A MAN OF GREAT PROMISE
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.”
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.