Meeting In Progress
In a World’s Strongest Man contest, someone has to finish last. Someone has to be the weakest of the world’s strongest men.
I bring this up because all of the times that I caught The Style Council they were great. But there was one tour when they were less great than others. It was the one at the start of 1987, when Steve White was missing. In his absence there were moments when shambles threatened to break out, when the centre could not hold.
The drummer, of course, ties the whole thing together – a huge task in a band with a range as diverse as the Council. And in Steve White, the Council were fortunate to stumble upon a drummer who ticked all the boxes you care to bring up in conversation. With his jazz background he was sufficiently versatile to provide the rhythmic platform for the band to go off in all kinds of directions. The audience loved him – he was the same age as many of us out front, he was our representative up there, and he never let us down. And a few months later, when he was back on the sticks at a gig at Brixton Academy we could all have a joyful reunion. These are some of his thoughts on the years that changed his life.
Meeting in Progress: Tim Vickery with the questions
Obvious one, really – but did you expect this recent outpouring of love for The Style Council? Has it taken you by surprise, or did you think that in the end the world was bound to catch up?
“It’s lovely to see Tim , musically the band was very ahead of our collective ages and I think time has been a positive factor in the current re appraisal , I think the quality and diversity of the music is actually going to win a lot of new fans over .”
At the start I don’t think that Mick (Talbot) and Paul (Weller) knew each other that well – and then in come you and Dee (C Lee). How long did it take for all of you to feel comfortable in each other’s company, and how did the changing group dynamics affect the music?
“Very little time , I was thrown right in at the deep end , I was a working musician already so I was also very respectful of my position , we very quickly bonded as friends .”
The big band format of 1984, or the smaller unit of 85?
“85 was the classic line up , the nucleus of Paul , Mick , Dee , me, Steve Sidelnyk, Camelle (Hinds) and Helen (Turner) is the classic line up .”
I saw the Council many times, always in England. I’ve often seen it said that some of the European gigs were the best. Why was that? What did we in the UK miss?
“A sense of abandon , Paul in my opinion was always dealing with the pressure and stress even subliminally of The Jam , that pressure was nowhere near as intense in Europe , the audiences were different , a little less testosterone.”
I imagine that many of the songs had an original influence as a starting point. Are there times when you think the end result was a successful attempt to use that influence, times when it didn’t work out – and times when, although it didn’t work out as planned, it still ended up somewhere interesting?
“Being the age we were older musicians were extremely influential to all of us , unashamed I would say , my take on Brazilian rhythms like Samba and Bossa Nova for a start , I think possibly the only things that never stood the test of time were our forays into rap . “
I loved all the directions that the band took, all the experiments in genre. It all made sense to me – everything fitted under the original Modernist idea of the quest to acquire taste. The rap genre was the only one I thought badly done. Everything else worked. Was there a direction you think the band could have explored further?
“Ah ! Reading down through the questions I think we agree re the rap direction . We took on board Latin , jazz tinges , lots of soul , classical music , the only direction to go was back to a pure rock element which after the first solo album was the direction that Paul took .”
I loved the political side of the band, and love it still. ‘Our Favourite Shop’ is a faithful photo of mid 80s Britain, and the title track of ‘Confessions‘ is, sadly, even more appropriate now that it was in 88. But was there a danger that, especially in the media, the political side grew too much, and the lifestyle idea – the cosmopolitan, continental, contemporary Modernist angle – was overshadowed?
“Without a shadow of a doubt , politics is a dirty business and you have to realise the cut off point , we didn’t and ended up in media territory we were not equipped to deal with or understood , we couldn’t win against the overall right wing narrative of the good old British press .”
My take on the commercial decline is that the Council were a great singles band who stopped concentrating on great singles. I often wonder what might have happened had ‘Call Me’ been a single, or ‘Heavens Above’ or any of the mighty front three off ‘Confessions.‘ How were the decisions being made, and were there internal debates on this?
“I really can’t comment to deeply on this because it wasn’t really anything I had a say on , that was Paul’s choice I’m guessing with Mick’s input I’d imagine then going head to head with a label must have been hard , there were some glaring omissions as singles such as heavens above , but things were not only changing commercially there were lots of personal changes for Paul and Mick , children, relationships etc , the age gap between us began to be more apparent . “
In all the years since, has there been anyone, bands, musicians or people working in entirely different fields, who you see as carrying on the Council’s torch?
“No , not really , the music business is conservative with a very small c , all the innovations are done without the main stream music business , as a band in 84 we were 4 girls 4 boys , a white lead singer with a black female co singer , writing songs about politics with no restrictions and having no 1 albums .”
I know mine changes every day, and I imagine yours does too – but what would today’s personal list of top 5 Council tracks or moments, and why?
‘Shout To The Top’ – a perennial classic of upbeat joyous soul , fantastic played , performed and produced .
‘Head Start For Happiness’ – for me the song that wraps up all the essence and influences of the band , a classic.
‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ – energy , the message that I still feel so strongly about , an anthem of hope .
‘Ghosts of Dachau’ – who else would take this subject matter and turn it into an achingly beautiful and haunting testimony to the millions ? One of Paul’s finest songs of any era of his Career . “
Big thanks to Tim Vickery and Councillor Steve White
Part 3 – Tim in conversation with the ‘effervescent’ Mick Talbot is released on Saturday 31st October.
Still Available: Part 1 – ” A Band of Great Promise : TSC Anthology Part 1″ with Tim Vickery”
For more from Tim, catch him on Twitter : @Tim_Vickery
Catch up with Steve white on Twitter: @drummerwhitey
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The Style Council 2 CD / 3 vinyl boxset: Long Hot Summers: The Story of The Style Council is now available