Review: Long Hot Summers: The Story of the Style Council (2020)

Long Hot Summers: The Story of the Style Council (2020)

Directed by: Lee Cogswell | 75 minutes | music, documentary | Starring: Paul Weller, Mick Talbot, Dee C. Lee, Steve White, Boy George, Billy Bragg, Gary Crowley, Martin Freeman

They had a strong fashion sense – they preferred to wear sharp Italian tailor-made suits – and always looked great. To keep their expensive clothes from getting dirty, they wore parkas and rode scooters instead of motorcycles. And they listened to jazz, soul, ska and beat music. The mods (short for ‘modernists’) were a serious subculture, particularly in the UK, that emerged in the late 1950s and experienced several resurgence in the decades that followed. In the 1960s, The Who, The Small Faces and The Kinks were the musical banners of the mods, in the late 1970s a revival around the subculture emerged thanks to The Jam, the punk rock/new wave band around Paul Weller. The Jam was known for its angular punk rock music and sharp lyrics about working-class life; they took their social protests to the highest echelons of the charts and Weller was embraced by fans as The Modfather. Great was the shock when he gave up at the end of 1982, leaving both the fans and his fellow band members stunned. Weller wanted something new and in 1983 formed a new group, The Style Council, to take different musical paths.

Filmmaker Lee Cogswell made the documentary ‘Long Hot Summers: The Story of The Style Council’ (2020) about that change and Weller’s time with his new band. All the protagonists from that era are represented in the film: Weller and fellow The Style Council band members Mick Talbot, Steve White and singer Dee C. Lee. The presence of Boy George (who made his appearance in the music industry around the same time with Culture Club) and actor Martin Freeman (according to the band’s biggest fan) is nice to fill in, but the most interesting stories really come from the band members yourself. How did Weller, who had always hated the New Romantics, come up with the idea to close The Jam and embark on a new path precisely because of the rise of that movement? A road with more room for jazz and soul and other music streams (classical composers such as Debussy and towards the end of their existence The Style Council even shook up against early house music). For fans of The Jam, the switch may have been incomprehensible at first, but those who delve into Weller and his musical influences enough will hear that soul and jazz also played a role in his ‘punk years’ (‘Town Called Malice’ , which was also successful in the Netherlands, is much more soulful than previous singles). At the time of the single ‘Long Hot Summers’ – the song from which the documentary takes its name and which was somewhat controversial because of the video clip with homoerotic undertones – there was little left of the tough image from his The Jam era.

Although Weller also addressed plenty of political themes with The Jam, it became more concrete with The Style Council. Where it wouldn’t have fit at all with his old image, simply because it isn’t ‘punk’ enough, he suddenly let himself be persuaded to contribute to Live Aid and Band Aid. Activist singer-songwriter Billy Bragg also persuaded The Style Council to participate in Red Wedge, a British Labor Party campaign aimed primarily at young people. It is interesting to see that Weller says that he has not really felt comfortable with this, when in fact Bragg claims the opposite. Years later, Weller admitted to having felt “abused” by politics. How does he view it now? Also fascinating is the fact that Weller and Talbot sometimes want to get in their way with their eternal urge to experiment; their record label initially refused to release their latest album because it was too progressive. Only nine years later ‘Modernism’ was released.

‘Long Hot Summers’ shows how important The Style Council was to the British in the dark eighties. Because despite the political layer in their music, it was all a lot more cheerful, positive and light-hearted than the punk years of The Jam. Musically, The Style Council’s oeuvre is also worthwhile, because the band tried to reinvent itself time and again. Not every ‘talking head’ has as much to say, and Boy George comes by quite often without making a really interesting contribution. But luckily all the band members are also present, so that we are treated to enough tasty anecdotes from first hand. In the Netherlands, The Style Council was not nearly as large and influential as in the UK – we know Weller mainly from The Jam and his later solo work – but that doesn’t make this documentary any less worthwhile. For fans, however, this is a must see, if only for that musical surprise that the film has in store at the very end…!

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