The Style Council

TrackAlbum / Single
Speak Like A ChildPolydor TSC 1
Party ChambersPolydor TSC 1 (B-side)
The Paris MatchCafé Bleu
My Ever Changing MoodsCafé Bleu
You're The Best ThingCafé Bleu
A Solid Bond In Your HeartPolydor TSC 4
Shout To The TopPolydor TSC 7
A Stone's Throw AwayOur Favourite Shop
Walls Come Tumbling DownOur Favourite Shop
Changing Of The GuardConfessions Of A Pop Group

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Contributor: Craig Austin

“The Style Council was loads of fun for me, maybe too much fun. I think that’s what other people didn’t like about it” – Paul Weller

Paul Weller photo

There’s perhaps never been an image that better encapsulates an artist leaving his or her audience behind than the photograph taken of Paul Weller in 1984, one in which the chasm between modernism (the lifestyle discipline) and ‘mod’ (the off-the-peg fashion trend) has never been more acutely defined. His hair slicked back, and sporting the prevailing street style of Milan and of Paris, the newly emancipated artist is surrounded by a bewildered gaggle of parka-clad male teens, their expressions a disconcerting amalgam of reverence and resentment. “Why, oh great redeemer,” their spurned little faces appear to implore, “have you so cruelly forsaken us?”

Paul Weller, in the words of The Jam’s When You’re Young, was never likely to allow his future to become a clam. In bringing the blade of the revolutionary guillotine down upon the increasingly apparent limitations of the band that first brought him to prominence as both a songwriter and the evidently reluctant ‘voice of a generation’, he equally sought to shed the more lumpen elements of The Jam’s fan-base in an act that would come to be seen by many as a wilful act of antagonistic narcissism. “You’re taking the piss, aren’t you?” scoffed the dumbfounded and unreconstructed Rick Buckler when his former band-mate first played him the initial studio recordings of the embryonic Style Council.

It was a reaction that was to create a permanent schism in the relationship between Weller and Buckler, the increasingly hapless ‘man out of time’, but one that was swiftly shared by a growing number of disenfranchised former fans. Despite The Jam’s twilight period having encompassed increasingly more ambitious forays into funk (Precious), pastoral psyche (Tales From The Riverbank) and jazz (the sublime Shopping), and though the joyous first single release Speak Like A Child had been met with almost unanimously rapturous reviews, few fans were prepared for the modernist veracity of Café Bleu a debut album that shattered so many of their pre-determined convictions; a record that contained a collection of instrumental recordings, a notable absence of guitar, and an unrestrained suite of stylistic flourishes that ranged from Chet Baker to Colin MacInnes. This was Weller at his most playful and provocative, the artist effortlessly mocking his detractors with the barbed lyrical consolation that ‘at least there’s no lecture’. The bonfire of the vanities had commenced in earnest and Paul Weller was increasingly presented as the gleeful stoker-in-chief of its personally cathartic funeral pyre. It was a characteristically intrepid move from a man who by the age of 24 had already achieved far more than his supposed peers would achieve in a lifetime. Yet for many, this wilfully headstrong act of personal and artistic reinvention would be one for which he would never be forgiven.

The passing of time has undoubtedly been kinder to the legacy of The Style Council than the prevailing narrative of the latter half of the 1980s ever was, one which routinely sought to define the band’s output as either narcissistic folly or unbridled foppish eccentricity. A reaction undoubtedly rooted in a knee-jerk aversion to both subtlety and good old-fashioned British mischief, it also conveniently overlooked the more fascinating elements of Weller’s most artistically adventurous period. Let’s not forget that The Style Council were an overtly political band in both inclination and application, a far more radical proposition than the more politically oblique Jam, had ever been.

