of the night – Invicta Radio – Ceasar the Boogie man. Plus GLR. Chris Evans was huge for me – before the Big Breakfast and TFI Friday. He did this really anarchic Saturday show, maybe Sundays too? I used to tape it and listen back over and over.

It seemed so edgy, funny, silly and like the best job in the world.

We moved down to Somerset when I was 15 and I started doing work experience at the BBC and hospital radio. I was too young for my own show initially so just went around the wards getting song requests for other DJs but I loved it. I’d spend all my time in the studio practicing for my big break!

What’s your broadcasting background? 

Halfway through my A-levels, I got offered a job at the BBC in Bristol. I was working in the newsroom as they introduced digital technology – editing mainly – still a passion of mine now.

I learnt to be a researcher, producer and journalist during my time there. Amazing experience. I loved it and made some great friends. I did the Saturday Breakfast Show on BBC Bristol for a while. It had better audience figures than weekday which didn’t go down too well with the people in charge. “Too Young to host a radio show”. After 8 years, I made the move to commercial radio – hosting Dan & Jo – The Morning Crew at Orchard FM in Taunton for a few years. Getting up at 4am every morning! After a while, Jo moved back to the BBC and I had another co-host, Jennie Gow who now presents on TV and Radio for Formula One.

 

After a bit of a break to travel around California and Hawaii, I came home and moved to Crawley and got the breakfast show on Mercury FM – I also ended up being Programme Controller there, running the day to day output of the radio station for a few years, before moving to a bigger station – 2Ten in Reading and the drivetime show.

In 2007, I felt as though I had fallen out of love with presenting – frustrated at not earning enough money, having to talk about things I had no interest in (Big Brother and Celebs), not being as good at it as I wanted to be, not able to step up to the National platform and so I moved behind the scenes in a marketing role at Eagle Radio in Guildford.

Always working really bloody hard with some great people.

In 2009, I moved to London to work at Magic on branded content. I spent ten years there – adding various other radio stations, including Absolute and print publications like Empire to my remit as part of Bauer Media.

When did you first hear the music of Paul Weller?

It was the song Uh Huh Oh Yeh! , I reckon school Summer holidays of 1992 ? Something immediately connected with me – big time – I loved it.

Around that time, my music tastes had been a bit all over the place – some good – Some god awful – Jacko, The KLF, all that pop house stuff – Utah Saints – The Shaman – huge with us teens – I’d been big into Prince – the Gett Off years – and you’ll be shocked to hear Vanilla Ice! (one of the best live albums of all time !! (lol)

What was it about his music that appealed?

Something connected immediately with that song. I loved it. The sound first and foremost. That drum opening and the horns / samples. So fresh and new. I played that single constantly. And the B-sides – I had the CD single – Arrival Time, Fly on the Wall, Always there to Fool You.

It screamed Summer to me.

That would have been the August, school holidays , and then the album came out in the September. Amazing. What a thing to discover. Every single song on that album is a standout corker. Kosmos, Bitterness Rising, Into Tomorrow.

Funnily enough, we had some builders in doing some work at the time. I mentioned this new guy – Paul Weller – this new sound.

“Weller. Paul Weller mate? F&&king Legend. The Jam!”

I didn’t really understand what they were on about until the following week one of them brought in The Jam’s Greatest Hits on cassette.

My god – I was hooked – this was incredible. A whole back catalogue of music from this amazing guy.

By coincidence, when I went back to school that September, my best mate – Tom – had got into punk – The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Completely independently without knowing of my discovery. We’d share tapes and loved having our own thing whilst the rest of the school continued with that pop house hands aloft stuff.

Shortly afterwards I got a compilation of The Style Council on cassette called HeadStart For Happiness. Looking at it now, it’s not full of greatest hits, but I absolutely loved it. Francoise, Spring Summer Autumn, Waiting.

Do you remember first seeing Paul Weller?

Seeing him on Top of the Pops. He looked so cool. I saw the performance recently on a repeat and it was so emotional. 30 years ago. Mental. What a band too!

Around that time, Paul started picking up press again, so I’d get every magazine with him featured – NME, Melody Maker, Vox, Q – it was great to read interviews with Paul at that time – and of course, it became a hugely exciting time for British guitar music soon after too.

It felt like our time, our music – I can understand the connection that so many fans talk about with The Jam – I felt like that with Weller solo and everything that came next with Blur, Oasis, OCS, Cast, Manics etc

Was his look as equal appeal to his music?

