40 years of ‘Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’

Eoghan Lyng celebrates Dexys Midnight Runners’ seminal debut album.

In the midst of the artistic revolution that swept the materialistic eighties, came a soulful, searching album aching for an identity. Shouting to the masses, vocalist Kevin Rowlands used this astonishing debut to catch, claim and cherish his Irish roots. The spiritual, secular nature of his homeland were later explored on Dexys’ – as they are now known – parochial efforts, but Searching for the Young Soul Rebels addressed Rowlands’ intentions from the album’s fiery, furious opening.

Burn It Down, the mantras aggressively geared at the ignorance that polluted the British buying public, listed the lineage of Irish authors serially ignored year after year. That it should be redressed through the thumping sounds of soul only added to the band’s commitment, gravitating to the anger of a genre tellingly underappreciated during the late seventies. (John Landis’ The Blues Brothers, now widely considered one of the tentpoles of eighties cinema, was one of 1980’s inexplicable cinematic bombs.)

Much as it flickered through Burn It Down, the fire that burned through Rowlands’ belly can be heard all over the album. Take the biting Thankfully Not Living in Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply, the band’s passionate salute to the wandering, working class men who paid for their gigs; take the pounding Seven Days Too Long, the band’s incandescent translation of the sixties soul standard; or take Geno, the band’s deceptively jaunty tribute to the indomitable Geno Washington. Plastered over Kevin Archer’s mercurial guitar hook, Rowland completed one of his tangiest melodies, a melody that earned them a U.K. no.1 hit.

That Geno should hit the number 2 spot in Ireland seemed fitting, considering Rowland’s attachment to the island. His wryness was prescient: vocalists Van Morrison and John Lydon had burst through the UK charts, waving the flag for the Emerald contingent. And yet Rowland proffered the greatest salute, decorating the album cover with the succinct sleeve of a teenaged Catholic caught in the battles that waged over Belfast.

The pictorial poignancy of Geoffrey Blythe’s blistering saxophone shatters under When My Light Turns Green‘s emotional resonance, creating a brass sound emanating from the piercing, plodding performances. Everywhere, the saxes wail with brazen, blistering thunder; reigniting the terror, thunder and texture from Rowland’s words. Such was the confidence of the swagger, The Teams That Meet In Caffs didn’t need lyrics to carry it. Indeed, for some this is the single most moving song in the band’s canon, though I‘m Just Looking – an earnest attempt to explore love’s imponderable thought process- is also noteworthy.

For Rowland, it was the emotion that carried the band into the shifting, changing decade, much as it was this guttural emotion that crept into follow-ups Too-Rye-Ay and Don’t Stand Me Down. By then, the sharp saxophone had made way for Helen O’Hara’s violin, bringing Rowland even closer to his home destination. In some ways, he didn’t need to. By lunging through the texts, tones and tempers of a genre ignored by the British buyers, he’d shown the world who he was and more. Rowland was urgent. Rowland was urbane. Rowland was Irish.


Dexys Midnight Runners – ‘Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’, originally released on 11 July 1980, through EMI Records. Produced by Pete Wingfield. Relive it and listen to it here: https://rhinouk.lnk.to/DexysSFTYSR

  A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng’s writing has also appeared in New Sounds, Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles. Follow him on TwitterVisit his homepage.

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