Mixed feelings watching Dexys: Nowhere Is Home on telly last night, unlike those I had when first seeing them 'live' in 1980...
...when I felt strongly that they were special and connected immediately with the Stax/brass/Punk sound because, unlike many Punks, probably, Soul music already had a place in my heart.
Kevin Rowland is all heart, isn't he? Whilst travelling the rock-strewn road that is his career he's always tried to convince us that he means it, ma-a-a-n. I stopped following them soon after Come On Eileen because I wasn't into that new phase. Over the years, the song's become an anthem for every drunken idiot at wedding receptions, which isn't Kevin's fault, of course. Perhaps he endured a kind of shock when it became a shout-along-anthem for types who he could hardly have related to, just as others from that generation have seen their records cross over. The music becomes tarnished. Or is that snobbery?
By the time he created the Ivy League look (typically misunderstood by style-less journos) for Don't Stand Me Down, he was off my radar. That album's since become a 'cult classic', hailed as a masterpiece by some. My problem is that once I stopped believing in him nothing he did could win me back. The appearance in drag...yes, that look, confirmed to me that I was right to have left him behind. I wasn't necessarily right, though.
We know the industry's good at churning out willing stereotypes but in that it only reflects society. Most people aren't made to break moulds but spring from the few that were created decades before. That Rowland was always keen to react against what was going on is a great thing, yet as the film reveals, he can't always articulate his reasons. At heart he's a kind of Mod, always moving on, with style, against the herd, in favour of change, being sussed, being self-conscious of his appearance.
Watching the theatre show I became aware of how self-conscious he is, to the detriment of what he was trying to do, I thought. It struck me that to be 'real', to convince me, at least, he needed to be as great an actor as the best from classic Hollywood. In our favourite scenes we're taken in by the act. Whether it's The Method or old-fashioned professionalism, we believe. In creating a conceptual show, Kevin demanded some acting of his band. At times it was embarrassing (that kiss!), other times, such as the 'casual' banter, it worked.
Not being a great singer has never stopped some of the best performers from being electric on stage. You'll have your own favourites. But when, as in Rowland's case, one of your role models is Van Morrison, you've got work to do. When things are taken care of musically, as they were, you have to deliver as the front man. To his credit, he's never tried to imitate, say, Al Green. In that respect, he knows when he's licked. There's no doubting the original tone of his voice either. Still, he doesn't strike me as being humble enough to have lessons that would enhance the power of what he's doing. I feel bad even suggesting he does.
I'd feel bad putting Rowland down, partly because I can relate to his teen years of endless dead-end jobs, being the outsider stuck in the system. Also like him my teen years were filled with a passion for clothes and music. Some of us, in typically working class fashion, sought salvation in clubs, not just as escapist relief, but in search of something deeper...something in the night...where other lost souls, who wore what they did because it meant more than mere fashion, danced to Soul music. For those reasons alone, I'm sure that if we shared a pint we'd get on well. Somehow, I doubt that will ever happen.
Towards the tail-end of my clubbing years I found a place called Lady Luck. It happened every Friday under a strip club called Secrets in Euston. Seedy, smart punters and the right music, everything from Mel Tormé to R & B and Be-Bop...a Vegas lounge fantasy in London Town...burlesque and tattooed girls...perfect. Imagine my surprise when I saw at the end of the film shown last night that the Lady Luck scene was an Inspiration to Rowland. And everyone on it, apparently. So, despite my reservations, if you're wholeheartedly in favour of the Dexy's show, you can thank me.
I never saw Rowland at the club, so I assume he went when it relocated to a venue that I only visited once. I'm not saying it was 'over' when it moved, simply over for us. The first incarnation had that special atmosphere, a kind of secret, beneath Secrets.