Gloucester Guildhall Arts Centre
13th April 2013
Dexy’s are back! And to prove it they came to Gloucester’s Guildhall Arts Centre the other day to play a set exclusivley focussed on their new material.
Of all the bands to hit the comeback trail in recent years, Kevin Rowland’s Dexy’s ( now minus the “Midnight Runners” ) are one of the most surprising. Following their 1980’s peak with huge hits like “Geno” and “Come On Eileen” the group’s career dissolved as band-leader Rowland changed their image too frequently for the public’s comprehension, declined to release singles, regularly sacked musicians and generally refused to play the industry game. Battling his own demons of addiction and depression his stuttering solo career crashed and burned after an infamous, white dress ‘n’ stockings-sporting performance at the 1999 Reading Festival. But now, nearly three decades after the last Dexy’s album, and after a couple of previous false starts, the not-so-young soul rebels are back.
It starts with a darkened stage and a spotlight on the keyboard player as the band shuffle onto stage incognito. A haunting piano refrain begins, some quiet backing vocals, and then the lights kick in as Kevin Rowland leads his band into the first song from recent album One Day I’m Going To Soar. They play the whole album in sequence, displaying that unique Dexy’s alchemy of Soul, folk music and Rowland’s heartfelt, ever-questioning lyrics. It’s a very theatrical piece with Kevin’s character interacting with co-vocalists Pete Williams ( the best friend ) and Madeleine Hyland ( the dream girl ) as they act out the songs. Time and again Kevin tries and fails to sort out his life, to get the girl, to keep the girl, finding much humour and sadness along the way. Those who came to the Gloucester Guildhall tonight expecting a Greatest Hits set from ’80s revivalists are probably disappointed. Those who came for the latest chapter in the long Dexy’s story are entranced.
And the music’s peerless. From the slinky, jazzy, piano-led “Me” to the stomping, lascivious “She Got A Wiggle”, the new model Dexy’s nail every change in tempo and mood, and wring out every drop of emotion in the music. Songs such as the singalong stormer “Incapable Of Love” and the soul-searching “Nowhere Is Home” are as good as anything in the Dexy’s canon. The band give their all, with special mentions for long-time Dexy’s alumnus “Big” Jim Paterson ( trombone ) and newbie Alice Pratley ( violin ). And then there’s Rowland himself. For a man who’s been through so much over the years his voice is still as clear and strong as his single-minded vision – one of the great white Soul voices. In the grandest tradition of Soul singers it feels like every note is ripped out of his chest, every cry of joy or sadness hard earned.
The album set ends with the swinging, up-tempo “Free”, the mournful, bluesy “It’s OK John Joe”… and soul boys then one blistering reprise of the “Free” refrain before the band launch into an oldies set. But, this being Dexy’s, even here the obvious is avoided. “Eileen” doesn’t come out to play and, while there have been many calls for “Geno” tonight from the old school soul boys, this reinvigorated band play it in a looser, sunnier style than before with a smooth Calypso beat. And it’s wonderful. First album classic “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green” is here amalgamated into an epic folk/soul masterpiece with “Until I Believe In My Soul”, featuring much onstage silliness as Pete Williams appears, dressed as a policeman, to “arrest” Rowland for unspecified crimes related to “burning”. ( You had to be there… ) Classic tracks from the much-loved ( but disastrously-selling ) Don’t Stand Me Down album are dusted down and revitalised: “The Occasional Flicker”, “Listen To This” and the full, unedited “This Is What She’s Like” bring the house down with their Celtic beauty and Soul passion. “The Waltz” sends us home after an evening of theatre, comedy, testifying, longing and doubt… in other words, Soul.
All words by Simon Barton. Simon also has his own blog which you can find here: The Glass Walking-Stick. Simon also wrote a piece about Searching For The Young Soul Rebels by Dexy’s Midnight Runners which you can find here. More writing by Simon on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.