Fashion isn’t my strong point. I’d love to look as cool as he does – but I end up being a bit try hard – so generally stick to jeans and a t-shirt most days. I’ve bought the Pretty Green collections and the odd Fred Perry, but yes, the music and his style went hand in hand. That first solo album cover – he looked so bloody cool. The haircut too. Amazing.

I’ve had a couple of attempts at a Weller cut, one included being chemically straightened over the course of 4 hours but again I can’t really carry it off.

I admire how committed he is to style and looking great. I can barely be arsed to iron a shirt a month.

When did you first see Paul in concert?

Would have been 1992 – Poole Arts Centre.

I was living in Somerset. 16 years old. I went with my mate – Tom – and my mum’s new fella drove us and went to the gig. We were sat in seats in the balcony, and I remember wishing I was front row. In amongst the action.

I remember Tom talking through bits of it and pissing me off massively. “Shut up mate. He’s singing!”

Any favourite gigs come to mind?

Petworth House, illumination period was a great one. Me and my brother. Front row. Waiting outside all day. Glorious sunshine. He had a really sharp white pinstripe suit on , looked the dogs bollocks , would have been summer if 2004. Great band line up. They sounded incredible. I’d love to get the setlist for that one if anyone has it too.

The Days of Speed gig – Bristol Colston Hall as it was then – 2001? – just the man and a guitar – a set of stunning songs. I’d love to see that type of thing again in the future. Noel Gallagher supported. When he came out and started, I famously turned to my brother and said, “Oh god, who’s this muppet?” – thinking it was a lame covers guy. After 3 Oasis songs in a row, it clicked. What an idiot!

Oh and of course – 5 nights in a row at the Royal Albert Hall around Wake Up The Nation. Initially I had a couple of tickets but just kept adding more until I’d done the whole week. Amazing. A great experience. I was relatively new to London then – it felt like it was buzzing around that time. Weller was on fire that whole week. A great set of shows. Some cool special guests like Kelly Jones and Bruce Foxton !!! – incredible. Front row for 4 of the 5 too.

 

How about his interviews, were these something you constantly looked to read where and when published? 

Yeah, always. It would also drive me nuts if he popped up on a radio show and the host clearly hadn’t done their homework or did sound like they were a huge fan. What a waste! Brilliant if he did a session though. Especially in those early days with that first solo LP and Wild Wood – every interview / performance seemed to have a new work in progress song or a cover version that would introduce me to a whole new world ( Tim Hardin as an example ).

I loved getting the music magazines – Select, NME, Q ( I still that miss that one now).

I loved Pat Gilbert’s Mojo special last year – with the collected articles – so many I remember having cut out and stuck on the wall. Brought back so many memories of reading and re-reading commentary and interviews with the man.

Why did you start doing the desperately looking for Paul podcast?

It was something I’d been thinking about for a while. I missed bits of radio presenting, particularly the interviewing and journalism side of things. I knew that I would like to listen to a Paul Weller podcast if such a thing existed and I thought that others probably would as well if it was done in the right way.

The initial idea was a fan every week – hearing their stories – but as brilliant as those ones are, it wouldn’t have had much variety and it needed to be more than that.

It took me a while to come up with the right angle though – I needed a story – something that would make it unique to me – that nobody else could repeat.

I nearly did a pilot a couple of years prior but the lack of a real hook and reason for it to exist made me pause on the idea. Plus, I’d just bought a house, renovation, got married, had kids and no bloody time to do anything!

When the whole ‘Desperately Seeking Paul’ idea came to me – and this unique reason for it to exist – a genuine truth – I honestly regret never getting to interview Paul when I was a radio presenter – it was like “yes yes yes that’s it”.

Quite a few people, who I know and love, Weller community and otherwise, told me that I should change the name. And they’re probably right. But it just worked and connected for me – and ultimately you have to do these things for yourself first.

How have you been able to get the guests you’ve interviewed on the podcast?

Remarkably people said YES – some really amazing – key people – very early on.

I’d stepped away from social media for a year or two – it was screwing with my mental health.

But I’ve had to step back to promote the podcast and it’s been great at finding and connecting with potential guests.  I just drop in to chats and message directly asking them to come on!

