We need to talk about Kevin (Rowland)

This is the most exciting cultural event in years for me: visionary pop band leader Kevin Rowland, of the Dexys Midnight Runners, is coming to Manchester to discuss his life and work in front of an audience at the Green Room.

Kevin Rowland promo image

The talk, hosted by DJ and author Dave Haslam, will take place 30 years and a few weeks since his debut Manchester performance with the Dexys at the Polytechnic, but despite the years that have passed, don’t expect a back-slapping nostalgia trip. I’m convinced Kevin’s vision will be as pure and necessary as ever.

I’ve seen him just once before, in Manchester seven years ago – and of course as any aficionado knows, Seven Years Is Too Long – when a reformed, reshaped version of the Dexys played the Academy on the band’s first tour since 1986.

At that time, my love affair with the Dexys had barely moved beyond first base. True, I already adored their first album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, but only appreciated patches of its successor Too-Rye-Ay, and hadn’t warmed to their final Don’t Stand Me Down record yet.

Perhaps I should be forgiven – when they split up I was nine years old, and Dexys were only really known for wedding favourite Come On Eileen, their dungarees spell and the Jocky Wilson background on their Top Of The Tops appearance for Jackie Wilson Said.

I was working on the Manchester Evening News website at the time of the show, and the task of reviewing it for the paper landed on me, an occasion that happened only when nobody higher up the food chain was interested.

Thank heavens I did get to go for this was a genuinely life-changing experience. Reading back my review, I did get some observations right, like so:

Rowland’s spellbinding physical performance reached its peak during a 15-minute version of This Is What She’s Like, as he slumped to his knees, splayed out his arms, furrowed his brow and let loose one final rebel yell.

But because I had yet to allow Don’t Stand Me Down to properly grab me, I described its contents as ‘haphazard’ and didn’t understand the surreal, spoken word interludes which peppered the set and which are integral parts of the record.

Only in later years have I learned to properly appreciate Dexys and the gig remains as vivid as ever, perhaps even improving the more I recall it. I’ve upgraded it from the 4 out of 5 rating I awarded it at the time to the 5 out of 5 it clearly deserved as it’s unfeasible for any performance to top it.

Since then, their albums have rarely been far from my CD player, iPod or Spotify playlist. And I account for a significant proportion of the plays their videos have notched up on YouTube.

Analyse the Dexys (note no apostrophe) and you’ll find they’ve covered every detail needed for the perfect pop gang.

Like The Style Council and The Housemartins, they made music as they had something different and intelligent to say. They could romanticise greasy spoon cafes one minute and promote polemical Irish playwrights the next. They’d take a considered left-of-centre political stance without succumbing to the populism of Billy Bragg or Tom Robinson.

There’s also the obsession with soul music, heavily referencing Geno Washington and Jimmy Ruffin in song and covering Chuck Wood, Otis Redding and The Drifters.

And you have to admire Kevin’s defiance to never stand still, or make two albums that sound the same, or to compromise on his vision, even if it meant losing trusted band members and never speaking to the music press again (he’d pay for full-page adverts expounding his views rather than do interviews.)

Best of all there’s that gang vibe, going against the fashion grain with their clothing, with former hairdresser Kevin dressing his band as New York dockers, 18th Century sailors, casuals, monks, Celtic gypsies, and Ivy League graduates, forever in search of ‘lost looks’.

I’ve not yet touched on the majesty of the music, but surely these 700 words of fawning praise is enough to make you want to buy a ticket and hear Kevin Rowland self-analyse and prosthelytise.

Here’s the Green Room’s lowdown of the event here:

Part one of a series new to the greenroom, and a unique opportunity to get up close and personal as DJ/writer Dave Haslam interviews iconic musicians, discussing their life and work. The ‘Close Up’ guest on March 11th is the former Dexy’s Midnight Runner frontman Kevin Rowland.

