Darts – The Albums 1977-81DARTS box

7T’s

4CD/DL

Released 21st June 2019

Boxset containing everything Darts recorded for Magnet Records in the band’s halcyon days including number 2 hits Come Back My Love, The Boy From New York City and It’s Raining……LTW’s Ian Canty looks at almost forgotten chart powerhouse of the late 1970s….

People sometimes make the mistake of retrospectively grouping Darts with Glam Rock & Roll revivalists like Mud and Showaddywaddy, but they were in truth miles different. There was nothing really like Darts. Rhythm and Blues crate diggers before the term was invented, they furnished themselves with obscure R&B gems from the 50s instead of just reviving tried and tested 50s Rock hit singles. Crucially they gave them a pure shot of energy which was all their own. Added to that there was the fact that instead of the drape uniforms, their thrift shop chic meant they looked more like they had met in at a bus stop (just like the Kilburns did).

This band of interesting personalities formed in 1976, with bass singer Den Hegarty and Griff Fender recruiting fellow vocalists Rita Ray and Bob Fish (who had previously been with Mickey Jupp’s band). On the musical side bass player Thump Thompson, guitarist George Currie and John Dummer on drums all came in from the latter’s own band, with saxophonist Horatio Hornblower (real name Nigel Trubridge, writer of a majority of Darts’ self-penned material) and Hammy Howell on piano completeing the line up. Hegarty, Fender, Ray and Hornblower had all previously been part of Rocky Sharpe And The Razors (Sharpe have some success with the backing of the Replays).

A nine piece band with four singers, they had more than enough musical muscle, energy and vocal finesse to apply to any given situation that occurred in their own compositions, as well as those choice cover selections. Their lives shows were manic, theatrical and full of ribald humour and even a young Johnny Rotten was espied checking them out in 1977 (Kate Bush also attended a Darts’ gig, despite keeping the band off the Number One spot with Wuthering Heights). Later on they were an undoubted influence on the main Two Tone bands. For example Madness were fans and certainly approached their frantic stage show in a manner akin to Darts. The Specials and future Magnet label mates Bad Manners employed a similar all-action approach in concert to them as well.

The glowing reputation they rapidly gained in concert meant they were snapped up by the aforementioned Magnet Record label. Their debut single, a mash-up of Daddy Cool and The Girl Can’t Help it, steamed all the way up into the Top Ten. It worked as the perfect introduction to the band – Daddy Cool was an old Doo Wop b-side, Darts musically gave it a fast workout and Hegarty’s mugging on Little Richard’s The Girl Can’t Help It was priceless. It was quick, witty and fun and deservedly started the band on a long run of chart success in the UK.

Coming out at roughly the same time as the single, the self-titled first album generally pleased most fans of their high-octane live act and provided another smart hit in the guise of Come Back My Love, the first of three number two singles in a row. Not merely appealing to the Teddy Boy revival (in fact they were not well-received by that fraternity, as Griff states in the sleevenote that accompanies this boxset), Darts played alongside New Wave acts (and I’ve been told they featured in the Sounds New Wave chart at one point) and their sheer energy and exuberance helped them pick up fans from all sides.

On this first LP Young Blood is powered along by some decidedly sleazy sax and a great vocal from Rita, it has a real swagger to it. Darts were always a ruder proposition than they first seemed and could pen a punchy piece of R&B like the memorable Shotgun. Years before the bloody Flying Pickets, they did some fine Doo Wop acapella on Sometime Lately and showed that away from raw Blues they could also handle pretty sounding 50s Pop expertly, like on another cool band original Bells In My Heart.

It made sense that the LP went out on a real highlight of their live set, another concoction of songs which featured I’m Mad, Fancy Man, Framed, Trouble and Riot In Cell Block No.9, all put together in a maniac/comic style. It was a show-stopping end to what was a very good first Darts LP. The bonus tracks on this disc are the single version of Come Back My Love which has a shorter vocal intro and raucous semi-instrumental b-side Naff Off.

Though the debut was good, the best was to come on second LP Everyone Plays Darts. Probably their most satisfying record, it brought together all the flash and flair that made the band so special. From the word go it is excellent, a non-stop cavalcade of fun that was as smart as it was entertaining. Rita’s velvety voice works wonderfully on big hit The Boy From New York City, an irresistible vocal performance which shot up the charts and kicks off Everyone Plays Darts.

This record was in a way the perfect music for 1978 – a bit more retro than the Rezillos (in fact Make It could almost be them), but matching their sense of fun and scattershot musical thump. Honey Love has an exotic rhythm with the band camping it up marvellously and Hegarty milks the comedy value of My Friend’s Wife for all it is worth. Another hit was the sublime It’s Raining, a Griff Fender song that showed Darts not to be confused with mere tribute acts that had to rely on covers for singles.

Howell showcases his piano skills on the Hammy’s Boogie (don’t run away, it isn’t Jools Holland!) and Late For Work is another comic ace from Den’s playbook. This is why Everyone Plays Darts is so entertaining – they can skilful navigate from a comedy number like that to heavenly Doo Wop on Late Last Night or killer R&B or dirty Soul strut in I Gotta Go Home – but it is still all recognisably Darts and everything they try here is pulled off with a real flourish. Everyone Plays Darts is just a great record.