I was lucky with the timing – the covid lockdown giving me the time to plan it out properly. Time to record a couple of pilots with old colleagues – Rik Blaxill and James Curran from my old radio days. The Souldeep book coming out gave access to Stuart Deabill – he had his doubts – mainly the title – this unknown guy putting something like this together – but he seemed to enjoy it and he has introduced me to others – Stu has been hugely supportive – intros to the guys who did the Style Council documentary which came out around that time too – Bax and Lee – then as it launched, it found some fans like Teenage Waitress ( Dan ) and Trevor Neal who agreed to come on.

Plus, Paul was in a hugely productive period again – so lots of new stuff and connections being uncovered all the time – Kathryn Williams, Stone Foundation, Jacko Peake back in the band etc.

Nicky Weller was huge for me. No disrespect to the guests prior but it really gave it that stamp of approval in a big way. That it was ok to be doing it.

Have some guests helped you contact other guests that have appeared?

Absolutely – some of the journalists have passed on my info to others that I wanted, musicians have passed on to other musicians that they have played with that also have Weller connections, Nicky set up Mick Talbot who set up Chris Bangs recently and Mick has also put me in touch with Helen Turner. Dennis Munday put me in touch with Tim Parsons. Snowy sorted Rick Buckler and Russell Hastings is helping me to sort Bruce. Amazing people.

Not only that – people come up in conversations that maybe I haven’t thought about, or hadn’t known how to contact and it then leads to a trail of emails or messages and in most cases so far a podcast recording.

Some of it has just been me being a pain and messaging every few weeks until they say yes!

One of my favourite podcasts was the Kenny Wheeler one? How did you manage to arrange that one with someone who’s so close to the Weller crew and hadn’t been interviewed before?

That was just incredible. Months in the planning.

The initial contact was Bill Wheeler (Kenny’s son and now tour manager ) and a message via Instagram over Xmas 2020.  He was very lovely, wished me luck with it but didn’t feel that people would want to hear his story. Wrong! But fair enough.

A few follow ups over a few months – just saying Hi and then asking about Kenny. So many people mentioned him on the podcast, that I had to ask.

Then hearing back that Kenny would be up for chatting with me about the possibility of doing it.

A couple of phone conversations later – and he trusted me enough to invite me to his home on Mersea Island to record an episode.

It was incredible to spend a few hours with him, hearing stories of the old days to now, John Weller, the highs and lows. Mind blowing.

Do you have any particular favourite episodes?

Impossible question as they have all been special to me obviously and I hate leaving people out of this list who were just brilliant.

I love the musicians – of course – such talent – the authors – David Lines and Daniel Rachel, were both a joy for instance – the journalists and broadcasters – Pete Paphides, Pat Gilbert, Tom Doyle, John Harris, John Wilson – all great storytellers – amazing tales and funny f&&kers too.

Some of the biggest surprises have come from the loosest connections – Kath Williams was just brilliant as an example, so fresh and funny, genuinely lovely and her story about writing a song at Paul Weller was just wonderful tale. A real highlight in the series for me.

I loved getting messages from Hannah Peel, Andy Crofts and Tom Heel after months of me pestering them to get a YES GO ON THEN! – but then it’s the old school connections too – Dennis Munday, Martin Hopewell, Tim Parsons – the ones who were making it up as they went along – working so closely with the boys and John Weller.

The Honorary Councillors have been wonderful to track down – a huge tick list of stories from a great band.

Getting to spend a couple of hours chatting with some of the guests has been super special too – so relaxed, not up against the clock – Andy Lewis, Mick Talbot, Matt Deighton spring to mind. Totally honest – happy to take on any question. Warm, smart and super interesting.

Of course – Nicky and Kenny were very special – plus as someone who discovered Paul as a solo artist – hearing from Max Beesley, Jacko Peake and Damon Minchella was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments.

 

Declan O’Rourke and Conor O’Brien were both very special as I’ve loved their music for ages – such super talents. People you can’t quite believe are on the screen that you’re staring at, chatting to.

If I had to pick one – just for the experience alone – it would be Roger Nowell – recorded at Black Barn Studio. Paul Weller’s HQ. Incredible to get that invite and so great to hear Roger’s first podcast appearance and stories never told.

Oh, and how could I forget Tufty and Gary Crowley for our first live show? What a blast that was. More of that sort of thing to come, I’m sure.

I told you it was an impossible question!

Your 100th show is coming up and you’re promising some special. Can you give any clues as to who will be appearing on the 100th show?

It’s another one of those ‘pinch me’ moments.

