Dexys Midnight Runners - Birmingham 2012
I doubt anyone my age will forget the way Dexys arrived in 1980 with the single ‘Geno’
They looked different to anything else about at the time and the single sounded different too. I wasn’t quite sure what they ‘were’ in an era when things had catagories like punk, new wave, heavy metal, disco, new romantic etc, they didn’t.
And what was in their black leather duffle bags? Had they been out robbing? Were they coming back from boxing gym? Did they have old soul and RnB records in them? It intrigued me.
I bought the first album “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels” and in particular loved the single ‘There, There My Dear” I think is in my top 15 singles of all time.I loved the way he repeated ‘seacrhing for the young soul rebels, searching for the young soul rebels’ in that song. That, and the horns obviously.
He sounded pissed off at something but I wasn’t sure what (even though the first album had the words on the back of the cover- as with the others, still up in the loft.) They, and Kevin Rowland in particular, seemed very punk to me, but more organised and with a bit more style.
I also heard they were from Birmingham , so it seemed even better somehow.
A couple of years later when I left school with very few qualifications and even less prospect of a job, I bought the album Too-Rye-Ay. It wasn’t like the first album so much and I wasn’t won over until a good dozen or more plays of it. It was produced by Winstanly and Langer who produced Costello’s Punch The Clock album with horns on, and Shipbuilding!
Anyway, after a year or so of various YOP and YTS schemes , then a job or two - ironically one of them working in a factory that made equipment for mines just as the mining industry was being closed down.
To cut a long story short, I got the sack while working at a plumbers merchants. I wouldn’t drive a van with no brakes, how inconsiderate could I be? I thought it would just look better when I went for interviews if I said I was doing something like college.
So, I enrolled at college and did the hard work I perhaps could have done at school but wasn’t ready for, as I was too busy skiving and going to gigs etc.
I did English with a guy called Mark who lived not too far away but hadn’t been to my secondary school. He showed me his English essay one morning and was particularly pleased with one line that contained a nice evocative metaphor.
“these people round here,wear beaten down eyes,in smoked dried faces, so resigned to what their fate is”
I thought it was a great line and pointed out that the fact that although he’d stolen it from ‘Come on Eileen’ that shouldn’t dampen his pride in it.
I don’t think it slipped passed the teacher unknown, as the rest of his writing was a pile of horse shit. She didn’t know where it was from but it certainly wasn’t from his brain. But full marks from me for ingenuity and good stealing.
Anyway, the year came and went and I passed the exams but no jobs were on the horizon for an under-qualified youth with a hairstyle such as mine.
So, I stayed around at the college and took some A levels that sounded fun but in thruth I had no idea what they were. I just guessed I wouldnt need to get to the end of the 1 year course as I would have found a job in the mean time.
I didn’t find a job but I did find I was a natural for A level study. It surprised most people but most of all me.
A few years later still, I was again without work - even after getting a degree. I could contemplate my unemployed situation from all manner of philosophical standpoints and theories though. If anything it made it worse, being able to deeply analyse the crap you were in.
So, my cousin asked me if I wanted to go and help him work on RAF and Army bases in Germany and Holland. I wasn’t that much of a help but it got me out of the house and I recall the food in those bases was amazing!
These were the bases that were going to be busy when the Russians launched an inevitable ground war against the NATO forces (by ‘busy’ I mean obliterated and doing obliteration). But it started to look less likely as the years went on and by the time I was there the Cold War was so luke warm it had been largely forgotten.
Although it appeared that they were not totally relaxed as there were many posters and signs asking us to look out for certain cars like Trabants and report them asap. They was pesky Russian spies etc. (not KGB but something else with initials that I forget…maybe they hypnotised me?)
I also recall that some people said that when you left the base in a vehicle then you should check under it on your return. The IRA had blown a few folk up in the area.
One or two of these bases were built in areas that would be considered to be swamps or low land cess pits. I was there in the winter and it was freezing. I had a pair of thin trainers with a hole in one of them and it was bitter cold and miserable. They told me it was better than the summer when the mosquitos would eat you alive. That was consolation to me and kept me warm at night.
