Nov 08


FT + Popular77 comments • 7,209 views

#457, 2nd May 1980

The insight that took Kevin Rowland from punker to star was that the DIY aesthetic which formed some part of punk’s appeal – the idea that inspiration could and should trump technical ability – could as easily be applied to soul. If soul was a passion that emerged from within, why filter it through technique? Love, belief and respect for the past would surely be enough.

The marvel of Dexy’s Midnight Runners is that in Rowland’s case it was: his voice might be a blunt yawp but the sobbing conviction with which he wields it tends to carry him through. In a way it still boxes him in: the band were always most effective when they were singing about passion and fandom as well as with it – stray from that and he risked running smack into his limitations.

So a lot of Dexy’s work – starting with this surprise second-single hit – is an exploration of what being into music means. Really into music, that is – “you fed me, you bred me, I’ll remember your name”: this goes beyond appreciation into devotion, in turn raising the bar for the group’s own fans. The love many otherwise cynical music heads of a certain age feel for the Runners is surely partly down to the band’s own concern with passionate fanhood – it legitimises adoration, turns it into the only proper response. Even though not everything the group recorded was stellar.

“Geno” itself, for instance. You’ll find a lot of people who feel that Dexy’s had one untouchable chart-topper, and one which is a bit of an overplayed millstone. I agree – except this is the one I don’t like so much. The song feels too bitty for me, held together by those imperious horns which make the chorus so driving but turn the rest of the track into a bit of a tar pit: every time I hear “Geno” I’m shocked at how slow it is, crossing the line between stomp and lumber. Rowland himself is still a fierce presence – albeit an incomprehensible one – and his convert’s zeal over Geno Washington comes over fully. An idiosyncratic number one; a group touched by greatness… but never a personal favourite.



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  1. 31
    LondonLee on 7 Nov 2008 #

    The NME really went to town on the soul front, I think they also made Womack & Womack’s ‘Love Wars’ and Bobby Womack’s ‘The Poet’ albums of the year (or close to it). All of which must have been funny to the Farah-wearing, Gregg Edwards-listening real soul boys at the time, I have a ‘Streetsounds Anthems’ compilation from the 80s which takes the piss out of Dr. Marten’s-wearing, johnny-come-lately journalists (or words to that effect) in it’s sleevenotes.

    I knew where the young soul rebels were Kevin, they were down the Lyceum Ballroom on a Saturday night dancing to ‘Jingo’ by Candido played by Steve Walsh.

  2. 32
    unlogged-in lord soülråt on 7 Nov 2008 #

    (“the poet II”)

  3. 33
    Conrad on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Re 28, even Japan had a hit with “I Second That Emotion” and then there was Weller’s attempt to launch Tracie as a soul-pop crossover with a cover of Aretha’s “House That Jack Built”.

  4. 34
    Billy Smart on 7 Nov 2008 #

    As someone who was 13 in 1985, can I say that, by and large, the NME soulboy aganda was largely a good thing for me?

    At an age when one is most liable to fall for docrinaire theories of what one ought to be listening to The Temptations, Aretha, The Impressions, Marvin, compilations on Charly and Ace, etc was a pretty good canon, and one that I’d think I’d prefer to the ubiquitous Beatles that an equivalent teenager with a sense of historical musical curiosity would face today.

    It had got a bit tiresome by the Levis advert stage of 1987, though.

  5. 35
    Billy Smart on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Number 2 watch: A week of Paul McCartney’s ace ‘Coming Up’

  6. 36
    Billy Smart on 7 Nov 2008 #

    TOTPWatch: Dexy’s performed Geno on the three occasions in 1980; April 3rd, May the ist and December the 25th.

    Also in the studio on April the 3rd were; Madness, The Pretenders, The Selecter, The Lambrettas and Prima Donna, plus Legs & Co’s interpretation of ‘Don’t Push It Don’t Force It’. The host was Kid Jensen.

    Also in the studio on May the 1st were; Rodney Franklin, Jimmy Ruffin, Hot Chocolate, The Nolans, The Beat, New Musik, The Chords and Motorhead. The host was Tommy Vance.

  7. 37
    wichita lineman on 7 Nov 2008 #

    The Aretha tribute I was thinking of, long before Scritti’s effort, was by George Jackson and can be found here:


    Covered earlier this year by Cat Power.

    Re 34: Southern Soul Belles on Charly, championed by NME, single-handedly got me into deep soul. My problem with the (someone help me here, obnoxious Scottish NME writer at the time??) take was his undisguised opinion that Black Music was naturally superior to anything white folks could ever achieve. Rather hilariously, this extended to an “I told you so!” editorial when the very black Walk On By and I Say A Little Prayer ranked in the all-time Top 3 singles in an NME mid-80s poll. Another reason for the C86 backlash.