Whereas The Jam often depicted the working class experience as being at the mercy of both social convention and class construct, The Style Council presented itself as a sharply dressed agit-prop catalyst for societal change that also found time to flirt with both gender and sexual politics. Whether it was the self-styled ‘boy about town’ provocatively caressing the ear-lobe of fellow Councillor Mick Talbot in the then-controversial Long Hot Summer promo video, or the heavenly vocals of Dee C Lee being purposely positioned at the forefront of the band’s visual dynamic, any notion of victimhood had evidently been tossed onto the same bonfire that was in the process of incinerating a generation’s worth of Carnaby Street ‘target’ t-shirts. Are you gonna try and make this work? Weller challenged the nations’ pop-kids, or spend your days down in the dirt? Pointedly, the band’s debut shows were politically-motivated benefits, an impetus that would ultimately culminate in the ill-fated ‘Red Wedge’ consortium, the very first a ‘Peace & Jobs’ fundraiser at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre taking place, fittingly, on International Workers’ Day, 1983. The lyrics to Money Go Round, an early single that sought to both embody and celebrate the then-thriving Brit-funk scene, and its stylistic off-shoot Hard Times, are typically illustrative of this unambiguous fusion of pop and politics, reading as they do like the proclamations of a tassel-loafered Tony Benn. Though far from being the Council’s musical highpoint it remains to this day the only Top 20 single to feature the phrase ‘public referendum’.

“I had a total belief in The Style Council,” Weller recalls of this period. “I meant every word and felt every action.” A personal ethos impeccably exemplified by the anger and fury articulated via the otherwise mournful and orchestral A Stone’s Throw Away; the standout track from 1985’s multi-genre Our Favourite Shop and a timeless treatise upon political subjugation that name-checks the brutality of Orgreave, Soweto and Pinochet’s Santiago yet makes no distinction on grounds of either continent or oppressor: For liberty there is a cost, it’s broken skulls and leather cosh / From the boys in uniform, now you know whose side they’re on.

If the overtly left-leaning politics of The Style Council did little to endear the band to the archetypal Daily Mail reader then The Style Council’s apparent obsession with all things European was hardly likely to sugar that particular pill. At a point when the likes of U2 – and man how the 80s Paul Weller despised Bono – were beginning to cloak themselves in the appropriated and clichéd trappings of hackneyed Americana, The Style Council’s contrarily continental and internationalist approach to business underlined both the musical and stylistic apartness of its artistic and cultural vision. Though Weller himself would emerge from the period having felt very much burnt by his exposure to the Labour Party’s calculating political machine, he would never regret his public exploration of the mod scene’s most fundamental tenets; a fascination that would find him gleefully embracing the Paris of A Bout de Souffle and Alain Delon, the Rome of Fellini, and the evocative lost London of MacInnes and Joe Orton. A culturally inspirational trail that came clouded in the intense urban perfume of Gitanes and espresso.

Nonetheless, and as much it would be expedient to seek to reposition the Style Council as a wholly revelatory proposition – the seamless aesthetic refinement of Weller’s initially teenage fascination – that would be to ignore the flawed and often self-indulgent fragilities at its core. The band’s amateurish and often bewildering film Jerusalem remains ripe for vilification, as does a run of later poorly-received singles whose sleeves were often of far more interest than the vinyl that lay within. 1987’s patchy The Cost Of Loving album is justly viewed as the commencement of a sequence of diminishing returns, a progression that would culminate in the Summer of 1989 on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall in what – incontestably – was a modernist act of absolute authenticity; the night, as pop folklore would have it, that ‘Weller went House’.

The Italo House sound of Modernism: A New Decade that formed the background to the frenzy of dozens of programmes being furiously torn up as a swarm of disaffected former fans fled from the modernity that had so pitilessly turned upon them, came only a year or so after Paul Weller and then-partner Dee C Lee had positioned themselves around a very different kind of piano. A great big white and grand one helmed by the ever-trusty Mick Talbot that formed the glossy centrepiece of both the grandiose Confessions Of A Pop Group album and its undoubted highpoint, the sublime Changing Of The Guard. Crying over nothing worth crying for, it remains one of Weller’s finest ever songs, a bittersweet critique of an urgent imperfect love that wilfully refuses to fade away. I’m sure I was right, the artist muses in an appraisal of infatuation that might equally mirror that of his own for the concept of The Style Council itself, but I’m not sure now.

 

 

Paul Weller official website

Mick Talbot Discography

Dee C Lee official website

Steve White official website

Mr Cool’s Dream: The Complete History of The Style Council by Iain Munn

Paul Weller – Toppermost #227

The Jam – Toppermost #414

The Style Council biography (iTunes)

Craig Austin (@TheCraigAustin) is an Associate Editor of Wales Arts Review.

