Monday, August 12, 2013

#10 Dexys Midnight Runners - Searching For The Young Soul Rebels

'It was real. It was for real. There was no mucking around. We were taking everybody on. We were taking everyone on. We not only were going to be a successful group but we were going to get back at everyone else'
Kevin Rowland

'It was more than a band. Band would not be a word that would describe it adequately. Tribe would be a better word. A small tribe. And so the importance was to be together, to be around, to put yourselves around town en masse as a tribe. Whether or not you needed to be there for any particular reason.'
Geoff Blythe (Dexys Midnight Runners Saxophone 1978-81)

How do you go about writing about music and experience that means so much to you? I guess you start writing and post a picture...

Why did he feel his days in the band were numbered?
There's nothing wrong with nostalgia. I don't think so anyway because it's so deeply ingrained in my personality and way of looking at and experiencing the world. Virtually all of the art and culture I love most is just immersed in it. I've had conversations with my very dear and oldest friend Philip who doesn't look at the world this way and doesn't understand my ethos.. He can't see why I keep looking back. For him today is always the freshest, newest day. Whereas for me I always look back and always will. Because treasure's buried there.
I think I was fully set in deeply nostalgic mode well into my early teens. I was at Grey Court then. Proper comprehensive. Andrew Gilligan went there and he went on to make a name for himself. Patrick Bossert also did and he also went onto Swopshop and told kids how to do the Rubik Cube really quickly (at Grey Court on this clip). Little twerp! I went there too.
A mixture of middle class kids, spawn of parents who probably could have sent them private had they chosen to mixed up with others from the Petersham estate across the road. Nobody ended up with that many O Levels at the end of the year at least not in my fifth. But the education was good.
But I was nostalgic already. There were pupils who had beards and seemed to have already started families in their fifth year when I started there in 1977. Punk wasn't the only thing that was frightening about the mid-seventies. I looked back to my Primary School on the verge of Richmond Hill where I'd felt safer. I remember making the climb up the steady incline of Mount Ararat Road (such a well named street) one hot summer Saturday afternoon in my mid-teens for a school fete. I bought this, the third single by Dexys Midnight Runners who were probably on the point of splitting up in their first incarnation when I got it or perhaps they already had. Looking backwards to their first Number One and unknowingly forwards towards their second.
The lyrics were printed on the back sleeve. I remember poring over them while the record played on my parent's all in one Fidelity Record Player. It was a full on diatribe directed at a namedropping poseur. That much was clear. He was tellingly called Robin which probably placed him in his class.
'Keep quoting Cabaret, Berlin, Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Duchamp, Beauvoir,
Kerouac, Kierkegaard, Michael Rennie.
And I don't believe you really like Frank Sinatra.'
I wasn't really familiar with these people but it made me want to be. Still not quite there over thirty years later and I should really find out who Michael Rennie is even if there seems to be a vague contempt behind the way the names are sung / spat out. Perhaps the contempt is directed at the name dropper and not the names he drops. It all seems to be projected with some bile, though there's humour there too, at someone who uses the books on their shelf as a means of putting themselves above and beyond others. Someone who is reading from A Season in Hell but don't know what it's about. We've all met those. Or even been them at some point.
In any case the song is carried off with an attitude of unswerving conviction. It swaggers. It's not just the horns, or the arrangement, the lyrics, the delivery or the attitude itself. It's all of those things and more. It's something to aspire to. It's wrapped up in a mystique and authenticity that most of the contemporary bands of the time couldn't dream of even though plenty of them had literary pretensions of their own. Pretty much any group worth its salt at the time read and tried to get this across in their music but it was a difficult thing to pull off. But Dexys were not a band that would stoop to rhyming cough and Nabokov.
Soren Kierkegaarde.
The only 19th Century Danish philosopher namedropped in a top twenty single

