mon 15/07/2024

Dexys, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Dexys, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Dexys, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

High emotion and low comedy in the brave, bold and redemptive return of Kevin Rowland's gang

Kevin Rowland: 'that high, scalded yelp is still hair-raising'

Kevin Rowland has gone to great lengths recently to ensure that no one is under any misconceptions: the return of Dexys is no nostalgia trip. Last night’s show in Edinburgh hammered home the point. There aren’t many bands that could return after 27 years (give or take a smattering of gigs in 2003), play for two hours straight, perform only four old songs - even if those were stretched out over 45 extraordinary minutes - and yet still satisfy every demand made of them.

Before that raucous, rather moving finale, there was the pressing business of performing the new album, One Day I’m Going to Soar, in its entirety. It was a brave move, and a sound one, though not wholly successful: a handful of the songs simply weren’t strong enough, and the ghost of a narrative thread underpinning the record isn’t sufficiently theatrical to elevate them to some greater general purpose. 

It was like Pete and Dud extemporising alongside Otis Redding

Still, Rowland gamely stayed in "character” throughout these songs, not speaking to the audience and giving every inch of his all. Dressed in old school Sicilian gangster chic - vest, braces, spats and Capone hat (although the black nail polish was a neat throwback to the more transgressive days of My Beauty) - he fronted a seven-piece band which included Mick Talbot on keyboards, "Big" Jim Paterson on trombone and Pete Williams on vocal, moral and comic support.

Whatever the varying merits of individual songs, Rowland is a magnetic front man. He prowled the stage, back and forth, back and forth, swiping at the air like some lean old prize fighter returning to the ring for one last life-and-death bout. When he sensed he’d won a crucial point he raised both arms in the air in triumph. He thumped his chest, unleashed karate kicks, and dropped to his knees like James Brown. And he remains an inimitable singer. That high, scalded yelp is still hair-raising - odd, unsettling, beautiful in its way - while his low croon has extra depth and poignancy these days.

The plus side of giving the new album such an extended airing was that good material such as “Nowhere is Home“ became great. “I'm Thinking of You” was the first song of the night to be imbued with that kinetic Dexys mix of weirdness and almost spiritual intensity, and it definitely kicked the entire evening into a higher gear.

It was followed by the arrival of striking co-vocalist Madeleine Hyland (pictured above, playing Rowland’s fantasy woman made flesh) for two songs, “I'm Always Going to Love You” and “Incapable of Love”. Neither tracks are especially strong but the pair gave it their all, Hyland veering stagily between hammy histrionics and exaggerated sexy poses, Rowland naturalistically muttering a long, lame mea culpa like some Brummie Brando. They chased each other along the front row, smooched, screamed abuse, whispered apologies and generally zipped through the A-Z of Doomed Love in a highly entertaining quarter of an hour.

As a dramatic centrepiece it was fun but old mucker Pete Williams, unsurprisingly, proved a much more natural foil for Rowland, acting as sounding board, rabble-rouser and cautionary voice-on-shoulder. On “Free” in particular, now officially a Dexys classic, they bounced off each other brilliantly.

After a deeply affecting “It’s OK, John Joe”, which revealed conclusively that Rowland is both an unsparingly brave performer and a better singer now than he ever was back in the Eighties, the second half of the set was all gravy. Even here, the spirit was one of restless forward movement rather than nostalgia. The first dip into the old days pulled out a version of “Until I Believe in My Soul” which lasted 20 minutes and incorporated not only a thrilling “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green” but also the by-now classic comic vignette in which Williams dresses up as policeman and interrogates Rowland about the “burning” feeling he suffered from between 1966 and 1993. It was like Pete and Dud extemporising alongside Otis Redding.

An epic “Come on Eileen” was both joyous and truly redemptive, before “This is What She's Like“, the 1985 hit-that-never-was which has become the anthem of a rejuvenated band, officially reduced the rather austere Queen’s Hall to foot-stomping, dewy-eyed mayhem.

For all this late brilliance it was a flawed show, and the better for it, somehow. How restorative to see a gig where there was something genuine at stake, some complex mix of pride, honour and defiance. Dexys never really were a band for neutrals, and this tour isn’t geared towards non-believers. You have to buy into the Cult of Kevin for it all to add up, and most of last night's audience clearly signed on the dotted line long ago. Those who hadn't will surely have been converted, for the sense of triumph was, in the end, irrefutable.

Watch Dexys perform "Free" on Later... with Jools Holland


Great positive review but disagree re strength of new songs. I'm a lifelong fan but would been happy just to watch the album it's so good. It was great that the crowd was so receptive which seemed to humble Kevin and it's great to see the unique beauty of his voice is now starting to be recognised.

I agree about the strength of the new songs, the two mentioned "I'm always going to love you" and "Incapable of love" are unique and I think some of their best. I'm seeing them in Manchester on Friday and can't wait. I've waited years to see them!

Surprised you don't mention 'she's got a wiggle' - surely the strongest single (were we still in the days of TOTP!)!

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