Kevin Rowland:’ I’ve showed myself in the way I wanted’

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Soon to release a plow album of his favourite sungs, the Dexys frontman talks about his Irish beginnings, his resentments and why he wore a dress for Reading 1999

I meet Kevin Rowland for lunch in his local vegan eatery in eastern London. He is garmented down today, at least by his often extravagant sartorial criteria, in buttoned-up denim shirt, wide denim jeans and a large flat cap. The seem, from the stripy fishermans jumper covered over his shoulders to his well-groomed tache and goatee, is bohemian, rather than full-on dandy. He seems relaxed and examines tanned and healthy.

Yeah, I feel all right, he replies, smiling, but I do have to work at it. Ive made an album exactly how I wanted to. Ive uttered myself in the way I wanted.

The album in question is called Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul . It is, as its entitle suggests, an unlikely hybrid, comprising a selection of Irish ballads mixed with some other chants that, as the blurb introduces it, loosely fall under the manager country mind. They include Joni Mitchells Both Sides Now and Rod Stewarts You Wear It Well, which is stretching the definition of country soul moderately but, as ever, Kevin Rowland goes to the defeat of his own drum.

Essentially, what unifies them all is that he likes them and they lend themselves to the kind of no-holds-barred emotional delivery that has been his signature since Dexys Midnight Athlete unveiled their statement-of-intent introduction, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels , in 1980. All the carols on here are deep within me, he says, and Ive had a real urge to do them for a long time. They are as much an integrated part of me as if I had written even fooling myself and I put just as much of myself into them. One hundred per cent, perhaps more.

As fans of Dexys will support, Rowland is nothing if not totally committed to his singular label of soul-bearing intensity. The vociferous poke of early lyrics such as Geno and Dance Stance may have been tempered by the years, but the vigour remains and is now channelled into vocal performances that tread the line between enthusiastic and melodramatic. He does not so much better sing a song as inhabit it, in much the same mode as a technique performer might immerse himself in a role.

You dont precisely rock up to the studio and only sing the lyric, he tells me, Youve got to get inside the song. Youve got to know who you are when “you think youre” singing the anthem and you gotta was well known that youre singing to. Otherwise its not going to be believable.

Rowland and the current Dexys personnel, Lucy Morgan and Sean Read.

During his tape of the supremely pensive Irish ballad Carrickfergus, he says he related so much better to the booster that he began to experience coldness. Its the words of a long-distance male the Irish labourers who passed around England, often marching from city to municipality and sleeping rough, in search of wield. Hes succumbing and he wants to return to Ireland where his love is implanted. I related to that in a real road and began to feel cold and shivery when I was singing in the studio. On the recording, they are able to discover him cough during the course of its ballad and breathe a long sigh at its culminate. It wasnt because I had a cold, he enunciates, It just came out and, when I played it to a acquaintance I rely, he said, Youve got to leave the coughing on there. Thats when it passed to me that the cough and the exhale at the end are actually a part of the song.

A week after our satisfy, I watch Rowland stride out on to the stage of the Royal Festival Hall as part of Imagining Ireland, a diverse musical celebration to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916. Wearing a pale pink 1920 s clothing with the widest trousers imaginable, he proceeds to tear down the place with his rendition of the Irish song The Curragh of Kildare. As the psalm develops, you can feel the initially suspicious audience respond to his passionate give. His even more emotive take on Carrickfergus, covered by the likes of Bryan Ferry and Van Morrison before him, was becoming soulful tussles between him and his current traitor and co-producer, Sean Read.

On record, though, its another matter. Without the live set, the same ballads chimed rather overworked and overwrought, more deferential and literal. I tell him that it is hard for me to suppose anyone singing a lyric like Forty Shades of Green or the more recent, but evenly nostalgic The Town That I Adoration So Well without succumbing to the schmaltz that is explicit even in their names. Rowland is having none of it.

Theyre not sentimental to me, he reads, firmly and with merely a discover of the age-old combativeness. Im the son of a make. Im not the son of an scholastic, and the kind of people who find songs like these sentimental are generally academic natures, people who arent in touch with themselves. I firstly discovered those anthems sung by my uncles and aunts, unaccompanied, and they sang them beautifully and I responded to them in a solely intuitive route. To me, theyre just beautiful sungs and I sang them as better I could.

Which raises the question, why did he not do an entire album of Irish carols? Well, that was the idea back around 1983, when I initially wanted to do it, he answers of the books long gestation. I was going to[ County] Mayo a lot back then, get into springs a lot. I was examining Irish culture and going to Derry and Belfast to try to understand what was going on there, too. My suggestion then was to do a whole book announced Irish, but, as period went on, I merely thoughts Id really like to do You Wear It Well and Both Sides Now.