  8. 38
    LondonLee on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Tracie’s ‘House That Jack Built’ was a different song to Aretha’s

  9. 39
    Mark M on 7 Nov 2008 #

    The notion that, as Tom writes, “If soul was a passion that emerged from within, why filter it through technique?” is what got lost over the decade (Billy Bragg notwithstanding), leading to the kind of thing that anticipated the current BRIT School crop.

  10. 40
    LondonLee on 7 Nov 2008 #

    It reminds me a little of modern romantic comedies referencing classic movies and music from the past, whether it’s ‘An Affair To Remember’ in ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ or any number of scenes where the characters all have a good singalong to some life-affirming Aretha or Motown chestnut*. Like Spandau and the others name-dropping Marvin Gaye you feel them hoping some of the magic they’re referencing will rub off on them and class up their efforts.

    *And have you noticed how the characters all know the words? which is far from my experience in America. A friend of mine got married in NYC a few years ago and at the reception his brother tried to lead everybody in a singalong of ‘This Old Heart of Mine’ and no one knew the words (apart from us soul boy Brits anyway)

  11. 41
    Tom on 7 Nov 2008 #

    #39 – The kind of technique the inspirational soulmen did have wasn’t just vocal technique, it was also showbiz technique, acting technique, and as people said upthread Kevin R DID have that in buckets (and later pop soulboys and the BRIT school people have tended not to, or at least to not have anything more than a very rote version of showbiz technique).

  12. 42
    unlogged-in lord soülråt on 7 Nov 2008 #

    (incidentally Lee — and everyone else I guess — I’m temp-subbing at Eye mag in edgy Hoxton tiis week, and the review copy Barney Bubbles book just came back from the scanning house: it will be SO HARD for me not to half-inch it)

  13. 43
    Conrad on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Re 38, thanks London Lee. I would actually like to hear Tracie’s House That Jack Built again but it appears impossible to track down, in digital form anyway.

    Re 36, that April 3 looks a good edition of TOTP.

    Re 35, and “Coming Up” it certainly was. Jumped from 62 to 7. Can’t have been many bigger climbs recorded on the Top 75.

  14. 44
    wichita lineman on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Re 40: I’ve always found the over-familiarity with soul singers (Aretha, Marvin, Otis) as irritating as the rockist, you’re-in-the-army-now surname thing (Bowie, Eno, Dylan, Gillan). King of this at Melody Maker was Ted Mico, who I recall boasting in one editorial meeting that he could get “Smith” on the phone – it took some time for me to work out he was talking about Robert Smith.

    I was dj’ing once and was asked if I’d “got any Marvin?”. I wish to hell that I’d said “yeah!” and played something by The Shadows.

  15. 45
    LondonLee on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Just added the Barney Bubbles book to my shopping list of things to buy when I’m in London this Xmas.

  16. 46
    Erithian on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Meanwhile in the real world, it was while Geno was number one that the Iranian Embassy siege took place in London – ended when the SAS stormed the embassy on Bank Holiday Monday, as covered live on TV to the disgust of many who wanted to watch the world snooker final…

  17. 47
    Vinylscot on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Loved “Geno”, but it stopped me getting my only number one!!

    …sort of, anyway. “Coming Up (Live In Glasgow)” was on the b-side of “Coming Up”, and I am in the crowd. Although they never said which night it was recorded (at the time, anyway) I was there both nights, so as far as I’m concerned, it was my song, with Wings filling in as my backing band.

    Of course in the States the live version was the a-side, and was, IIRC, the biggest selling single of the year over there.

  18. 48
    LondonLee on 7 Nov 2008 #

    My mum was a telephonist at the BBC at the time and she told me people were calling up and complaining because they’d taken the snooker off. You’d think hooded men throwing smoke bombs and absailing down walls on live telly was a bit more exciting than Steve Davis. Then again, watching paint dry would be etc. etc…

  19. 49
    peter goodlaws on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Atually it was Cliff Thorburn and Alex Hurrican Higgins in the final. Even I remember that.

  20. 50
    mike on 7 Nov 2008 #

    #44 – The first time I ever DJ-ed in a club, a kindly middle-aged Nottingham queen waddled up to my booth and asked “Ave yer gorreneh Daina?”

    “Sorry, I’m not with you. Who’s Daina?”

    “You know, Daina Ross?”