Kevin Rowland, lead singer and front-man of Dexy’s Midnight Runners the New Wave and Northern Soul band that achieved major success in the early-mid 1980’s.

Dexy’s entire approach was radical. Self-styling themselves as a team – more like robbers than a pop group – the dole queue-spawned band met in caffs and planned their strategies. Signing to EMI, the band thought the royalties were too low and stole their own master tapes until the label relented.

In recent years Rowland has regrouped the band of his youth and took them on tour – released a new Dexy’s single, the confessional Manhood, which shows Rowland’s gift for memorable songwriting is undiminished and a best-of album.

Close Up With… Kevin Rowland, interviewed by Dave Haslam, Thu 11th March, 8pm, £9, £6 concessions.

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3 Comments »

  1. auntysocial said

    Personally, I’m not big on Dexys Midnight Runners and know nothing about Kevin Rowland but your post just made me wonder whether you ever shy away from interviews or hearing “new material” by your favourite artists? In my opinion, most use up the best of everything they have in the first couple of albums and after that, it can start getting painful.

    One of my biggest musical influences hit me like a ton of bricks with her first studio album back in 1991. She is now on her eleventh album and I keep willing her not to go back into the studio and record anymore because with each one, she’s killing my love for her. I dare not read her autobiography because as a person, she is a pillock and I cannot bear to be disappointed even further.

    I so, SO hope the bubble doesn’t burst for you in March.

    Forgive my total ignorance Paul but I have to ask. You know the “Jocky Wilson” background on their Top of the Pops appearance. That WAS deliberate wasn’t it…?

  2. Thanks for commenting on my overblown fan-boy post! I probably will be disappointed but if you expect to be let down you always will be, so I go in hope of an intellectually stimulating, informative evening.

    To answer your question, it depends if the recent albums are basic rehashes of the same stuff, or they’re trying something new, as to whether it annoys me or not.

    All my favourite artists seem to have made deeply disappointing records – for instance, post-Dexys, Kevin Rowland dragged up in offensively cheap women’s clothes and made a horrific pop covers solo album that literally only sold a few hundred copies.

    But I like them, and The Fall and David Bowie as well for instance, more than great bands that kept going with exactly the same sound but with slightly inferior results each time.

    I also like pop stars that can talk a good game rather than issue bland answers in interviews – that aren’t afraid to have an opinion on politics, literature, etc.

    As for the Top Of The Pops appearance, I’m not sure but it’s hard to believe it wasn’t deliberate. Surely no one could mistake a quiffed, besuited, black soul singer for an overweight, white darts player?

    Just worked out the address of your blog – staring me in the face of course – will hop over there now.

  3. auntysocial said

    I don’t ever take issue with musicians approaching things from a different angle. If it doesn’t work, they’ll no doubt write it off as a lesson learned and either try something else altogether or just give it up as a bad job. It’s just pointless to try doing what you already did to absolute perfection.

    Look at how the Beatles transformed themselves completely with Sgt Pepper. They took a huge risk with that one but it sure as hell paid off.

    I’ve been singing and playing the piano for as long as I can remember and “Little Earthquakes” by Tori Amos (musician referred to above) revived my love of the piano when I was a teenager and fast losing interest in favour of boys. I still play to this very day (as does my daughter) so I have her to thank for that I guess.

    Tori Amos has always been as mad as box of frogs but whenever she’s interviewed, you get the distinct impression she’s being deliberately “wacky” with her answers to try and somehow look cool and totally right on. Much of her later music seems to be an extension of this and I don’t like it. It’s false and disappointing and I’m of the opinion if you’ve nothing to say or offer, say or offer nothing at all.

    I guess the one thing that redeems her completely is her live performance. The first time I ever saw her play was at Glastonbury in 1998 and the last time was in 2007 at the Manchester Apollo. She’s one of the most outstanding performers I’ve ever seen.

    I just wish she didn’t talk in between songs and cock it up!!

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