There’s a new Birdie single out in May. This is exciting news! With great affection do I remember buying that first record with its lovely chartreuse sleeve when it came out in 1999. Some Dusty’s opening ‘Laugh’ is one of those tunes that every time you hear it you’re transported by how superb it is, as if Bacharach’s muse remembered a song that had appeared on the edge of a pre-dawn slumber in 1967 and was now bestowing this gift through her other children. ‘Laugh’s breezy major key electric piano figure is the perfect promenade for Debsey’s wondrous voice – so rich and evocative and yet delivered with so light a touch, effortlessly finding the most mellifluous paths out into the ether – to stroll over.
Fast-forward a few years. Autumn 2003. I’m living in London for the first time and completely besotted with everything around me. ‘Laugh’ is on my stereo quite a bit and I trek through the freezing cold to catch Saint Etienne do their xmas gig at Oxford’s Zodiac club before attending the Palladium show the next night. I’m in awe of Debsey’s backing vocals and determined to find out if she’s done anything else besides these two bands. It’s strange to think about it now but it’s not like I could just ask Facebook or Twitter. There wasn’t much of an option for group interaction on Friendster, the social networking site that seemed the future at the time. (LOL)
And so, it was some now-outdated search engine that turned up the name Dolly Mixture for me. Then there was the problem of actually getting to hear the music. Thankfully, I found a man with an extensive Damned bootleg trading site. Linked to my favorite punk band by virtue of having been Captain Sensible’s backing singers for ‘Wot’ and ‘Happy Talk’ and the Captain later marrying guitarist Rachel and their having three children together. Although this Damned collector wasn’t interested in anything I had to trade, he very kindly offered to burn me what he had – Demonstration Tapes and the Dreamism! EP – and send them to my home in America, for I was leaving the UK the very next day.
With all the culture shock of finally having found a city I loved and now having to depart, coupled with the post-holiday comedown, one day in the January gloom the postman delivered a package that was to change my world forever for the better. Truth be told, it wasn’t until track five on Demonstration Tapes, ‘Will He Kiss Me Tonight’, that I stood up and took notice, but then I really did, and by track nine, ‘Side Street Walker’, I was very much in love. With this group, and with Pop music all over again. For such is the power of truly magnificent bands, that your feelings for them go well beyond their target and radiate out into the wide wide world.
It would be well over a year before I found out anything about them. But like all things in this magical world of Pop, where wonders manifest themselves at just the right time, of course there was a BBC documentary made about Dolly Mixture in 1982 but never shown until Bob Stanley happened to be curating a night of such curiosities at the Barbican in June 2005. The clip of the band busking ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ is one of the most endearing things I have ever seen. Paul Kelly later incorporated this doc into his ‘Take Three Girls: The Dolly Mixture Story’ film and it is one of my most fervent wishes that this be released on DVD.
Their story demonstrates the magic at play when you decide to give yourself over to Pop Music. Unable to get into an Undertones gig in Cambridge the three teenage girls presented a roadie with a tape of theirs after the show and ten minutes later were invited to open for The Undertones on the tour. Bob Stanley tells in his liner notes for the 2010 boxset that Dolly Mixture would headline over U2 at least twice. And then there’s the tale of them going to London with their demo without making any plans ahead of time. It’s well worth searching out the history. And while you’re at it, listening to Debsey and Hester’s next band Coming Up Roses’ amazingly catchy “I Could Have Been Your Girlfriend (If You’d Asked Me To)”.
Three minutes thirty seconds is Pop’s magic number. But I’ve always felt if you can do it in two, you should. And “Step Close Now” does it in one minute fifty-nine. “Step close now and I will show you how to make the city turn to gold, Don’t you know the dust in our eyes, all kisses surprise, before it turns back into stone”. Wow. What a perfect description these opening lines give us of what magic can do, of how Pop and the things it sings of enhances our lives and drives back the drear. These enchantresses are full of confidence and self-possession, the kind born from the heady mixture of teenage invincibility and giving oneself over to Wonder. And just as easily as we entered, the middle eight is unimpressed with what’s on offer and changes course on a dime to go dance.
“Spend Your Wishes” on the other hand is exactly three minutes thirty. And thus, with all its other charms, the perfect pop song. At times I think the best ever written. Its lovely, lovely melody, strong but carried through such lightness, yet not at all at odds with the cautionary serenade.
“Everything And More” sings along the same lines. The dangers of waiting, of too much impractical dreaming, for they know if Pop teaches us anything, it’s that dreams can be realized in an instant in the here and now. Both the Dreamism! and more ebullient single version with its joyously determined bells conjure these moments, complete with Pop’s magic words – “oo” and “hey”.
“Never Let It Go” consummates all these things. That intrepid teenage ability to create a whole magnificent world all for themselves (whilst having the good nature to know that sharing it with us won’t take a single bit of it away) and the courage to fully realize that you must “take hold of what you’ve found, before the world has turned away”. And, of course the melody is divinely enchanting. The Dreamism! version is even better, be sure to seek that out.
HURRY – LISTEN TO AUG STONE’S COUNTERFORCE PODCAST