One I moved earlier: Dexys Midnight Athletes in the woolly hat interval. Photograph: David Corio/ Getty Images

He explains that the Rod Stewart song soundtracked the end of a supernatural summertime in the early 1970 s when Rowland laboured at Butlins, in his late teens. It exactly captured the romance of that time for me and that thought of somber when you are leaving something beautiful behind. Joni Mitchells song was just potent. I first sounded Both Sides Now when I was 13 and it touched me in a very deep path. Still does. It has just so much beauty to it. Im an intuitive guy and I cant often articulated why I do the things I do , nor am I even interested in doing that unless someone like you asks me to. For me its about encountering the elegance and uttering it, whether its an Irish ballad or a mind song or one of my own songs.

Rowlands Irish beginnings have always glint through in his music, though, from the cover of Searching for the Young Soul Rebels , which boasted a young lad clutching his properties after his house had been burned down by a sectarian rabble in Belfast, to the stirring recital of the names of enormous Irish columnists on the single Dance Stance, and on to the Celtic gypsy-soul of Too-Rye-Ay . Born in Wolverhampton to Irish parents, he lived in Mayo, where his mothers grew up, from the age of one to four, before returning to his house municipality. I recollect starting academy and having the piss taken out of me all the time, he tells me, Then, we moved from Wolverhampton to London when I was 10 and that was even worse because Irish parties were not to participate in high-pitched reverence here back then. You have to fit in to survive as a kid, so I became good at accents very quickly.

We talking here how the Irish psalms he sings may have a different resonance for first-generation Irish parties like him who grew up in Britain. When I ask him if he appears Irish, he supposes: Along the course, I have wanted to be removed from it and Ive espoused it. And now I recall I can candidly say that Im in a lieu where Im cozy with who I am. I belief all identities are a dead end, actually. So, Im not saying this or that about Ireland with this record, except that this is how I do these ballads that I love.

Rowlands teenage years were fraught and he had various run-ins with the law, including an arrest for assaulting a gang of men with an iron bar. The original Dexys Midnight Runners were a way of channelling his alienation and, initially, he ranged the group as a cross between a gang and a squad, imposing strict rules about physical fitness, dress donkey cases and woolly hats and, though they were referred after a firebrand of amphetamine, banning all forms of drug use and rejecting all things rocknroll.

No one else was talking about soul in 1978, he tells me, You werent reading about soul in NME back then. Thats why it was cool to me. It had potential to be progressive. To me, it was after punk and it was new and a bolt from the sentiment and I adored spirit but now I think it was a bit narrow. In detail, I care we had never said that parole, spirit, because formerly you name something, you kill it. I think we should never have said anything except were Dexys and this is our music.

Rowlands look at the 1999 Reading festival in a dress. Photograph: Michael Walter/ PA
That music has taken on many radically different guises since then, while somehow persisting basically and identifiably Dexys. After the enormous crossover success of Come on Eileen and the accompanying book Too-Rye-Ay , he found himself all at sea in the mainstream. I was fairly cozy being the outsider knocking on the door, he mentioned of that time in 1999, but once the door opened and I stepped inside, I was completely lost. When
1985s book Dont Stand Me Down , still considered by numerous his masterpiece, flopped, his career nosedived, dramatically leading to bankruptcy and a trance in rehab.( I reviewed the record rather equivocally for NME back then, and today, more than 30 years later, he introduces it up as he has on the few parties we have met since. NME surely had it in for us at that time, he replies, But dont expresses concern about it. Its in the past. It was all a very long time ago. Back then, though, I used to dread bumping into him, as he had beaten up another columnist who had written an unfavourable re-examine .) In 1999, he secreted an album of cover versions called My Beauty on Creation Records, constituting on the treat in lag. At that times Reading festival, he donned a white dress, stockings and lipstick to sing Whitney Houstons The Greatest Love of All to a bemused audience that responded with boo and bottles. Four years ago I was nuts, he told the Guardian in 2003. Thirteen years of silence discriminated My Beauty and the exhaust of One Day Im Proceeding to Soar , Dexyss critically acclaimed late comeback from 2012. In interrogations, he was talking about prolonged periods of regiman to battle drug use and detects of guilt about past action. Today, he does not wishes to dwell on the past, but he does allege, For a long time, I wasnt able to express myself in the way that I required. I would try to do acts, but nothing seemed to work creatively. And, at the time, I would probably have been saying to myself, Oh , no description wants to sign us or whatever, but deep down I make I knew that what I was doing wasnt really good enough to set it out in the world.

There is a palpable aura of calmness, if not quite serenity, about Kevin Rowland these days, as if he has finally induced quietnes with his own impossible requirements involving prowes, grace and, above all, heartfelt ferocity. I perhaps had to go though all the things I went through in order to represent the music I wanted to make again, he suggests, which is incredibly hard, but I too recommend it, taking 20 years off or whatever age it was. Sometimes you just have to step back.

Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul will be released on 3 June on 100%/ Warner Music

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