After Paul Weller parted company with The Jam in 1982 he wasted little time in moving into the deeper soul soundscapes that he wanted to combine with funk and synth-pop while keeping an open mind about the incoming trends: deep house, avant-garde or fusion jazz and even progressive elements of new wave. In other words, if he’d felt constrained or frustrated on occasion during his earlier stardom his promise to himself was to make great music.
With new partner Mick Talbot (a former member of Dexys Midnight Runners and mod outfit The Merton Parkas) he found the perfect foil, a gifted keyboards player with a penchant for Hammond organ and a sunny disposition. Between 1983 and 1989 The Style Council enjoyed enormous success in the UK and Europe and made inroads into the American market. Their best-known singles, “Speak Like a Child”, “Long Hot Summer” and the sublime “My Ever Changing Moods” (a precursor to the styles of Weller’s solo career) kept Jam fans onside and drew in new listeners. The big albums – Café Bleu, Our Favourite Shop, The Cost of Loving and the experimental Confessions of a Pop Group were all top twenty or better but while they acquired Gold and Silver status they had something of a connoisseur appeal and Weller was right when he said that people would appreciate them more in years to come. They are prime examples of the uDiscover mantra since discovering them anew is a real pleasure. All have aged well. We also have a cracking live album, the mid-period Home & Abroad, and plenty of compilations as well as the definitive 5-CD Box Set, The Complete Adventures of The Style Council, that includes the previously unreleased final album, Modernism: A New Decade from 1989, something most people only heard a decade after it was completed and delivered.
Fresh from The Jam, Paul Weller began rehearsing with Mick Talbot, drummer Steve White and guest vocalist Tracie Young (the protégée Paul helped launch, she had sung on The Jam’s final single, “Beat Surrender”) and made debut recordings in Paris, summer of 1983 under the name The Style Council, one influenced by the French modernist philosophers of the 20th century. The results were a seven-track mini-LP made for non-UK markets, though it was imported in large numbers. As a taste of things to come, this is essential, since it includes the original and club mixes of “Long Hot Summer”, “Speak Like a Child” (their British debut, featuring Zeke Manyika from Orange Juice on drums) and classy items “The Paris Match” and “Money-Go-Round, pts. I & 2”.
The official UK debut arrived in March 1984 with producers Weller and Peter Wilson constructing a soulful and emotionally appealing disc that showed the outfit in an eclectic light with songs ranging from jazz soaked instrumentals – Talbot’s speciality – to perfect pop. Adding Honourary Councillors Ben Watt and Tracey Thorne, from Everything But the Girl, Weller then-wife Dee C. Lee on vocals, specialist horn players and Bobby Valentino’s violin, this excellent album is also noteworthy for the use of bass and brass synths, Weller on the bass guitar and flute sound and many other surprise delights. Dizzy Hite’s rap on “Gospel” is one; the clavinet on “Council Meeting” is another. Weller’s “The Whole Point Of No Return” is a slice of bliss and producer Wilson’s subtle drum programming is vital to the effect of “You’re The Best Thing”, a piece that should delight anyone who loves Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. The perennially popular “My Ever Changing Moods” with its sax and trumpet funk arrangement reached #25 in the American chart and it was decided to rename the US release with that title. The Jam this was not: Weller it most definitely was.
1985’s Our Favourite Shop (known as Internationalists in the USA) is considered by Weller to be the culmination of his faith in the new project since it had taken guts to walk away from his previous incarnation. His decision was vindicated: Our Favourite Shop hit the top slot in June 1985 and gave the world those superb singles, “Shout to the Top!” “The Lodgers” “Boy Who Cried Wolf” and the smash “Walls Come Tumbling Down”.
Using most of the previous disc’s personnel and adding strings arranged and orchestrated by John Mealing (one-time member of the Don Rendell-Ian Carr quintet) the whole affair attains its ambition and is well worth new discovery today.
Home & Abroad arrived a year later during the birth of the Compact Disc era. The title refers to this being a live album, and it’s a good ‘un with a cross-section of the best-known cuts to that point. The full version is now restored so you don’t miss out on “The Big Boss Groove” and “Our Favourite Shop”.
Back in his Solid Bond Studios Weller and Talbot, of course, moved into a quite different set of grooves for The Cost of Loving, with the accent on American R&B, classic and modern, large elements of house music, the atmospheric single “It Didn’t Matter” and a cover of Anita Baker’s “Angel”. Originally issued as a double-EP this set divided critical opinion but it has weathered well. Check The Valentine Brothers mixes on “Angel” and “It Didn’t Matter” and Mayfield’s work on “Fairytales”.
Confessions of a Pop Group could also be said to be ahead of the game. Only Weller would ask The Swingle Singers to harmonise on “The Story of Someone’s Shoe”. Wilful, wacky? Who cares, those who love classic British sounds won’t demur. This is also the Council’s most far-reaching attempt at a conceptual suite: “The Gardener of Eden” is neo-progressive and might have foxed Jam fans, more likely they turned to “Why I Went Missing” and “How She Threw It All Away” with Dick Morrissey’s flute suggesting a later direction for Weller as he immersed himself in the psychedelic folk-rock of Traffic, Family and Blind Faith.
Pushing the boundaries very far out Style Council’s last hurrah was Modernism: A New Decade. Considered too dance-orientated by the label then, though it would have graced the mood of 1998 had it come out. Eventually, it did as a double-vinyl promo and in CD format on the excellent box set The Complete Adventures Of (1998), the essential companion to the originals and an anthology that will repay long and detailed discovery.
If that’s one to save up for then try their first greatest hits, The Singular Adventures of The Style Council, Vol 1 and the logical companion, Here’s Some That Got Away, where B-sides and demos offer a rounded overview. Or look for the chronological Greatest Hits (2000), the reliable The Best of The Style Council – The Millennium Collection (20th Century Masters) and the popular Sweet Loving Ways – The Collection by The Style Council.
Somewhat misunderstood at the time, Weller’s project had a depth and humour that repay investigation. As the bridge between The Jam and his esteemed solo career, in which he has been given his dues as a modernist master, The Style Council offered an antidote to the 1980s tendency for navel-gazing. We reckon you’ll be amazed at what’s around here – the perfect soundtrack to a long, hot summer.
Words: Max Bell