By John Curley
Directed and edited by Lee Cogswell, the terrific documentary film Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council premiered on the U.K. TV channel Sky Arts at the end of October. It will have its American premiere on Showtime this Tuesday, December 8th, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern and will be available for on-demand viewing from Showtime that same day.
Paul Weller dissolved The Jam, one of the U.K.’s most popular bands, at the end of 1982 because he yearned to do something different. His next project, The Style Council, proved to be a considerable departure from his previous band. While they were underappreciated here in the USA, The Style Council were one of Britain’s most important bands of the mid-to-late 1980s. In the film, Weller says of The Style Council, “It was the freedom I was looking for coming out of The Jam.” And he adds that after a while, life in The Jam began to feel like a “treadmill," a relentless cycle of album-tour, album-tour. In addition, Weller states, “It was liberating for me to start again, really. To feel that I’m starting again, after The Jam.” Regarding Weller’s decision to split The Jam at the peak of their popularity, the writer and broadcaster Eddle Piller states, “If you listen to the last recordings of The Jam, he’s obviously outgrown the band. But they are the most popular band in the country. They’ve got the most loyal following. And he went, ‘You know, I’ve had enough.’ “
Weller joined forces with keyboardist Mick Talbot, who had been in the band The Merton Parkas, to form the core of The Style Council. That core later expanded to include vocalist Dee C. Lee and drummer Steve White. Lee and White both discuss how they came to be involved with the band. White’s audition almost didn’t happen. When it did, Weller was impressed and told White that they would be performing live on a popular BBC radio show the next day. Weller added that he wanted White to play with them at that show. When White asked what they would be playing, Weller replied that they would work it out before the show. Lee, who had worked with Wham! and other acts, says that she wasn’t aware that Weller had been in The Jam and if she had, she probably wouldn’t have taken the gig because it would have been too intimidating. Lee and Weller would later marry and have two children together.
Image and fashion were very important to the band. The actor Martin Freeman, an ardent Style Council fan, says, “For me, it was, and remains, one of the best combinations of music and look in a pop group, ever.” Weller had a desire for the band to be seen as European and not just as English, so there were influences of French New Wave in their look and in their videos. And jazz influences showed in both their music and in the design of their album sleeves, which were patterned after jazz album covers. In addition, Weller wasn’t afraid to take risks with his own image. Tim Pope, who directed the video for the song “Long Hot Summer,” discusses the homoerotic imagery of the video and says that it was brave for Weller to be willing to go there.
The fact that The Style Council were different from most of the other acts of that era is highlighted by the radio disk jockey Gary Crowley, who discusses the so-called “new pop” of the 1980s that featured bands such as ABC, Haircut 100 and Culture Club and that The Style Council didn’t fit into that mold. To emphasize that point, Freeman says that since The Style Council’s songs and videos had a classic feel to them, they didn’t date as quickly as something like Duran Duran’s “Rio.”
Weller performed on Band Aid’s best-selling December 1984 charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and The Style Council were part of the massive Live Aid concert at London’s Wembley Stadium in July 1985. Weller admits that he didn’t like “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” but understood the importance of it, as it raised a great deal of money for famine relief. Crowley notes that Weller looks like “a fish out of water” in the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” video. Weller, Talbot and Lee discuss the enormity of the Live Aid concert, performing in front of 70,000 at Wembley Stadium and many millions in the TV audience, and how nervous they were to do so.
The Style Council’s political activism is touched on in the film. Weller seethes when discussing how striking miners were beaten by police in 1985 when all they were doing was standing up for their livelihoods. And one of their biggest songs, “Walls Come Tumbling Down,” is discussed as a protest song. Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg says of the song, “What a great anthem that was! The whole dynamic of that song. It’s got the energy of punk. It’s got the beauty of soul. And it’s got the anger of the 1980s in it.” Piller adds that it’s political music that made people want to dance.
The filmmakers and band members deserve credit for discussing the declining years of the band toward the end of the 1980s. Talbot states that “the orange album” (1987’s The Cost Of Loving) turned a lot of people off to the band. And Weller, Talbot, Lee, White and Freeman discuss the 1988 short film Jerusalem that the band made around the time of the release of the Confessions Of A Pop Group album. All admit that the film was more than a little bizarre. Weller says that the film was screened before their gigs that year and mostly left the audiences perplexed.
Weller says that he considers the Confessions Of A Pop Group album to be The Style Council’s last since their label, Polydor, deemed 1989’s Modernism: A New Decade not commercial enough to release. A 1989 concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall that featured live performances of some of the material from Modernism: A New Decade is discussed, and it is stated that more than a few audience members walked out before the show was over.
Weller states near the end of the film that when he looks back on his time with The Style Council, he just thinks about the fun they had. Earlier in the film, Weller says, “You can only commit to where you’re at at the time. You can’t think of how you’re gonna feel 10 years down the line. Or 30 or 40 or whatever.”
Among the music featured in the film are bits of “Headstart For Happiness,” “Speak Like A Child,” “Long Hot Summer,” “My Ever Changing Moods” and “Walls Come Tumbling Down.” One of the highlights of the film features portions of the terrific video for “A Solid Bond In Your Heart.” It’s a bit of a throwback, and it features Weller and Talbot clad in Mod gear.
There is a wonderful surprise for the viewers at the end of the film involving the 1988 song “It’s A Very Deep Sea” that I will not reveal here. You’ll have to tune in to see it. Style Council fans will surely love it.
The Trailer for Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council can be seen below: