Secret Affair: Soho Dreams
I had a pretty confused childhood. I went from wearing bell bottom jeans to Bowies and box jackets, and along the way also took in a proper fishtail and stay-pressed trousers and a pencil tie. My dad didn't half take the mickey out my fishtail. It was two sizes too big though! It was during this period that I was wearing the fishtail that I bought an album from my uncle’s record shop in West End Arcade, Nottingham. It was an album called ‘Mods Mayday '78’, and had all sorts of goodies recorded live at a venue in Brighouse from groups including Squire, the Purple Hearts, the Merton Parkas and a band that I just clicked with called Secret Affair. Again, not having much money in those days, I had a choice when it came to buying my next bit of vinyl. Did I buy the first Secret Affair album, ‘Glory Boys’, or just released second Secret Affair Album, ‘Behind Closed Doors’...?
Straightaway, I'm taken back to ’Behind Closed Doors’ with 'Soho Dreams'. The title and first track on this first album from them for 30 years (Yep, I did say 30) is pure Secret Affair. The trademark horns are there, as are Dave Cairns' guitar anthem riffs and Ian Page’s unmistakable vocals. There is a slight difference now though, which is not surprising really as Cairns and Page are the only two left from the original line-up. The band has expanded into an eight-piece with full brass/horn and the inclusion of organ heavyweight Andy Fairclough working the Hammond, and they have a more grown-up dimension than before.
The themes are in true Secret Affair style, bringing life's great and not-so-great ideals to your front door and challenging own thoughts and beliefs in things. Page’s voice has aged from their 1982 third and last album, ‘Business as Usual’, and is slightly lower in tone but to no detriment of the sound on this record. It is richer, but still has that soaring eagle-like presence to it.
'Walk Away' is a treat. It builds into a fast Motown type beat with brass in full effect and an infectious chorus. 'Turn Me On' crashes in hurtling you through three and a half minutes of old style Affair. 'Love’s Unkind' is a change though with its piano intro and a prime example of how Page has progressed vocally.
I am not a great love of covers, and there is one on here that they've done for years live and which I've always been not sure of. I own a copy of the original Ray Charles Northern thumper, 'I Don't Need No Doctor', and have always thought it the only version. I'm not sure it works in the studio, but what the hell! It is Secret Affair, isn't it?
Another fine track is the brilliant 'In Our Time' with a 'Who' type intro and dramatic building guitar revving up like a Lambie a mile out of Skeg-Vegas. 'Land of Hope' provides a distant memory of Affair gone by, and then being brought right back to life with Cairns' backing a blissful harmony.
'All the Rage' cracks on to the sax-ridden 'Soul of the City', a mid-paced gem, which is full of atmosphere. Finally there is 'Ride', which with its groovy bass line kicks in to another Motown driven delight with horns, chorus, screaming vocals and complementing backing harmonies.
…I bought the second album, 'Behind Closed Doors'. It grew and grew and over the years as I swapped the vinyl for the CD to stop it being played to death, and then went on to download the MP3 to have it forever pristine in my phones. It has become my all time favourite album. Now what of this new offering after 30 years? Is it better? Is it worse? Do you know what? I'm not even going to compare them because they don't need comparing. 'Behind Closed Doors' was one immense album, and this 'Soho Dreams' is going right alongside it. I am so glad I've ripped it on to my iPod to save wearing the CD out. Now it's up to the loft. I have got a fishtail up there somewhere.