Friday, August 14, 2009

Beyond The Style Council, The Stylish Dee C. Lee Seizes The Day

After wrapping up the Jam in late ‘82, Paul Weller quickly moved on to his next project in 1983 - The Style Council. Stylistically speaking, The Style Council was a world away from the Jam (well early era Jam), embracing 60s style soul, breezy pop, summery jazz, funk, synth-edged pop, and R&B elements into a lush musical melange. Former Bureau keyboardist Mick Talbot (see previous post) was Weller’s primary partner in crime from the get go on the project’s debut set (a mini-album), ‘Introducing The Style Council’ (OZ#29), and they were backed in studio by drummer Steve White, and backing vocalist Tracie Young. The album was well received by most, other than some die hard Jam fans who were struggling to forgive Weller for disbanding the group, and yielded the hits ‘Long Hot Summer’ (UK#3/OZ#28) and ‘Speak Like A Child’ (UK#4/OZ#29). For 1984’s album, ‘Café Bleu’, Weller and Talbot strengthened the in-studio dynamic with a considerable expansion of support players. Among those who were added to the Council, was vocalist Dee C. Lee. Lee had already had an association with another successful British group, Wham!, and would play a key role in the development of the Style Council sound over the next few albums. Dee C. Lee would also further establish a solo career of note, defined by her smooth, Sade-like vocal style.

Born Diane Sealey, Dee C. Lee tried her hand at modelling after graduating from school in the late 70s. No doubt the sublimely beautiful Miss Lee could have made a career on the catwalk, but instead chose to pursue her first love - singing. Lee came to the attention of a duo of young musicians by he name of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley (well one of them was a musician - I’ll let you decide which one) , better known as Wham! Dee C. Lee worked as a backing vocalist, alongside Shirlie Holliman on Wham!’s earlier material. Lee and Holliman appeared on Top of the Pops alongside Michael and Ridgeley for a memorable performance of ‘Young Guns (Go For It!)’. The song broke Wham! on the pop charts, and the rest as they say was history. Dee C. Lee continued to work with Wham! as recording continued for the duo’s debut 1983 album, ‘Fantastic’, but Lee had ambitions beyond being a backing singer. The release of her debut solo single, ‘Selina Wow Wow’, in 1983, signalled the end of her tenure with Wham! Lee was replaced by Pepsi DeMacque, who would later record with Holliman under the monicker Pepsi & Shirlie. The single ‘Selina Wow Wow’ (released on CBS) didn’t manage to wow audiences, but undeterred, Lee then spent some time as a session vocalist with the retro jazz outfit Animal Nightlife.

Dee C. Lee then hooked up with Weller and Talbot’s Style Council as recording began on their first full length album ‘Café Bleu’ (released as ‘My Ever Changing Moods’ for the U.S. market - UK#2/US#56/OZ#27). The album yielded the breezy ‘You’re The Best Thing’ (UK#5/OZ#17). The next phase of The Style Council would see Dee C. Lee take on a more prominent vocal role, on the soul/funk classic ‘Shout To The Top’ (UK#7/OZ#8) and ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ (UK#6/ OZ#19). She had moved beyond the role of an ‘Honorary Councillor’ (as guest players were affectionately known), and had (with drummer White) become pretty much fulltime members of The Style Council. The overtly political lyrics of both ‘Shout To The Top’ and ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ were an interesting, and effective, juxtaposition to both song’s rousing soul-pop sound. Whilst Weller’s latest ‘pop political party’ was yet to win over a large part of the U.S. constituency, The Style Council were matching the success of the old guard Jam at home. Both recent top ten hits were included on The Style Council’s 1985 album release ‘Our Favourite Shop’ (repackaged as ‘Internationalists’ for the U.S. - UK#1/OZ#5). The album represented the apex of The Style Council’s popularity - commercially and critically. Weller stretched himself as both musician and lyricist on tracks such as the biting social comment of ‘Come To Milton Keynes’ (UK#23), and ‘The Lodgers’ (UK#13), remixed and released as by The Style Council featuring Dee C. Lee. Miss Lee had continued to record and release her own solo singles on CBS (The Style Council were on Polydor) during her first year on Council, but neither ‘Don’t Do It Baby’ or ‘Yippee-Yi-Yay’ (produced by Roy Carter) brought her classy vocals to notice.