The horn player on the single's covers at the root of it all. Dexys were deeply ingrained in the past from their very first moment. Stax, Northern Soul, Bowie, Roxy, Punk, cheap paperbacks, films, clothes, On The Waterfront, Midnight Cowboy, Mean Streets, Jazz, Mod, The Beats. They were grounded and they hit the ground running. They had the right name for the job they wanted to do. Dexys Midnight Runners remains one of the great, evocative band names. The Forties. The Fifties. The Sixties. The Seventies. And off into the Eighties with their horns blazing to clear the road ahead of them!
Ridicule is nothing to be scared of. Spandau Ballet took notes. And cast offs.
This may all seem over the top but it suits Dexys to a tee because they were all about blazing and blind ambition. They came onstage every time like boxers limbering up for a title fight. And they backed up the pose with a show the likes of which no British group had ever put on before or since. They were not a guitar band that was clear. They weren't a band that wished to be like any other. To my mind only The Specials deserve to be spoken of in the same breath.The cover picture of the first LP is key. They've got identity and attitude. They know their history They also have baggage. One of the finest album sleeves. Dexys got so much right. It's difficult to know where to start and how to stop...

The image was of a 13 year old Irish boy forced to leave his home by a British armed forces operation in 1971. It was published by The Evening Standard the next day and brought back to public attention by Dexys nine years later. Anyone in the picture might be a young soul rebel. Anyone growing up in Britain at that time would testify to the centrality of Ireland to the British experience of the time. It was everywhere and nowhere.

 "I wanted a picture of unrest. It could have been from anywhere but I was secretly glad that it was from Ireland."
'It was me against the world. You know. I mean I went to see Raging Bull. And I just. That was me. It was life or death actually. That's what it felt like. It was life or death.'
Kevin Rowland
It's a sound of an old style radio being retuned. Fifties dance hall music. A French presenter. A plummy middle aged woman mentions Shakespeare. The riff of 'Smoke on the Water' and Ian Gillam booming 'We all came down to Montreaux...'. More French. Johnny Rotten. 'Now I got a reason, now I got a reason and I'm still waiting. Now I got a reason now I got a reason to be...'. More retuning. Terry Hall and The Specials. 'You know you're wasting your time. Working for the rat race. You're no friend of mine.'
Then it's cut abruptly dead. Rowland shouts 'Hey Jimmy!' The whole band responds. 'Yeah!' 'Now!' 'Yeah' 'For god's sake. Burn it down!' And they're off.
It's some entrance, from one of the greatest maverick geniuses that British music has ever produced. Rowland is always at the heart of it all. At the heart of everything Dexys ever did, do now or will ever do. There are never backing musicians of course. Everybody was always fully engaged, involved and committed to the cause or they were out. But it always coalesced around Rowland and his burning, relentless quest to realise the unrealisable sound and vision in his head.
Of course it verges and in my book topples over to the utterly magnificent and also if that's not your thing the utterly ridiculous. I can't quite see the latter reaction because I've always been sold on what they do and they way they do it. But it was always all or nothing, stand or fall, do or die melodrama. The blinding musicianship and the sheer, driven belief and desire ensured they pulled it off. Almost every single time.
For me they never beat the impact of those roaring horns, the whole great sound that Rowland and his main sidekick at the time, guitarist Kevin Archer, had in their heads and  managed somehow to capture so successfully. This is despite everything that came afterwards and I love every one of those albums, including their latest which incredibly only adds to their legacy. But if push came to shove it would always be the first record, the sound and the whole series of events that came with it for me.
Burn it Down is a slightly revised version of Dance Stance the band's first single which had already taken them into the charts (just), and onto Top of the Pops early in 1980. To my ears it didn't need to be re-assembled as I love the earlier version but it was as an early sign of Rowland's restlessness, his refusal to stand still or to conform to expectations or external pressures to repeat himself. The new arrangement also gave him a chance to swear which is something he's still fond of doing. I think my sister still slightly regrets taking her young son to see them playing at an outdoor festival recently where he proceeded to turn the air blue.
'For instance onstage we'd be playing a song and he'd turn round and he'd just spit at the drummer. Because the drummer was doing a roll instead of sticking to the beat.'
Andy Leek (keyboards, early Dexys)
Dexys had already quite self-consciously built a myth around themselves by this point. First around Birmingham, the team that met in caffs. Then with their look (part On the Waterfront, part Mean Streets, part themselves) and their sound which was so distinctive for the time, though at the same time drawn unashamedly from sixties dance music, Atlantic Records and Northern Soul, influences which had been marginalised and almost buried by Punk.
They'd already taken on Birmingham and British Rail (they famously travelled back and forth to London in their early days by bunking their fare). They challenged rock'n'roll conventions of the time by abstaining from alcohol and drugs (regardless of the origins of their name). Halfway through the year they stopped giving interviews and started issuing press releases instead. Over the coming months they'd take on he music scene, the music press, their record company and finally each other. The woolly hatted incarnation didn't make it through 1980. By Christmas 1980 they were an entirely different band.  
The influences were all fleshed out with barely suppressed rage, kitchen sink inspired pathos, angry young man proletarian angst and dry Black Country humour. The humour in Dexys often went unnoticed. Probably because they came across as so po-faced, which to be fair they were much of the time. This great moment of early '80s Top of The Pops genius however was all their own work and not a BBC blooper.
Jocky Wilson said, 'It was Reet Petite!'

