A MAN OF GREAT PROM­ISE

(1983-1989)

Q (UK) - - Cover Story -

Satur­day, 13 July, 1985.

An es­ti­mated 1.5 bil­lion TV view­ers world­wide are watch­ing the “global juke­box” of Live Aid from Wem­b­ley Sta­dium where, at 19 min­utes past noon, Paul Weller walks on­stage be­fore an au­di­ence of 72,000 in­clud­ing Charles and Diana. After four songs, two tak­ing ex­plicit swipes at “the holy Tory govern­ment” and “the pub­lic en­emy Num­ber 10[ Down­ing Street, then home to PM Mar­garet Thatcher]”, he next rushes to a tele­vi­sion stu­dio in Maid­stone to pre-record a mu­sic spot on the sketch show of fu­ture Stars In Their Eyes host Matthew Kelly. The song he chooses, broad­cast prime­time on ITV the fol­low­ing week­end, not only con­tains graphic ref­er­ences to smok­ing heroin and slash­ing wrists but, es­pe­cially for this oc­ca­sion, is ac­com­pa­nied by an orches­tra dressed as Bene­dic­tine monks. What lu­natic came up with that idea? “I think that might have been mine,” smiles Weller. “Was that the demise of us? Pos­si­bly. We thought it was fuck­ing hi­lar­i­ous, though. Our at­ti­tude was al­ways if it only makes three peo­ple laugh, it’s worth it.” The “us” were The Style Coun­cil: Weller’s po­lit­i­cal, pro-Euro­pean and in­scrutably arch soul-pop en­sem­ble, then bask­ing in the Num­ber 1 tri­umph of sec­ond LP Our Favourite Shop fea­tur­ing the con­tro­ver­sial smack’n’sui­cide satire of ’ 80s “new town” aus­ter­ity Come To Mil­ton Keynes. “Bril­liant times,” he rem­i­nisces. “The first years of the Coun­cil, ’ 83 to ’ 85, were some of the best times of my life. We were like a mov­ing youth club on wheels. It was fun and I didn’t feel the same weight or pres­sure as in The Jam. There was a por­tion of my au­di­ence who didn’t get it but I thought that’s not a bad thing ei­ther. It made me feel free. Even if it pisses peo­ple off, this is what I’m gonna do.” In the art of piss­ing peo­ple off, The Style Coun­cil were grand­mas­ters. That they were banned from advertising 1987 third al­bum The Cost Of Lov­ing with the im­age of a black Queen El­iz­a­beth says much for the punk rock minds at work be­hind the slick mu­sic. Their la­bel voiced sim­i­lar protests over the fa­mously camp video for early sin­gle Long Hot Sum­mer. “The so-called ho­mo­erotic one,” grins Weller. “That was just our piss-tak­ing sense of hu­mour. The MD came down and com­plained.” In­cor­ri­gi­ble provo­ca­teurs, their live ca­reer com­menced dodg­ing mud hurled by irate Jam mourn­ers at a free CND ben­e­fit fes­ti­val in South Lon­don’s Brock­well Park (“I was try­ing to shield me­self be­hind the back­ing singers”) and ended six years later in July 1989 with ripped con­cert pro­grammes and boos of “Ju­das!” after fail­ing to turn a packed Royal Al­bert Hall on to house mu­sic. “It was a test of peo­ple’s pa­tience. Which quite ob­vi­ously had its lim­its.”