That all changed with the release of Dee C. Lee’s next solo single, ‘See The Day’, released in late 1985. The Brian Robson track, penned by Dee C. Lee, was a sweepingly majestic ballad - the kind of song that can send a shiver up your spine. Dee C. Lee delivered an immaculate vocal performance, and was backed by a lush and beautiful orchestral arrangement (it also featured drums by Paul Waller of Animal Nightlife). ‘See The Day’ did indeed seize the moment for Dee C. Lee, and peaked at #3 on the British charts late in ‘85, and similarly soared to #5 in Australia during the first months of ‘86. The single was released on CBS, but Paul Weller penned the B-side ‘The Paris Match’, which was performed by Lee, Weller, White & Talbot - credited as ‘The Council Quartet’. ‘See The Day’ was covered in 2005 by British all-girl group Girls Aloud, who took their version to #9. Lee’s follow up single, ‘Come Hell Or Waters High’, was a cover of a 1981 song by Judie Tzuke (see future post), but it fell short of reaching high tide on the charts (UK#46/OZ#69). Both tracks featured on Dee C. Lee’s debut album, ‘Shrine’ (OZ#94), released later in the year, but neither album, nor the third single ‘Hold On’, managed to shrine…er shine on the charts.

Lee returned to duties with her new husband, Paul Weller, and The Style Council. The group released three more albums over the remainder of the decade, ‘Home And Abroad’ (1986), ‘The Cost Of Loving’ (1987), both of which were well received, but 1988’s ‘Confessions Of A Pop Group’ proved mildly disastrous, both commercially and in critical terms - some labelling it as pretentious and self indulgent. I haven’t heard the album in full, but personally I always liked the track ‘Life At A Top People’s Health Farm’ (UK#28). The Style Council had actually recorded material for a proposed 1989 album, with the working title ‘Modernism: A New Decade’, but neither album nor group saw in the new decade. Polydor shelved the album, which didn’t see light until 1998’s box set ‘The Complete Adventures Of The Style Council’. An updated take on the song ‘Promised Land’ (UK#27) was the only track to surface from the ‘Modernism’ sessions, early in ‘89. Soon after Weller called for the Council to be dissolved.

After taking time out to re-evaluate his career, Weller pieced together a new music ensemble under the banner Paul Weller Movement. The single ‘Into Tomorrow’ (UK#36) was independently released in mid ‘91. The Paul Weller Movement featured Dee C. Lee and Steve White of The Style Council, with additional backing vocals from one Dr. Robert - he of The Blow Monkeys (see previous post). Dee C. Lee contributed vocals to Paul Weller’s first two solo albums, ‘Paul Weller’ (1992-UK#8) and ‘Wild Wood’ (1993-UK#2), which saw Weller’s career regain much of the lustre of his Jam and early Style Council days - in fact Weller has remained a force on the British music scene to this day, winning the 2009 Brit Award for ‘Best Male Solo Artist‘. But Dee C. Lee had continued to explore new musical ground of her own, and combined with Dr. Robert on a new dance music project under the moniker of Slam Slam. The ‘group’ had some success with the singles ‘Move (Dance All Night)’ (1989), and ‘Something Ain’t Right’ (1990), both released on MCA. In 1991, Slam Slam released an album titled ‘Free Your Feelings’, featuring several tracks co-written by Paul Weller. The album’s title track, produced by Young Disciples, became a club favourite, and also featured the hip hop group Gang Starr. Gang Starr’s front man Guru, invited Dee C. Lee to provide giest vocals on his 1993 album project ‘Jazzamatazz’. The single ‘No Time To Play’ (UK#25) returned Dee C. Lee (credited as D.C. Lee) to the British charts.

1994 saw Dee C. Lee release her first solo single in nearly a decade, with ‘New Reality Vibe’, released via the Mo Wax label. Around the same period Lee separated from Weller, but continued to record as a solo artist, releasing two more albums during the 1990s, ‘Things Will Be Sweeter’ (1995), and ‘Smiles’ (1998). Over the last decade Dee C. Lee has combined raising her children, recording as a guest vocalist on occasion, and has tried her had at acting in several television/film projects.

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