By early 1980, the West Midlands had established itself as the epicentre of UK music culture, with trend-leading groups such as The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter and UB40 all hailing from either Coventry or Birmingham. The soul music played by the initial incarnation of Dexys didn’t have an association with reggae as was the case with the other bands, but it employed the same sort of instrumentation and sounds, and Dexys’ image fitted in with the associated fashions. There was never a doubt that provided Dexys delivered the strength of material, they would ride on the back of the wave of enthusiasm for this West Midlands revivalist-based craze.
And deliver the strength of material they did. The track Geno, released in the March of 1980, was a fantastic track, which climbed the UK pop charts to reach Number 1 by the middle of spring. It wasn’t Dexys’ first single, but it was the one which put them on the map. It set high public expectations, at a level very few bands can ever live up to. But, as this compilation album clearly demonstrates, single after single, Dexys kept delivering the goods, establishing themselves as one of the most consistently listenable UK bands of the early 1980s. There can be very few people who were teenagers or older in 1982, who don’t remember Dexys’ massive Number 1 Come On Eileen. Both Come On Eileen and Geno feature on this album.
And yet members of Dexys Midnight Runners kept their feet firmly on the ground, and remained very approachable and accessible in their home area. Most of us who were musicians around Birmingham in the 1980s either knew or met members of Dexys. I met a couple of them towards the end of the decade, and they flat out did not behave like pop stars. I can state from memorable experience that Kevin ‘Al’ Archer – original guitarist and (among other things) co-writer of the Number 1 hit Geno – was extremely modest, and totally undersold himself when talking about his work. These days, people expect pop stars to be full of themselves and slightly condescending towards ‘ordinary people’, but a lot of musicians in the immediate post punk era were doing it for the music – not for the fame. It wasn’t really about them – it was about the bigger picture. Punk broke down the principle of bands trying to subjugate their fans, and that approach rubbed off on groups like Dexys, who I’m convinced did not see themselves as in any way superior to their audiences.
Sadly, the subordination subsequently returned to pop music. The successful musicians returned to being ‘idols’, and the audiences returned to being part-brainwashed idolators, in love with a manufactured entity which doesn’t really exist.
This album, The Very Best of Dexys Midnight Runners was released in 1991 on a chrome-formulated audio cassette, and I’d recommend its music to anyone with an open mind. The songwriting is excellent, and there’s an undeniable feelgood factor to pretty much every track. You really can tell these people were making music for the sake of making music, and not because it was the quickest and easiest way to get a chauffeur driven limo.