Dexys Midnight Runners ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’ Revisited
Dexys Midnight Runners
‘Don’t Stand Me Down’
One of the more remarkable groups of the late 70’s and early 80’s will shortly be launching an eagerly anticipated new album. Barring 2003’s compilation, which featured two new tracks; this will be the first Dexys studio album from the band since the 1985 masterpiece, ”Don’t Stand Me Down’. It’s easy to call this a masterpiece now as it was included in Cassell Illustrated’s ”1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’ and had a ”Directors Cut’ version released in 2002. Probably, we can say the album has achieved a degree of belated recognition that it was denied at the time.
Dexys, and their driving force Kevin Rowland, were never content to stay in a proven and successful format. Their early guise of ”Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’ yielded success in the form of Number 1 hit ”Geno’ but this was ditched in favour of a new, and even more successful line up of Too Rye Ay’ fame and another Number 1 with ”Come on Eileen’. After his typically idiosyncratic solo albums, ”The Wanderer’ in 1988 and ”My Beauty’ from 1999, we were ready for anything as we sat in Row 3 of Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre in November 2003 for Dexys Midnight Runners first tour for eighteen years.
In pre-tour interviews, Rowland had stated he wanted to ensure ”Don’t Stand Me Down’ was a prominent feature of the show such was his pride in the album. Therefore, as he gradually emerged on to the stage singing ”The Waltz’, he was as good as his word. Characteristically, Rowland interrupted the song to set his ground rules for the evening, ”over the years we’ve changed and we think it’s time the songs did too, is that ok?’ The crowd weren’t going to argue, being grateful just to see him back on stage and so the evening went on with re-worked versions of ”Geno’, ”Come on Eileen’ and ”Tell Me When My Light Turns Green’ featuring a memorable ”police interview’ of Rowland, and an electric version of ”This is What She’s Like’. Shunning crowd chants for ”Jackie Wilson Said’, we were treated to a beautiful encore of ”Nightshift’. A fantastic night and a pleasant change from the standard reformed-band set list.
The line up for ”Don’t Stand Me Down’ saw Rowland, Billy Adams, Jim Paterson and Helen O’Hara remain from ”Too Rye Ay’, being joined by a range of other experienced musicians. The image had also undergone another transformation with Ivy League style gear and formal suits. No single was released originally from the album which, in 1985, was a brave decision and indicative of Rowland’s desire not to be marketed as a commodity. However, record company needs dictated that a butchered edit of ”This is What She’s Like’ was eventually put out, completely missing the entire point of the song.
The Directors Cut’ has a few changes from the original, the first being a new opening track ”Kevin Rowland’s 13th Time’. Setting the intensely personal tone for the album, Rowland relates the story of his thirteenth arrest and criminal charge which included a vicious beating he suffered in a police station, P.C. Barrington is referenced in the song as ”inclined to disagree’ with him. We also hear the first of several attacks on a particular social group, a joke about middle class idiots who spend all their time analysing their own emotions and writing bullshit poetry’. This is also the first of a series of conversations’ between Rowland and Adams that are a notable feature of the album. In the sleeve notes, written in 2002, Kevin Rowland hopes he wouldn’t attack middle class people in this way again, but this was his view in the mid 80’s.
”The Occasional Flicker’ continues in this vein, we hear about Rowland’s little problem”¦..a burning feeling’ backed by the exceptionally tight line up which features sublime piano by the late Vincent Crane, formerly of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster.
Following this is what many feel is Dexys masterpiece, ”This is What She’s Like’. A song that takes the listener in many directions, it is required listening. It begins with another conversation between Rowland and Adams, we hear Adams gently trying to coax out of Rowland ”What’s she like?’, before we are launched on a mind-blowing 12 minutes of musical perfection. Lyrics are fired at us like verbal missiles, ”Well you know how the English upper classes are thick and ignorant’, ”you know the newly wealthy peasants, with their home bars and hi-fis’ whilst all the time promising to tell us what she’s like ”in time’. The choruses apparently came to Kevin Rowland in a dream and you have to wonder how a conscious mind could conjure up such amazing twists and turns as these. Towards the end we are told ”the Italians have a word for it, I don’t know a thunderbolt or something’, we are left knowing a lot but very little about what she actually is like. Amazing!
Dexys Midnight Runners – This Is What She’s Like by UniversalMusicUK
Next up is the first of two renamed songs, ”My National Pride’ which, in Rowland’s own words, is about ”my mother, my father, it’s about love really’. In 1985, it was called ”Knowledge of Beauty’ as Rowland ”didn’t feel he had the right to be Irish’ and was too nervous to use this title then. More beautiful piano work from Vincent Crane accompanies well crafted lyrics including my favourite lines, ”whenever I need strength to take bad on, I just look back to where I came from’
”One of Those Things’ follows, Rowland describes himself as ”embarrassed at my arrogance’ for stealing the riff from Warren Zevon’s ”Werewolves of London’ who now owns part of the song. There is further use of the conversational approach to outline Rowland’s view on the state of music in the mid 80’s (now there’s a theme), the trendy left and the Irish problem which ”all sounded the same’.
”Reminisce (Part 2)’ is another very personal song about memories and love, referencing ”Lola’ by the Kinks and ”I’ll say forever my love’ by Jimmy Ruffin. ”It’s funny how you always remember the summer by their records’, which used to be true for many I suspect.
The penultimate track, ”I love You (Listen To This)’ is the second renamed song on the album, and an obvious choice for what I feel would have been a successful single. All then classic Dexys traits are here, a strong beat, sweeping horns, Helen O’Hara’s violin and the inimitable, urgent vocals, making for a passionate and impressive track that will stick in the mind.
The album finishes with the song that Rowland chose to start with on the 2003 comeback tour, ”The Waltz’, another song about his feelings for Ireland. It is a sweeping and fitting finale to an album that saw Rowland and Dexys expand and mature musically, while still maintaining lyrics of biting intensity. Rowland says that he prevented effective promotion of the album and therefore any chance of achievement as he could not have handled further success at the time. ”Don’t Stand Me Down’ is an album that takes us straight into the mind of the artist at that time, and blends melodies, lyrics and outstanding musicianship to deliver what is, to date, Dexys finest work.
We wait with anticipation the release of ”One Day I’m Going To Soar’, to see which direction Rowland and his band will take us. The live dates announced so far are a must see for anyone who can make it to the venues.