    He must have misread it at a formative age.

  21. 51
    mike on 7 Nov 2008 #

    #37 – was the snooty Scottish soulboy Stuart Cosgrove?

    Always loved Southern Soul Belles, particularly Shay Holiday’s sassy “Fight Fire With Fire”. The album was heavily referenced, with great resonance, in a short story by Adam Mars-Jones about a man living with AIDS.

  22. 52
    lonepilgrim on 7 Nov 2008 #

    re 16 (apologies for the belated response) yeah, having read ‘England’s Dreaming’ some time ago thats probably where the method acting idea filtered through from. The strange thing being that while the earlier glam acts performed fantasies of exotic strangeness and/or wealth Kevin Rowland took on a variety of hyperreal underclass personas.

    re the 80s soul revival – it’s worth mentioning that May 1980 saw the first publication of The Face magazine which always had a strong soul leaning.

    There was also a series of cassette compilations of soul and RnB songs from the Ace/Charley labels available through NME during the 80s which opened my ears to a lot of great music. I believe Roy Carr played a large part in compiling those
    I had school friends who were true soul boys with wedge cuts, peg legged trousers and jelly sandals listening to Maze, etc. but it seemed like a subculture too far for me.

  23. 53
    LondonLee on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Didn’t Barney Hoskyns write a very pretentious article in the NME on Deep Soul and Nietzsche?

  24. 54

    salad of all the barneys

  25. 55
    pink champale on 7 Nov 2008 #

    26 – i love that idea about the record heaving and swaying like a crowd.

    44 – ha ha, spot on with the first names overfamilarity thing. i’m totally guilty of this i fear, though in my defence (having a horror of “HENDRIX”…”STRUMMER”….”ANDRE”) i tend to refer to all pop stars by their first name. except dylan for some reason.

  26. 56
    AndyPandy on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Re 52: if you were living in the London suburbs/Home Counties the “proper” soulboys/girls you mention were pretty ubiquitous. From my mid teens till early 20s when acid house hit I became completely immersed in the scene. It was hard not to really (except for a few mod-revivalists) just about everyone in the crowd I hung around with was into it. Pirate radio (JFM/Horizon etc), Caister and Bournemouth weekenders/Robbie Vincent on Saturday dinnertimes on Radio London/Goldmine/Rio/Zero 6/Flicks/club stickers in your motor/Baggy jeans wedge haircuts and checked shirt unbuttoned to show your Al Jarreau tour teeshirt/Bluebird/Blackmarket/Slough Import records…

    And it was massive you’d have 4000+ at Caister probably double that at Bournemouth but completely underground and ignored by the mainstream…even more than Northern Soul had been.But Northern Soul’s distance from the capital and the London based music business gave it a mystique that the South-Eastern soul/funk and jazz scene never had.Although the followers of both were socio-economically pretty similar.

    I suppose the soul boys had the last laugh over the media though as a high proportion of the main faces involved in Acid Housea in 1988 and 89 were products of the soul and funk scene – Danny Rampling/Nicky Holloway/Paul Oakenfold/Johnny Walker/Brandon Block/Colin Hudd etc etc

  27. 57
    Martin Skidmore on 10 Nov 2008 #

    Re referring to soul greats by their first name: this is surely because it is more distinctive – ‘Smokey’ is more of an identifier than ‘Robinson’, whereas ‘Dylan’ is more of an identifier than ‘Bob’. This principle plainly falls flat on its face when applied to that ‘Smith’ example, but ‘Robert’ wouldn’t solve that either. We all know who Otis, Marvin, Aretha and so on are, but no one ever just calls Bobby Bland or James Carr, for example, by their first names.

  28. 58
    unlogged-in lord soülråt on 10 Nov 2008 #

    FAT GOTH BOB, call him by his name

    “my favourite soul singer is bland”

  29. 59
    Mark G on 10 Nov 2008 #

    Whereas James Blunt (or, “helleau, I’m Group Captain Blount” as our Alice refers to him) referred to his influencees being Buckley Major, and Minor…

  30. 60
    AndyPandy on 10 Nov 2008 #

    Rather fitting Steve Davies coming up in this thread (No 48) seeing as he was a bit of a soulboy himself and even used to do a spot of deejaying himself back in the eighties. I remember seeing pictures of him in Blues and Soul magazine with his 1000s of jazz and soul records in his own studio.Saw him play out at an alldayer in a pub in Woking and he seemed a completely down to earth unpretentious bloke. A bit ironic that he had the nickname “interesting” when he was one of the few top professional sportsmen who had a life/interest outside sport.

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