When I first read, courtesy of The Look (still one of my favourite blogs and books, and this entry on Dexys is one of the best online pieces ever) that Kevin Rowland named their deceptively simple Mark 2 look ‘athletic monk’, I briefly flipped out. For those out there still under the impression Dexys Midnight Runners are a one-hit-wonder non-entitity, you’ve got homework to do, and Kevin was sporting the selvedge and Redwing look while you were still hunting behind sofas for Dunk change. Now Kevin seems to have switched to a pencil-tached, sharp-dressed spiv look, once again, he’s made another reinvention.
Whether you’d choose to follow isn’t the point – the key to my fascination with the group generally comes down to Kevin’s perpetual unrest. Had a hit? Got a winning formula? Fuck it, destroy and rebuild. That certainly isn’t the route to a gold house and rocket car, but it makes Dexys, in all their incarnations, very, very punk, and as we still see one offbeat idea or partnership cloned, or a brand like the aforementioned boot company opening themselves up for SMU partners like Rosanna Doll, Kevin’s attitude is more vital than ever before.
The ‘athletic monk’ look (sounding a lot like the kind of Wu-filliate who’d drop on then get dropped by Babygrande) appeared after the success of ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ where the band aesthetic was Mean Streets meets longshoremen – this uniform identity seemed to maintain Rowland’s ultra-intense James Brown style approach to band discipline. He might not have been fining band members for failing to polish their shoes, but after all bar Jimmy Paterson tired of his uncompromising, attitude and flew the coop, a new group was recruited in 1981.
While the visual contrast is not dissimilar to the difference between Rocky Balboa’s day-to-day attire and meat punching workout gear, that wasn’t the influence – this new band, brought together for the failed, and hugely ‘Projected Passion Revue’ tour, were made to run and exercise together to build group spirit and correlate mind, body and subsequently, soul – naturally there were quirks – alongside the purity of plain white tees, hooded sweatshirts and trackpants they wore boxing boots, never, ever a good look outside the ring, despite some troubling phases of high street ubiquity, and small ponytails, not as a reference to fellow practitioners of self-discipline, the samurai, but as a nod to 18th century sailors, another possible textbook example of total camaraderie – 100% commitment.
This look takes in a spot of casual, a spot of keep-fit revolution, and even the hateful hair modification was something that exploded during the subsequent decade. Was the group responsible? Probably not, and this could have been forward-thinking coincidence. Though this is possibly the strongest period of sound from the group, especially live, Dexy’s Mk 2 proved unsuccessful. But the monastry-style purity in outfit and lifestyle to release pure, unfiltered elements of “intense emotion”, as was the intent, is one of the most interesting outfitting decisions of any musician.
Bar the boxing boots, I’d like to see a revival, or even better, a contemporary group to make like Rowland and break the mould with the same destroy and rebuild mindset. This “failure” gave way to the Dexy’s your mum remembers, with the Celtic look and appointment of the fiddle wielding ‘Emerald Express’ – attend any British wedding reception, and you’ll understand just how successful that incarnation was. Later, Kevin’s Ivy League preoccupation led to an purchase detailed on Paul Gorman’s site – ”At first I bought a pair of Florsheim Imperials (plain caps or GIs) for old time’s sake, but I kept looking at them in wonderment, at their beauty. I would sit in my hotel room at night looking at them. I was dreaming about them. I felt so inspired again.” That’s the power of good footwear at work.
To the present day, the plain sweatshirt is still a form of sartorial detox, the essential, no-brainer in the wardrobe, whether it’s loopwheeled and ludicrously expensive, or a Uniqlo multiple buy. A marl grey comfort blanket you can wear, I’ve yet to see it look truly smart on anyone, XXL or slim-fitted. It’s the great informal leveller of man – long may it reign.
Good enough for a bonafide genius, good enough for you or I…