10 Questions for Musician Kevin Rowland | reviews, news & interviews
10 Questions for Musician Kevin Rowland
10 Questions for Musician Kevin Rowland
The Dexys main man talks songs, books, and much else - but not the 1980s
After 27 years away, band leader Kevin Rowland (b 1953) successfully relaunched Dexys as a recording unit in 2012. The album, One Day I’m Going to Soar, then became a theatrical show that was performed extensively, including nine nights at London’s Duke of York Theatre in 2013. Last summer a new album appeared, Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul, a collection of sprightly cover versions. All this activity adds up to a vibrant new chapter in the life of one of pop’s more maverick creative minds.
Dexys Midnight Runners, as they were originally known, were the brainchild of Rowland and guitarist Al Archer. As the Seventies drew to a close, based in Birmingham, they combined Northern Soul oomph with punk attack, as well as their own unique stylistic tics and fashion sense. They hit the top of the charts with “Geno”, then Archer left in 1981, but Rowland led the band to even greater heights with the mega-hit “Come On Eileen” (which eventually became something of an albatross), before calling it a day after the album Don’t Stand Me Down in 1985, which was critically acclaimed but floundered commercially.
What followed were Rowland’s wilderness years. Beleaguered by financial and substance abuse problems, he still managed to fire out a couple of solo albums, including one for a waning Creation Records in 1999. Dexys very occasionally came together briefly for performances but it wasn’t until One Day I’m Going to Soar that Rowland appeared to fully take back control of his career and creative mojo. Since then he’s been busy, with a new sideline in DJing proving increasingly popular, which is where our conversation starts...
THOMAS H GREEN: What’s your agenda when DJing?
KEVIN ROWLAND: I DJ more and more. I’ve quite a lot of gigs this year as I’ve got an agent now. I started about 10 years ago and my approach to it is I’m there to entertain and keep them on the dancefloor so that’s what I’m into. To do that I can’t play one style of music all night long, it just doesn’t work, you’ve got to surprise the audience, got to take them with you, vary the tempo. I won’t start too quick. It’s like when you play a live set, you don’t come out and start with your fastest song, don’t attack the audience. You start subtle, then you might slow down, built it a little, get everyone going, then, when they’re on the dancefloor having a good time, I’ll sneak a change through, make it really dancey, perhaps with something they might know but hopefully haven’t heard for a while. I never dive into my own catalogue… hang on, no, lately I’ve been playing “Grazing in the Grass” from the last album, but never from further into the back catalogue.
That album – Let The Record Show – hasn’t had such a live presence as the one before – is that going to be remedied?
No, no, I don’t think so, I can’t see us doing live shows for that album now. It’s down to a lot of factors. It would have lent itself well to the live situation. It wasn’t a show like the previous album [One Day I’m Going to Soar] but I’d like to have done it. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff and there wasn’t the opportunity.
The song “I’m Always Going to Love You” from One Day I’m Going to Soar is a love song, a duet, where, having declared your love to guest vocalist Madeleine Hyland, you change your mind halfway through and decide you’re not in love after all. I can’t think of another song in the annals of pop that does this. How did the idea for doing it come about and, given it has a humorous aspect, did you worry it was too comical?
Sad to say, all the songs on that album were directly from experience. You know what, I didn’t even consider whether it was funny or poignant, I just thought it’s the truth and I’m going to write it, know what I mean?
Dexys perform "I'm Always Going to Love You" live
I know a few men its ideas certainly apply to, the way it hints at a deep underlying doubt about commitment, possibly even my younger self, but it’s not something that’s often said in pop songs.
I suppose not. I don’t think about that. My job is just to write what I’ve experienced. I remember thinking. “Oh, this is great, I’ve never heard this in a song before." Then again, the same applies to “Incapable of Love”, the song after it on the album. I’ve never heard that in a song either. Talking about “Incapable of Love” and “I’m Always Going to Love You”, I kind of wish we’d released one of those as the first single when instead we released “She’s Got a Wiggle” and it kind of didn’t get played. I suspect we might have had more luck with one of those two. That was the original thinking but I got talked out of it by the plugger. He said, “Oh no, Radio 2 will like “Wiggle” more,” but they didn’t like it more and didn’t play it anyway. So there you go. It would have been nice to get a bigger audience for those songs but, still, the album was very well received.
