Dexys Midnight Runners

TrackAlbum / Single
Burn It DownSearching For The Young Soul Rebels
I Couldn't Help It If I TriedSearching For The Young Soul Rebels
Keep It Part TwoLate Night Feelings R 6042
Liars A To EMercury DEXYS 7
OldToo-Rye-Ay
This Is What She's LikeDon't Stand Me Down
Knowledge Of BeautyDon't Stand Me Down
The WaltzDon't Stand Me Down
Nowhere Is HomeOne Day I'm Going To Soar
I'm Always Going To Love YouOne Day I'm Going To Soar

Dexys Midnight Runners photo 1

Dexys Midnight Runners 1980 (l to r): Andy Growcott, Kevin Rowland, Geoff “JB” Blythe, Steve Spooner, Kevin “Al” Archer, “Big” Jim Paterson, Pete Williams – photo: David Corio

 

 

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Dexys playlist

 

 

Contributor: “Lucky” Kev Downing

In Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” he writes something along the lines of when his friends read or see anything to do with Arsenal they think of him. On the day Too-Rye-Ay was released in 1982, three friends phoned my house:

“What did I think of the sleeve?
Ace.
‘What did I think of the new version of Liars A To E?’
Brilliant.
“The jazzy bit in Until I Believe In My Soul?
Perfect.*

35 years later, I get a message on Facebook from someone I haven’t seen in 20 years. Look who’s sitting on the next table? Attached is a photo of Kevin Rowland. It’s fair to say I am jealous.

Dexys are my Arsenal.

 

Here are ten songs. It could have been 30. Don’t expect objectivity. I have not gone back and listened to all the records, I don’t need to. I know every song, every gap between every song and every cough, splutter and mumble (there are a few on the brilliant Don’t Stand Me Down). I have not looked at the lyric sheets, this is how I remember these songs, and this is how I hear them now. I have decided to only include originals in my ten. Dexys have interpreted over 30 songs written by other people (Dexys don’t do covers); from obscure soul (Seven Days Too Long, One Way Love) to Status Quo (Marguerita Time) and Rod Stewart (You Wear it Well). I’d still rather listen to My National Pride than any of them.

It’s not that I would never have discovered Brendan Behan, Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon, Bill Withers, Midnight Cowboy and plenty of other music, films and books if I’d not heard Dexys Midnight Runners. It’s just certain I wouldn’t have discovered them when I did. Growing up in a small Cornish town, a two beer train ride from the nearest biggish Cornish town (it had shops that sold only records whereas my town had maybe a box of records on a counter in the grocery shop, or by the washing machines in Rumbelows), I wasn’t really exposed to Irish Literature. When Kevin Rowland sang: “Never heard about Oscar Wilde, Sean O’Casey George Bernard Shaw”, I really hadn’t heard of them, but made it my business to find out who they were.

Kicking against racism in an almost exclusively white 1970s Cornwall was never going to be easy, pointing out the stupidity of Irish jokes to parents of your friends likely to get you a clip around the ear. But it wasn’t Dance Stance, the first Dexys single, that drew me in. It wasn’t Geno, although I loved the way the band looked on TOTP, like no one else in the charts. It was hearing Searching For The Young Soul Rebels in a friend’s bedroom. The title alone made me want to hear it. A radio dial searches for some music, taking in the Sex Pistols and the then even more recent (and Dexys tour friends) the Specials’ Rat Race, before shouting “Big Jimmy (Yeah), Al (Yeah), for gods sake Burn it Down!” It was the best start to an LP ever. (Obviously I had never heard Kick Out The Jams at this point either.)

I bought the LP from him later that week for 50p (he was skint and needed some baccy). I have included two songs here; the re-recorded Dance Stance, Burn It Down, and the ballad, I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried. The following single, Keep It Part 2, sealed it for me. Dexys were my band. Over 35 years later they still are.

Keep It Part Two (Inferiority Part One), (the title alone makes it unsuitable for daytime radio/pop success), was like nothing I’d ever heard before. It felt like some sort of breakdown on seven inch vinyl, Kev R and Al Archer trading lines, like it was the last thing they’d ever sing. (Incidentally, Al was actually called Kevin as well, but, correctly, the band decided one Kev was enough.) I played it to death. Jon Voight gets a mention and pre-internet days it took months of questions before I found out who he was.

The run of singles between Searching For The Young Soul Rebels and Too-Rye-Ay; Keep It Part 2, Plan B and Liars A To E were all killer. Liars A To E introducing the strings (played it seems by the brass section, as KR decided they had to learn new instruments) and a commitment to physical training and dressing like a boxer (I bought a hoodie, and wore a pigtail). None of these singles were a success and the band split, There was a gap that seemed like forever but was probably less that 12 months and then new members, a new sound and a new look. (Er … I went out and bought dungarees, I really did.)

Enough has been written about KR ripping off Al Archer’s Blue Ox Babes sound, but clearly it wasn’t the sound (first Dexys attempt, The Celtic Soul Brothers, was a flop) but the song. Come On Eileen was a great pop song, and the only song that EVER sounded good on Radio One Roadshow singalong. I was proud. My band had made it (again).

