I used to have a friend called Percy (not his real name). He introduced me to lots of great music and some not so great. Make your own mind up which of those categories these artists fall into: Spandau Ballet, David Bowie, Roxy Music, David Sylvian, 801. I saw all of them in concert with Percy and our friendship lasted about 30 years until he suddenly and without warning lost contact with me. It’s okay, I’ve done the same thing myself so I understand that you can suddenly tire of someone but I still miss his friendship. I finished reading “Broken Greek” by Pete Paphides yesterday and a couple of memories came back to me about Percy. I had driven with him to see a mutual friend and on our return, we had arranged that I would stay the night at his parents house before I drove the 100 miles back to my
penthouse small flat in Harlow. When we got to his house, his parents gave me a warm welcome, as they always did. However, before they could serve up the delicious meal they had cooked us, Percy fell ill and went to bed. I was left to make slightly awkward conversation with his parents which was fine because they were such lovely people. However, a rather strange evening beckoned but luckily Percy had pointed me in the direction of his record collection and he recommended that I play the new Dexy’s Midnight Runners record which I had not heard. I knew “Geno” but nothing else.
I listened to it all the way through, reading the words from the inner sleeve and I liked it but I was utterly blown away by the last song on side 2, “There There My Dear”. I can still remember the feeling of being enthralled by the words which read as a letter. I don’t normally put the entire lyrics to a song on here but they evoke such strong memories that I’m going to.
Hope you don’t mind me writing, its just that there’s more than one thing I
need to ask you. If you’re so anti-fashion, why not wear flares, instead of
dressing down all the same. Its just that looking like that I can express
Let me explain, though you’d never see in a million years. Keep quoting
Cabaret, Berlin, Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Duchamp, Beauvoir, Kerouac,
Kierkegaard, Michael Rennie. I don’t believe you really like Frank Sinatra.
You’re always so happy, how the hell do you get your inspiration? You’re
like a dumb patriot. If you’re supposed to be so angry, why don’t you fight
and let me benefit from your right? Don’t you know the only way to change
things is to shoot men who arrange things.
I would explain but you’d never see in a million years. Well, you’ve made
your rules, but we don’t know that game, perhaps I’d listen to your records
but your logic’s far too lame and I’d only waste three valuable minutes of
my life with your insincerity.
You see Robin, I’m just searching for the young soul rebels, and I cant
find them anywhere. Where have you hidden them?
Maybe you should welcome the new soul vision.”
I still find it incredible that it was possible to set these words to music. I think the assumption that I make about them is that ‘Robin’ is not an actual person but possibly the entire music scene which Kevin Rowland wanted to shake up. An anonymous contributor on the ‘genius’ website states that Dexy’s aimed “to cut through the fakes and the poseurs and deliver a lasting statement of sincere artistic merit.” Exactly.
At around this time, I once met up with Percy and some mutual friends and as I approached, it was reported to me later, one of them said “Ah! Here comes Mick for a bit of plain speaking.” Rightly or wrongly this was a reputation that I had and possibly still have. Not that it’s a deliberate attempt by me to be brutally honest about everything. Honestly, I do try to be polite but the pedantic part of me (i.e. most of me) is very quick in spotting hypocrisy in others. Why, only yesterday Dominic Cummings made it clear that it was one rule for him and one rule for everybody else during lockdown and I find it very difficult to forgive people who consciously espouse one conviction whilst displaying contrary behaviour. Me and the rest of the country at the moment I feel.
Anyway, sorry about that diversion but suffice to say that reading Kevin Rowland’s lyrics to “There There My Dear” that evening was a deeply moving experience. I’m not saying that now, 40 years later, I can defend these lyrics as life changing but I think it’s the utter conviction, brutal honesty and single mindedness that is/was impressive.
