The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Soul Rebellion
Before they struck US paydirt with "Come On, Eileen," Kevin Rowland's Dexy's Midnight Runners were the UK's speed-fueled evangelists for "projected passion." Phil Sutcliffe's Sounds encounter from January 1980 provides the lowdown on Birmingham's finest——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
By the time I'd reached the counter, I'd forgotten it. "What was it again?" I called over to the Dexy's tables. They said, "Five teas and two coffees. Two teas with three sugars, one with two and one with one, one coffee with three and one with none." Of course.
The proprietor of the Appollonia caff in the middle of Birmingham poured the teas and gave me the sugar-bowl. "I could run a pipeline to that table," he said. "Pour it straight down their trumpets."
I told him sorry, the trumpet was one instrument they didn't play.
"That's bad. You can't have a good band without a trumpet."
Chewing this over, I took the beverages back to the tables and passed on the warning about their musical future. They took it remarkably well. "Don't pay him any attention." "His wife plays the trumpet, and he wants to get her a job," said JB, horn arranger extraordinaire.
In fact, on a day's acquaintance I came away with the impression that Brummie caff society more or less revolves around Dexy's Midnight Runners.
They're certainly a catch for any maitre d' greasy spoon. There's a lot of them and they don't like the look of an empty cup. They hang about a lot and make any establishment look like a cheery home-from-home to the passer-by on dog day afternoons when business is generally slack.
Across the aisle their manager Dave Corke, clad in blue jeans and silk-lapelled black DJ, was examining his coffee with magnifying glass proffered for no reason by the chimpanzee-like old man opposite him. "Best cup of coffee in Birmingham," he concluded quaffed it and got up to leave us to our own devices for a few hours.
"If we aren't here we'll be there," he was told. Of course.
As we checked each other out a little my main problem was simply remembering the names, picking the distinctive details from their homogenous look of smartness scoring itself.
Big Jim Patterson is the tall skinhead who plays trombone and wears mirror shades on stage, a Scot slipping whisky in to his tea from a half-bottle. He comes on like a bruiser and the band use that menace in him to test out newcomers but his temperament if more what you'd expect from the music college student he once was.
Al Archer: guitar and red woolly hat.
Pete Williams: bass and white wobbly hat.
JB: tenor sax and rather older than the boyish 21 they average.
Kevin Rowland: vocals, guitar, a lot of the writing, and a very pointed person — chin, eyes, perhaps his whole character.
Growk: drums, new, cropped, laughing a lot and definitely not related to Kelly Grocutt of ELO.
Steve Spooner: alto sax.
Andee Leekke: new keyboardist and fairly quiet otherwise (or at least on Wednesday).
They were working up a story around the theme of how poor they were to see if me and Mike Laye would bite. I'll bite almost anything (Freud has a lot to answer for). "At first we couldn't afford mikes so Kevin had to sing into the pick-ups of his guitar!"
Pete: "That's how he got such a loud voice."