It was a Saturday night, heading towards late March 1980. Me and my best mate Ged were enjoying a night at the Blackpool Mecca, taking a breather from Wigan. To be honest the Casino was on the verge of losing a lot of the allure and excitement one gets from dancing the night away long after other clubs have closed for business. Little did we know that within a year it would be burned to the ground courtesy of a mysterious fire, a Valhalla-like send-off to what many still say was the greatest Northern Soul club ever.
Looking back, 1980 had been quite a healthy and diverse mix of commercial chart music that I wasn't really aware of. Madness had hits with Embarrassment, Baggy Trousers and Night Boat To Cairo; there was the Northern groove of I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down by Elvis Costello; - The Jam went straight in at number one with Going Underground and The Undertones sang about their Perfect Cousin. There was Bowie, The Stones’Emotional Rescue - Fashion from Brum, and to top it all, the Two-Tone groups from Coventry and Birmingham - The Specials - Rat Race, Too Much Too Young, Stereotype; The Beat - Tears Of A Clown, Hands Off She's Mine, Mirror In The Bathroom; and The Selecter - On My Radio, Three Minute Hero, Too Much Pressure. UB40 weren’t from the same stable but fitted in a treat with King, Food For Thought and The Earth Dies Screaming.
As relentless as the Birmingham and Cov scenes attack on the charts was , there was more to come, all thanks due to one hugely talented, outspoken, enigmatic, uncompromising and emotionally-troubled troubadour, who unleashed his concept of the New Soul Vision on an unsuspecting public back in that seminal year. The man responsible for this entirely fresh and passionate musical concept was born in Wednesfield and spent the first three years of his life in Ireland before his parents returned to the UK, eventually moving down to Harrow and working as a hairdresser after leaving school. His first musical experience proved disastrous with a band called Lucy And The Lovers, but he then joined a new group called The Killjoys, playing punk-orientated music and managing to score a minor success with the single Johnny Won't Get To Heaven.
More importantly, he met Kevin Archer, a like-minded musician/guitarist and together they formed the nucleus of a very special band. Two members down and the hunt was on for more - Big Jim Paterson - trombone - Geoff Blythe - saxophone - Steve Spooner - alto saxophone - Pete Saunders - keyboards - Pete Williams - bass, Bobby Ward on drums. Kevin Rowland had successfully managed to find a bunch of soul-loving musicians and now all he had to do was perfect the image to fit the music he had in store for the world. His ambition was to create a New Soul Vision and the members of the newly formed Dexy's Midnight Runners (named after Dexedrine, the drug of choice on the Northern Soul scene) didn't have a clue what they were letting themselves in for…
Eight rebellious misfits walk into a room one day and come out with Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, an album that to this day is considered by many to be a classic and one of the most influential albums of its time. I went out and bought it shortly after my first listen and thereby began my relationship with Kevin Rowland’s Dexy’s Midnight Runners, alone in my bedroom, studying the lyrics over and over, trying to get to the bottom of this New Soul Vision.
I went out and purchased an old tarnished Berg Larsen vintage tenor saxophone and “fuck going to work” for a few weeks. There was real work for me to do now, learning all the brass riffs, imagining I was one of the horn section, standing shoulder to shoulder with Geoff Blythe and Big Jimmy in some cramped sweaty club after midnight. Practicing until my fingers ached and my lips were bleeding, with the distant image of Blackpool Tower from my bedroom window. I was up north, but my soul was in Birmingham.
I had convinced myself I was the ninth Dexy, in search of my real truth fuelling my dreams of perhaps making it one day as a decent sax player blowing quality soul, jazz and blues with my own band. Over thirty years since it was first unleashed on the music-loving public, I feel me still needing extra loud doses of the New Soul Vision to help keep me on the straight narrow and optimistic side of life, still searching for those elusive soul rebels.
For so many of us out there, soul music is all we have left after suffering a long, boring week surviving in Boozebuster Britain with no solution in sight. A few cold cans in a relaxing bath caressing the aches and pains away at least for a little time. Spark up a joint, chop out a line of Columbia’s finest and lose yourself in some powerful, emotional soul music that has the power to make you laugh and cry and regret… and believe that tomorrow just might be your day.
Kevin Rowland gave us all that and more, a free pass into the New Soul Vision keeping the flame alive in each and everyone of us who are still listening to the album when the mood grabs us no matter how strong the rain wind and snow blow because there really was nothing to compare to Searching For The Young Soul Rebels and there still isn’t. It was the album that gave the world such songs as Geno and There There My Dear and put Dexy’s on the map. It is regarded as one of the greatest debut albums of all time and still resonates with a generation, appealing to those still searching for the young soul rebel within themselves. Enough Said. Now listen…