 'With Punk and everything. It swept a lot of things away. But I knew that people would want to dance again. With Dexys we went back to the sixties in a way. And just started to rediscover these records. Sam and Dave. Hold on I'm Coming. We did that in our early set. Aretha Franklin's Respect. We listened to that..... They sounded really fresh.'
Kevin Rowland

And so did Dexys. They sounded not quite like anything else around them even though Two Tone and a Mod Revival heralded mostly by The Jam were charging all across the charts at round about the same time. Dexys were near neighbours of the Two Tone bands, played on a tour with several of them, though they were said to have kept themselves to themselves, and were apparently even approached to join the label.

But the driven instinct of the band was to remain outsiders to everything. Sticking the excerpt to Rat Race on the run in groove to Burn it Down is the ultimate rejection of any 'all for one' ethos with the other bands emerging from their neighbourhood at round about the same time. Although it could be said they covered some common musical, emotional and lyrical ground to The Specials and the label's other bands, even to UB40, the fact that they had Rowland right in their midst ensured that they weren't looking for a Two Tone like objective of togetherness and inclusivity.

They were far more defiant and angrier than any of these bands or even any other band of the time seeking mainstream success (they signed to EMI of all labels). In many ways they had no easily definable long term objectives apart from passion, soul, rebellion and being true to themselves. And to getting to number one, which remarkably they managed with only their second single at a time when it took enormous sales, momentum and public interest to be able to do so.

Back to their first. There's so much that I love about Dance Stance / Burn it Down. The opening, horn riff, like a fanfare, the opening lyrics, 'I'll only ask you once more', the roll call of Irish authors, the don't call me thick because I'm Irish defiance. Look what I've got behind me. The way the horns raise the bar as the song moves to the climax, Rowland's riffing as it fades. Remarkably Dance Stance only got to Number 40 despite their Top of the Pops appearance. For me it's every bit as good as the two big hits that followed or for that matter anything else on Searching. But I'd plump for Dance Stance over Burn it Down every time. It's one of the best debut singles ever released.

Burn it Down fades, we get a brief pause for breath and then there's another granite solid riff and they're into Tell Me When My Light Goes Green another of their signature tunes.
 'Seen quite a bit in my twenty three years.
I've been manic depressive and I've spent a few tears.'
Rowland was twenty seven when the song was released but this scans better romantically and he deserves some licence. Anybody who has struggled in a large city on their own at any point can identify completely with the tone. 'Spat on and shat on / Tell me when my light's on...' Waiting for the big break that may never come. It's also almost prescient for what the band, and particularly Archer and Rowland are going to go through again once after their initial success they hit the rocks.
It's triumphant regardless. The track has a graceful, fluid momentum that I imagine proper jazz musicians would doff their caps to. But these are incredibly inexperienced young players not session musicians who have got where they are through sheer graft and desire. Big Jimmy Patterson's trombone solo in the middle deserves special mention as does the riffing drumming that follows.

