They took their name from the recreational drug of choice for the Northern Soul fans at the time of their formation, Dexedrine, a brand of dextroamphetamine, the “midnight runners” refers to ability to dance all-night after taking said drug !!
Formed in Birmingham by Kevin Rowland and Kevin “Al” Archer, they arrived on the music scene with their own distinctive sound and dress style, they didn’t want to be a part of anyone else’s movement they wanted their own.
Their look was described as being “straight out of Robert DeNiro’s film Mean Streets” with their Donkey Jackets, Leather Coats and Woolly Hats…. ..at the same time in Kirkcaldy I was wearing a Donkey Jacket……this had absolutely nothing to do with any music scene, I just thought it may make me look more attractive to the young Irish student Midwives that were studying in my home town in the late seventies/early eighties!!!! For the record I had little success!!!
Rowland had a whole manifesto for the band – among other things they lived together in a squat and used public transport, which they never paid for. I remember seeing footage of them jumping over the barriers at an underground station in London and fleeing from the ticket collectors enroute to a gig.
After their first album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, Rowland fell out with most of the music press and many of his band members quit over Rowland’s antics including his “press embargo”.
The NME accused the band of “emotional fascism”.
This didn’t stop Rowland, he recruited new blood and changed their image again, this time his mantra was fitness and the band was seen out training together and running. With this change came a new look, which included hooded tops, boxing boots and ponytails. Alcohol was banned and exercise sessions would take place before gigs, he felt now the band had the right fighting spirit.
Co-founder Archer had left after the release of the first album, he formed a new band The Blue Ox Babes and was to later claim that Rowland stole his Celtic sound with the fiddles from Archer’s new group.
The one member of the band that stayed loyal to Kevin Rowland, was the leader of the brass section, Big Jim Patterson, the Scottish trombonist. He remained in Dexy’s until he felt their presence in the band had been diminished by the arrival of a new sound that used mainly fiddles. Big Jim and the rest of the brass players left to form the TKO Horns who played on Elvis Costello’s album Punch the Clock. They also went on to perform with numerous artists including Madness, Squeeze, Nick Lowe and Howard Jones.
In a BBC 2 Documentary for the Young Guns series, Archer played a demo he had made before the unveiling of Rowland latest re-incarnation of Dexy’s that sounded very much like their first single with the new direction, The Celtic Soul Brothers.
Rowland recruited Helen O’Hara from The Blue Ox Babes to join his “new” creation the Emerald Express, who joined the remainder of Dexy’s for the album Too-Rye-Ay, and with it came another new look best described as raggytail Gypsy, with dungarees, scarves and waistcoats.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners had worldwide success with the single Come on Eileen and I’m sure that it will be a floor filler at wedding evening discos for years to come. It was the biggest selling single in the UK and USA in 1982 and sold over 1.2 million copies in the UK alone.
I bought their first single Dance Stance after hearing it on Annie Nightingale’s Sunday Night Radio One Show, while working at St Andrews’ University.
On the February 1st 1980, the band played at the St Andrews’ Student’s Union, it was a blistering gig with Kevin Rowland turning in a very charismatic performance and, “Big” Jimmy Patterson a standout on trombone on his return to his homeland. A short while later, in May 1980, Geno No.1 in the UK charts.
mp3 : Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno (live)
Through all their time as a band Dexy’s produced some wonderful singles, the best for me being, produced during the brass/soul period and these are particular favourites of mine:-
mp3 : Dexy’s Midnight Runners – There There My Dear
mp3 : Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Plan B
They also turned in some very good cover versions of the Northern Soul Classics, Chuck Wood’s Seven Days Are Too Long and Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon’s Breaking Down The Walls Of Heartache that showed where Kevin Rowland’s musical preferences lay.
mp3 : Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Seven Days Are Too Long
Over the years, Rowland proved himself to be a control freak and a bit of a prat, who liked to be a chameleon and change his appearance, at will, he took it too far in 1999, when after an absence of 11 years away from the music scene, he released his second solo album My Beauty complete with cover photo of himself in a dress and stockings!!!!
It has been said My Beauty was a good piece of work but many shied away from it because of the cover. He appeared at the Reading music festival to promote the album dressed as he was on the cover and was bombarded on stage with a hail of bottles.
FOOTNOTE : Best place seen wearing a donkey jacket:
Picture the scene it’s July 1982 in a nightclub in San Antonio, Ibiza. Everyone is dancing about wearing their finest shorts and t-shirts to show off their fast growing tans- when on the music system comes Rock the Casbah by The Clash and out of nowhere appears a guy wearing a DONKEY JACKET with NCB* emblazoned on the back!!!
* NCB means National Coal Board
John Greer, Monday 22 August 2011