I don’t know why I chose this particular record out of the 3,000 I have at home. But Too-Rye-Ay by Dexys Midnight Runners always been there in my life, ever since I first heard “Come On Eileen” in the summer of 1982, when I was 15 years old. I was a punk very early on, from when I was about 11, then I got into Madness and The Specials… But when this album came out, it was a completely new thing. The band looked so great on Top of the Pops; they were playing banjos, and everyone was wearing the same clothes! It was a full force, definitely. And it’s still brilliant.
When you think about Dexys Midnight Runners, you picture all those stylistic changes and their vision for the band, whether it’s becoming Irish traditional, dungaree-wearing, banjo-playing Dexys, or Mean Streets Dexys – when they dressed like New York dock workers – or the suave Ivy League look of their third album, Don’t Stand Me Down (1985). They really do have it all. The album has this timeless quality to it, too. “Come On Eileen” put them in the history books – especially in America – as one-hit wonders (which is completely ridiculous, because they had a hit single before that – 1980’s “Geno” – but I suppose they had to live with it). There’s even a Rolling Stone article, where readers picked the Top 10 “greatest one-hit wonders of all time”. “Come On Eileen” came second.
I once heard Kevin Rowland was coming to see The Charlatans play a gig at the Astoria, so while I was playing I just kept thinking about him all the time. I never found out if he did actually turn up – we met for the first time in about 1995. They made a film, Nowhere is Home, and I introduced that at Festival No 6 before an interview with Kevin and Jim. I also presented a Classic Songwriter award to Kevin last year at the Q Awards in London.
He used to tell everyone that “Eileen” was an ex-girlfriend, but then he told The Guardian in 2014 that she was “composite”, so he could make a point about Catholic repression. “On the Projected Passion Revue tour in 81 there was this girl interviewing us and she was going on about the spiritual nature of this music and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Right, but that’s not what I’m feeling at this moment…’” he wrote.
“She was really good looking, and I was reminded of being a teenager, surrounded by Irish Catholic girls you couldn’t touch, but at the same time with these overpowering feelings of lust which you’re not supposed to have. When I played the demo to the record company, they didn’t like it and I was so upset I told them to f*** off.”
Too-Rye-Ey influenced my new solo record I Love the New Sky, in terms of some of the Irish traditional violin playing. There’s a vocal at the end of “Laurie”, my latest single, and I really didn’t think anything of that being a Dexys influence. But when I finished it, I thought: “Kevin would like this.” It has this roaring, real uplifting tone to it.
Throughout the years, some of the Dexys' chord changes have influenced The Charlatans, too, with that pull-on-the-heartstrings vibe. I remember writing “Crashin’ In” from The Charlatans’ fourth album – that song uses a similar chord sequence, because back then we were taking things from different places to help us with our songwriting. I don’t do that technique like I used to, because now it’s more instinctive.
This record has travelled with me all over the world. I’ve been on tour buses in every kind of imaginable state: daytime, night-time… and very early morning time! At the back of the bus, listening to “Plan B” going into “I’ll Show You”, which is still one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. Beautiful arrangements, big sound, great lyrics… it’s massive in every sense.
As told to Roisin O’Connor
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