With the latest incarnation of Dexy’s releasing a new album, ‘One Day I’m Going To Soar’, I was reminded of a documentary I saw some years ago about the band. In this documentary, the name of which escapes me, lead singer Kevin Rowland expressed his regret that he had not given ex-member Kevin…
You reminded me to go and have a proper listen again and I thought I’d buy it rather than just listen on Spotify. “Apples and Oranges” has some great tracks on there but it was quite telling for me to listen to the demo’s (alright that bit was on Spotify ;-) particularly the demo of “Walking on the Line” from ‘81. “Walking on the Line” sounds pretty much like a circa ‘81 Dexys song to me, as much as it’s freshened by strings? That’s no criticism of Kevin Archer either as he was a big part of the creation of that sound and his voice had the same affected “cry” in it, as perfected by himself and Kevin Rowland.
I had a chat with Kevin Rowland once in 1981 about the idea to include strings. He’d turn up out of the blue and want to go for a walk or for a cup of tea for a chat about something, and one time we chatted about how he and Kevin Archer had discussed the idea of dropping the brass section and using strings instead. I think he used to like bouncing ideas off me because I was always straight with people and pretty much got what the band was about. I was always keen to try new ideas too, possibly because I’d walked into a band for which the mould had already been set?
It was suggested to the band and the three players from the brass section reluctantly agreed to turn their hand to learn stringed instruments, eventually settling on Spearsey (Tenor sax) learning to play Viola, Brian (alto sax) and Jim (trombone) both learning to play the cello. To put it into perspective you had three guys who loved the instruments that they played, who’d spent a huge chunk of their lives learning and perfecting their art to the point they’d actually got very good at it, they were a superb brass section. Then these three guys agreed to have a go at learning to play new instruments in three months. You have to hand it to them for giving it a go and after three months they weren’t so bad, they weren’t really good enough though either. We recorded a single during that time which featured strings, called “Liars A-E” by using session players and even played three nights at the Old Vic theatre. They were great shows as it turned out too, the curtain went up and the set began with “Liars A-E”. Brian and Jimmy right at the front of the stage with their cellos, only unknown to the live audience there was a professional cello player hidden behind the curtain and his mic was turned up a hell of a lot louder than theirs haha!
The experiments with strings evolved to the point that eventually we used three violins. Kevin and Jimmy went down to the Birmingham School of Music (now known totally unpretentiously as the Birmingham Conservatoire) and found Helen (then Bevington) who’d worked with Kev Archer. Helen also found other players from the college for us and we tried a few different combinations until we hit the sweet spot and the three fiddle playing “Emerald Express” was born.
So anyway, long story, sorry I’ll finally get to the point. I was as surprised as everyone else when years later I read Kevin Rowland’s apology to his friend Kevin Archer, about how he’d stolen his ideas and not credited him when it was due. It didn’t seem that way to me from where I’d been sat and from what I’d been told though? But let’s face it only Kevin knows how influenced he was by Kev Archer’s demo’s, or was it a development of ideas that they’d already spoken about when they were still working together?
Either way the Blue Ox Babes were a damn fine band, they deserved more success and they deserved recognition sooner too! “Apples & Oranges” is a great album, glad I’ve finally bought it!
23 May 2012