These places were generally away from anything interesting and pleasant. I am not sure if everyone moved away from them when the squaddies arrived, or if there was nothing there to begin with…?
One cold night, I was sitting in a Naafi mess hut drinking a cocoa at about 11 at night - I must mention that I bought a West German made sledge from this Naafi before I left for home. Typical German quality- the Audi/VW of the sledge world. I had to buy it as Gouldie had broke my other one, along with a bike.He turned up with it at the door and gave it to my uncle, it was in two parts. He did the same with the bike. My uncle was very patient but I think he was seeing a pattern emerge with Gouldie at the centre) Despite having been on this sledge he’s not broken it…yet.
Anyway, back to the Naafi -As I sat there various duty guards in camo make up, and huge bloody automatic rifles, wandered in and out.
Bizarely, one of them seemed familiar to me and even seemed to be looking in my direction longer than I was comfortable with… he came toward me and I was getting slightly anxious, as anyone with excessive face paint makes me queezy.
There were a few of them all in the gear and I knew there was no point in any kind of fighting or even running
He was holding his hand out to me…then he spoke.
When I heard the voice, I realised it was Mark from college , the guy who stole Kevin Rowlands lyrics for his English essay.
Hey Mark, how are you ? What you doing here? Those type of questions mainly followed. He had more trouble working out why and how I was here in this god forsaken RAF base at 11 at night , when last he’d heard of me I’d been in Hull studying Philosophy.
He was on a break from his perimeter fence patrol and told me he would take me for a run around in the jeep.
He took me down the end of the run way as a Tornado jet took off in the pitch black dark and said that if we got in the way of it’s trail it would fry us alive….I believed him. This all seemed rather eerie because it was exactly midnight by now.
Then he seemed to be driving with some goal or purpose in mind. He took me down near to a big aerodrome type building that was darker and blacker than the rest of the night put together, with the darkest, bible black forest I ever saw encircling it from behind- and he sort of went quiet and did the nudge nudge thing, and said he couldn’t say what was in there but ‘you know, it’s the big fella’ , ‘the what?’ , “you know, the Big Ones, if the Russians launched theirs?”
Mh, I did indeed ‘get it’ and was at once overawed and felt rather creeped out at being so close.
He spoke of it like a sacred religious icon kept behind a curtain that only the high priests get to see. He said he couldn’t take me in there. I think he even used the line ‘I could show you but then I’d have to kill you; official secrets act and all that’. It has been the only time in my life someone has said that and actually meant it and it was because of the official secrets act. Normally people ( IT geeks mainly )say that in the office if they give you the colour photocopier code. I give a grim smile and try not to say ‘don’t be a dick, just give me the code’.
Seeing this glorified shed was a moment frozen in time and I wish I could say it was accompanied by his red demonic eyes glinting in the moonlight and evil violin music playing, but instead was just completely silent, banal and spooky in the true sense of the word.
It stuck in my mind and has returned to my thoughts occasionally. I imagine earths ultimate destruction and armageddon coming from just such shitty, average, boring silos/fancy sheds all over the world, carried out by lads with a few GCSE’s, passed with stolen lyrics, on the orders of a small number of people who never have to leave their underground bunkers ever again.
Back to the music- I never saw Dexys the first time around but absolutely loved their album from 2012. It is the best album in the last 4 years at least. Some great, classic Dexys tunes and it really is what you wanted to hear.
They were superb on stage and it came across as intelligent, thoughtful and full of heart and soul.
I would see them again in a heartbeat and hope they continue with their output- the world is a better place for them being in it. Kevin Rowland, national treasure!
Long live Dexys!
10 out of 10
EDIT- Just came in to my head that it was the East German secret police called the Stasi we had to be vigilant for. They could be hiding almost anywhere spying on us. Not that clever though, as they all drove a Trabant, so easily spottable