Along with single versions of tracks on the LP we get both sides of the Don’t Let It Fade Away single (another Top 20 hit) and Messing Shoe Blues as bonus tracks – only Den Hegarty could get away with a Blues Rocker about stepping in dogshit! After this album a big-selling compilation entitled The Amazing Darts was issued before their third LP proper Dart Attack.

Before the next album Darts were dealt a blow when founder Den Hegarty announced he was leaving to look after his terminally ill father. Later he would have a minor hit with the song Voodoo Voodoo and appear on the Clash album Sandinista, as well as hosting a few TV series including Saturday morning institution Tiswas. He was replaced by Kenny Andrews, who made his debut on Duke Of Earl single and Dart Attack LP. He was a more than adequate replacement vocally, but the album does miss some of the comic insanity Den specialised in. Duke Of Earl was a faithful rendition of a quite well-known song, not their usual modus operandi. Maybe this was Darts steadying the ship in the wake of Den’s exit?

The album is solid enough and contained two more minor hit singles in the guise of Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love and a version of Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite. Curiously it has four songs that begin with the word Don’t – perhaps an unconscious message that all was not well as their run of hits appeared to be tailing off? Putting such speculation aside, Can’t Get Enough Of You Love surely deserved a better fate as a single than just brushing the Top 50 – it is elegant and catchy Pop with a 50s feel and even commences with a sitar sound, a first for Darts.

Don’t Look Back Now was another more or less straight Pop winner and the beaty and brassy Goodbye Brenda has a touch of the Beach Boys in its vocal arrangement. Cool Jerk may have been a bit of an obvious choice for a cover, but it does recall the band’s mad live energy. There isn’t much wrong with Dart Attack, but I suppose as trends changed and we approached the 80s with synths moved in perhaps there wasn’t a place for the band in the UK record buying public’s heart anymore.

The bonus tracks appended to this disc however are excellent and surprising. Both the self-penned Get It single (with a touch of Time Is Tight in the intro) and flipside How Many Nights are fine efforts, which deservedly returned them to the upper reaches of the singles chart. But the real eye openers for me are the other two bonuses. I Have It My Way is an out-and-out Steve Marriott music hall job, complete with banjo and riotous ending featuring Police sirens, barking dogs, wild threats and various other mayhem! When you thought Darts couldn’t pull anything out of the hat you didn’t expect, they do this. The final song Sing Out The Old, Bring In The New is marked “album outtake”, but seems to me more like a projected Christmas single that never was, complete with Wizzard-style kids chorus. It stayed in the vaults, a shame as I reckon it would have been a yuletide smash.

By the time of the final album featured here Darts Across America in 1981 (only released in the US), fashions had changed and the band’s chart career had drawn to a close. Though a Rockabilly revival was just hitting the UK courtesy of the Stray Cats, that was never what Darts were about. Perhaps they aimed this record at the US thinking that was the home of R&B and might take the band to its heart? It never paid off, but Darts Across America isn’t a bad record at all.

The album’s big single, a revival of the Four Seasons’ Lets Hang On, had got the band back on Top Of The Pops and in the UK Top 20 in the early part of 1980, but again choosing such a well known song signalled all was not rosy in the Darts’ camp. Follow up Peaches And Cream barely made the Top 75, which was a shame as if it was released in 1978 it would have surely breached the Top 10, but times had moved on. A double A side pairing which featured a new take of Sh-Boom (originally on the debut album) and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas felt like the band were getting desperate. So much for the singles.

For this album Darts focussed more on their Soul side, which was at times very good, but lost a little of the R&B toughness and crazed havoc that informed what they did so well. Speedo nicely re-introduces back a bit of the comic fun they were known for and the quick strut/mash up of Joe Tex’s Show Me and Berry Gordy’s Do You Love Me authentically recaptures the classic Darts style of old. Only percussion accompanies acapella singing on False Alarm (bonus track Green For Go is structurally similar) and Sad And Lonely is a more than decent ballad, but overall it struggles to make the impact of the previous three LPs

Bonus tracks include both sides of the Jump Children Jump single, the first Darts’ 7″ to miss the charts entirely. But the hook for hardcore Darts fans may well be the last five bonuses, from the projected Frantic Attack album of 1980 that remained unreleased. They generally show Darts moving towards the Soul direction of Darts Across America, with Rita Ray working wonders on Holland Dozier Holland’s Feelin’. But the best efforts for me are bright sax instrumental Tight Lines and the Doo Wop Reggae (!) of Hey Jo Girl, which isn’t actually that far in sound from the Tow Tone bands they inspired in the first place….

To put it very simply, Darts were just extremely good at what they did. Their full on and fun approach yielded twelve hits singles and three top 20 LPs over the four year period this boxset covers, making them clearly one of the biggest bands in the country during 77/78/79. They were in the business of effortlessly supplying that joyful rush that only great Pop Music can only provide. For a few years they really had a magic touch.

Darts still play the occasional gig and you can put your shirt on it still being the wildest show in town. Above all Darts richly deserve a bit of respect (and this boxset), it was plain to see they were one of the finest Pop outfits the late 70s spawned. Hopefully this set will help people see how good they really were. They rarely put a foot wrong and constructed a steady stream of cool grooves that were imbued with one thing a lot of bands think they offer but few really do – tune into the pure fun of Darts right here.

Darts are on Facebook here

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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