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Dexys Midnight Runners

+ {Kevin Rowland & Dexys Midnight Runners} + {Kevin Rowland}

Initially sporting an image inspired by Martin Scorsese’s classic Mean Streets movie (i.e. the New York dockers), and coupling it with their idiosyncratic early 80s take on vintage Memphis soul, DEXYS were initially the toast of the British music press. Fronted by former punk rocker Kevin Rowland (a singer with Irish roots), when the chart-topper `Geno’ had worked its way into the mind-set of their fanbase, up sprouted an all-new DEXYS to duly hit the headlines, and No.1 once again, with the unforgettable crusty/Celtic-flavoured `Come On Eileen’.
Based in Birmingham after unsettled years as his Irish parents went from Crossmolina, County Mayo back to his birth-place in Wolverhampton, via Harrow in London, trained hairdresser Rowland’s love of ROXY MUSIC kick-started his music career as a singer with the short-lived Lucy & The Lovers. When punk-rock shook the nation, the 24-year-old switched allegiances to form The KILLJOYS, and added fresh members Joe 45/Lee Burton (drums) and Heather Tonge (backing vocals) to the already integrated Gil “Gem” Weston (bass) and Mark Philips (guitar). Without going into too much detail, the band relocated to London in ’77 (squatting in a disused bank) and released, for Raw Records, their one-and-only single, the classic `Johnny Won’t Get To Heaven’ (a swipe at a certain punk from the ‘Pistols). By the time they’d swapped guitarist Keith Rimmell (a replacement for Philips) for Kevin “Al” Archer in ‘78, the writing was on the wall – Rowland blamed by each member in turn that his totalitarian leadership caused its disintegration. Not for the last time.
Back in Birmingham, and taking the name from a pep pill, Dexedrine (a tablet used by clubbers in the Northern soul scene) and its energetic effect, Rowland and Archer formed DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS; note that the apostrophe was discarded for good (on occasion), and ultimately, a few years on.
With a cast of other players comprising Pete Saunders (keyboards), Pete Williams (bass), Bobby “Jnr” Ward (drums) and a brass section of “Big” Jim Paterson (trombone), Steve “Babyface” Spooner (alto sax) and Geoff “J.B.” Blythe (tenor sax); the latter ex-GENO WASHINGTON’S RAM JAM BAND, the outfit set out to emulate their heroes of the mid-60s soul scene. Under the pseudonymous pork-pie, hat-wearing moniker of Carlo Rolan, Kevin Rowland and his teamsters turned in their debut 45, `Dance Stance’, for Oddball Productions (via Parlophone Records). Appreciating some attention as Sounds SOTW, the impressive platter battled through the insurgent ska revival singles to dent the Top 40.
Ward and Saunders were replaced by Andy “Stoker” Growcott and Andy Leek (ex-Wailing Cocks) respectively, for the turgid tribute to Rowland and Archer’s hero GENO WASHINGTON: `Geno’, which saw the band topping the charts for a fortnight in May 1980. Record Mirror and other music rags had unfortunately tagged them in with the ska crowd, and indeed there was a kind of marmite effect to future single reviews; their bosses at Parlophone/EMI (through Late Night Feelings Records) had given way to releasing the group’s version of JOHNNY JOHNSON AND THE BANDWAGON’s `Breakin’ Down The Walls Of Heartache’; instead it was the B-side.
Buoyed by the Top 10 reception for third single, `There, There, My Dear’, DEXYS’ debut album SEARCHING FOR THE YOUNG SOUL REBELS (1980) {*8}, furrowed a similar pattern. Produced by “Eighteen With A Bullet” singer PETE WINGFIELD, Leek was first to bail, citing fan adornment as the reason; Saunders would return as a temporary replacement. Opening with radio-static snippets (from DEEP PURPLE’s `Black Night’ to the SEX PISTOLS’ `Holidays In The Sun’) for `Burn It Down’, fans must’ve been running back to the retailer to demand a refund for faulty goods, but that was the nature of Rowland. Tempted as it was to see it as a pretentious post-punk attempt to smarten-up disillusioned teenagers that had missed the Northern soul boat, one couldn’t understand the absence of `Dance Stance’ (out for `Keep It’ – a future flop), but in the grooves of `Tell Me When The Light Turns To Green’ and Chuck Wood’s `Seven Days Too Long’, Rowland’s re-vamps were the genuine article.
