Burn It Down – Dexys Midnight Runners

Image result for kevin rowland
This man was my father, my dexy’s, my high…
Dexy’s Midnight Runners appeared on the scene as punk rock was declining. They took the energy and emotion of punk and used it in their own brand of rock-soul. Self-righteous anger, yet reverence for great rock-soul-pop traditions, a sense of musical history that was discarded when we became punks. I had the first single, Dance Stance, on The Clash manager Bernie Rhodes’s label Oddball Records. I first heard it at a pal’s house party in Aberdeen, loads of people dancing to it. I was a bit dumbstruck, seeing loads of ‘ordinary’ dressed young men and women dancing to such a frenetic, angry song with loads of literary references – strange lyrics for a pop song indeed. (I’d never heard of most of them so I went to the library and read Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde and all these authors in the next few years.)
The first album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels is an absolute cracker of an album. Dance Stance had changed to Burn It Down and the opening montage of radio fuzz includes The Sex Pistols and The Specials, showing it wasn’t just influences from 60’s soul that were in Dexy’s arsenal. I remember playing it to a punk pal and he was surprised how angry and full of energy it was. The brass section on the album was the biggest sound I’d ever heard outside of punk rock guitars. They were perfectly played and they had a swagger too.
4 or 5 years later I was living in South London and very busy with writing, recording and playing live with The Jasmine Minks. We had already released a few singles and a mini-album. One Saturday morning an old pal knocked on my door unannounced. He had hitched from Aberdeen with a bag of clothes and a trumpet (I remember him carrying around a cornet at school and going to music lessons). By afternoon, we were working out trumpet parts for new songs, I think the first one was a new song I’d written for Adam’s lyrics called Choice, but he played on many more. Derek moved in for a while and we worked on loads of songs. He became an important part of our live and recorded sound. We went up to APB’s Iain Slater’s house in Ellon, near Aberdeen, to record an album. Iain had an 8-track recorder in his bedroom. We recorded a dozen songs or so, mostly with trumpets on them, sometimes doubled up for harmonies. We borrowed fellow Aberdonian’s The Shaman’s digital recorder to mix all the songs onto (we were the first Creation band to use digital technology). One of the stronger songs we recorded was Everybody Has Got To Grow Up Sometime, a 6/4 time signature song we played live a lot, closer in sound to deep soul than post-punk. Alan McGee loved the song and suggested it as the album title, even getting as far as putting the name on a promo poster which had upcoming releases. But he eventually pulled it from the the album altogether, saying it was too soulful for us. Lots of the songs were used but the album which eventually came out was a hotch-potch of songs from that session and those recorded in other sessions, giving the album a dis-jointed feel.
A year or two later (Derek had moved on) I was strolling down Waterloo Road when this chap walked straight up to me and said I was in The Jasmine Minks wasn’t I? I nodded. He said ‘You guys should use Dexy’s original brass section.’ (They had famously been sacked by Kevin Rowland and been doing various bits and pieces since, including working with Elvis Costello on the brilliant Punch The Clock LP.) ‘They’re not working right now’ and ‘Here’s (leader and arranger) Jeff Blythe’s phone number.’ He wrote it on a piece of paper and carried on walking on towards Elephant and Castle – a strange but true encounter. I got home later that evening and phoned Jeff. He was really friendly and invited me over to his place in Clapham the next evening. Me and Tom (Minks’ drummer went over to meet him and played him our LP. He lived in a squat, round the back of some shops in Clapham High Street with one main room which had a ceiling so high he had fixed an open silk parachute to the ceiling to lower it considerably and give it a cozy feel. He really liked it and said our sound was perfect for us at it was. He was happy to work out arrangements for new songs on his upright piano which he had in the room. We talked a lot about the third Dexy’s LP. We retired to the pub and had a few pints and said our farewells. Me and Tom were chuffed to bits, having spent the evening in the presence of a legend.
Fast forward to the Creation Records Doing It For The Kids all-day concert at the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town (only last week a great reminder was posted showing all the bands playing). This was a legendary day for us and a lot of Creation Records fans. One of the great things for us was meeting up again with some of the people who had put us on in their indie clubs around the UK. Lots had travelled a long way, some without tickets. The concert was sold out many days before. But we managed to get people in, somehow creating a system of passing them our backstage passes through our roadie, Chris, who would sneak out in the blistering heat that day and bring people in, like refugees, to the relative coolness of the venue (the biggest concert of our lives with 2 thousand people crammed in.) It was great for us to pay back all the hard work these guys who had tirelessly promoted and put on gigs above pubs and in various small venues around the country for no financial gain, mainly because noone else would put on the bands they loved. Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian was there that day (I only found out years later – he actually came up to me and introduced himself and told me he that he was working at a record shop in Glasgow and sold a load of records to come down to the gig). But the most surprising one we got in that day was Kevin Rowland. Chris told me he was waiting outside and had no ticket. I gave Chris my backstage pass and he got it to Rowland. Kevin Rowland asked to meet the guy who’s ticket got him in, so I went down to talk to him, not saying much as I was very shy. After the show I bumped into him again and he said he had really enjoyed our set. I couldn’t tell him how amazing that made me feel. I just shook his hand. It was a strange feeling though, taking me back to being a 16 year-old hearing his music on the radio and on Top of the Pops. Things had come full circle as they say…




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