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Geoff Blythe, Mike Laye, Ian Snowball, Peter McKenna's "The Team That Dreams In Caffs" Reviewed

England Dreaming

England Dreaming

Around the time Wigan Casino was imploding in Blackpool, Kevin Rowland was putting together his “Team That Dreams In Caffs” in Birmingham. Wigan Casino was ground zero for the working class equivalents of rave parties where young boys and girls danced all night to obscure soul songs brought back from Detroit and Chicago. Fueled with Dexadrine (cheap amphetamines) or Dexys as they were known, the  pre- punk “no Future” children of the UK danced their troubles away in obsessive love for black soul sounds, until they didn’t any more.

Rowland decided to form a band that reflected some of the obsessive otherness of Northern Soul with some post-punk politics and a fashion sense which made holding bags (Northern soul fans would use them as a change of clothes in the nightclubs), donkey (leather) jackets and woolen caps, as much a political act as zippers and safety pins were.

The team  met in coffee shops in 1979 – 1980, released a couple of hit singles, than recorded the debut album, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, in 12 days. Fueled by the huge ode to soul great Geno Washington, “Geno”, the album was a hit, reaching # 6. But with its  album cover art of a  13 year old Irish Catholic  boy being evicted during the troubles, to the consistently belligerent songs of anger at the start of the Margaret Thatcher, to the “team” fashion sense and to the use of a brass horn section front and center on every song, Young Soul Rebels was a cult album for a cult band for the ages. Soon after, Kevin scrapped the entire new soul rebels concept for… Irish folk. And got his biggest hit to boot.

But that is for another book maybe, “The TeamThat Dreams In Caffs” is about just about a year in the life, as Dexys exploded in sound and vision and then imploded and changed. 1980. Written by saxophonist Geoff Blythe  and Northern Soul fiction duo Ian Snowball and Peter McKenna (they wrote “In The Blood”) and including a plentiful amount of period pictures by Mike Layle, what “Dreams In Caffs” wants to do is limited but exact. It is an act of nostalgia and an act of witness to a very important time in certain young peoples lives.

Starting with a track by track review of the album by Ian and Peter, it continues with an essay by Mike as to how he took the pictures he did, remembrances and praise by fans and contemporaries and finally a limited but illuminating remembrance by Geoff Blythe. Blythe’s section is easily the best, so much of what happened with Dexys was well documented at the time  that we aren’t really being told much we didn’t know but then from time to time  it is as if Geoff puts a giant light on the entire band and you get it. Dexys horn section was central to the sound and Blythe arranged the horns, he is a classically taught musician and he wrote the horn harmonies on paper. This is so obvious but I hadn’t even considered it. Geoff writes: “The trombone would hold down the bottom line but would have an aesthetically good line, not just a series of harmony notes. Steve’s alto, though higher pitched than the tenor, would hold down a strong middle line, whilst I would play the lead over the top.” This allowed Geoff the luxury of improvisation. That paragraph alone is worth the price of admission for anybody who cares about Searching For The Young Soul Rebels. But more movingly in a way is his remembering not having enough money for a sandwich at the team meetings in caffs.

Geoff is friendly with rock nyc’s editor Helen Bach and mentioned that the book didn’t dreg up the bad stuff, the suggestion being we shouldn’t. As it happens, I agree with him though perhaps a nod at Blythes successful career following Dexys isn’t remiss. He formed the Bureau, was part of the TKO Horns, and currently has his own GI Blythe (check em out here).

“The Team That Dreams In Caffs”  captures a certain time and place lost to us now and only reachable through “Geno”, “Burn It Down”, “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green”, more. Songs of Irish pride, heartbreak, love, pain, a sort of faith in the team, in the vision, in a musical future. Blythe and Laye take you back again.

Grade: B+

 

 

 

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