thu 18/07/2024

Dexys, Shepherds Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Dexys, Shepherds Bush Empire

Dexys, Shepherds Bush Empire

We need to talk about Kevin again

Kevin Rowland (and Runners): all mouth and baggy trousers?

Kevin Rowland always did march to the beat of his own drum. Whether it was purloining his album’s master tapes from his record company or refusing to consort with the music press, he constantly straddled a wobbly fence between control freak and paranoid lunatic. This, as much as Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ sublime, heartfelt music, made him a riveting, charismatic presence in the early 1980s. The name is now just Dexys, but what else had changed three decades on?

Well, the seriously intense vocalist certainly sustained his contrary reputation at the Shepherds Bush Empire, following in the footsteps of Paul Weller's recent Roundhouse run by kicking off by performing his new album, One Day I'm Going to Soar, even though it is not officially out. At first this pushed the patience of his most devoted fans, but half an hour into his two-hour show the performance hit its stride and the packed, all-seated audience was clapping and stamping as if the new tracks were old favourites.

I could spend a lifetime listening to Kevin Rowland, but I'm not sure if I could spend an hour in his head

Some of the new tracks certainly had the feel of old favourites, even if they did not always remind one of Rowland's own back catalogue. "I'm Always Going to Love You" had a rhythmic dollop of Hot Chocolate's "You Win Again" in it, while Al Green's band sounded like they had popped in for "Nowhere is Home", which addresses Irish stereotyping and recalls the chorus of literary lions – Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, Samuel Beckett et al – on the 1980 statement of intent "Dance Stance". The theme of the new album seems to be rootlessness, love and madness and it comes across as seeringly honest at times, particularly when he croons that he is "incapable of love". I could spend a lifetime listening to Kevin Rowland, but I'm not sure if I could spend an hour in his head.

Yet this was a gig with almost as much emphasis on performance and visuals as tunes, with the band, including former Style Councillor Mick Talbot on keyboards, currently sporting a 1940s American casual look. The maverick frontman, meanwhile, was in black with correspondent shoes and brown wide-brimmed hat, a notable improvement on his "Klinger-from-M*A*S*H" transvestite chic which may have helped to scupper his solo career.

I saw a very theatrical Dexys outing at the Old Vic in 1981 and this one was every bit as dramatic. Rowland kept busy and used the whole stage, scampering and trading vocals with Madeleine Hyland and veteran sidekick Pete Williams. He sat on a seat at the centre of the stage, got down on his knees and testified like a man possessed and at one point he essayed a high kick that seemed to reference Van Morrison’s unlikely kung fu move in Scorsese's The Last Waltz.

After listening patiently to the new album the audience got their reward in the form of nearly an hour of familiar favourites, including a pumped up "Liars A - E" and an almost operatic "Until I Believe in My Soul", with Williams playing a police officer taking a statement about Rowland's "burning" (have you tried rubbing cream on it Kevin?). Where this could have been a simple gambol through the lush meadow of past glories the classics were often creatively reworked. The stand-out track was "Tell Me When My Light Turns Green", nicely slowed, but still with that distinctive trombone solo from original Midnight Runner “Big” Jim Paterson, who also partook of some impressive instrumental sparring with violinist Lucy Morgan.

When Morgan came to the front of the stage on another song I initially failed to recognise the melody until Pete Williams yelled "Come on Eileen". It was an interesting choice being such a mainstream Smash Hits-era song, but the unashamed populism was counterbalanced with a belted out extra verse and, to close, a wonderfully cheerful version of "This Is What She’s Like" from their hugely underrated 1985 album Don't Stand Me Down. It is amazing to think that this band's last studio album was released 27 years ago. Rowland might have shortened his band name, but after all this time that was the only thing that felt reduced last night.

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Watch Kevin Rowland discussing Dexys on The Culture Show





What a gig! An honour to be there last night. Two hours of musical theatre. Storyletting with tales of love and love lost. At 57 Kevin has returned with the same energy as he had when he first took the stage all those years ago. A true individual - and deicated his craft. Not only is the new stuff fresh and powerful - but the old favourites were given a fresh reinvention. Familiar but very current. Kevin and the new band - all were excellent - have clearly put their heart & soul into the rebirth. Good luck - I sure 'good old Kevin's gonna be alright ' He was more than alright last night.

I was there A life-enhancing evening

Good to catch up again Glynn Crannie was great to see them and there were flashes of brilliance, but also long periods of bad am-dram. And no Geno!

Always leave them wanting more........ And This is what's she's like was amazing.

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