Dan Jennings’s greatest regret after 25 years in local radio had been missing out on an interview with his idol, Paul Weller. It did not seem likely that the 47-year-old former broadcaster would get much closer to realising the goal in his new career in project management.
With time on his hands during lockdown, Jennings launched a podcast for other Weller super fans, entitled Desperately Seeking Paul, but it unexpectedly became something of a hit and after three years, coming up to 180 episodes and a highly fruitful chance encounter with Weller himself in a bar below the Guardian’s offices in King’s Cross in north London, he finally got his Modfather.
On 19 December, the result of three hours of roving conversation with Weller at his studio in Ripley, in Surrey, will be aired, covering everything from the star’s childhood in Woking, to his discovery of clothes, musings on religion and continued anxiety about performing.
It had been a long time coming. Jennings had few expectations for his hobby when he started out in December 2020 but it happily snowballed and thanks to a host of tantalising nuggets that Weller aficionados love (the 65-year-old is still anxious about performing, sends musical voice notes to pals at 3am and worries about E numbers in his food), the podcast has recently been regularly topping the Apple and Spotify music history categories.
Interviewees have ranged from Weller’s bandmates, past and present, to the album producers and the sleeve designers of the Jam and Style Council records. The former Sunday Times political editor David Cracknell, who was interviewed about playing keyboards on a Weller track, described the podcast as a “biographical Kama Sutra” for a “Weller geek”, with the crowning jewels for many being the chats with Weller’s sister, Nicky, and mother, Ann. She fondly (sort of) recalled ironing “all their bloody suits, shirts” when her son and his childhood friend, the Jam co-founder Steve Brooks, started to play their music outside of the confines of Paul’s bedroom. But an interview with Weller himself, known as the Modfather for his key role in the 1970s and 80s mod revival, had proved elusive.
It was only after bumping into the singer-songwriter in the Rotunda bar at Kings Place in King’s Cross that Weller coyly admitted to being a sometime listener and agreed to take part in the very final episode of the Paul Weller Fan Podcast: Desperately Seeking Paul.
“I went to a gig at Kings Place and went out for a drink outside, just grabbed a beer on the canal,” said Jennings. “There was Jacko Peake, who is in Paul’s band now, a flute player and sax player, and Tom Van Heel who plays keys for Paul. They’ve both been on the podcast. So I wander over, it was, ‘Hi how’s it going?’ And tucked around the pillar was Paul Weller. He went, ‘Oh, hi, it’s Dan isn’t it?’ So he knew who I was.
“We chatted for a little bit and he said, ‘I have listened to a few of the podcasts, it’s a bit weird to listen to a podcast all about me but what you’re doing is brilliant, you should do a book’. And I was like, ‘Well, yeah, we need you to come on’. So, he says, ‘OK, yeah, well, I’m gonna think about it’. I was thinking, ‘Think about it? Bloody hell.”
After the gig, Jennings was looking at his phone working out how to get home, when Weller wandered over again to talk about the gig. “He said, ‘Really nice to meet you’ and went off and then just as he was leaving he came back and he just like did this handshake with two hands and said, ‘You know what, let’s do it. A Christmas special, it’ll be really good’.”
The last podcast with Weller will be the 180th. Jennings said one of his favourite interviews had been with Annajoy David, who together with Billy Bragg and Weller was part of Red Wedge, an initiative to build support for Labour in the 1980s through music.
Jennings, whose last broadcasting role was hosting the drive-time slot for Radio 2-Ten FM, now rebranded as Heart Thames Valley, said it was something of a relief that the focus of all his attention and effort turned out to be “down to earth and genuine”. “He doesn’t think about fame and stardom and he’s not lost in showbiz, or any of that,” he said. “So when it came to do it, it felt like actually, I was just chatting to this hugely talented, hardworking, really open bloke.”