You performed them both as the centrepiece of the theatrical show based around One Day I’m Going to Soar which, among much else, had a nine-night residency at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 2013. How was that?
Those shows in London were good. The first night not so much but the rest were. It was hard work, quite gruelling, two hours and 15 minutes most nights, not many days off, and I was singing most of the time. I had to have a lot of rest between shows, and lived pretty much like a monk. But I’m very glad I did it, especially that it was filmed so there’s a record of it.
Do you have any 1980s pop star friends who you hang out with?
No, because I don’t think of myself as from the 1980s, I don’t see it that way.
But a lot of other people do.
That’s for them. It’s like when you asked me about “I’m Always Going to Love You”, it’s not my business how I’m perceived and I wouldn’t be comfortable talking about my friends.
Fair enough, I only ask as some groups from particular eras have become friendly, like Paul Humphreys from OMD, Martin Ware from Heaven 17 and Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore – they’re all mates, I think. Then again, I live my life without being perceived as belonging to any particular era so I have no idea what that's like.
Yes, I resist that. If I did embrace that perception I’d be doing those Eighties Rewind festivals and all that caper, and taking that money which is probably more money in the short term but it’d be the death of me in the long term.
People have different attitudes. Marc Almond has, in the past, utilised money from playing those Eighties shows for his more artistic projects, but that’s not for you.
No, no, I’m managing to do what I want. I got Warner Brothers to cough up for the last album and they were happy to do so and seemed very pleased with the result. I’m not really one for looking back.
What book are you reading at the moment?
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. I only just started it but it seems alright.
You were, much earlier in your career, very supportive of The Proclaimers, even going as far as to pay for their early recordings. Have they ever inspired you, especially regarding your latest album and its Celtic folk direction?
No, not at all. But I think they’re terrific and their last album was great, I don’t understand why they’re not more popular, it’s hard for me to understand that. They’re massively popular in Scotland and with Scottish people here. They should be massive.
That film, the musical built around their songs, Sunshine on Leith, that did pretty well.
That’s true, that was brilliant. I just think they should be bigger. It’s hard for me to understand why some bands are playing Wembley when The Proclaimers aren’t. It’s hard.
Listen to "The Waltz" by Dexys Midnight Runners
Do you look back on The Wanderer, the 1988 solo album released after the initial demise of Dexys Midnight Runners, with affection?
I don’t usually look back but, funnily enough, I was thinking about that album yesterday. “Young Man” was a really good song, and a couple of the others, but I haven’t listened to it in years. I probably should listen to it again. I don’t know if it’s as good as Don’t Stand Me Down. A friend of mine reckons I always react in my work to what I’ve just done. So we made Don’t Stand Me Down, released it in 1985, the third and final Dexys album of the 1980s; that was two years in the studio, working really hard, the songs have a lot of depth and weight. And then I did The Wanderer, and the songs were written quickly and easily and recorded that way. They came out really fast. I wanted simple songs, almost like country songs.
Talking of country songs, there’s that touching song, “The Waltz” on Don’t Stand Me Down, which is as tinted with country and western. Do you recall how that came about?
Bloody ‘ell, that’s 35 years ago! I think I came up with the chord sequence when I was working with a guy called Steve Torch who was a friend at the time. I used to date his sister back in the Seventies, before Dexys, then I got to know him. Later he became a professional songwriter and ended up co-writing “Believe” for Cher. We were mates from when I was like 20 or something. He was round and we were messing around, just found that chord sequence and started singing over it. These things just have a life of their own and you go with it, then you’ve got to put the work in otherwise you don’t get that magic. But that’s kind of how it happens.
Watch the video for "Both Sides Now" from the album Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?