When the brief replacement of Saunders by ex-MERTON PARKAS/future STYLE COUNCIL keyboardist Mick Talbot dissolved by minor hit, `Plan B’, and all but Rowland’s trusty Scots-born side-kick Paterson was left to conform with band policies, a whole new combo was found almost immediately, early 1981; ex-DEXYS Growcott/Stoker, Blythe, Williams, Spooner, and even Talbot, were fed up with Rowland enough to form The BUREAU. The dissension in the ranks added another couple of casualties by way of Archer, who would later turn up (with Leek) in BLUE OX BABES; past member Saunders, incidentally, would find solace with SERIOUS DRINKING and CARMEL, respectively. DEXYS were now bolstered by fresh recruits, Billy Adams (guitar/banjo), Micky Billingham (keyboards), Steve Wynne (bass), Paul Speare (tenor sax), Brian Maurice (alto sax) and Seb Shelton (drums, ex-SECRET AFFAIR).
Mercury Records would duly snap up DMR for another stab at the charts on `Show Me’, which cracked the Top 20 later that summer, although once again, par for the course, a follow-up (`Liars A To E’ on this occasion), failed miserably. Once again, the group retired to reconsider their approach, returning soon afterwards (with Giorgio Kilkenny in place of Wynne) as DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS & THE EMERALD EXPRESS hit with Top 50 single `The Celtic Soul Brothers’. Adding main fiddlers Helen O’Hara, Steve Brennan, Roger MacDuff/Huckle and Jennifer Tobis, the extended 12-piece re-emerged with the classic `Come On Eileen’, a chart-topping smash; not only were DEXYS big news again in Britain, the track would gate-crash the #1 spot in America in early ’83, by which time parent set, TOO-RYE-AY (1982) {*8} – credited to KEVIN ROWLAND & DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS – was selling by the cart-load. The group’s re-vamped Irish folk/soul hybrid (not too dissimilar to “His Band And The Street Choir”-era VAN MORRISON) courted a rousing Top 5 hit rendition of the Northern Irish singer’s `Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)’, and a suitably dishevelled gypsy/romantic vagabond image on Top Of The Pops; the background pic was of Scottish-born darts chucker Jocky Wilson (a deliberate act of frivolity by the BBC – who knows?).
Without Maurice, Speare and the longest-serving Paterson (bassist John Edwards would supersede Kilkenny), KR & DMR & the EE ran up two further Top 20 entries with the non-album `Let’s Get This Straight (From The Start)’ and a re-issue of `The Celtic Soul Brothers’.
Yet again however, the line-up splintered and the momentum faltered, when all but Rowland, O’Hara and Adams, plus saxophonist Nicky Gatfield were the quartet/trio/whatever at the core of the long-in-the-can DON’T STAND ME DOWN (1985) {*7}; others in attendance were Jimmy Paterson and John “Rhino” Edwards (both in a mood to return), Julian Littman (mandolin), Tommy Evans (steel guitar), Tim Dancy (drums), Robert Noble (organ, synths) and special guest star on piano: Vincent Crane (ex-ATOMIC ROOSTER). A considerably low-key effort without a customary single/45, until a savagely-edited “an extract from” `This Is What She’s Like’ failed to register a few months on, the album lasted only a month in the lists after peaking at No.22. On reflection, with all casual Kev’s idiosyncrasies and foibles, there was `The Occasional Flicker’ (by way of the track title itself) and `One Of These Things’ (royalties going to WARREN ZEVON for using his riffs to `Werewolves Of London’).