“Broken Greek” by Pete Paphides is a great book. It’s nearly 600 pages long and describes his life between the ages of 5 and 13 growing up as the son of a Greek fish and chip shop owner. It also beautifully describes how the music he was listening to resonated with his experiences at the time. There’s lots of Abba, a little bit of Racy and quite a bit of Julian Cope and Echo & The Bunnymen. Towards the end of the book, he has use of a video recorder and he was in the habit of recording “The Tube” on a Friday night which was on while he was helping in his parents shop. Returning home one Friday evening he came across Dexy’s Midnight Runners playing “Let’s Make This Precious”, “The Celtic Soul brothers” and “There There My Dear”. This was 1982 and their follow up record “Too-Rye-Ay” had just been released. Their performance of “There There My Dear” on “The Tube” is available on YouTube (see below). There are 4 pages in the book describing the video. Here’s a little bit of the description. “A tidal rush of horns and a thermal upswell of Hammond filled the available space before the second verse. A camera caught at the back of the room caught Kevin, eyes closed, arms wide apart, head shaking, seemingly attempting to absorb the energy of the noise around him, energy he’d need to take him through the next part of the song.” When I read that description, I understand why I was never a rock writer and why Pete Paphides has been so successful. The bit where he describes how Kevin decides to some press ups in the middle of singing the song is excellent.
However, what he doesn’t seem to recognise is that Kevin Rowland introduces the song by saying “it used to go like that but now it goes like this.” These are the exact same words that Bob Dylan uses when he introduces an electric version of “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” on his 1966 tour. Kevin is signalling that the words to this new version of the song have changed.
The album was the first to be released by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. It came out four months after “Geno” was released which stayed at Number 1 in the singles charts for 2 weeks. The first song on the record is called “Burn It Down” and this is a re recorded version of the first single “Dance Stance” which pre dated “Geno” by three months, reaching Number 40.
The group were signed to E.M.I. and had agreed to a royalty rate of 6% which was low compared to most other groups at the time. When Kevin Rowland’s request for a higher rate was refused, the group stole the tapes from the studio and only returned them after E.M.I. raised the rate to 9%.
The record has been placed at Number 93 in in The Guardian’s 100 best Albums ever, Number 42 in Melody Maker’s All Time Top 100 Albums and Number 16 in NMEs Greatest British Albums Ever. Amazon describe the record like this: “It was a breath of fresh air following the aural attack of Punk just a few short years before. Armed with the same energy, Kevin Rowland and cohorts reinvented Soul music complete with a smoking hot horn section.” Elastic Man (presumably that is his real name – he must have had very cruel parents) wrote on a random site that “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels is, as the title suggests, a soul record with Kevin baring his soul and pushing his voice to, and beyond the limit of its expressiveness. Staccato, propulsive brass (trombone and saxophones) interject forcefully into the music, which is full of adrenaline rush moments, slowing down and speeding up at will, startling images, control and abandon.” The BBC site says “Producer Pete Wingfield achieved a sound with the three-piece horn section that has never been recreated on vinyl. Close mic’ed and recorded right to the front, they sledgehammered their way into your heart. The album begins with a radio being turned off after playing relics from rock, punk and 2-Tone, before Rowland calls the group to arms for Burn It Down, an attack on all who demean the Irish by reeling off a list of the country’s literary giants. It at once stated the moral ground that Rowland would operate on – a strong sense of Irish nationalism and a demand to be, if not understood, listened to with respect.”
There’s an interesting article in The Birmingham Express And Star from July 2010 about the photo on the front of the record. The photo on the front of the record was taken in the Ardoyne area of Belfast after Catholics began fleeing their homes following the introduction of internment by the British government in 1971. This meant IRA suspects could be detained without trial. The 13 year old in the photo is Anthony O’Shaughnessy who was one of five children who went on the run with his parents seeking refuge in a Catholic church before moving in to a house left by a fleeing Protestant family. The picture appeared in the Evening Standard in London and was picked up by Dexy’s nine years later. He said: “My late mother Kathleen is in the background wearing glasses. On the left- hand side is a young boy in a dark coat which is my brother Kevin and on the right hand side is my other younger brother Gerard carrying a plastic bag. “I knew it had been in the paper but didn’t think much about it. Years later a friend told me the picture was on the Dexy’s album, I didn’t believe them and went to a record store where I saw it. I just thought ‘wow’.”
Wow. It’s a “wow” record. Subsequent records (“Too-Rye-Ay” and “Don’t Stand Me Down”) are also “wow” records. 27 years would elapse between “Don’t Stand Me Down” and “One Day I’m Going To Soar”. Rob and I saw Kevin Rowland perform the latter in Brighton and that was a “wow” concert. Kevin Rowland has not had a peaceful life but he has shown on at least 4 records that he is capable of producing music of an unsurpassed strength and emotion. Wow.