The stand out track though (and the one included here) on Too-Rye-Ay is Old. I saw them open an emotional set with it at Shaftesbury Theatre around 1982.

Old, can I sit down here and learn today?”

Even now I’m amazed at these words; Kevin Rowland was about 27. Young Guns Go For It, this wasn’t.

Now, when performing live, Kev R adapts the words so it is a first person tale of ageing. Obviously I cried.

They appeared on The Tube and reimagined There, There My Dear as a nine minute dirge. It was ace. (Standout line “I’m just going to do some press-ups” – Kev does some press ups.) We didn’t have a video recorder but my friend Kevin Allen did. I bought a betamax tape at huge cost and he taped it for me. I don’t think I was ever able to re-watch it. Fantastically it is now on YouTube.

Another gap between records and I’d left home and been living in London a couple of years by the time Don’t Stand Me Down came out. The clothes were ace but on a student grant unaffordable. I bought a nice shirt and jumper from Marks & Spencer though. The press, inexplicably, turned on them again. I still don’t understand why – the clothes had some impact, as happened again later with My Beauty – but also maybe there was a feeling that Kev R was just too grumpy, too arrogant. Although I recognise this now as shyness and a lack of confidence rather than the arrogance it was portrayed as. The record was and is my favourite Dexys LP. It is my favourite LP full stop.

I was living above a greek restaurant in Harringay. We’d go out to see bands and come back and they’d stay open for us and serve us beer and hummus and bread until the early hours, then upstairs I’d fall asleep to this record. I was sharing a flat with members of a band with an indie deal and about to do their first interview with a music paper. The journalist turned up one day and as usual Don’t Stand Me Down was playing at the time. He decided to tell me that it was crap, that Dexys had lost it and looked stupid. I hated him and started to make my feelings known before being bundled out of the door by my friends lest I ruin their chance of fame. Years later when DSMD was re-released the man who had been in my front room telling me it was awful wrote at length about it calling it a masterpiece. Kev R may have felt vindicated. I just told anyone who would listen that he was a tosspot. (With hindsight he is probably a very nice man who had changed his mind about the record.)

I have picked three songs from DSMD but it could have been all seven (eight if you include Kevin Rowland’s 13th Time on the second reissue)

This Is What She’s Like is at least two songs; a spoken word piece and an instrumental all in one. It is also funny. How could people not see the humour in Dexys music. It starts with a conversation between Kev and Billy.

‘Alright Bill, what were you talking about when I came in?”
Er nothing.”
“You were talking about her weren’t you”
Er no.”
Coughs …
Billy finally manages to ask Kev, “What’s she like?”

Kev struggles to tell us what the woman is like, only what she is not like – “newly wealthy peasants”, “scum from Notting Hill”. He’s mellowed a bit in recent years and has changed the words live I’ve noticed. He then leaves the band to go off on a long instrumental passage to tell us.

Before trying again:

“I believe the Italians have a word for it. Thunderbolt.”
The Italian word for Thunderbolt?” Billy asks
“Yeah I think so, I don’t speak Italian myself but I knew a man who did.”
OwOw.”

And the band pump it up one more time.

Possibly the greatest song ever written.

Except it’s followed by Knowledge Of Beauty:

I’ve often thought about the men where I came from, and times ago.”

There’s a spoken word passage where KR seems to come to terms with family:

To love your father is a fulfilling thing.”

And then repeats, “I look back where I came from” before ending with “My National Pride is a personal pride, where I came from.’

Possibly the greatest song ever written.

I played Don’t Stand Me Down endlessly. The record shop in Wood Green near my house was closing down and I bought all 6 copies they had for a pound each and gave them to friends. I bought the Creation re-release in the 90s and was convinced it was different, and that the gaps between songs had changed length. I rocked my newborn son to sleep to The Waltz and Knowledge Of Beauty (now renamed My National Pride) nightly. The words started to mean more and more to me. Kev R was singing of Ireland, but with my son in my arms it was saying to me, after 20 years it was time to leave London and move back to Cornwall with my young family, for my children to grow up surrounded by the sea, relatives and love. I listened.

The Directors Cut came out a few years later with a great additional first track, which I had on the B-side of a solo single, and a DVD of the videos which were never really shown anywhere.

A solo LP followed with good songs and not great production (I can’t say awful, it’s Kev) and a second solo LP of other people’s songs with Kevin Rowland on the cover wearing a dress (it’s a man’s dress) and showing his pants. (I went out and bought a dress**.) And then nothing.

27 years later a new record is announced and it felt like it could have come the year after DSMD. It is unmistakably Dexys. I’ve picked two from One Day I’m Going To Soar. Nowhere Is Home (the first song I heard from it, standing in my kitchen, fighting back tears) and the Philly Soul of I’m Always Going To Love You. My son has moved out now and when he visited a while ago, I sat in the kitchen and could hear him playing the LP in the next room.