Live Aid, by com­par­i­son, was rel­a­tively drama-free. Weller says he “didn’t en­joy any of it”, though he still re­turned after the monks’ TV show film­ing to join the all-star en­core of Do They Know It’s Christ­mas?: loi­ter­ing sheep­ishly be­hind Bono whose, “Tonight thank God it’s them” line he’d pre­vi­ously found him­self forced to mime on Top Of The Pops in the U2 singer’s ab­sence. Pre­sum­ably he pulled the short straw? “No fuck­ing idea, man,” he cringes. “How or why that hap­pened. Record­ing that whole Band Aid sin­gle was alien to me. Ev­ery­one else in­volved was like a proper ’ 80s pop star so I just felt a fish out of wa­ter. You couldn’t ar­gue with what Geldof was try­ing to

“The first years of the Coun­cil, ’83 to ’85, were some of the best times of my life. We were like a mov­ing youth club on wheels.”

achieve, but the mu­sic was fuck­ing shock­ing, wasn’t it? It sounded like the Doc­tor Who theme.” Com­mer­cially Weller’s most ec­cen­tric phase, cre­atively it was also one of his rich­est. The swan­song com­pi­la­tion The Sin­gu­lar Ad­ven­tures Of The Style Coun­cil re­mains a critic-si­lenc­ing ceno­taph to their mul­ti­tude of spoils at 45 rpm. Their 1984 de­but al­bum Café Bleu sounds even more rad­i­cal now than it did then: nearly half in­stru­men­tal, Weller’s gen­eros­ity in hand­ing The Paris Match to a dream­like lead by Tracey Thorn, and hit sin­gle My Ever Chang­ing Moods reimag­ined as a sublime pi­ano bal­lad. Like­wise, the De­bussyesque “Pi­ano Paint­ings” of 1988’ s Con­fes­sions Of A Pop Group, Weller never in more strik­ing voice than when duet­ting with wife Dee C Lee on the heav­enly Chang­ing Of The Guard. “Some nice strings on that,” he agrees of the lat­ter. “But it wouldn’t have mat­tered what we did. By then the press hated us. And, any­way, I’d lost in­ter­est.”

With hind­sight,

Weller sug­gests The Style Coun­cil pos­si­bly out­stayed their wel­come. “By a few years,” he reck­ons. “We prob­a­bly should have ended it sometime after Our Favourite Shop.” By the mid- ’ 80s his en­er­gies were also be­ing sapped by Red Wedge, a move­ment to rally youth sup­port for the Labour Party, or as he frankly re-eval­u­ates it to­day “the only time in my life I ever felt ex­ploited.” The decade draw­ing to a close, mu­sic was no longer his pri­mary fo­cus, now mar­ried to Lee, soon to be mother to his el­dest chil­dren Natt and Leah, while his main Coun­cil co-con­spir­a­tor Mick Tal­bot had also started a fam­ily. “Other things in our lives be­came more im­por­tant. The band wasn’t the fun ship it was any more. We were all grow­ing up.” Un­like The Jam, the de­ci­sion to end The Style Coun­cil was made for him when their la­bel re­fused to re­lease 1989’ s house-thump­ing fifth al­bum Modernism: A New Decade. “I was an­noyed, but kind of re­lieved if I’m hon­est,” he re­flects. “It was al­ready fiz­zling out and no­body was say­ing, ‘Let’s call it a day.’ So that sort of sealed it.” Paul Weller be­gan the ’ 80s at Num­ber 1 in the most vi­tal Bri­tish group of their gen­er­a­tion. He’d end them with no band, no record deal and, alarm­ingly, no in­ter­est in find­ing ei­ther ever again. “It seemed like The End,” he says. “It cer­tainly felt like The End.” It wasn’t. But be­fore com­ing up for air, he’d first have to sink to the depths…

Chang­ing of the guard: Paul Weller launches post-Jam out­fit The Style Coun­cil (from left, Mick Tal­bot and Weller); (be­low) Weller heads to Lon­don’s Sarm West stu­dio to record the Band Aid sin­gle, 1984. (Main pic) The bar­net re­mains the same – Weller in Lon­don, 1985 and 2017; (in­set, far right) The Style Coun­cil’s ’84 de­but Café Bleu and fi­nal al­bum, ’ 89’ s Modernism: A New Decade.

“We prob­a­bly should have ended it sometime after Our Favourite Shop”: The Style Coun­cil (from left, Weller, Dee C Lee, Mick Tal­bot), 1985.

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