Paul Weller & Yan Stile
December 2008 Issue 112
TPi has a backstage natter with the modfather and his long-time live sound supplier, Yan Stile of Canegreen... and ponders of the link between the Jam and a certain mid-'70s glam rock band.
2008 was a big year in the lives of Yan Stile and the man variously known as The Guvnor or The Modfather... Paul Weller. While the former’s London-based sound rental company, Canegreen reached its 25th anniversary and merged with the SSE Audio Group, the one-time Jam frontman hit the ripe age of 50.
I joined the pair for a light-hearted, pre-soundcheck chat at the start of Weller’s autumn UK tour. Although we were to focus on the long-term relationship between the artist and his supplier, there was another link that just had to be explored.
Back in the mid-’70s, both Stile and Chris Redburn (of trucking firm Redburn Transfer — another Weller tour contractor) were respectively the guitarist and bassist with glam rock/pop band Kenny, who enjoyed a string of smash hit singles including ‘The Bump’, ‘Fancy Pants’ and ‘Julie Anne’.
So with two of the line-up currently ensuring that Weller’s tour gets on the road, the burning question was: Paul, are you a closet Kenny fan?
“Yeah, absolutely, yeah...” insisted Weller, although he appeared slightly let down by the fact that Stile had yet to show him the chords to ‘The Bump’. “Yan’s given me a couple of his albums... which I’ve lost, unfortunately!”
Kenny and The Jam were briefly Polydor labelmates. “It was in ’77 that I got signed, so Yan’s got a few years on me,” laughed Weller.
Their on-the-road partnership began when John Weller, Paul’s father and manager, was looking for PA storage space and found it when he and tour manager Kenny Wheeler visited Canegreen’s Tottenham warehouse.
“When that system became redundant, Ken asked if they could rent from us,” recalled Stile, who has now been Weller’s tour sound supplier for his entire 18-year solo career.
“They’re just big, black boxes to me but it always sounds very nice, if that’s any recommendation — I’ve never had any complaints,” said Weller, who is currently also touring with Steve Jones in the production manager’s hot seat.
Another surprising link between Stile’s former band and Weller is FOH engineer Ange Jones. “Ange has been mixing Paul’s sound for about 15 years and he used to be Kenny’s engineer back in the ’70s,” said Stile. “He looked old then!”
After two low-key nights at Crawley’s K2 Leisure Centre, Weller completed his pre-arena tour warm-ups at Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion — a mere five-minute walk for yours truly.
Whilst guitarist Steve Cradock remains at his side on stage, this tour sees him ‘breaking in’ new band members Andy Lewis (bass), Andy Crofts (keyboards) and drummer Steve Pilgrim. Weller also has a new monitor engineer, Annette Guilfoyle, who has been on his sound crew for some time.
“Annette’s brilliant — the best we’ve had. And with this new line-up, it’s been like a new lease of life; a new set of energy coming into it,” said Weller. “It’s fun, like being in a gang again, and we all socialise between gigs as well.”
“And that proliferates through the whole crew,” agreed Stile, “so everyone’s really enjoying it.”
The ‘black boxes’ in question are Canegreen’s Meyer Sound stock of Milo and Mica line array cabinets, with M’elodie sidefills. “We’ve given Paul all sorts over the years and the Meyer gear is what Ange’s into at the moment. It’s sounding great.”
Weller gives the impression of a resolute ‘old school’ musician — the type who would never use technology for the sake of it. I was certainly proven right when the subject of in-ear monitoring raised its head.
Has he ever tried it? “No, never in a million years,” he said. “I can’t see the point. I like to hear the music all around me rather than trapped up here [clutches ears], plus they look f***ing stupid. I think they’re for musicians who can’t f***ing sing, to be honest!”
As Weller drifted off to his soundcheck, Stile and I relocated to the Cliffs Pavilion’s compact catering room to discuss the initial effects of Canegreen’s sale to the SSE Audio Group in August.
“Pete Edmonds [Canegreen co-founder] and I now have shares in SSE and are directors, and I’m able to concentrate on the Canegreen brand, as I’ve always done,” said Stile. “It was always agreed that Canegreen will continue to have its own identity, as a division of SSE.
“We’ve had a fantastic 2008 with high profile tours by the Sugababes, Jay-Z, Morrissey, Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison and, of course, Paul Weller. And I’m really looking to move this all forward with SSE.
“The cross-utilisation of equipment between us has meant that our sub-hire bills are now much lower, which was always seen as one of the main advantages of the partnership.
“Working with the SSE team has brought so many new strengths to the table and I can see us developing in many positive ways throughout 2009 and beyond.”
Now under the management of Harry Redknapp, Tottenham Hotspur F.C. is soon to move from White Hart Lane and has purchased Canegreen’s north London premises as part of the site of its new stadium.
Tony Winterbottom, who worked on development of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, is leading the plans for the new Spurs ground.
Said Stile: “Financially, it’s a very good deal for us and I’m very proud of the fact that we have a part to play in Spurs’ future, although I must say that their plans and our merger with SSE were not linked at all — it was pure coincidence.
“It won’t be a bad thing at all to move out of Tottenham; it’s been a long time coming! We’ll be staying where we are for the first half of 2009 while we look for new premises, preferably close to the M25 and M40 to enable quicker access to SSE’s Redditch HQ. But we’ll have to wait and see about that!”
Interviews and photography
by Mark Cunningham