Dex ‘n Drugs ‘n Frocks ‘n RowlandJune 22, 2016
A couple of weeks ago I was looking for a favourite hoody that wasn’t in its usual place. Turning my wardrobe inside out I discovered, hidden behind a Paul Smith shirt that I can’t bare to part with, bought long ago BC (‘Before Children’) when disposable income was such a thing, a brand new vinyl copy of ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels‘ by Dexys Midnight Runners.
With Father’s Day looming, I had given a list of LPs to Mrs Pan and the kids (“D’you not need a new pair of slippers?” she’d asked in all seriousness – I do, but still…) in the hope that they’d turn up something from the list. The good news was that they had, and as a bonus they’d got the LP I secretly really wanted – I have (or rather, had) an old C90 somewhere with a home-taped version of the album when I borrowed it from Irvine Library some time in the mid 80’s, but I didn’t have the ‘real’ version. The bad news was that I’d have to wait two weeks until I could play it. And act surprised when the kids gave it to me.
So on Sunday morning, I duly acted surprised (I genuinely was, they’d bought me other stuff as well – that’s the stakes raised for next year’s Mother’s Day) and, when the time came, I listened to Dexys’ debut for the first time in many years.
It all came flooding back. As the LP spun, I was transported back to my teenage bedroom, headphones on, ignoring the shouts from downstairs that my tea was ready. The album’s opening radio static bursts of Smoke On The Water crackled into the Sex Pistols’ Holidays In The Sun which gave way to The Specials’ Rat Race, before Dexys themselves took centre stage with ‘Burn It Down‘, a re-recorded version of ‘Dance Stance‘, their debut 7″. Not that I could’ve told you that back then. What a great start to an album! Here’s a band laying their influences out for all to see before sweeping them aside – “Burn It Down!” with their own pretty unique take on brass-led soul/punk.
Every track burns bright and true, honeyhorn-coated soul anthems wringing in attitude. The elephant stomp of ‘Geno‘ thunks throughout the house, prompting insistent requests to “Turn it down!” Rather than ‘Burn It Down‘, the song as heavy yet hooky as Slade in their heyday. Closing track ‘There, There My Dear’ burns brightest and brassiest, an anthem that puts the boot into the murky mechanics of the music business – at the time of writing the album, the band were being royally ripped-off by their label to the extent that the mastertapes of the album were stolen by the band and held to ransom until better royalty rates were agreed.
The big surprise for me though was ‘Seven Days Too Long‘, opening track on side 2. Now, I must’ve heard this track a gazillion times, but never once have I equated it with the original northern soul version by Chuck Wood. Back in the day, I was an avid reader of sleeve notes and writing credits, so I must’ve spotted that the track wasn’t a Dexy’s original. In the days/weeks/months/years/decades since I last played my old Dexys tape, I’ve accumulated plenty of ‘Bluffers Guides To Northern Soul‘-type compilations, and the Chuck Wood original is a regular, welcome addition to the track list on most of them.
Chuck Wood – Seven Days Too Long
That Dexys do a version makes sense. Formed out of youth culture and tribalism and named after Dexedrine, the ‘speed’ favoured by the dance-floor fillers on the Northern scene who could keep going into the wee small hours, Dexy’s pay a respectful homage to the sax-blasting original.
Dexys Midnight Runners – Seven Days Too Long
Dexys still have it. Their One Day I’m Going To Soar LP from a couple of years ago is a masterclass in how a concept album should sound and still regularly rotates round these parts.
I’ve not heard the new one yet, though. I’ve been put off by the title, ‘Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish & Country Soul’, which smells a little too much like Too-Rye-Ay, the fiddly-dee ‘n dungarees package that gave them their best-known hit, and also by the fact esteemed music critic and Dexys’ champion Everett True has suggested it should be considered less a Dexys’ album and more as the follow-up to Kevin Rowland’s poorly-received mid 90s solo LP, you know, the one where he’s unashamedly cross-dressing on the cover. I’ll get around to it eventually. Maybe in 40 years time, as that’s just about how long it’s taken me to accept the true genius of the Searching For The Young Soul Rebels.