It was those Bengal stripes on the latest Pellicano offering that got me. Broad and bold and bright, I was imagining strolling through St James Park with the sleeves rolled up, or with a navy blazer on top sitting outside in Soho, watching the world go by. Or even a Paris. The shirt sent me on a trip in time and space, back into the world of The Style Council – a place that many seem to want to occupy at the moment.
A little over four years ago, when I wrote a piece on the Council for this site, it felt like I was fighting on a lonely hill. It was ‘in defence of.’ Now, though, it’s easier to write in celebration of the band and all they stood for. There are films and books and events dedicated to The Style Council. Precisely how and why the tides have turned is hard to say – especially for me, thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic. Perhaps the easy answer is that quality lasts. Produce something memorable, something that touches people on a deep level, and you can sit by the side of the river and wait for the bodies of the Thompson Twins to float by. Sooner or later people will come round, catch up, discover, reappraise.
True, nostalgia is a part of it. I was 17 when the Council first sat, and 24 when the meeting was adjourned. What hits you then, inevitably, hits you hard. And yes, I can easily recall what I was doing at the time of each record and every tour. From the point of view of someone in his mid-50s, it’s nice to get in touch with my early twenties self.
But that’s not the reason that the Council continue to be a big part of the soundtrack to these days of mine. After all this time the music still speaks to me, still moves and inspires, still astounds with its breadth and ambition.
There was, and is, so much to latch on to. Firstly, in a literal sense. They produced so much music. Don’t like the A side? Flip it over! Despite the great video, I was never too keen on ‘Solid Bond In Your Heart.’ – no worries, “It Just Came To Pieces’ on the other side is a wonderful stab at English gospel. Songs strong enough to be singles would be hidden away on the B side of a 12 inch release.
Then there was the emotional range. Not in the mood for the full on rage of ‘Money Go Round’? Flip it over for the little cocktail of joy known as ‘Headstart for Happiness.’ Two decades earlier The Who had proclaimed a desire to go ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.’ The Council took them at their word. From Curtis Mayfield to Debussy, the MJQ to NWA, it was all in there. And it all made sense. All of the genres could fit under the band’s umbrella. Because being into The Council was like going to a school of Modernism.
On the curriculum; Absolute Beginners, Colin Mac’s amazingly perceptive view of a new kind of being, the working class kid finally able to construct his own identity, urban and cosmopolitan, acquiring taste and discernment. Throw in the finest modern jazz and r & b from black America, the best in style from France and Italy and a few thoughts on how to update the blueprint and the swagger of The Small Faces, and the ingredients were all in place.
And then there was the politics. It was an inherent part of the project. There is no popular modernism, no chance of a widespread quest for taste, without an economic system that distributes both wealth and opportunities. In the mid-80s the post war gains of the working class were coming under attack, and The Council took their place on the front line.
It is almost certainly true that the politics ended up blowing the band off course, and maybe even shortened its life. They were forced to field endless questions about Arthur Scargill when they would probably rather have been speaking about Alain Delon. But man does not make history under circumstances of his own choosing. And the anger is a big part of the legacy.
Not least on the title track to the 1988 album ‘Confessions of a Pop Group.‘ The song is a nine minute rant, cold eyed but warm hearted, about the state of the nation – and over 30 years later it seems more pertinent than ever. But it was ignored – like the album, the group’s forgotten masterpiece.
Time to welcome its rediscovery. Time to celebrate the work of The Style Council. Time to be inspired by what they did. Time to go for a stroll in those Bengal Stripes.
Big thanks to Mr Tim Vickery – modernista and BBC South American Football Expert
Read more from Tim Vickery on Twitter @Tim_Vickery
COMIMG SOON! – Part 2
Brand new interview with Steve White Esquire coinciding with ‘Long Hot Summer’ – The Style Council Anthology