A solitary and exclusive Top 20 hit, `Because Of You’ – used as a theme for TV sitcom, Brush Strokes – followed late in ‘86, before DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS were consigned to history; Kevin, for now, fading into musical folklore. Despite his revered talent, the maverick Celtic minstrel was the target of press rebuke on his debut solo set, THE WANDERER (1988) {*5}, with live promotional performances a rarity for attendant flop singles, `Walk Away’, `Tonight’ and `Young Man’; pedal steel guitarist Eric Weissberg was one of many session players on the record.
Impossible to tell what happened to him in the wilderness years, in early ‘97 a solo ROWLAND inked a deal with Creation Records. Once again, his drug addiction seemed to be the albatross around his neck but, in September 1999 a new single, a version of UNIT 4+2’s `Concrete And Clay’ was released to muted response. One of 11 cover songs from his controversial “comeback” set, MY BEAUTY {*4}, this was marked by the man posing in women’s lingerie on the cover. Actually, apart from his embarrassing OTT drag attire (also worn during Glastonbury and Reading Festival gigs), the album might’ve done quite well, although only the appropriately-titled Guy Fletcher/Doug Flett tune, `I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top’, made it worthwhile; other renditions included `Greatest Love Of All’ (a hit for GEORGE BENSON), `Rag Doll’ (The FOUR SEASONS), `Daydream Believer’ (JOHN STEWART), `This Guy’s In Love With You’ (BACHARACH-DAVID), `The Long And Winding Road’ (The BEATLES), `It’s Getting Better’ (Mann-Weil), `Labelled With Love’ (SQUEEZE), `Reflections Of My Life’ (MARMALADE) and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s `You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
When Creation folded soon afterwards, blocking another set of solo songs, Kevin would plan another round of DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS to coincide with a tour and the release of a “greatest hits” set in 2003; this comprised Mick Talbot, Pete Williams, Neil Hubbard and Paul Taylor. The perfectionist that Kevin is, further delays and obstacles seemed to get in the way, until that is… DEXYS – the slightly adjusted moniker – finally unleashed the all-new ONE DAY I’M GOING TO SOAR (2012) {*7}. Augmented by guest duet singer Madeleine Hyland and musicians Talbot, Williams, Neil Hubbard (or) Tim Cansfield, and a re-united Big Jim Paterson (on one track), the 27-year wait was well and truly over; with a Top 20 entry to boot. Suitably grand in his Gallic-styled beret and big-collared white shirt, the main crux of the set was steeped in 70s disco and contemporary blue-eyed soul; the AL GREEN-ish `She Got A Wiggle’, the cabaret-esque `Lost’ (penned with Williams and BLUR’s Alex James) and the self-analytic `It’s O.K. John Doe’, all was well again in the Rowland camp. The account of his (and the group’s) comeback was documented on 2014’s self-financed double-CD, NOWHERE IS HOME (2014) {*6}; recorded live at Duke of York’s Theatre on 24th and 27th April 2013.
The stylish DEXYS (i.e. Rowland, Sean Read, Lucy Morgan and others) were back in traditional fare and the Top 10 by way of 2016’s LET THE RECORD SHOW: DEXYS TO IRISH AND COUNTRY SOUL {*7}. As somewhat suggested in its title, crooning covers were the quintessential source; `Curragh Of Kildare’ and `Carrickfergus’ pitted against ROD STEWART’s `You Wear It Well’, JOHNNY CASH’s `40 Shades Of Green’ and JONI MITCHELL’s `Both Sides Now’. If looking for his perfect green, green grass of home via Birmingham, England, Rowland was in fine fettle for re-vamps of `I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen’, the LeANN RIMES hit `How Do I Live’, the BEE GEES’ `To Love Somebody’ and star blue-eyed soul-searcher `Grazing In The Grass’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jun2015-JUn2016

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