The current incarnation of the band have revitalised and reinvented the song as it makes just as much sense as being just as much about world weariness and resignation as youth. For me it's a case of the joy of the music transcending and bearing up the almost defeated sentiments of the narrator's lyrics. A year or so later in Plan B Rowland mention Bill Withers' Lean on Me. 'Pretend I'm Bill and lean on me.' A similar thing is going on here.
'The real attraction for me about them was they were a seven or eight piece band. They weren't a four or five piece band with session men twice their age playing horns. It was something that came out of Birmingham and it couldn't have come from anywhere else. It was very sort of sincere in its appreciation of American R&B but it was its own thing. And it felt for real. It didn't feel like a pastiche.'
Mick Talbot, (early and current Dexys member)
It's difficult writing about an instrumental. It's also difficult getting away with one, bang in the middle of a truly great album, surrounded on either side by impassioned vocal and lyrical performances. Perhaps that's why it's needed. The Team That Met In Caffs takes the mood down while the Runners make their claim as one of the great soul bands albeit one that was probably doing everything by the skin of their teeth given their ambitions and their rawness. It's probably worth noting though that this was the only incarnation of the group to my knowledge who regularly incorporated instrumentals and a huge number of cover versions into their set.
It wasn't a matter of lacking creative inspiration as the band's originals attest. It was more of a statement to place themselves within this great Mod/Soul/ R&B tradition. Atlantic, Motown, Northern Soul. Booker T & the MGs, The Bar Keys, The Ram Jam Band, The JB's, The Meters. Also to remind people of a music that had been virtually buried but still had a lot to contribute. Instrumental music was always at the heart of the 60s soul scene. Imagine them in a greasy spoon in Birmingham in woolly hats and donkey and leather jackets, jeans, with proper boots and holdalls. Drinking tea. It's melancholy as a lot of the music on here is. But it stands tall. 
I'm Just Looking was one of the first songs Dexys wrote which is an astonishing thing in itself. It dated back to 1978 and was the B-Side to Dance Stance. It seems as far away from Punk, which was the all-consuming climate of the times, as it's possible to be. Lydon or Strummer never wrote anything that sounded quite like this. It sounds like a torch song if I'm right in understanding what that is. Rowland in an early Sounds interview describes it differently.
"I'm Just Looking comes from when I worked in a warehouse. The pay and conditions were terrible and I organised a union there and everyone agreed to go out on strike one afternoon. Then when the time came and I went round they all backed down. Suddenly they were saying their crap jobs were good jobs. I grew up working class and I'd been a socialist. The song is more or less saying I've given up on that – well, not entirely."
In any case the sense of betrayal and rage and distancing is quite clear.
'You're looking to win it, but not taking it in
Uppers give you heart impotence but don't tell you anything.
People are saying, you're losing your feel.
Pretend you don't hear
Holed up in white Harlem, your conscience and you
You might need sympathy but that's not what I'd tell you
Your winning day was long ago
Don't let it show.
You're walking on marble, it's scorching your feet
Penthouse celebrity, Yes
But watch what you eat
People are saying you're losing your feel
Pretend you don't hear
Don't come any closer.'

Dexys fit really neatly into the gang ethic that was so strong in American and British youth culture in the 50s, 60s and 70s going back to Brando, Dean and, Presley. Bikers, Street Gangs, Teds, Mods, Rockers, Soulboys, Hippies, Skinheads and Punks. Groups that often defined themselves and their identity against what they were not.
For now the band provided their own source of strength against the pressures, conflicts and failings they see around them. There's a thick streak of alienation going right through the record no matter how uplifting it might be throughout. Some of the reviews I've read of it call it existential and I understand what they mean.
But this was never going to cross over to Joy Division territory. Rowland always has plenty of angst but the music is essentially joyous and will never allow it to tip over. As he made clear in the comment quoted earlier about his initial intentions this was always going to be a band you could dance to. It was necessary to be able to define very clearly what they stood for as well as what they were against. Where they came from. In the next few songs on the album they do just that.
                                 'Geno, Geno, Geno, Geno, Geno, Geno...'

Anybody of a certain age brought up in the UK knows what's coming next.

'I think it still holds up today. The sort of attitude and the power of it. And it still sounds unusual. You know it's got its own personality. But within the influence of soul music.'
Pete Wingfield (Producer of Searching for the Young Soul Rebels)
This is incredible understatement to say the least. But given Pete Wingfield's credentials, (for which he was chosen to produce the record), it's high praise indeed. If I put this song on in my local which I do every few weeks, (if I don't someone else will surely put it or Come on Eileen on before too long), it gets a reaction every time. Perhaps other songs do too but I generally won't notice so much. For this one something's always happening inside me too. Regardless of how many times I've heard it. I've already claimed Dance Stance to be one of the best debut singles and I'd back that up by stating that Geno is one of the best number ones Britain's ever had.   
All life's there for me in its three minutes. It got to number one and stayed there because it was by far the best song going at the time. It covers so much ground. This kind of justice doesn't occur very often in pop music. Though to be fair it happened to Geno during an era when it actually did occur more often than it generally had done before or has done since. As a result it meant even more given that the competition was so fierce.
The song's a completely achieved musical and emotional narrative in itself without feeling stretched or forced. This is an incredibly difficult trick to pull off.  But Geno does so. It's flawless. It's written from the older Rowland's perspective looking back at a Geno Washington gig he attended in the late 60s. His is the 'lowest head in the crowd that night', looking up to Washington onstage when he's now looking down. The emotional connection it establishes between performer and spectator and where their careers have gone or are going is astonishingly resonant.
'It was about Geno Washington the soul singer in the sixties. And the way he used to play around you know in venues and kind of really get intense and that kind of thing and preach soul music. And it was the way he was a brilliant entertainer. And there was a sadness to it as well. Whereas he was doing all this and he was kind of nowhere really. It was kind of melancholic which Kevin does a lot with lyrics.'
(Kevin 'Al' Archer)
It's tribute, but Rowland is also seizing the torch in the realisation that his own time has come. It almost teeters on the edge of put down but given the clear respect he still has for Washington manages somehow not to topple over into arrogance or hubris. Washington gets his due. It's a supremely confident yet utterly justified statement given the undeniable sheer emotional energy of the song.
It manages somehow to sustain that balance between the two states of being. Where Rowland was then, how it empowered him and driven him forward to where he is now, and the crown he is now able to claim as his own. If you don't believe him, listen closely to the song again it's all there and it's going where Washington never got, to number one  Not many things in pop music deserve this status but for me this lyric and the way it's conveyed musically and vocally are nothing short of genius.
'Back in '68 in a sweaty club
Oh, Geno
Before Jimmy's Machine and The Rocksteady Rub
Oh-oh-oh Geno-o
On a night when flowers didn't suit my shoes
After a week of flunkin' and bunkin' school
The lowest head in the crowd that night
Just practicin' steps and keepin' outta the fights

Academic inspiration, you gave me none
But you were Michael the lover
The fighter that won
But now just look at me
I'm looking down at you
No, I'm not being flash
It's what I'm built to do
That man took the stage, his towel was swingin' high
Oh Geno
This man was my bombers, my Dexy's, my high
Oh-oh-oh Geno-o
The crowd they all hailed you, and chanted your name
But they never knew like we knew
Me and you we're the same
And now you're all over, your song is so tame, brrrrr
You fed me, you bred me, I'll remember your name'

I definitely watched Dexys performing this, (well miming, almost everybody mimed), on Top of the Pops at the time. I wish I could burrow back within myself and recover what it felt like to me at the time. There was definitely something strange about them, something young teenagers had never seen before, something you needed to work out and find out about to fully understand. They were slightly other worldly, even though it was gritty and real, definitely outsiders. This was perfectly clear just from the way they dressed and the way they moved.
Watching it now it's clear how tightly rehearsed and drilled the whole thing was. The way the guitarists pick up and strap on their instruments at the start of the song. All in black. The brass polished to a shine. The carefully selected and distributed hat colours. Rowland and Archer's spiv moustaches. The towel round Rowland's neck. Rowland's nose in itself quite extraordinary. The way he drops to his knees at the end of the first verse as if in supplication. The way his face and glare are tilted upwards for much of the song. The sax players spurring each other on at one side of the stage while Patterson and his trombone get the other. Bassist Pete Williams pirouetting and spinning at the back. The hunched, full commitment of the drummer behind him driving everything forward.
The sustained drama of it all. That Top of the Pops audience has little or no idea what's unfolding before it. Rowland always had and still has a sense of the dramatic, the melodramatic, that was keener than almost anyone else I can think of, (quite clear why Ferry and Roxy were such an inspiration to him). The intensity of the spectacle for the course of the song is completely compelling. You almost look out into the audience for the lowest head in the crowd that night. But somehow, you know these kind of Road to Damascus experiences didn't happen in Top of the Pops studios.
"A turgid eulogy with few redeeming features", Record Mirror.
"The most boring band of 1979 burst forth again with this erratic and timeless tribute to their hero, Geno Washington, who would probably keep his earplugs in if he heard it". Sounds

