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2023/4 Albums Thing 300 - Secret Affair “Glory Boys”

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Secret Affair were a much, much, much better band than history remembers them being. They seem to suffer under the memory of their somewhat cringeworthy debut single “Time For Action” but hopefully this piece and this album will help redress that balance. 

Singer Ian Page and guitarist Davie Cairns had previously been in New Wave band New Hearts who made a couple of singles for CBS and did a few gigs supporting The Jam before splitting up. Page and Cairns then recruited bass player Dennis Smith from the band Advertising, Young Bucks drummer Seb Shelton and occasional saxophonist Dave Winthrop and formed Secret Affair. They quickly got involved with the developing Mod Revival scene based at the Bridge House pub in Canning Town and appeared on the “Mods Mayday 79” live compilation recorded there.

That debut single “Time For Action” peaked at #13 in the UK (their biggest hit). I guess it said something to all the little kids who’d latched onto the Mod Revival, gave them a slogan to shout about, but some of the lyrics were cringeworthy (“We hate the Punk elite” and “…sweet Julia speeding on the late night train” yeuch) and it wasn’t a great song, period. Second single “Let Your Heart Dance” was much more like it and there are songs on this album that blow “Time For Action” outta the water.

First song “Glory Boys” s one of them. It begins like Dexy’s “Searching For The Young Soul Rebels” (and was released 8 months before it) with someone spinning through the radio dial and falling on a police siren that sounds suspiciously like the start of The Clash’s “White Riot” and then songs by Sister Sledge (!) and Secret Affair themselves before the acoustic intro calms you before the song comes bounding in proper. As anthems for the Mod Revival go this one beats the hell outta “Time For Action”, I’m a particular fan of the lyric “Don’t you know I’m a Glory Boy, I could cut you down by combing my hair”!

At the end of Side 1 we find “New Dance”. Now never mind Mod Revival, this is as good a New Wave/Alternative, whatever you wanna call it, song as this period ever produced. Davie Cairns guitars crash and slash throughout, this is exciting guitar playing to me. The way Davie booms out the couple of bass notes after the lyric “and try to make me look a fool” just before the first chorus are more thrilling to me than any amount of pentatonic fretw@nk anyone could muster. The lyrics are dense (some might say pretentious), “You try to see me from behind cataracts, And smile with faces of melted wax” (followed by more Davie Cairns booming bass notes, I love it), but Ian Page sings them with such conviction you gotta forgive him his poetic affectations.

As already mentioned, second single “Let Your Heart Dance” and Side 1’s “Shake And Shout” are much better examples of what they were about, a good time, guitar based dance band for the Glory Boys of Canning Town, and final song “I'm Not Free (But I'm Cheap)” keeps that going while letting Page and Cairns strut their musical stuff with a bit of trumpet (did I mention that Ian Page played the trumpet ?) and guitar duelling. They were a bloody good live band too. We saw them twice in 1980 and again in the early 2K’s when they reformed, all great shows.

The message here is stop your sniggering at the back there, pack away your prejudices based on the cringy debut single and have a listen to “New Dance” with fresh ears…cos Secret Affair were a much, much, much better band than history remembers them being…and this is a great debut album.

New Dance - https://youtu.be/ojV9kNiUcp4?si=y6l05L4zdg3cJvBz

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