Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Dexy's Midnight Runners

Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)

Burn It Down/Tell Me When My Lights Turns Green/The Teams That Meet In Caffs/I'm Just Looking/Geno/Seven Days Too Long/I Couldn't Help It If I Tried/Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn't Apply/Keep It/Love Part One/There There My Dear  

Kevin Rowland’s Dexy’s Midnight Runners first incarnation were an odd creation - a nine strong band dressed like travelling construction workers, in donkey jackets and wooly hats, carrying Adidas sports bags for some never-known reason. They emerged at the turn of the decade between the seventies and the eighties and combined punk’s vigour, vitality and youthful anger with a love for Motown, Atlantic, Stax and Northern Soul. Their sound was big, punchy and horn-driven. The band were often lumped in with the “ska”/two tone” revival but they were not really part of that. They were unique, to be honest. They were a brass-based soul/rock band.
The album opens with some background snatches of crackly radio, playing Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water then The Sex Pistols’ Holidays In The Sun, then the horns kick in, massively and we are into Burn It Down (originally titled Dance Stance). It is catchy and pumping with effervescence. The West Midlands/Irish Rowland namechecks various Irish authors at several parts in the song. The horns are simply superb throughout. 

The vibrant vibe continues with the Northern Soul-ish Tell Me When My Light Turns Green. The horns on this one have a slight feel of The Specials, hence the link to the ska thing, I guess. Rowland’s voice was always strange - wobbly, vibrating, often incomprehensible. A sort of soulful Joe Strummer. The horn/drum passage near the end is exhilarating. For some reason, the band were often derided as pretentious and “up themselves”. Maybe this was due to Rowland’s often Van Morrison-esque irascibility and the group’s seemingly contrived image. This was a shame because this is pure, potent and powerful music. The Style Council suffered in the same way.


The Teams That Meet In Caffs was a pounding organ and brass instrumental. It also sounds like a Northern Soul classic. I'm Just Looking is a slow paced ballad that tends to highlight the inherent weaknesses in Rowland’s voice that often get hidden on the livelier, more bombastic tracks. The brass is still outstanding on this track, however. 

The big, monster hit, Genois up next. Now an iconic track, it was a tribute to the not-too-well-known sixties soul singer Geno Washington. As most people know, it had an absolutely killer brass riff. 

Seven Days Too Long is an energetic cover of  Chuck Woods Northern Soul classic. Although it is a credible, brassy version, I prefer the original. Again, Rowland’s voice has limitations on this song. However, anything that brought Northern Soul to the attention to the mainstream was fine by me.

I Couldn't Help It If I Tried has Rowland sounding almost like Steve Harley at times in this once more slow paced ballad.  Again, the instrumentation outshines the vocal. Rowland also attempts to go all Van Morrison in his r’n’b repetition vocal half way through. Van did it much better, I’m afraid, Kevin. 

Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn't Apply is an almost sixties-sounding mod thrash with a positively awful vocal from Rowland. It is more of a high-pitched squeal at times. Not dissimilar to Russell Mael of Sparks at his worst. 

Keep It is another track the sees the tempo fall, to its detriment. Dexy’s really were at their best when they were firing on all cylinders and upbeat. This track does have a great horn ending, however. Love Part One is one minute of pretentious spoken guff over a plaintive saxophone. A waste of a minute, to be honest.

The quality returns, thankfully, for the final track - a slice of classic Dexy’s, There There My Dearwith a massive bass line, energetic brass riffs and Rowland doing his best Chairmen Of The Board “brrrr” vocal. Half of this album was a wonderful, knockout breath of fresh air, the remainder not quite cutting the mustard, but, overall, listening to it every now and again is an enjoyable experience. The sound quality is excellent throughout on the latest remaster.

Too-Rye-Ay (1982)

The Celtic Soul Brothers/Let's Make This Precious/All In All (This One Last Wild Waltz)/Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)/Old/Plan B/I'll Show You/Liars A To E/Until I Believe My Soul/Come On Eileen  
After the surprise success of their debut album in 1980, which hung on to the coat-tails of the Two Tone movement, the unpredictable Kevin Rowland sacked all but one of his previous band, added some new musicians to his entourage, dressed them up like Irish travellers and merged the group's previous Northern Soul-influenced brassy stomp with Celtic influences. Violinist Helen O'Hara provides the album's dominant sound, along with the new Dexy's horn section. It was slightly more successful than its predecessor, but I have never been convinced by much of the material. Despite its good intentions, it doesn't quite get there for me. Although I own both the albums and the group's music is nostalgic for me for those years of 1980-82, I was never fully a paid-up Dexy's aficionado, so bear that in mind when reading this.
The Celtic Soul Brothers opens the album with  a suitably fiddle-driven piece of stomping soul. The  title, of course, owes a debt to Van Morrison's 1974 era music. The Morrison influences are all over this one. 

Let's Make This Precious is a punchy, horn-driven very Northern Soul track, although Rowlands' reedy, strangely weak voice doesn't really do the song justice. 

All In All (This One Last Wild Waltz) is an almost 1930s-style Germanic bar-room slow swirl with Rowlands sounding like a cross between Steve Harley and Leo Sayer.


The clear Van Morrison influence was cemented by a credible, enjoyable cover of Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)

Old is a mournful, sombre ballad, lifted by its excellent brass backing, and Plan B continues in the same vein until about a minute and a half when the horns kick it into orbit and the last three minutes are a glorious throwback to the energy and sheer joie de vivre of the first album. It merges straight into the similarly upbeat I'll Show You. Rowland sounds like Billy Bragg in the final spoken fade-out.

Liars A To E is vaguely Beatles-esque and is also quite soulful in places. These last three tracks have probably formed the best passage of the album. 

Until I Believe My Soul is a horn-powered ballad with a lot of potential that is somehow let down by Rowlands' voice. Fair play to him for inserting a completely incongruous jazz passage right in the middle of the song though, he always was inventive, if nothing else. Poor old Kevin just can't do the Morrison-style scat vocal improvisations, as far as I'm concerned and it all ends up as a bit of a mess, which is a bit of a shame as the song had something, somewhere. For some, though, it is the best track on the album, so what do I know.

Then there is Come On Eileen. Yes, everyone knows it as a drunken end of student disco song, wedding song, stag night song, hen night song, whatever. So what, it will last forever. It is the odd, temperamental, quirky Kevin Rowlands' finest few minutes. "You in that dress, my thoughts I confess, verge on dirty....". Priceless.

The biggest influence on Dexy's was Northern Soul - check out some excellent compilations here (click on successive images/links) :-

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