Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Melody Maker - Unknown Pleasures - # 18 Dexys Midnight Runners - Don't Stand Me Down

Don't Stand Me Down the third album by Dexy's Midnight Runners had little or no impact on the course of pop history as Chris Roberts, the writer of the article on them here confirms. There are clear  and obvious reasons for this. Originally this record of seven highly idiosyncratic and extended songs was not intended to contain a single until record label pressure forced abridged 7 inch  releases on the band. This album doggedly went its own way, It was time for leader Kevin Rowland, and he was always going to be their leader, he could never really have it any other way, despite his consistent need to gather a gang around him. It was time for him to pursue his vision to its ultimate destination. No compromises of any kind whatsoever.

 Don't Stand Me Down makes the two Dexys albums that preceded it look almost conventional. They were actually anything but that. The first, 1980's Searching For The Young Rebels had the band decked out in matching uniforms that married the looks of Mean Streets and On the Waterfront with the spirit of Brendan Behan. They sang about Soul heroes, philosophers, writers and Anglo-Irish politics. They sounded like a Sixties Stax band and stole the mastertapes of their own album and took out pages in the national music press outlining their manifesto. They also had a huge UK number one single in Geno.

All this meant little to Kevin. He wasn't satisfied. Dexys second, Too Rye Aye  formed after Rowland had alienated and ditched almost all of the original band and shifted from horns to fiddles, binning the woolly hats in favour of dungarees. Remarkably they were even more  successful given a decidedly oddball look and had an even bigger hit single with Come on Eileen which this time was Number One in the States as well as the UK.

Kevin still wasn't satisfied. Don't Stand Me Down is an entirely different proposition still. It makes no concessions to the listener at all. If they are to get anything from the record they will be obliged to go totally with the band. It's a full on theatrical experience, full of extended spoken interludes between band members, songs that take an age to build to crescendo and in jokes. It's a wonderful record but it's clearly commercial suicide.

For many years it was regarded as a huge artistic folly. Roberts actually played a considerable role in rehabilitating it.  Roberts was a very particular writer on the Melody Maker. A flamboyant journalist, he produced showy, narcissistic articles generally focused on a specific set of artists as well as on himself, his next favourite subject. Dexys were one of those artists and he went on and on about Don't Stand Me Down not just here. In time Rowland himself acknowledged the importance of his support.

Dexys laid to rest the ghost of the record which led to years in the commercial and critical wilderness for Rowland  by returning with a new album One Day I'm Going to Soar in 2012. Fortunate British audiences witnessed the band play the record in full and in sequence in a theatrical performance of a suite of songs they were hearing for the first time. I was among that number, seeing them play at Whitley Bay Playhouse and it was one of the greatest gigs I've ever witnessed. I could barely describe its emotional power. As a result of this phoenix from the flames moment,  Rowland is now pretty universally acknowledged as a national treasure and wonderfully leaned to actually enjoy the experience. Quite right too in both respects! A lesson for us all, if we need it, to learn to shed the rough edges of our youth but retain what made us special in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment