- Mark Radbourne
I'm a former hospital radio/club/mobile DJ, avid record collector and amateur musician (playing guitar, keyboards, recorder, harmonica and percussion.) I've even filled in on bass guitar for a couple of local bands as well (although that was quite a few years ago). Also interested in Motorsports, Wrestling/Mixed Martial Arts and Classic Television and Radio from the 1960s - 1980s.
Why am I on here? Well, I'm just trying to make some sense of life before it's too late...but who cares anyway?
Sunday, 10 May 2015
THE STYLE COUNCIL - "Our Favourite Shop" (Polydor) (1985)
May 1985 - two years into the Conservatives’ second successive spell in power, two months after the UK miners’ strike had finished, and a time when the unemployment rate had been hovering around the 11.6% mark. It was this grim backdrop which was reflected in the Style Council’s second LP “Our Favourite Shop” . The title came about as Paul Weller’s answer to critics who claimed that the group were using too many music styles in one album, or in extreme cases in one song. As for the material, Weller and keyboardist Mick Talbot had come up with their most overtly political songs to date - with subject matter including racism, excessive consumerism, self-serving governments, the death of one of Weller’s friends, and a lack of opposition to the status quo. All this pessimism countered with glimmers of hope that alternatives were out there - if only people could see them. And as for the styles of music used, they were as wide ranging as their first LP (that is if you don’t count the “Introducing” mini-album.)
We start with “Homebreakers”, telling the story of a family forced to split up - the sons moving out in an effort to find work, while the father finds himself made redundant. Bear in mind that this was around four years after then-Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit made that infamous speech about “getting on your bikes and looking for work”, in the wake of the 1981 riots, but it was still relevant in’85. One of several Weller/Talbot co-compositions (and featuring Talbot on lead vocal) this set the tone for what was to come.
Things didn’t get any more optimistic with “All Gone Away” - bemoaning the decimation of communities reliant on major industries set against a light, Latin style backing. The contrast doesn’t really work until you’ve heard the track several times, but could be judged as a fair assessment of what was happening in mid 80s Britain. The same could also be said about “Come To Milton Keynes”, a lyrical dig at the culture of “new towns” which were springing up around the country every so often, where the reality of violence, drugs, and a lack of direction was hidden by houses where the curtains were drawn, and the Americanisation of British culture in general.
“Internationalists” gives the first hint of hope with its militant call-to-arms set against a funk groove, the message here basically being “stand up and be counted”. Contrast that with “A Stone’s Throw Away”, with Weller reflecting on a world where the power of protest is crushed by the iron fist of authority - set to the backing of a string quartet. The contrast is stark, but the images painted by the lyrics are powerful to say the least. Even more powerful is the insistence that this is all happening closer to us than we realise.
We do get a bit of light relief next in the form of “The Stand-Up Comic’s Instructions”. The song plays more like a comedy sketch, with Lenny Henry joining in as a concert secretary at a typical working men’s club, giving his star turn advice on which jokes to use to get the most laughs. But there’s a serious side to the track too, as it exposes the racism inherent in such characters. (a theme which harkens back to a more politically incorrect time). “Boy Who Cried Wolf” , which rounds out side 1, is probably the closest you’ll get to a love song on the LP, and with additional vocals by Weller protégé Tracie Young, is more or less your standard pop number. The biblical reference might be lost on some listeners though.
Flip over to side two, and a recording of church bells heralds “A Man Of Great Promise”, which Weller dedicated to a friend who committed suicide. The lyrics generally reflect chances not taken or potential unfulfilled. “But who am I to say”.
“Down In The Seine” takes a completely different path. Taking on a distinctly French feel, (even down to some of the lyrics being in French) it’s one of those songs which is difficult to fathom out. No such problems with “The Lodgers” however. Especially as it’s an indirect reference to a certain property. The implication here being that it’s the lodgers in the property who make the rules, not the owners. Weller shares vocals on this one with Dee C. Lee, and the combination works quite well.
“Luck” breezes on next, full of joy and optimism (and that’s probably the only time you’ll see this phrase during this piece!) and throwing in a gospel feel certainly adds to the mix as well. It soon became a live favourite, especially when given to Dee as a solo spot. (Check out the version on her “See The Day” 12 inch single and you’ll see what I mean.)
The big revelation comes in the form of “With Everything To Lose”, which has its roots in another song, “Have You Ever Had It Blue”. For this track, drummer Steve White wrote new lyrics which reflected what was happening with the Youth Training Scheme which had recently been introduced. It was his first crack at writing lyrics, and personally, I thought they were spot on - especially as I had been on something similar a few years previously. Using more of a bossa nova type feel for the music, the contrast was particularly effective. As for the original song, that was eventually released on the “Absolute Beginners” film soundtrack in 1986.
The title track was one of those Hammond organ instrumentals that Talbot made a speciality of in the group’s early days, and a chance for some light relief before the final assault of “Walls Come Tumbling Down”. Defiantly optimistic in its approach, the message was simple - “this is your chance to change things for the better. It’s down to you now“. (Well, that’s how I thought about it).
On the whole, it’s a pretty good collection of songs which neatly sums up the mood of the mid 80s, and probably the strongest album The Style Council ever recorded. However, sadly, a lot of the songs remain relevant even today.