A guest that we’ve heard from before but very briefly. A key player in this journey of Paul’s.

Someone who means so much to the fans.

And it was an in-person, face-to-face, microphones set up in the garden chat too. Very special. Will live long in the memory for me and I’m sure fans will enjoy it too.

Are you hoping to take the podcast to 200 shows?

It did cross my mind on whether it could be time to bow out at 100 , probably when I was recording around episode 75 , I was thinking “could I get Paul?” – but it also feels like there are still so many stories to tell, so many potential guests to connect with and to feature on this journey.

It’s also started to feel a little like the panini football sticker albums that I had as a kid – Mexico 86 – never completed it.  There are some people who if we don’t get them on this ‘ere podcast, will feel like I’ve not done the job. Daft I know as we won’t get everyone but a nagging feeling, nevertheless.

I don’t know about 200 as it’s super hard work to pull together – mainly the editing – and I wouldn’t want people to get bored of it or feel that the quality has dropped at all.

Stuart Deabill mentioned Studio 150 – episode 150 as an end goal. Who knows?

Of course, we actually need to get Paul right?!

On the show you ask guests which 1 track out of Paul’s back catalogue, The Jam, Style Council or solo you could listen to for the rest of your life, which track would you choose?

It’s a ridiculous question and I can’t remember if I did it from day one or if it just stumbled into the format to be honest. Bit like that final question – that was probably me being lazy and thinking “What if I get Paul and I can’t think of something to say?”

At some point, I really should make a list of them all , I did start and then life took over and I had too many to return to but it’ll be important if I ever get the one with Paul.

 

One track, it would have to be Uh Huh Oh Yeh! – just because it was my intro to the world of Weller and without which – I’d be hosting a podcast called Desperately Seeking Vanilla Ice…

Other songs that I always turn to, I adore ‘The Loved’ B-side to Hung Up. Stunning. Those lyrics blow me away.

I love his version of ‘If I Could Only Be Sure’ and those Tim Hardin cover versions back in the day.

Gravity and Aspects are incredible songs. A man at the peak of his powers. So lush and beautiful and straight to the heart.

On Sunset, In Better Times, Baptiste, The Cranes are Back, Aim High, Invisible, Who Brings Joy, Frightened, Sweet Pea, 5th Season, Bull-Rush – so so so so so many great songs that just connect with me.

I’ve not even mentioned The Jam and The Style Council…

Pretty Green, Private Hell, That’s Entertainment, Malice, Walls Come Tumbling, Long Hot Summer, Just Came To Pieces, Spin Driftin – ARGH!

Peacock Suit was amazing to see live again on the recent tour, Ditto Floorboards Up and Come On / Let’s Go.

Above the Clouds is just a delight.

I’d love to see Sunflower done live again, that brings back special memories for me, starting my radio career at the BBC, driving around with that blasting out.

You said “only one” right? Impossible!.

Finally, what’s on your turntable at present?

I was stupid enough to believe the CD hype and sold on all my vinyl in the early 00s, then sold my CDs for digital.

I realised my error in the past year, bought a turntable again and have trying to build up the collection since. I seem to be a bit late to the party discovering Michael Head from what I can work out , but the new album Dear Scott is a stunner.

Stone Foundation’s latest is outstanding – a real grower too – so many ear worms – wonderful – and I really love podcast guests Declan O’Rourke, Villagers, Kath Williams, Dot Allison and Hannah Peel’s recent releases too.

The Mysterines was a PW recommendation who I adore. A great debut album and a brilliant band live too.

Bangs & Talbot – Back to Business is a really joyful bunch of summer sounding tunes that deserve to be heard.

Plus Steve Cradock’s new instrumental album is a real surprise too. Such a talented chap.

I’m a big lover of the On-U Sound record label – Adrian Sherwood, Dub Syndicate, African Head Charge, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Gary Clail etc. I went to a 40th anniversary Pay It All Back gig recently and have really got back in to Mark Stewart and TackHead again – snapping up the vinyl once again – building up the collection.

Best played LOUD.

The latest On-U label release with Horace Andy – Midnight Rocker is incredible. What a voice!

I’d love love love to hear an Adrian Sherwood vs Paul Weller remix at some point too.

It would be great to get Adrian on the podcast then too!

Desperately Seeking Paul can be found at the following link

INTERVIEW: Desperately Seeking Paul’s Dan Jennings speaks to Gigslutz