Dexys Midnight Runners (Dexys) – another strange one, this band is simply the nom de plume for Kevin Rowland (see R), lead singer and songwriter. They emerged in the late Seventies and went through complete band changes in their first flush of success and three albums. Kevin is absolutely sincere and bonkers in equal measure; dedicated to a form of English Soul Music and refusing any degree of compromise. Sometimes it worked, mostly it didn’t. Big Hit ‘Gino’ was followed two years later by even bigger ‘Come on Eileen’, both peaking at number one in the UK charts. Anyway – I have a greatest hits Let’s keep This Precious – which is a mixed bag; all the hit singles are there and are pretty good, but a lot of the songs seem boring really.
Anyway I also bought a far more recent album 2012’s One Day I’m Going To Soar – mostly on the rave reviews in Uncut magazine. The band had broken up in the early Nineties but Kevin reformed it as a trio in 2011 and renamed it Dexys – this album was the result. And it is really quite good; Kevin has a habit of speaking in the intros of songs and I find this both charming and naïve – there is no doubting his sincerity and honesty. But this bunch of songs are really good, and I am tempted to buy the follow-up which features songs about his homeland Ireland. Bets songs on this one are ‘She Got A Wiggle’ and ‘I’m Always Gonna Love You’. A minor star but a great talent.
Neil Diamond – is a colossus in the ‘Pop’ industry, and when he started it was literally that. He worked in the Brill Building in New York writing hit songs along with Carole King (and Goffin) and Neil Sedaka and many others. But like those other two he ventured out ion his own in the mid-Sixties and had huge hits with ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Cracklin Rosie’. And right through the Seventies and Eighties with ‘Song Sung Blue’, ‘I am I said’ and many others. A prestigious talent – who stayed mostly in the ‘Pop’ realm. So I start with his Greatest Hits – one of many I suspect -but not a disappointment here among the twenty or so songs. Just great and finishing with Sweet Caroline – so good you have to play it two or three more times. I also have a press give-away – Hot August Night, which is a live record, 10 songs; not bad really I suppose – a few hits and one or two I didn’t know. I am never sure if I should really include these give-away’s in my collection – are they truly valid. Anyway – there it is. Far more important are practically the last two records he made a few years ago with Rick Rubin. Inspired no doubt by the fabulous records made with Johnny Cash, Neil put himself at the mercy of this producer – who stripped back a collection of 12 Songs into almost just a guitar, piano and voice. And what a revelation, not only are the songs brilliant – but so is Neil. Gentle sometimes, a bit rocky sometimes, but always honest. Barely a poor song on this – but ‘Oh Mary’,’ Delirious Love’, and ‘Hell Yeah’ really stand out; Neil’s voice seems as good as ever, and at last he seems to have moved out of the centre of the road and into the left-hand lane. He followed this up a couple of years later with Home Before Dark. And yet somehow the magic seems to have faded. The songs don’t have quite that feeling of honesty. And after this Neil and Rick Rubin parted company. Actually it’s not such a bad record at all – just compared with it’s predecessor it lacks something. Best songs – ‘Act Like A Man’ and ‘Pretty Amazing Grace’
The Dear Janes – I bought this CD Sometimes I on the strength of a couple of CD singles bought back in the Nineties. It features two girls singing quite pleasantly really, but it is the content that intrigued me; quite a few of the songs are about sex and sexuality – with titles like ‘My Guilty Hand’ ‘Brides of the Cross’ and ‘Jesus take me down’ – repressed Catholics I presume. An oddity, but I quite like it really.
Del Amitri – another 80’s Scottish band; I first heard through their catchy singles. I have only bought sporadically their albums starting with 1992’s Change Everything, which was their third album. And a nice mix of songs it is too, I love lead singer Justin Currie’s voice. I believe he wrote most of the songs too. Best songs – ‘Just Like A Man’, ‘Be My Downfall’ and ‘The Last To know’. Although there is a similarity about most of the songs on the record, not always a bad thing I suppose. I seem to recall that I picked up the three studio albums of theirs in second-hand shops; I used to spend far too many lunchtimes browsing the racks in Soho record shops – Sister Ray and Reckless Records being my favourites. Next up is Twisted from 1995. Another excellent batch of songs – slightly rockier if anything. Part of the trouble for Del Amitri was that they were categorized early on as a ‘Pop’ group and struggled to establish their credentials as a serious rock band. Best songs – big hit ‘Roll With Me’, ‘It Might As Well Be You’ and best of all ‘Driving With The Brakes On’. My last original album was their last real record Can You Do Me Good. (2002), and it seems almost a last desperate throw of the dice. It is practically a solo album – and no surprise Justin Currie went solo after this, though apparently the group is still going in some form. A couple of good songs however – ‘I’m just A Drunk In A Band’ rocks along and ‘Cash and Prizes’ is pretty good. It seems that bands in the Nineties and after don’t seem to be able to sustain themselves for that long. Maybe it has always been that way except for a very few – the Stones limp on, as do the Who. The Floyd are no more, and U2 barely exist at all these days. Maybe money and age take their toll – though some artists like Neil Young and McCartney still seem to have an appetite. I also have an excellent greatest hits Hatful of Rain, and it’s sister CD of B sides Lousy with Love. And in a way these are all you need, all the hits and some great B sides are here; ‘Kiss This Thing Goodbye’, ‘Nothing Ever Happens’, ‘Spit in the Rain’, ‘Tell her This’ and of course the great Scottish world cup song ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’.