Dexys used the success of the track as leverage to renegotiate their record contract, infamously making off with the masters of Searching the moment it was wrapped as a negotiating tool. They succeeded. However, with time the song became a millstone. The band would have to play it twice a night to keep the newer elements of their crowd who had been brought in by the single's success satisfied. Sometimes they'd refuse to play it at all.
'After 'Geno' was number one we held the tapes back for the album from the record company to negotiate a deal, which was daft. We ended up doing a tour without the album having been released. Six months earlier we'd done the Straight to the Heart tour when 'Dance Stance' was out and that audience was smaller and more open minded but this time we were playing bigger venues like Locarnos and Top Ranks - the venues at the time - but the audience only knew 'Geno'. You'd go on last about midnight and the crowd were half paralytic and they would spend the whole time shouting 'Geno' and we were trying to do a mix of songs and it wasn't worth it for us. We found it really difficult and soul destroying because they didn't want to hear what we were doing.'
You get the sense that Rowland still has an odd relationship with his two number ones. They brought him everything he craved and felt was his due but also grief and heartache because all of it didn't satisfy the burning hunger that had driven him to create them in the first place. It didn't make him happy. Now he seems to be and good luck to him. If anyone's earned it, he has. Even now though, if they're going to play either of these songs them they'll do them their way. Not a fan of this. But ultimately it's their song.

 ' I never did feel like a star. I was always uptight about something and uncomfortable and not very good. It was a surprise; initially as it was going up the chart I felt it and pretty quickly I didn't. I remember the drummer Stoker saying (Brummie accent) "You're a star Kev". I felt weighed down by it, the pressure. It's terrible I should have enjoyed it but I didn't; I was thinking about what we should do all the time, I wasn't able to run with it.'