A new record of interpretations of other people’s songs came out in 2016 – which is disqualified here due to my own rules. Some great gigs, and great clothes. Another new line up featuring Sean Read from the underrated Rockingbirds. I bumped into him on a campsite in San Sebastian a few years ago. I nervously said hello and told him as a Rockingbirds fan (listen to their Searching and tell me they weren’t Dexys fans) I was delighted he was in Dexys and that Don’t Stand Me Down was my favourite record ever.

“It’s mine too,” he replied.

 

FOOTNOTES

* I wasn’t sure about that jazzy instrumental bit really.

** I didn’t buy a man’s dress.

 

Dexys Midnight Runners photo 2

Dexys Midnight Runners 1982 (l to r): Steve Brennan, Helen O’Hara, Kevin Rowland, Billy Adams, Seb Shelton (front)

 

 

Dexys Midnight Runners photo 3

Dexys Midnight Runners 1985 (l to r): Billy Adams, Kevin Rowland, Helen O’Hara

 


Geno was a No.1 UK hit in March 1980 and spent 14 weeks on the chart.

 


Come On Eileen reached No.1 in the UK in July 1982. It was the top selling single that year hitting 1.2 million copies. It was also a No.1 hit in the USA and several other countries.

 


The Acoustic Stage, Glastonbury Festival, 2014

 

Dexys official website

The Dexys Midnight Runners Group website (inc. Discography)

Kevin Rowland solo

The Blue Ox Babes

Helen O’Hara wikipedia

Pete Williams official website

Dexys Midnight Runners biography (Apple Music)

“Lucky” Kev Downing was the drummer in The Family Cat, formed in London in the late 1980s. He moved back to Cornwall in 1999. You can follow him on twitter and instagram.

TopperPost #824

10 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Dec 5, 2019

    I think Dexys really only hit here with ‘Eileen’ (here being Australia), which was huge. I also liked the follow up single, Jackie Wilson Said. A great cover of that most uncoverable of artists. I’m pretty sure that when I do it it’s the Dexys version. It always goes down well.
    I was barely aware of the rest of Dexys repertoire and have thoroughly enjoyed this list!

  2. Andrew Shields
    Dec 5, 2019

    Brilliant piece but I would probably have to have ‘Geno’ and ‘Celtic Soul Brothers’ in my top ten.
    And no mention of Jocky Wilson!

    • Lucky Downing
      Dec 7, 2019

      Thanks. I like those but Jackie W is a cover so not allowed.

      • David Lewis
        Dec 8, 2019

        Just to clarify a couple of things – I should have said rural Australia. And I knew Jackie Wilson was disqualified. I just like the version. Thanks for the list and the response. I thoroughly enjoyed both.

  3. John Hartley
    Dec 5, 2019

    Great article, Kev! Keep It (Part Two) is possibly my favourite song, though I might have changed my mind by the end of this comment.
    I’ve only recently heard DSMD, but was surprised how many songs I’d actually heard before, separately.
    A great, great band who’ve never been willing to play the game by the rules.

  4. Glenn Smith
    Dec 6, 2019

    This is great, I completely get your passion. Kevin’s got two cracking opening tracks to his name, Burn it Down as you’ve mentioned and i’d reckon his “ladies and gentlemen” intro to Celtic Soul Brothers is equally exciting as those fiddles come charging in (I’d have had that track on my list..and I’m Just Looking) The radio scan at the start of Searching was brilliant, from Deep Purple to Jerry Dammers in one contemptuous swoop, and then onto those Irish writers, Lawrence Stern, Edna O’Brien? What a song and what an album, it was my soundtrack to the summer of 80/81, i’ll forever have that album cover tattooed on my mind. i even went to far as to find out the context of the photo, but i’ll move on.
    He gave me quite an education did Kevin, Seven Days Too Long, had to find who recorded that first, and who exactly was Geno Washington? And the way the horns slide in on I’m Just Looking..how can a small town big shot boy get enough to eat..indeed. Heady stuff for a boy in the Sydney suburbs. Too Rye Ay was a shock to be honest, but still what a record, and your choice of Old is inspired, total respect on that one.
    Thanks for the memories on this one, great toppermost.

    • Lucky Downing
      Dec 7, 2019

      After i finished it i played Searching FTYSR and almost changed one to I’m Just Looking, such a great B side

  5. Peter Viney
    Dec 6, 2019

    I really enjoyed your autobiographical angle. It made it a great read. I understand your ‘no covers’ rule, but I loved 2016’s cover album Let The Record Show, and the two I played most were Phil Coulter’s The Town I Loved So Well and the instrumental, Women of Ireland. Plus I’d need the hits, Geno, Come On Eileen, Jackie Wilson Said – but then I always say that about the hits.

    • Lucky Downing
      Dec 7, 2019

      Thanks. Women of Ireland is fantastic, i loved Curragh of Kildare on that Lp as well.

  6. Andrew Shields
    Dec 12, 2019

    Just to add that Women of Ireland is a cover of ‘Mna na hEireann’ by Seán Ó Riada, who will be the subject of a Toppermost by me at some point in the future. It has also been covered by Kate Bush and Jeff Beck…

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