Show me a man who doesn’t immediately think Come On Eileen when you say Dexy’s Midnight Runners and I’ll show you a liar. However, frontman Kevin Rowland yelping along to a Celtic fiddle is probably a false representation.
It would be another couple of years before Rowland started dabbling with folk on third album Too-Rye-Ay, on which the perennial floorfiller appeared. So if the vision of your uncle dancing badly at a wedding immediately turns you off Dexy’s, it’s understandable. But please, think again. Searching for The Young Soul Rebels was Dexy’s debut album and an ode to Northern Soul culture. The lifeblood that’s coursed through the veins of British working class youth since the late 60’s.
Founded in 1978, Rowlands and guitarist Al Archer were remnants of punk band The Killjoys. The two started playing a Northern Soul song Rowland had previously written Tell Me When My Light Turns Green and decided to form a band. With the vision of soulful tunes and matching outfits, some 40 musicians were auditioned before settling on the 8 man line up. Just one stipulation of joining. You had to immediately quit your job and dedicate yourself to a grueling 9 hour a day rehearsal schedule.
Named after slang term for Dexedrine, a brand of dextroamphetamine. The drug that was fuelling the Northern Soul scene. Dexy’s Midnight Runners built a fearsome live reputation. They were picked up by The Clash’s manager, Bernard Rhodes who got them into a studio to record the single Burn It Down. Soon after, they were invited to open for The Specials in 1979 and Jerry Dammers offered Dexy’s a record deal on his 2-Tone label. Opting instead to sign to OddBall records, Burn It Down was released as a single and distributed by EMI. Despite the single stalling at number 40 on the charts, the band were signed directly to EMI who then dispatched them off to Chipping Norton Studios. In 12 days, Dexy’s recorded Searching for The Young Soul Rebels and lost organist Andy Leek in the process. They would however, gain a number 1 with their second single Gino.
This success prompted Rowland to kidnap the album’s master tapes for the ransom of increasing the band’s royalty share. This maneuver would later be recreated by Shaun Ryder of The Happy Mondays. Although Shaun ultimately settled for £50. While EMI held out, the band took the masters on tour with them. Inadvertently taking them on the London Underground, a move which could have easily wiped the magnetic tapes forever. After EMI agreed an increase, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels was released in April 1990.
Opening with with the sound of radio static and snippets of Deep Purple, Holidays in the Sun by Sex Pistols and The Specials’ Rat Race, Rowland and “Big” Jim Paterson shout the call to arms that begins this classic. Burn It Down opens the musical proceedings with uplifting horns against Rowlands’ stilted, yelping vocal. One that he still manages to impart soul into. Although not many soul tracks would reference Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neill and Lawrence Stern. This is what 1980’s working class British Soul sounded like. Smooth, well written, uplifting stompers but with with a punk infused Black Country delivery.
Northern Soul is the longest running underground movement in British history. Where predominately white, northern, working class youths found solace in weekend all nighter’s, sound tracked by uplifting rare soul records. The 2-Tone movement of the early 80’s had spawned a host of groups that had fused punk attitudes with Ska and Reggae to paint their portraits of Thatcherite Britain. But Dexy’s, with tunes like When My Light Turns Green were applying it to the Northern Soul of heartache, pain and an uplifting 4/4 beat. Teams That Meet in Caffs is a sweeping, well crafted and brilliantly played instrumental that lulls you into thinking it’s a just a really long intro when you first hear it. That’s what rehearsing 9 hour days does for you. It’s as musically tight as two coats of paint and leads into the whispered opening of I’m Just Looking. This is a great slow time soul number and a great showcase for the horn section. Their percussive stabs falling to croon along with Rowland.
Number 1 single Gino is a brilliantly written ode with hooky horn parts. Telling the story of a young Rowland’s days spent at Gino Washington’s shows. Days that were spent in adulation, but ones where Rowlands already knew he would make his own mark on music. The use of a simple double time beat in the choruses help to make this a towering anthem.
Further reverence to idols is paid with a cover of Seven Days Is Too Long. A cover of the Chuck Wood Northern Soul classic. The slower, more crooning (well, Rowland’s inimitable version of crooning) numbers I couldn’t Help It If I Tried, and Keep It are buttressed by the horns and really, really well written. Thankfully Living In Yorkshire, It Doesn’t Apply is not only a great title but a wonderful falsetto up lifter with an undecipherable lyrical content. Safe to say, Rowlands doesn’t have much sentimentality for the city of Leeds. There’s the snarled poem of Love Part 1 and this spoken word interlude takes us into the last track of the album. One that’s worthy to open any album. The brilliant There, There My Dear.
Searching for The Young Soul Rebels is a record that’s brilliantly written and superbly performed. Nothing else sounded remotely like this in 1980. Relentless perfectionist Kevin Rowland’s sheer force and passion drive this album and challenges the notion of what a soul voice could or should be. His blistering, incendiary punk attitude railing against hipsters, derogatory opinions of the Irish and the fashions on the now. Producer Pete Wingfield’s close mic’ing of the three-piece horn section achieves a sound that would be envied by any Muscle Shoals release. So put that memory of Dexy’s dungarees to the back of your mind and search for the Young Soul Rebels.