'I thought it was important to have a vocal style and before long we got involved with Bernard Rhodes, who used to manage the Clash. He said "I don't think your vocal style sounds very original". We'd done some demos and he thought that the band were good but didn't like my vocals. I was really annoyed at first but when I went away and thought about it, I realized he was right so I started to think what could I do differently and I came up with the idea of putting that 'crying' voice on, for want of a better word.'
Northern Soul was a seam waiting to be tapped for anyone seeking a hit from the early seventies onwards. It was so rich in melody, dance potential and sheer emotion that given the right repackaging it was almost bound to get radio play and sell . Its obscurity on a national level also made it a source of attraction for those in the know. If Otis Redding and Sam and Dave were considered obscure by the late seventies then the bands who were staples on the Northern Soul circuit must have seen miles underground.
These songs formed readymades for the early Dexys set in terms of what Rowland and Archer were wanting to get across. The musical dynamism, passion and punch were all right there. Plus the obscurity of it all in the prevailing climate of punk and post punk meant that anybody with a decent record collection beyond the Velvets, Stooges and Dolls and a desire to do something beyond the standard two chord rage was automatically going to make an impression. Particularly if like Dexys they were willing to rehearse for nine hours a day in order to make sure they got it right.
EMI pressurised the band to make Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache their second single. The band refused, insisting on Geno and Breaking ended up as the B-side.  It would surely have been a disastrous move if they'd gone along with it because great though the playing and delivery were, great though the songs are they somehow just don't seem like Dexys. In some ways they are welcome moments of lightness, of sheer joyousness. Rowland's full on rage and angst barely register.
Perhaps they're less inspired makeovers than Soft Cell's near contemporary versions of two more Northern Soul classics Tainted Love and What which really are reinventions. You get the sense that Dexys are so in love with the songs they're playing that they're unwilling to take them too far from their original templates as they do with their version of Respect which is lyrically and dynamically more in line with the tone of their originals. The two Northern Soul covers are fairly faithful versions of great songs.
Apologies for the sound of the organ here.
Frankly it sounds like feedback mostly. Thought I'd post it anyway.
In I Couldn't Help It If I Tried, Dexys remake their stake first established in The Team That Met In Caffs and I'm Just Looking as a properly authentic soul band with an ability to create, build and maintain an atmosphere to get to places that contemporaries can barely imagine exist never mind reach. This feels as close to Stax as a band from Birmingham could conceivably ever get. Rowland holds back the vocal tricks that will confuse and aggravate American music critics elsewhere here. The horn arrangement takes flight and flaps gracefully off to Memphis in the last thirty seconds of the track.
If Seven Days is too Long strays quite a distance from what Side One has led us to expect, next song Thankfully not Living in Yorkshire it Doesn't Apply is frankly off the map and all the better for it. It may well be the oddest thing Dexys have ever recorded. I've never really known what to make of it. When I was young I probably passed over it without much of a thought racing on to something more intense. Now I really simply just appreciate it. It's not a million miles away from Banana Splits though admittedly much better played. It has the same full throttle Northern Soul momentum as Seven Days but Rowland appears to be on helium and the band on happy tablets. It also has a set of lines that seem to prefigure Morrissey.
'Lord have mercy on me
Keep me away from Leeds
I've been before; it's not what I'm looking for'
I'm extremely curious about what has brought it about and quite what it's doing here but I have to say I'm very glad it is!
Keep It goes back to the more expected blueprint. Rowland's vocal is almost overwrought, the band's performance is incredibly controlled, restrained. The lyrics seem to rail against someone who is unable to commit which must have been a big issue to them given the consistent level of theirs. The song was redone and released as a follow up to There There My Dear in a quite astonishingly odd sleeve and with even more overwrought possibly unhinged vocal performances, (I think Rowland and Archer both feature) and sank without trace. It's not something I listen to very much. It seems wilful, commercial suicide to me. It almost embodies the self-destructive nature of Rowland's character. It was the death knell of Dexys Mark 1. Go for its B-side instead.
We get a bit of beat poetry next. Love Part 1. Dexys were great at self-referencing. Parts one and parts 2. Dance Stance / Burn it Down, Keep It, Love, Show Me, I'll Show You, autobiography (Rowland's recorded work serves pretty well as an autobiography with parts released every two, three or twenty five years), snippets in conversation, recorded clues to where they're headed next. This has Rowland intoning soulfully over jazz sax. Pretentious? Of course it's pretentious. Go and read a book. 
Which brings us back to There There My Dear. The horns, the hats, the emotion. The search for the young rebels. The new soul vision. 'The only way to change things is to shoot men who arrange things' a line that Rowland played down when it was held up to him by Bobby Gillespie years later as the ultimate statement of rebel cool. 'I was younger then. No of course I don't think that way now,' was in effect his response. Respect to him.
It's a great way to sign off the album. The first incarnation of Dexys. Horns blazing. Proud and unbowed.
Within a few months they had a completely different line up. Pretty much Rowland and Patterson were all that remained of the originals. Then Patterson was gone too. Two more fine albums came in the eighties. They covered new ground though remaining consistent in their uncompromising emotion, intensity and commitment. Both are in their own ways completely sublime. They each have stories of their own which I won't tell here but will post links to. Then came the hard times. Last year they returned and toured their new album, played in sequence to an audience who had never heard it a couple of months before its release. I managed to get a ticket and go see it with a friend at a theatre in Whitley Bay.
It was an extraordinary and unrepeatable experience. Very rarely when you go and see an artist or band do you get the sense that you're experiencing a timeless moment. But I had it there. It lasted all evening. Astonishingly and against all the odds, not least those they created for themselves, Dexys had prevailed and triumphed. Rowland seemed to carry with him a hard-earned humility and peace although the music and the performance were not compromised or watered down in any respect though it was perhaps a bit wiser. Hats off to one of the great hat wearers in music history. Hats off to the rest of Dexys too. They're owed a huge debt!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

I'll only ask you once more...

Oscar Wilde
Brendan Behan
Sean O'Casey
George Bernhard Shaw
Samuel Beckett
Eugene O'Neill
Edna O'Brien
and Laurence Sterne

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dexys Midnight Runners - Searching For The Young Soul Rebels

Next album up for review. One of the truly important ones. Searching For The Young Soul Rebels by Dexys Midnight Runners. I'll do my best. But this takes some living up to!