Paul Weller, Conductor Jules Buckley and the BBC Symphony Orchestra played a lavish live-stream performance as part of the Live at the Barbican series on Saturday night.

Most seasoned musicians would know all too well that dubbing yourself the ‘Changing Man’ would be tantamount to giving the music press a loaded gun in waiting. But Paul Weller is not most musicians. The Woking wonder’s insatiable appetite to create and evolve has seen him last week, release his sixteenth Solo album, Fat Pop Volume 1 and last year join Lennon and McCartney as the only three artists to have had a Number One UK album in five successive decades. So it seems, he has chosen his soul-mate well in the multi-talented, award winning composer Jules Buckley.

It turns out Buckley and Weller first dabbled with this project after performing at a Quincy Jones concert, with Buckley confessing to using the opportunity to sew the seed. No project too audacious for Buckley it seems? Almost, but even the Heritage Orchestra creator and recipient of multiple Grammy Awards confessed he found the prospect of reimagining Weller’s songbook across three incarnations ‘daunting’.

If Weller thought he had shouted to the top when selling out two nights at The Royal Festival Hall in 2018, this curation at The Barbican has trumped that. In this majestic setting, we see an expansive orchestra, a trio of gospel-like backing vocalists and of course Weller’s constant companion and ‘legend’, Steve Craddock.

Andromeda is the opener with Buckley taking his rightful place front and centre stage. The second number, English Rose sees us reel back forty plus years and a few different Mod crops, to realise Buckley has done his homework here by choosing a delightful working of the early Jam song.

‘The Maestro’, as Paul Weller playfully refers to him, waves in an elaborate Trumpet before that strummy Jazz intro for Ever-changing moods. ‘Daylight turns to Moonlight’ as Weller finds his range over a sumptuous arrangement. Ferocious scales on the strings, improv backing vocals, is this when he’s at his best? Quite possibly as the camera teases out a telling nod of satisfaction, as if to say ‘did my music really sound that good’.

The silence between songs without applause, is excruciating to begin with: even an old-hand like Paul Weller has a few jitters when he introduces the wrong song. On Sunset’s slower pace offers sparsity and room for virtuosos with one being the fluttering Flute. ‘And the palm trees sway’ and so does the music, it’s enchanting.

Carnation, from The Jam’s final album, is stirring and thunderous and then we hear Glad Times, a track from the latest LP and again it’s hard to find fault. ‘One of the greatest voices from these shores’ is the welcome for James Morrison as he bounds on with a nod to the mod and accompanies on Broken Stones with aplomb. There is a curious alchemy between Songwriter and Conductor, and room to riff about a private bet on a Football match, which is left intentionally vague for all of us.

There’s a myriad of things to mention, however our next guest is ‘an old friend’ Boy George and although his vocal range has weathered, his showmanship hasn’t one iota. Dressed in exuberant three-quarter length jacket suit and sneakers he’s all-in on Your the Best Thing. Celeste is our final guest, ’one of my favourite talents’, who again is in dress to impress mood and partners on a haunting rendition of Wild Wood. Whether the Paul and Jules dream-team repeats itself or not, remains to be seen but based on this performance, we can but hope for a replay.

…. There’s another chance to hear or see the concert next month here:
BBC Radio 2: 13 June 2021 / BBC 6 Music (highlights): 17 June 2021 / BBC Two: 19 June 2021
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