Tuesday 8 November 2011

If this sounds corny switch it off, I don't care

As my friend Fat Amy's Facebook page quite correctly points out, "there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure". Now, whilst her 78-stone frame may be enough of an argument against that, I can think of another case which in many eyes stretches the plausibility of that statement to the absolute limit: Dexys Midnight Runners.

I think Dexys Midnight Runners are horribly overlooked. There's little doubt that their thorny relationship with the music press right from the start has a part to play in their reputation over thirty years on. However, I think their biggest sins - the things which stop them from enjoying the same respect and re-evaluation afforded to their contemporaries - were the fact that they were successful and that they meant it. One is enough of a faux pas in British society. To manage both is enough to get you chucked in the sea.

The first Dexys album - Searching for the Young Soul Rebels - remains their most critically well-received and respected, shot through with the immediacy of the punk movement and the 1960s soul records that sparked it off. Their third, Don't Stand Me Down, is such a beautiful, majestic thing that I frankly don't care if no-one else has ever heard it. All the more for me and all the more special as a consequence.

But what I want to talk about today is how much I love their second album, and the one which still informs much of the derision surrounding the band to this day - Too-Rye-Ay.

A brief history lesson. Kevin Rowland, the leader and lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners, is a pretty interesting character. Driven and motivated to follow his creative impulse to the brink of complete madness, he presided over the total collapse of the original brass-driven, soul-infused Dexys Midnight Runners line up. By 1982, he was rebuilding the group with a new look - the dungarees thing was probably a mistake in hindsight - and a new sound, influenced increasingly by Celtic strings. Intent on avoiding the infighting and creative tension of the first line-up, Rowland made it perfectly clear that Dexys was HIS band, to the point that Too-Rye-Ay is credited to "Kevin Rowland and Dexys Midnight Runners" on its cover. By the time Rowland went to make Don't Stand Me Down, all of this new Dexys 38-man line up bar guitarist Billy Adams and violinist Helen Bevington had left the fold.

Rowland's impossible, unachievable, creative visions are, nevertheless, what set Too-Rye-Ay apart for me. Here is a man who doesn't care what he does to himself, anyone else or his future prospects in chasing the sound in his head now. Rowland has spoken about dreaming about the live shows and the sound of the band, how they would manipulate the audience, grab them and push them back down. Such was his focus, indeed, that half the songs on the record are fundamentally about the band themselves because Rowland's horizons didn't stretch far beyond thinking about that at the time.

The sound, though. The sound. It's the most extraordinary thing - completely overrun with tension without ever losing its soulfulness. Ignore the dungarees, the inward focus of the lyrics, Come On Eileen being number 1 for 15 weeks. Just listen to it with your ears. I defy anyone not to be carried along by it, or even with it. As a testimony to and a record of one man's personal vision and total self belief, it is little short of completely intoxicating. It is an utterly thrilling, compelling, pulsating piece of work. So there.

I'm going to wear a tea cosy on my head for the rest of the day to celebrate.

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