Published on November 16, 2020
If you are going to do something, then do it with Style…
This blog is definitely one from left field and is possibly my only forage into music journalism with a subject matter that is also political in nature. Advanced warning, this one’s for those that remember the 1980’s, whose misspent teenage years were spent listening to great music on vinyl and cassettes; the era of VHS video players; going to nightclubs midweek as you could get in with free vouchers, memories of the girls with big hair and smoking 10 B&H; weekend jobs at McDonalds; lunchtime drinking at work; and an era where Ford XR2’s and VW Golfs ruled. A decade that saw Sir Bob Geldof telling us all to get a “f**king grip’’ while he woke up the world to see 8 million people affected by famine with over 1 million dying in Ethiopia.
Geldof did it by getting all our attention through music. The ultimate text-book example of political activism, which saw the creation of Band Aid and the charity single “Do they know it’s Christmas?” and then followed up by putting on the greatest pop concert ever in Live Aid on 13th July 1985, literally screaming at all of us from royalty, politicians and to the person in the street to give money to save lives. It also saw the greatest live performance of any band of any era in Queen, and frankly 17 minutes that became the stuff of legends and made music history.
What’s this all got to do with business? Well it is all about influence, and especially the power of subconscious influence through music, and as de Novo Solutions is all about the experience economy, there is simply no better experience than great music!
So read on and let’s see where this takes us…
Music & Me
For me music has always been in my life. I was a drummer, learning my trade in the Boys Brigade, playing for the school band and then went on to play in several really good pub bands, the last one called “One Night”, which actually lasted about 4 years from memory and had a following of around 200 people at the end.
My musical influences started early, shaped heavily by my Grandparents, as they introduced me to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr, Nat King Cole, Burt Bacharach, and numerous Hollywood musicals which formed the bedrock of my musical education. Naturally the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Elvis all followed.
My tastes developed further covering everything from Motown, Queen, Elton John, through to the Carpenters (yes really), Bee Gees and ABBA during the 70’s, as I would camp down by the radio every Sunday afternoon before dinner to listen to the Top 40.
Discovering Paul Weller and The Jam
A great song for me is one that has a memorable melody, a killer middle eight, and lyrics that are relevant to how you are feeling at the time. Hence genres like punk at the end of the 70’s just confused me as it was just noise, (similar to what my own teenage sons listen to now), but out of this came a band that was rebellious and a sound that was both musical and felt like it was talking to me directly.
Enter Paul Weller and the Jam. Singles like “Going Underground” was inspired and “That’s Entertainment” reflected the sounds of real life. Weller’s lyrics related to a society that I recognised and he became the voice of a generation, a label I know he distains and still distances himself from, but the man had a talent of interpreting what was going on around us through his music. Above everything else he was authentic and just “real”. Weller has never been one for b*llsh*t and he always calls it how he sees it.
So why is Weller so Important to Me?
Weller’s music has always in some form been in my musical life. I don’t like everything he has produced, far from it, but I have the ultimate respect that he has always been willing to try new things and move in new directions. I can’t imagine how many times he must have been told that he would fail and should not try something.
His musical career spans five decades, and he has produced a massive body of work over two bands and a solo career that continues to this day alongside numerous side projects with other artists.
To be honest, his straight up attitude and approach has always had a profound effect on me. He is one that never looks to recreate the past, regardless of how successful he has been, and he is always looking forward, always willing to experiment and try new things, especially as the world changes around him.
Weller has always been ahead of the musical curve, sometimes too far ahead for his own sake but when I need inspiration it is this man and his music I turn to.
The End of the Jam
For those who were not around let me enlighten you with a little musical history.
The Jam were absolutely massive, and they defined youth culture in Britain for a moment in time at the end of the 70’s and start of the 80’s. For me they were three working class lads from Woking, Surrey, who had an opinion, were politically outspoken and wanted to be heard as they had something to say. Weller was the genius through his song writing ability and was the leader, associated with “Mods”, or modernists, a subculture that started in London from the late 1950’s, he himself being heavily influenced by the Small Faces. Through their music they created a youth platform for political conversation.
80’s Britain was a hot bed of Conservatism politics and Thatcherism that spanned and defined the entire decade, which saw everything from the Falklands War, The Cold War, Apartheid, The Miner’s Strike, MTV, Live Aid, Yuppies, Stock Market Crash ‘87, the Storms of ‘88, all against a political backdrop of foreign policies of Gorbachev, Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher, ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall – and that’s just what I can remember. Wow – a decade in a paragraph.
The beauty about democracy is you don’t have to agree with everything, and everyone has a voice that can be heard, but there is no better way of making a statement through music. This is nothing new, Edwin Stars “War”, John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”, and of course Marvin Gaye’s master-piece of “What’s Going On” are all classic songs with strong political statements using music to get their point across. Weller was no different, “Eton Rifles” (how apt for 2020) reflects the oppression of ruling classes, recounting the difficulties faced by the un-employed and lower paid working class in protesting against an elitist system.
Then in 1982 Weller did the unthinkable and broke up the Jam at the height of their power. His rationale was simple, he had taken the Jam as far as he could musically. What had once been a release mechanism for his music, had now become a straight-jacket of constraint.
To give you some idea how big this was, some 40 years later there still exists a hardcore set of Jam fans that still have not forgiven him! – talk about being stuck in time and holding a grudge.
