It's 1987 and even Paul Weller seems a bit disillusioned. Nothing new in that perhaps but Weller is now expressing doubts. serious doubts, about the ability of Red Wedge, the Labour Party er al to deliver a knockout blow to rampant Toryism. Storming the Winter Palace just doesn’t seem to be on anymore. But here he is on a sunny Spring morning safely ensconced in the bowels of a building near London‘s Marble Arch which makes up Solid Bond Studios, a Victorian creation concealing a myriad ofcorridors and, it has to be said, a fair sprinkling ofgold discs. The new LP Cost ofLoving has gone in at two in the album charts and even Bill. a roadie with the physique of which a Prince bodyguards would be proud, is smiling. ‘ Weller is a bit more serious, but then again no one is asking him about the colour of his socks or his favourite meal. Later perhaps. ‘It’d be nice to think we could change things‘ muses Weller ‘but it’s too great a thing to say you could achieve that,‘ Those clipped tones betray, or shall we say ‘show‘, that he is a changed man. The miners‘ strike and more recently events at Wapping have shown that the times too are a-changin’ or a-changed. Paul
Weller and his co-writer Mick Talbot are wondering where it will all end.
‘The dignity of labour has always been a big fucking myth . . . forget about work and all that crap,’ says Weller. Ah . . . but come on, you’re strong. Independent. Own studio in the West End, Top Ten LPs. ‘We’re really lucky. Kind of privileged, doing something we want to. Does that mean we shouldn‘t have opinions?’ No. It doesn’t.
Weller and his partner, keyboard player Mick Talbot, who cut his teeth in the music business in mod revivalists The Merton Parkas, make an odd couple. Weller is sharp, that new coiffure a perfect foil for . features which are as angular as he is Identity bracelet, the inevitable stripes and the long trenchcoat. Talbot is, um, not angular; the green and white deckchair-striped shirt is pure style . . . in this particular book anyway. Initially quite happy to watch Weller fielding the questions, he is eventually drawn into the conversation like we were some irresistible force.
But here we are again forcing the Style Council and more particularly Weller into a corner. Insisting that they wear that straitjacket with ‘earnest music types’ written all over it, we ask them about the power of
Paul Weller, just finished on Style Council’s new video Jerusalem tells Jonathan Richards why he’s not holding his breath for the New Jerusalem in British politics.
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the unions and employment policy when they may want to talk about EastEnders or George Michael. It’s not fair and Weller is not happy about it. Their media image has been created, he says, ‘by people who ask us po-faced questions.’ Oh alright then, Paul Weller wears black socks. The Style Council’s position in the grand order of the music business is a strange one. Like New Order, and to a lesser extent Dexy’s, they make their occasional forays into the charts and peddle the stuff all over Europe. They play the game but they bend the rules and manage to distance themselves from much of the sordidness ofpop. They are an antidote to an industry heavily based on pouting pretty boys and saccharine sex. The night before had seen the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) Awards ceremony reach new heights of gut-wrenching sycophancy. ‘They’re not about talent. Ifis was about talent there’d be a completely different set of people,’ opines Weller. ‘They’re voting for record sales.’ And when Dire Straits pick up the Best Album award for a record made two years ago, something has to be wrong. Perhaps the most revealing Style Council product to date is their new video Jerusalem (Palace Video)
which is probably as close as any rock band has come to issuing a manifesto; that’s not counting Duran’s video album which shows that they like lots of sun and fawning models or Queen’s Live In Rio which says little more than they like tight trousers. In Jerusalem, the Style Council let rip at about a dozen different targets within a half hour: the law, the police, the City, racists, football hooligans, America, patriotism, media types and even pop shows amongst others. All this may sound seriously serious but the deliciously over the top narrative (from the Communards’ Richard Coles) and reassuringly slapstick performances from the band ensure that: a) It’s not in the least po-faced and b) The Style Council will not be winning any Oscars. In Jerusalem they have tried to avoid the ‘all gloss and no substance’ videos pumped out by those who could be called their contemporaries. Absolute Beginners, which to their minds was glossy and decidedly lacking in substance, would have been done very differently had they succeeded in their efforts to acquire the film rights. ‘That kind of approach they used in Alfie where Michael Caine turns round and talks to the camera. . . that would have been really good,’ says Weller. Talbot agrees and dismisses Beginners as being ‘the wrong side of Morecambe and Wise.’ As they survey rock’s rich tapestry (the one that’s frayed around the
edges) Weller and Talbot find little to shout (to the top) about. Musically they see themselves very much out on a limb but pick out The Communards ‘not so much from a musical point ofview, more from an attitude point of view’ as some kind of kindred spirit. Anyone expecting A-Ha, Five Star or other chart fodder to get the nod of approval is in for a surprise.
In the Style Council’s book the nod of approval can be reserved for something like NME, ‘the most intelligent music paper,’ says Weller, while something closer to a verbal headbutt is directed at The Face. ‘Diabolical . . . gives Southerners a bad name,’ thinks Weller. As ifthey needed The Face, eh? That whole scene exemplified by The Face leaves the Style Council cold. ‘Not everyone in London wears those clothes or goes to those clubs.‘ All faintly ironic from a band called the Style Council but remember. . . Weller used to wear a parka and a mod suit. Maybe that explains something?
So, apart from admitting to watching the occasional episode of EastEnders and being at a loss to understand why so many grieved over the departure of Heather from Brookside, Weller and Talbot ambled off upstairs to rehearse for the tour. Idealism has been replaced by realism for two people who aren’t holding their breath for a revolution or even a Labour government. Finding the Style Council in such a mood is a bit like finding your brother in bed with your girlfriend. A bit ofa shock. . . but
8 The List 20 Feb — 5 March