Sandy Denny – Ah, just one more rock casualty really. A singer-songwriter she was in the Folk vein and never quite broke through to the mainstream. Though back in the Sixties there was quite a bit of cross-over. She was lead singer in Fairport Convention and a lesser known band Fotheringay before going solo. She died of drink related problems in the late 70’s. For some reason I bought her debut The North Star Grassman and the Ravens (1971) (probably because the cover took my eye). It was quite different from my usual batch of West Coast inspired artists; very English, very low-key and sparse – in some ways she reminded me of Nick Drake (see D). Listening again now and with the passing of time I realise it was quite a mixture of an album – some songs like ‘Late November’ and the title track are very folky – but she ventured into blues on a cover of Dylan’s ‘Down in the Flood’. For whatever reason I didn’t buy any of her other three solo records – but a few years back I discovered a retrospective No More Sad Refrains which covers her entire career. This is a double album; and aptly named, it really is quite dirgy – and this from a Leonard Cohen fan – but I must confess I don’t really like this at all. This CD may well join a very small pile of rejects….oh dear. Now I know why I never liked ‘folk’ that much. Oh Well.
Little Nigel was playing with himself. No, I mean really on his own, when he suddenly had an idea. “I will invite my chums Boris, Liam and Michael to go on a trip to Brexitland”. Now Nigel knew all along that Brexitland didn’t really exist, it was just an illusion, a dream that some mad kids in the private school down the road at Eton had dreamed up one day – but he thought it might be fun anyway. Liam was keen right away as he had friends in America who told him Brexitland was THE place to be. Boris had to be persuaded because he feared that Brexitland might be full of Bongo-bongos or slit-eyes – and Michael slithered along behind as he knew it might make him Leader of the gang one day.
Well, on their way they decided to allow little Theresa to join them, she had to wear an ill-fitting trouser suit or people might realise she was a girl after all. Along the yellow brick road they danced. One had no brains, one no courage and…oh, sorry that’s a different story -but true none the less,
They asked the man on the way how to get to Brexitland. His name was Michel and he spoke in a funny accent like all foreigners. He told them that all the wonderful things they had heard existed in Brexitland were here already, but they were still convinced that something better was just over there on the other side of that fence. Arriving at the gate called Parliament, which they had to go through to get to Brexitland our five intrepid adventurers were stumped. The bar of Parliament was too high. It had a label on it which they could just read, it said. “Common Sense”. Try as they might they just couldn’t get through Parliament to Brexitland. Looking round Theresa discovered she was on her own. Nigel and Boris had run away, telling her she was on the wrong path to Brexitland. Michael was playing games and plotting to be leader of the gang himself one day and Liam was in a world of his own trying to swap conkers and old toys with anyone – but no-one wanted them.
So Theresa had to ask that nasty Jeremy to help her get to Brexitland. But try as they might they couldn’t find a way either. You see children – Brexitland was always a silly idea. The lesson we should learn is that things are never quite what they seem, and sometimes you have to ask the grown-ups like Yvette and Hilary and Oliver to help you see sense.
Deacon Blue – a Scottish band from the mid-eighties. There was quite a revival around this time, with Prefab Sprout (see P) and Everything But the Girl (see E) and Deacon Blue in the forefront. These bands were kids when The Beatles were in their prime and that influence has carried through, gorgeous melodies, accomplished playing and sensous soul-infused vocals. After all the madness of glam and punk and new wave this quieter, more eloquent sound emerged. I used to have their forst album Raintown on vinyl, but my first CD of theirs is their second and commercially most successful record When The World Knows Your Name (1989). I simply love lead singer Ricky Ross’s voice, almost pleading, sexy and yearning. Best songs – the big single ‘Real Gone Kid’, ‘Love and Regret’ and ‘Feregus Sings The Blues’. A very good record. They followed this in 1991 with Fellow Hoodlums which for me was their very best. Opener ‘James Joyce Soles’, the gorgeous ‘Your Swaying Arms’, ‘Cover From The Sky’ and ‘Closing Time’ – just beautiful. A lovely record. Two years later and they released Whatever You say, Say Nothing – which was not quite so successful. The sound had changed, a bit more mellow, a bit less edgy -though there were still some very good songs; ‘Your Town’ and ‘Hang Your Head’ – they had lost impetus somehow. Many groups go through the same thing; six or seven years of success and then a decline and inevitable break-up. Maybe the treadmill of albums, promoting singles and tours takes it’s toll. And then someone leaves and it is never the same. But worse still sometimes is the just as inevitable re-union. But before that of course comes the greatest Hits Compilation Our Town, which is really a great place to start (or end) if you quite liked a couple of the singles. It does contain a handful of new songs too – but somehow they don’t quite excite me.
Anyway the band did reform on a part-time bases in 1999 and have released a couple of new albums – which I haven’t bought. To tell the truth I barely noticed the reforming at all, the band is now quietly treading water somewhere…