TopperPost #474

8 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Sep 14, 2015

    Great list: very pleased to see the best political song of the generation – Walls Come Tumbling Down – make an appearance. Style Council was always my favorite of the Weller projects – this list shows me why (again).

  2. Keith Shackleton
    Sep 15, 2015

    TSCX3 still nestles there in the record box, a treasured part of my collection, with the extended, and superior, version of Long Hot Summer, and nos. 2 and 3 from your list. My Favourite Artefact. TSCX2 ain’t bad either.

  3. Peter Viney
    Sep 15, 2015

    For me the fascination of Our Favourite Shop is that mix of styles. The sleeve apparently has them shopping for clothes on the front, but on the back the other half of the shop looks like a vintage store with a carefully arranged collage including Beatles references. I saw the album as them “shopping for styles” . The segue is part of the fun and a lot are good 45 rpm pop length. Would many go from Internationalists straight to A Stones Throw Away? All Gone Away is the bar trio with Latin-American beat box (except it’s real here), A Stones Throw Away is like Sting in more refined mode, Walls Come Tumbling Down (one of the songs of the decade) actually sounds just like David Bowie, The Stand Up Comic’s Instructions doesn’t sound like Ian Dury’s voice, but it certainly sounds like his style. I hear Steely Dan / Was Not Was in Homebreakers and The Lodgers. The title track is an excellent piece of soul jazz. But Mick Talbot’s Hammond work is one of the joys of the album. It’s the only album I bought. Dunno why. I bought 45s.

    • Rob Millis
      Jan 31, 2016

      I have a handful of the early singles/EPs but I’d agree with PV on Our Favourite Shop. And as a fellow Hammond-botherer you can’t go far wrong with Mick Talbot in a mod R&B type combo. Great player – especially evident on OFS title cut (not the bloody club mix!) and the previous platter’s Council Meetin’.

  4. Glenn Smith
    Sep 19, 2015

    A perfect summation of an amazing band, the list nicely highlights their astonishing ability to pump out great 45’s and at the same time produce two superb albums in Cafe Bleu and Favourite Shop (I have to admit I never made it to the later stuff, the hair tints were starting to become an issue). And there are some pretty good omissions here too, no Big Boss Groove,Headstart for Happiness, Homebreakers and a couple of my favourites Down in the Seine and The Lodgers. I loved how Weller took a step back, shared the vocals, put in plenty of instrumentals and let Mick Talbot take on a pretty fair share of the songwriting. They were a pretty big band, they were front and centre at Live Aid playing a cracking good version of Walls Come Tumbling Down. And that Favourite Shop cover said it all, Georgie Best, John and Paul, Small Faces and er..Bill Cosby.

  5. Simon Jones
    Sep 23, 2015

    Good choices. Nothing from the “unreleased” album 🙂
    I listened to the final gig at the Albert Hall the other day that I was at, he certainly pushed it to the limit that night, almost no known tracks in the set!!

  6. Andrew Shields
    Sep 28, 2015

    This piece may be one of the best short summaries of a band’s career and what made them (briefly) great that I have read… For me, The Style Council never topped the great Introducing The Style Council mini-album, which contained almost all of their best songs. ‘Long Hot Summer’, for example, is one of those rare songs which can take me right back to the time when I first heard it… As for the best political songs by that generation, I would probably have to go with ‘Shipbuilding’ or ‘Ghost Town’…

  7. David Lewis
    Oct 2, 2015

    ‘You don’t have to take this crap’: brutal and honest – I remember being riveted that a song that played on the radio (in rural Australia) could be so fiery, yet so intelligent. It’s the perfect mix of idealism, anger and righteousness. (not Billy Bragg, who was determined to be an intellectual, at least for a while, or Costello, whose best political song is Oliver’s Army, who diluted his message through dillentantism) Pete Townshend, when Weller was in the Jam, said that the Jam started the Mod revival, and that they’ll finish it, because Paul Weller was too clever to stand still. I think Townshend was exactly right.

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