DJ Kevin Rowland; Man Of Many Hats
Let’s Make This Precious night, Star & Garter, Manchester
16th May 2015
Dexy’s frontman Kevin Rowland proves he’s good for the soul at Manchester’s Star and Garter.
The legendary Star & Garter in Manchester, first built in 1803 then moved in 1849, brick by brick, 100 yards up the road to re-open in 1877 where still it stands, slightly askew. This genuine vintage Grade 2 listed pub with the small room upstairs has seen countless artists perform over hundreds of years. For the last half year, it has been the venue for the monthly celebration of soul, reggae and the glory of great pop known as ‘Let’s Make This Precious’, curated by Oliver Brown and Fergal Kinney. The night is named after a song by Dexys Midnight Runners and on the 16th of May 2015 it played host to a cherishable DJ set from Dexys frontman himself, the multi-faceted and very interesting Mr. Kevin Rowland.
For ten years Kevin Rowland has been presenting a different class of DJ set, expressing a deep love of known and neglected pop anthems, integrating his own live singing into the performances. Before taking to the decks Kevin strolls the room, casing the joint, looking like a Parisian avant-garde painter in long linen coat, beret and smock shirt. Nobody bothers him. We all show respect. It’s an earned respect that the public have always had for for him. The locked-down music press would often deride Dexys Midnight Runners, misunderstanding their sly humour and honest soul vision. Radio was reluctant to play them, underestimating the impact of their sound. As soon as the public saw and heard them, we put them at number one in the charts more than once. Now that social media has broken down the walls of jaded press snobbery, we can sing our support for Kevin. It’s what we’ve always felt, it’s important and we want it known. His valuable contribution to British culture brings out strong feelings in people.
I conversed via e-mail with Roy Bainton, an established music essayist for more than forty years. He’s been to over a thousand gigs and names Dexys Midnight Runners at the Cleethorpes Winter Gardens in 1980 as the best he’s ever seen. Quoting now from Roy’s e-mail, he wrote this of Kevin Rowland – “He’s used his talent and influences to fuse soul, poetry and drama in a way hardly done before. He’s performing as a true artist who keeps his revolution in total forward motion; what was, was – what is, is – and what will be will be when he decides it to be. Therein lies integrity.”
When Kevin appears on stage tonight it’s not a separation pedestal to look down from. In dedication and presentation he looks out on us, filling the room with friendly energy, gobsmacked and humbled by the heartfelt responses from a dancing crowd. There’s T-Rex, Roxy Music, Trojan Reggae tunes. On Howard Melvin & The Blue Notes’ ‘The Love I Lost’, he finds gaps within verses to add his vocal sympathy. He excels in highlighting the profound lyrics of overlooked pop singles. He sings along with ‘Year of Decision’ – a 1973 release from The Three Degrees, which he describes as ‘beautiful’. It’s emotional and truly inspiring. The space gets hotter as people pile in. Kevin removes top garments like live costume changes, revealing fiery orange long-johns and red plaid heavy duty hunting pants held up by suspender braces, topped off with leather brogue gangster spats. His style is a joy to soak in and as ever he’s ahead of the game. We’re bouncing, he’s conducting us, clutching his heart as waves of unity crash back, passion and exuberance knocking him for six.
It feels like we’d all snap into flanks at his command, his willing new gang. He wouldn’t need us. Maybe he’d politely shake his head and saunter away under misty streetlights in widescreen monochrome – but if his arms beckoned upwards and his hands clapped, the screen would flood with technicolour and we’d all be there, eager to hear. Tell us the plan Kevin, we’ll do what we can. The soundtrack is mighty, please let it play on. This film he puts us all in is a timeless classic. If you get a chance to see Kevin Rowland perform a DJ set, go at once. Here is a man with the capacity to fill you with hope and move you to tears.
Roy Bainton’s work can be found at roybaintonwrites.com.