Introducing The Style Council
Weller immediately set about his next musical journey, and it could not have been anymore different from the Jam. Weller formed a new musical partnership with keyboard player Mick Talbot and was soon joined by a 17 year old jazz drummer – Steve White, whilst he poached D.C. Lee from George Michael & Andrew Ridgley’s Wham to join him on his musical adventure – The Style Council. That alone deserves merit as the coolest name ever for a band.
What followed was musical creativity and innovation at its very best. Whilst the sound waves of early 80’s Britain were full of pure pop, courtesy of Culture Club, Wham, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. Weller et al in the Style Council were exploring Jazz, Latin, Soul and being strongly influenced by European culture.
In-fact it could easily be argued that the Council had moved to Paris, France, given the influence Europe had on their music. Equally Weller had lost none of his ability to send a political message – 1984’s Café Bleu had “Dropping Bombs on the Whitehouse”, which actually is a Jazz instrumental, where the 1985 album “Our Favourite Shop”, had tracks like “The Internationalists”, “The Lodgers”, and “Walls Come Tumbling Down” – with its famous opening line of “We don’t have to take this crap”. The Council were anything but your average pop group, and the majority of their songs had some kind of political message.
Success followed with the Council being the second band on at Live Aid in ’85, as they played to a global audience of 1.9 billion at the time.
By ’87, the UK was truly in the grip of the MTV generation and the likes of Whitney Houston, Gloria Estefan, Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson blasting the airwaves, alongside American rock newcomers Bon Jovi.
The Council flipped to soul music, with their infamous Orange album sleeve – “A Cost of Loving”, which imitated (but failed) the same marketing technique as The Beatles famous White Album. The Album flopped, and whilst a couple of singles were knocked out with success, the writing was on the wall.
End of the Council
The final harar, was “Confessions of a Pop Group”. Critically slated at the time, it is an absolutely fantastic album and a hot bed of musical innovation, as Weller drove the Council in the direction of classical music. It is without doubt my favourite album and contains some of Weller’s and the bands best work – check out “Changing of the Guard”. With the group knowing that the end was nigh, they remained true to their values and branched off again covering various musical genres.
Folklore talks about the final disastrous “Council Meeting” gig at the Royal Albert Hall in July 1989, which supposedly saw fans ripping up their programmes and walking out as they didn’t understand what the band was about anymore.
Looking back, Weller was again just taking the Council in a new direction, this time it was “Chicago House” music, but it was a step too far and the record company refused to release the final album, fittingly called “Modernism – A New Decade”. The adventure ended, as the Council had lost its fan base and had become irrelevant.
The Wilderness Years & Come Back
Subsequently, Weller stepped back from the limelight, burnt out and without a record deal having fallen out with Polydor his long term record company. He was now married to D.C. Lee, a family man with two children and his priorities had naturally changed.
He turned up two years later in 1991 with the Paul Weller Movement. I remember seeing him just before Christmas that year, on a shitty, rainy night in Kilburn, North London. The crowd was around 1,000 people at the point with a significant number just wanting to hear Jam songs! However, there was one new song that caught my attention and again Weller sending a message to everyone with “Into Tomorrow”.
Don’t under-estimate how hard it must have been for Weller to come back at this time. The Style Council were playing sold out arenas all around the world and he had gone from hero to zero again and was playing what can be best described as a very large pub. Courage, grit and a lot of tenacity were the tools deployed here to drag himself back to the top.
In June 1992, I was one of just around 500 people at the Grand in Clapham, South London, again supporting the man as he was putting back his career. The band had been slimmed down from the “Movement” and they were now tight and sounding really good. More importantly Weller had his mojo back – I was witnessing a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
What was to follow, was the start of another creative renaissance, and the so called “Mod Father” became the unwritten driving force behind 90’s Britpop. Everyone remembers Oasis and Blur, but it was Weller that was innovating and developing a body of work, that is frankly unsurpassable.
Weller launched the self-titled album “Paul Weller”, overshadowed by the two albums that followed to much critical acclaim in “Wild Wood” and “Stanley Road”. The touring band stabilised, and the gigs became stuff of legends and many happy memories for those that attended. Check out the Wild Wood Tour 1994 – Glastonbury 1994 with Weller, White, Charles, Tuner, and Cradock – the finest lineup in my opinion he ever assembled.
Or find the Jools Holland Later Show from 1996 and watch Whirlpools End on Youtube (Whirlpools End). Weller and the backing Band, including trusted stickman and ex-Councillor Steve White again on drums is absolutely infectious and they are playing like people possessed. Simply Brilliant.
To this day Weller constantly reinvents himself on every album, and like a fine wine his music just keeps getting better over time. At 62 he is still constantly educating himself and exploring new genres, he is a genuine creative force, that just never seems to tire.
So what can you learn from this musical adventure?
Beside the 80’s being the coolest decade ever and definitely the best for music (so if you missed it, then take some time to check it out), Weller and his musical forays with the Style Council and beyond teach us many things including, but not limited to:
Or if you feel like kicking a door down try “Walls Come Tumbling Down”, as it sticks two fingers up to the elitist political ruling class when you want your 3 mins 23 seconds of being an absolute rebel.
Go on, we all need to do it, even if it’s just in the car!