Kevin Archer is one of Britain’s greatest living songwriters. He’s written and arranged massive hits for Dexy’s Midnight Runners, songs that echo down the decades, like the No1 single, Geno, and the even more incredible There, There My Dear from their Searching For The Young Soul Rebels lp. He left the band as the elevator was moving inexorably up.
Archer went on to create a pioneering form of hybrid folk / r’nb with a Dylan Freewheelin Gypsy look devised with then girlfriend, Yasmin Saleh. Style was always a critical part of Archer’s bands. Together, Archer and Saleh formed the Blue Ox Babes. Given a guitar, piano and a couple of hours in a recording studio, he has a preternatural ability to conjure a magic that most songwriters can’t even begin to imagine.
I love the music Archer has created and of course wish there could be more. Always wishing that. I’d seen Dexys a couple of times, way back when. I can recall clearly a show in Nuneaton in the UK in 1980. I can still remember the Fred Perry sweater I was wearing, my friend taking salt to spread on the dancefloor… What a night! At one time too I’d owned a copy of that Killjoys single, Johnny Won’t Get To Heaven, from Archer’s first band with Kevin Rowland. His work makes up a lot of my lifes’ listening minutes.
So imagine our excitement when Kevin Archer agreed to talk to outsideleft. It’s really something. And so, we began at the end of the beginning.
OUTSIDELEFT: You'd founded Dexys Midnight Runners with Kevin Rowland and written groundbreaking hit songs, (I am old and for a long while we had a series of community disco's here in Bearwood and they would invariably end with a packed dancefloor full of now middle aged parents who don't get out much having the greatest time dancing to Geno) the band was working really hard and was critically acclaimed... It seemed like everything was set…
KEVIN ARCHER: The experience with Dexys was good, but Kevin Rowland was heading in a different direction to me. Five members left, because of his control like grip on the situation we found ourselves in. And even though I co-wrote Geno, after four tours. I didn't want to keep repeating myself.
OUTSIDELEFT: As a writer it seems like you'd be a hot property on the back of all that?
KEVIN ARCHER: The zeitgeist was strong and originally I was going to play funk, but I did not and that's how I found folk. Bernard Rhodes our manager with Dexys, predicted folk was the new punk or soul
OUTSIDELEFT: I’ve read you researched names for the band at the old Birmingham library for a start, it's not there anymore...?
KEVIN ARCHER: I went to the library in Birmingham to look up early black American spiritual groups, actually families then in the mississippi deep south, they were poor, they entertained themselves by playing the blues. I came across babe the blue ox. I changed it to the blue ox babes. An American group based in New York later used it. The story is that an ox, his tears filled up a lake he was that sad. This is what I was feeling.
OUTSIDELEFT: How did the Blue Ox Babes Come about?
KEVIN ARCHER: I met Yasmin Saleh in 1980. She looked and sounded great, we lived together and Yasmin was into clothes. She learned to play the melodica and she sang.
Yasmin Saleh is credited too with influencing the original romany look planned for the band...
OUTSIDELEFT: How did the Blue Ox Babes fit into what was happening musically at the time?
KEVIN ARCHER: The Blue Ox Babes were initially out on a limb, you had Postcard from Scotland, and Rip Rig and Panic, but they didn't have the pop sensibility, which I think I retained. Every record company turned the Blue Ox Babes down, EMI said it sounded like English folk. Then during this period I played my demo to a friend, that's all I wanna say. Next thing I know Eileen is no 1.
OUTSIDELEFT: When I listen to the LP Apples and Oranges and watch your video on youtube you have almost the quintessential british popwriter sensibility. It melds that, I don't know, that sort of gang sound! from early Dexys with yeah with English sense of place songwriting thing. It has your signature all over it... But eschewed the gypsy-soul stuff that you'd invented and moved right on to someplace else?
KEVIN ARCHER: We’d disbanded... Then we reformed in 1986 after I met Andy McDonald from GoDiscs. He was the only one interested. We recorded the album over a six month period, because the producer William (Pete) Wingfield had other commitments, like the proclaimers. We played the tracks live in the studio, with a click track, then replaced all the instruments one on one… We worked hard on the album, the record company just wouldn't work on it. We toured with the proclaimers, but the label failed to get the album out. Then Steve Shaw joined the Proclaimers and Yasmin Saleh left, she emigrated to Australia, now living in New Zealand…
OUTSIDELEFT: Apples and Oranges was later released by Cherry Red…
KEVIN ARCHER: But it only sold 1500 copies.
OUTSIDELEFT: The world of music has changed so much and with Kevin’s talent and the music in his genes I wondered whether he would put something together again, even acoustically for festivals or something…
KEVIN ARCHER: I’ve still got ideas. But it’s all or nothing for me.
As much as I miss his music, I love his uncompromising attitude. That’s what makes the difference with the great ones I guess…
The video was directed by Jeff Baines and features Kevin Archer (vocals & guitar), Yasmin Saleh (vocals & dancing), Steve Shaw (violin), Steve Wynne (bass), Ian Pettitt (drums), Pete Wain (piano), Nick Smith (sax) and Vince Sullivan (trombone). Also featured on the recording but missing from the video are Geoff Blythe (sax) and Big Jimmy Paterson (trombone). (info posted by the person who runs dexys.org - I think)
I like to look at things while listening to things I am not looking at. But doesn't everyone.